Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Gorgomancy: Dangerous Viewing


Thanks to some enigmatic clues that have surfaced in a Japanese Twitter account and a comment on an earlier post here on L’Héritage de la chouette, we have stumbled upon (or been inexorably led to) a site,, that bears the imprint of Guillaume and offers to the woefully deprived seekers of a viewing of Marker’s 1989 television series on classical Greek thought and cultural practice a chance to view it, all 13 chapters, online. The site, designed in Flash, has four items on the menu: the recent movie Ouvroir: A Second Life Wandering with Guillaume-en-Egypte, taking us on an adventure into Marker and Guillaume”s home away from home in the Archipelago of Second Life; the monumental port to Flash and thereby the Internet (sorry, iPad fanatics) of the CD-ROM Immemory; the entirety of L’Héritage de la chouette (with the ability to jump to specific chapters); and finally a strange, chilling retrieved footage documentary of a reconstructed murder called Stopover in Dubai.

In fact, there is more: when you click on the title GORGOMANCY itself, two further and very poignant items are revealed: Pour Elle and Pour Lui. You’ll see…

We would have to speculate that these are all parts of Marker’s oeuvre that he wished, without any fanfare, as is his custom, to offer to the public at this time, in one location. The caméra stylo strikes again. The choice of domain names of course relates somehow intimately with the idea of a dangerous spectatorship, the Gorgon being the mythological order of beings that, gazed upon, turn the gazer to stone. Medusa is the most famous of the Gorgons, but not the only one. In fact, it is a topic in the Heritage of the Owl, as discussed by Jean-Pierre Vernant in the Cosmogony episode:

Le grand problème, c’est le regard de la Gorgone. La question que pose cette espèce de face monstrueuse, c’est que, la voir, c’est toujours la regarder en face. Elle représente, si vous voulez, dans le divin, une puissance qu’on ne peut aborder qu’en la regardant dans les yeux, et en même temps, la regarder dans les yeux, c’est être dèja mort, c’est en quelque sorte prendre sa place, c’est être changé en pierre, c’est-à-dire, rentrer dans un domaine où il n’y a plus ni voix, ni transparence, ni luminosité. Le monde de la nuit. C’est ça que ça veut dire, cette espèce de… La face de Gorgô, dans ces positions, sur les vases, traduit figurativement cette expérience, absolument bouleversante, d’une puissance surnaturelle que… qui vous fascine, et qui en croisant son regard avec vous, en devançant toujours votre regard, vous livre à la mort. Et en même temps, elle est comme une espèce de miroir, parce que, quand vous la regardez, ce que vous voyez en elle, c’est ce que vous allez devenir, une face de mort, un être monstrueux, une tête entourée de ténèbres. Il y a donc, entre l’oeil de Gorgô et vous, quand vous le regardez, une espèce d’échange en miroir, qui fait que vous entrez, fascinés, dans le domaine qui est le sien. Et que, tout d’un coup, vous vous changez vous-mêmes en une espèce de masque, d’invisibilité, de chose monstrueuse.

The great problem is the gaze of the Gorgon. The question posed by this sort of monstrous face consists in the fact that to view it is to always look it in the face. It represents, if you will, a power within the realm of the divine that one can only access by looking it in the eye, while at the same time to look it in the eye is to already be dead, to in a sense take its place, to be turned to stone—to return, in other words, to a domain where there is no longer a voice, nor transparency, nor luminosity. This is the world of night. The face of the Gorgon, in these positions, on these vases, translates figuratively a totally overwhelming experience, that of a supernatural power that fascinates you and that, in crossing eyes with you, in becoming your view, delivers you to death. At the same time, it’s like a kind of mirror; when you look at it, what you see in it is what you will become: a facet of death, a monstrous being, a head enveloped in darkness. There is therefore, between the eye of the Gorgon and you, as you watch it, a kind of mirrored exchange, to the effect that you enter, fascinated, into the domain that is this other’s. And suddenly, you change yourself into a type of mask, an invisibility, a monstrous thing.

This ancient myth is, in a way, the Ur-figure of the idea that lives and breathes throughout Marker’s work, that of “Staring Back.” It is the 1/24th of a second, the single frame that turns you to stone. It is the breaking of the fourth wall, a place where the voyeur, the ‘man with the camera’ becomes trapped by the returned gaze and descends to darkness, to the other side of the camera—and the captured gaze in turn becomes a new species of Gorgon, a mask within the labyrinth of faces entered into the archive across decades, from Koumiko to the Paris Métro, turned to light.

With that, we leave you to enjoy Marker’s GORGOMANCY.


Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
metro laughing woman staring back
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