Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Plato’s Cave as Kino: Owl’s Legacy Excerpt & Becoming Imperceptible


The blog Found Objects notes the current availability of a clip from Chris Marker’s The Owl’s Legacy:

An extract from Chris Marker’s TV series on the culture of ancient Greece, The Owl’s Legacy, featuring contributions from Iannis Xenakis, George Steiner, Cornelius Castoriadis and Elia Kazan. Recently unearthed from obscurity as part of the Otolith Group’s room at Tate Britain for the Turner Prize. As the Otolith Group write in their accompanying artist book, this is exactly the sort of TV programme that simply wouldn’t stand a chance of being made today.

“It all began on a summer night in 1987. The idea for a television series based on Greek culture had just crystalized and we were facing a spectre which haunts the realm of the cultural documentary and that Chekhov defined for eternity: to say things that clever people already know and that morons will never know.”

Found Objects
[expired, snapshot]

The original title of the television series is L’Héritage de la chouette. Here are some production details reproduced from the Pacific Film Archive, which seems, along with the Otiolith Group, to be one of the few institutions to possess a copy:

‘Written by Chris Marker. Photographed by Emiko Omori, Peter Chapell, et al. Edited by Khadicha Bariha, Nedjma Scialom. With Iannis Xenakis, George Steiner, Elia Kazan, Theo Angelopoulos, Cornelius Castoriadis. (In English, and French, Georgian, Greek with English subtitles, Color, 3/4″ Video, projected, Cassettes courtesy Chris Marker with permission of Film International Television Production and La Sept).”

You can also consult our older post, “Inner Time of Television” and the full post of the PFA’s notes on The Owl’s Legacy.

One of the great reflections in 20th century philosophy on Plato’s cave and its myriad implications is Hans Blumenberg’s Höhlenausgänge [Exits from the Cave], which opens with an epigraph quoting a journal entry of Kafka’s: “Mein Leben ist das Zögern vor der Geburt.” [My life is the hesitation before birth]. Blumenberg, known for his work on metaphorology and myth but really an astounding polymath of many interests, whose posthumous work continues to amaze (as it continues to go largely untranslated), produces in this work perhaps the most rigorous expedition into the many ramifications of the idea of the cave as it flows in and out of Plato’s Republic.

Blumenberg discusses in one chapter the “Escapes from Visibility,” a notion that resonanates for me with the transposition in Sans Soleil of Japanese television images into the dreams of sleeping commuters – creating a kind of cinema of the invisible within an object- and visibility-oriented documentary tradition. Of course the Zone of the same film, already making its presence known in the earlier Le fond de l’air est rouge, serves to de-realize the visible. But a documentary cinema of the invisible seems another thing entirely.

Der Mensch ist das sichtbare Wesen in einem emphatischen Sinne. Er ist betroffen von seiner Sichtbarkeit durch die Auffälligkeit des aufrechten Ganges und durch die Wehrlosigkeit seiner unspezifischen-organischen Ausstattung. Das macht ihn anfällig für die Lokung der Rückkehr in die Höhle. Sie ist die einzige Erfüllung seines tief in dieser Gattungslage verwurzelten Wunsches nach Unsichtbarkeit. [Blumenberg, Höhlenausgänge, 15][Man is the visible being in a most emphatic sense. He is struck by his visibility through the very appearance of his upright stance and the defenselessness of his unspecific organic configuration. That makes him susceptible for the seduction of the return to the cave. The cave is the singular fulfillment of his wish, buried deep in his genetic situation, for invisibility.]

Of interest in this regard – and to be explored further in future we hope – is the latest masterpiece of another great thinker who’s work deserves more translation: Raymond Bellour’s Le Corps du cinéma: hypnoses, émotions, animalités, in which he treats the notion of hypnosis in relation to spectatorship – a concept close to Plato’s parable. Bellour’s book is full of references to Marker, exploring most fundamentally the plethora of animality in Marker’s work.

