Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

From Coréennes


transcription courtesy of:

A marketplace is the Republic of things (I mean the ideal Republic, of course): the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it is beautiful even if the details are gauche or banal. Thus the Mercato Nuovo in Florence, where every object taken separately is an offense to the spirit’s good manners, while the whole is as flamboyant and funny as a high altar. The Mercato Coreano is not so simple. “Korea,” writes Father du Halde, “furnishes white paper, brushes of hair and wolf tail, Ginseng, gold, silver, iron, yellow varnish so beautiful that anything coated in it appears gilded: the tree whence this gum is distilled resembles a palm: chickens whose tail is three feet long, ponies three feet high, sable and beaver pelts, and fossil salt.” To which I would add, on the basis of my modest knowledge of Korean marketplaces: playing cards which are pleasant-looking flat dominoes, as in Japan, women’s clothing – the short tapestry bolero, transparent and stiff as a chrysalis, and the long, dark-colored skirt knotted at the first swell of the breasts – ribbons covered in gilt letters to encourage longevity, cothurne sandals with incurving prow, blue elephants, pink cats, pens and lamps, old opium pouches modestly called the smoker’s necessary, watch faces strung together like sapeks, flowers… and a somewhat Promethean, I mean aquiline, taste for the entrails of things: the innards of radios, the plexus of an electric razor or the thorax of a lock. Men sit chatting, squatting like the dead in the niches of Mexican cemeteries. And Mexico is not far off: it’s in the white cloth suits, the broad-brimmed straw hats, it surfaces in the tanned faces, in the nonchalance of an eye stretched out in its slit like a hammock at the gleaming crest of the cheek – it’s walking with this peasant (it could be an old Tarasco) who amuses himself scaring groups of people by uncovering, in a single movement, the serpent (though not plumed) that he holds on his fist – it bursts out of just as I frame, when suddenly another figure violently enters the field and bang! – he slaps the old man with the back of his hand, and the latter shies away to disappear who knows where, bringing his serpent along with … maybe for a baby-sitting at Alcmena’s? An instant later the self-appointed lawman had disappeared in his turn, and the people on the street are smiling at me and gesturing that everything is fine now. It all went by as quickly as a forgotten image between two shots, but what I felt there, the way a foot laid inadvertently on a tomb makes you feel the cold of death for one second, was a flash of hatred (so Mexican!). Toward me? Toward him? Blame, shame, fear? A critique of bad country manners, exasperation at my desire for the picturesque while they’re trying to build a modern Korea – or is it just that ophiolatry is prohibited in this town? I’ll never know.

  • Chris Marker, Corréennes, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1959.
coreennes back cover crop
Chris Marker, Coréennes


  • Some details on Coréennes from Melvyl:
    Author: Marker, Chris, 1921-
    Title: Coréennes / Chris Marker.
    Publisher: [S.l.] : Aux Éditions du Seuil, 1959.
    Description: 140 p. : ill. ; 20 x 25 cm.
    Series: Court-Métrage ;1
    Language: French
    Subject: Marker, Chris, 1921-
    Koreans — Portraits.
    Korea (South) — Pictorial works.
    Format: Book

  • … the Chinese encyclopedia quoted by Borges, and the taxonomy it proposes, lead to a kind of thought without space, to words and categories that lack all life and place, but are rooted in a ceremonial space, overburdened with complex figures, with tangled paths, strange places, secret passages, and unexpected communications.
    – Michel Foucault, The Order of Things [xix]

  • In regards to the above Foucault citation, this passage should perhaps have been quoted first (take it or leave it, as you will):
    “This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought – *our* thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography – breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our old-age distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) *et cetera*, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the start impossibility of thinking *that*.”

  • Maybe transcription courtesy of markertext would be more appropriate, rather than translation. I should probably make it more clear on the site, but for the record I’m pretty sure most of the translation on Immemory (from which this English version was transcribed) was by Brian Holmes. Although I did revert to the original for a few small things, like returning to “Levites with lunar skulls bustle like so many Cornailles” from the updated “…Bruce Willises” because that just seemed weird in a book originally written in the ’50s.

  • Thanks for the clarification – I’ve adjusted the wording. That’s hilarious about “Bruce Willises” – talk about time travel!

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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