The Eloquent No of Chris Marker

Letter from Chris Marker to Paul Chan

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In October of 2010, I emailed Chris to ask him if he was interested in taking part in a special issue of eflux journal that the art critic Sven Lütticken and I were editing. The issue focused on whether contemporary art had or had not addressed the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the US and elsewhere, and how these largely nationalistic, homophobic and xenophobic movements impacted culture and arts. With the ascendency of the Tea Party, Sven and I wondered whether it was possible to chart a genealogy of right-wing groups on both sides of the Atlantic, and to illuminate their familial relations. Anything would do I wrote, I asked Chris – a text, an image, even an animated gif. … Two months later, he replied.

Hi Paul:
Sorry for the delay, I couldn’t have met the deadline anyway. At an age when people care for their eternal salvation or go fishing – which is not incompatible – I have managed to put on my shoulders more daily work than I ever have in my life. But I gave a lot of thought to your proposal, and sadly I must say that it doesn’t make any real sense. For yes, the Tea Party is an isolated event. There’s a mixture of bigotry, estrangement and crass ignorance that is unique in the world, and that is as idiosyncratically American as country music or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

True, there are in Europe movements that are nationalistic, homophobic, xenophobic, etc., and we’re watching their rise with concern. None of them fits the ideological vacuum of the Tea Partiers, characters like Sarah Palin or Glen Beck, who are just as unimaginable in Europe’s politics. In France, the most dangerous leader of the extreme right, Le Pen, a cultured man who can debate geo-political issues on the same level as his opponents. The shroud of religiosity that wraps the whole TP movement, and US politics at large, is something unknown here, where the separation of church and state is the cornerstone of the Republic. Unthinkable to hear a public personality pronounce “So help me God”. Even racism has different roots. It relates here to the colonial empire and the Algerian war, not slavery and Jim Crow, and its expressions are strongly controlled.

I saw plates and badges depicting Obama as a monkey with a banana. Anyone here who would dare use such imagery would be severely punished by law. As if for the main topic of the TPs, the traditional American defiance against central government, it’s in complete contradiction to what the European extreme rightest movements, who without exception are in favor of a stronger state.

I can go on and on like this on practically every characteristic, so the only possible comparison would be at the lowest levels: all are evil, and all include an impressive number of morons. Not much for food, methinks. Sorry for this long explanation of my own inability to participate — all that representing only my private views of course – and no intent on discouraging anyone to push the comparisons deeper and surely better. But well… all I could do was a frank response. Best wishes on the coming year – the Year of the Cat.
Chris Marker, letter to Paul Chan

“Sharp and generous, even when all he’s saying is ‘No.'” – Paul Chan

paul-chan-brooklyn

“What I liked about it was that someone had taken the time to paint and make owl heads on the cats.”