M. Le Chat + GuillaumeIndeed, though Bellour does not go there, we might see the latest phase of Marker’s fun, willing usurpation by Guillaume, including but not limited to Second Life, as a kind of devenir-animal as discussed in Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux [Chapter 10. 1730 – Devenir-intense, devenir-animal, devenir-imperceptible…]. For it seems that in becoming-animal there is somehow an additional process in motion, that of becoming-imperceptible. Could this be what Blumenberg had in mind in his evocation of the desire to return to the cave? To become, in an era of surveillance and omnipresent visibility, still present but in another guise? To mutate into something that can’t be recorded, or, if recorded, leaves traces that are on the side of disinformation rather than that of the archive, the state, the systematic digital privacy-stripping machine?

Long controlled and entertained by the caves of cinema and television, enmeshed now seemingly irrevocably within the digital screen, how do we forgo outright exit from the cave and find its internal exits, as it were? And how, as we are finding – or better, creating – these backdoors and Escher landscapes of paradoxical architecture within the greater media enclosure, do we prevent ourselves from becoming hypnotized – imprisoned within a state of control and occlusion without access to the demiurge projecting the film – and/or completely invisible, i.e. self-erased, excluded from the process of our own productions and projections?

Humor and transmutation (a concept familiar to neo-Platonists, as transmigration was familiar to Plato) rather than solipsism or hypnotic stasis seem more viable and life-affirming tactical options in response to the new sets of caves we have come to inhabit. It is along these lines (lignes de fuite?) that we perceive the ever-elusive Marker stepping lightly. Once again, he is no doubt one step ahead.


  • Fascinating!
    While having a quick look at the clip I managed to see several familiar faces:
    Catherine Belkhodja
    Arielle Dombasle
    (the late) Juliet Berto
    and singer/author Yves Simon…

    I’ll have to have another look.

  • Hi there,

    Regarding Marker and Plato, I thought I’d throw out there something this article spurred but that I’ve been mulling over since reading Sander Lee’s Platonic Themes in Chris Marker’s La Jetee (

    Marker’s explicit focus on memory and subjectivity seems to me to be closer to Deleuze & Guattari’s imminent and pragmatic concept of the Rhizome.

    I raise this issue because of the definition D&G produce in A Thousand Plateaus between their Rhizome and the Platonic emphasis on pursuing truths, which they identify as a “hierarchical tree” (pp12) innately driving a method towards, rather cuttingly, Transcendentalism.

    To me Marker’s work is rooted in the subjective and, yes, contemplative but philosophical – in the sense of searching for truths – no. For example, in the case of the Tokyo Metro dream scene, I see it as a more fruitful approach to consider it as an explicitly imminent and subjective concern developed from his dialectical consideration of dreams, memory and the pervasion of advertising and mass media.

    I’d really appreciate any responses and counter arguments.

    All the best, John

  • @ just another film buff: Thanks for stopping by and for the clip. @The Wayward Cloud I think you are spot on re. Miyazaki. Look forward to reading the piece you link to. @japanese forms nice to see you here again! thanks for the familiar faces notes. @John Francis Fascinating discussion to be had here, and I thank you for opening up this territory (there hasn’t been much response to my meanderings in this direction in the comments to date). I think that as bricoleur and in his whole travel-light approach to filmmaking, Marker is very much a pragmatist in the deleuze/guattarian sense, though he seems immune and even hostile at times to theoretical extrapolation on some level. I wouldn’t doubt that he’s read 1000 Plateaux, however. He operates with concepts much like Deleuze, but in a more emblematic (image-text) than philosophical manner. In this he is closer to Benjamin. He too was faced with the dire political choices for the French post-WWII, and perhaps syndicalism and the stunning political summation, in all its contradictions, of the “state of things” in Le fond de l’air est rouge was for him what Nietzsche was for Foucault, Deleuze and others – a way forward. He operates much more on the plane of immanence than on the plane of Ideals, it is true. Though metaphysical moments do happen (“things that quicken the heart”), they are often more animistic than transcendental. Bergson and Spinoza seem to overlap his concerns with such moments, their intervals, durations and ethics. I was struck, though, with the potent enigma of the cave in the history of cinema (its light/dark sides) and had to recall this Blumenberg text, which is probably if anything more obscure than L’Héritage de la chouette… Cheers!

  • “to disarm the gorgon” – this needs more exploring. somehow it is a cipher for Marker. it is not a mistake that he named his site Gorgomancy nor that the word appears in Dialector. Food for thought…

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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