Walter Benjamin liked the phrase einmal ist keinmal. Literally: one time is no times. Looser: once is not enough, or once is never. Let the subliminal rise to the surface of consciousness by grazing again through the text, the stream, the grain, and then again against the grain to feel the furrows of the patterns not picked up the first time. Viewing a film we start with the zero view. The second view is the first, and we move on from there, not always forward. For the Kabbalists, opening the Book a second time one will find the language has changed, mutated, grown in the meantime. Just as for them the written word was still alive, a type of living, breathing and regenerating organism, certain films change in their dormancy. As we visit them again, they reveal different facets, catch the light at a changed hour – at the cusp of a new constellation. Philip K. Dick spent the last years of his life trying to decipher this and related mysteries. Chris Marker seems to have had from early on a caméra-stylo that writes such a living language, not to manuscript or movable type but to celluloid. As screenings of his celluloids have been rare, the “einmal” of viewing one of his films tended to produce a strange kind of hunger, an otaku hunger. That hunger – in some cases decades in duration – is beginning to be appeased…
You may have already concluded that DVD is a perfect medium for Chris Marker, since his cunning, calculated work requires and repays multiple viewings…. Marker’s great talent as a filmmaker is giving us the impression that any digression is welcome, any accident is providence and anything can happen, even as he is firmly in control. We don’t feel steered or manipulated, nor adrift and meandering. A philosopher of passionate ideals, Marker makes films that are, at their essence, generous invitations to join him in an inquiry into the mysteries of human society.Michael Fox, “Chris Marker Comes Home at Last”, sf360.org
Next: palinode and prolepsis. Reading backwards and forwards. Anticipation. Retrospection. Circularity. The notion of an “edition” applied to Marker’s films.
‘Once is as good as never’ is a German proverb, but it is also attributed to Nietzsche, and understood there to be a melancholic reflection on the uselessness of a life that can be lived only once. In a short piece which includes a reflection on Trotsky, in 1932, Benjamin regards the repetitive gesture demanded by ‘once is as good as never’ not as a dismal ensnarement in bourgeois economy and bourgeois categories, but rather as an essential gesture in a model life that always attempts to start afresh — with presence of mind — and aims to respond sincerely to the specific requirements of the current moment.Peter Osborne, Walter Benjamin: Modernity, London: Routledge, FN 128, p 410. Another translation for ‘einmal ist keinmal’ is ‘ once is never’. See Sunii Manghani, Images: Critical and Primary Sources. The pictorial turn. Vol. 2, p. 256. For a deeper understanding of the Kabbalah, see Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, among many others.