Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Truly Rare


Marker stuff is funny that way, we’ve become so used to the accessibility afforded by electronic consumer culture… it’s a shock when certain things are truly rare, whether in physical or even virtual form.

Coréennes - Front Cover
Coréennes - Back Cover

Here’s the text from the back cover, filled to the brim with the inimitable style and signature of Chris Marker – sparkling wit, parody, irony and pure humour; literary and historical ricochets in all directions; and genre-bending meanderings – in short, not your average marketing pitch by a long shot. This may be one of the few or only places that Marker explicitly adopts (though not without reservation) the term “ciné-essai” for his general MO.

Coréennes doit s’entendre ici au sens de Gnossiennes ou Provinciales c’est’-à-dire “pièces d’inspiration coréenne”. On y trouvera, outre les dames de Corée (qui à elles seules vaudraient plus d’un long-métrage), des tortues qui rient, des géants qui pleurent, un légume qui rend immortel, trois petites filles changées en astres, un ours médecin, un chien qui mange la lune, un tambour qui fait danser des tigres, plusieurs chouettes, ct sur ce décor immortel un pays anéanti hier par la guerre, qui repousse “à la vitesse d’une plante au cinéma” entre Marx et les fées. Vous apprendrez encore que les Coréens ont inventé l’imprimerie avant Gutenberg, le cuirassé avant Potemkine et la Grand Garabagne avant Michaux, dans ce “court-métrage” où l’on souhaite voir apparaître un genre distinct de l’album et du reportage, qu’on appellerait faute de mieux ciné-essai comme il y a des ciné-romans — à une seule réserve près, mais d’importance: les personnages ne s’y expriment pas encore par de jolis phylactères en forme de nuage, comme dans les comics. Mais il faut savoir attendre…

Front and back covers to Chris Marker, Coréennes, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1959. Heartfelt thanks to markertext for these scans.


  • “Gnossienne” is one of a very few occasions where a new word was coined by the composer distinctly intended to indicate a (new) “type” of composition. Satie had used and would use a lot of names for his compositions that never had been used to indicate a piece or type of music before: for example “ogive” had been the name of an architectural element until Satie used it as the name for a composition, the Ogives; similar for “vexations”, “croquis et agaceries” and so on, but gnossienne was a word that simply didn’t exist before Satie used it to indicate a composition. The word “gnossienne” appears to be derived from the word gnosis, which doesn’t appear too surprising since Satie was involved in gnostic sects and movements at the time when starting to compose Gnossiennes. However some published versions claim the word derives from Cretan Knossos or “Gnossus” and link the Gnossiennes to Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur myth.

    Wikipedia, Gnossienne article

    Beginning in 1656, Pascal published his memorable attack on casuistry, a popular ethical method used by Catholic thinkers in the early modern period (especially the Jesuits, and in particular Antonio Escobar). Pascal denounced casuistry as the mere use of complex reasoning to justify moral laxity and all sorts of sins. His method of framing his arguments was clever: the Provincial Letters pretended to be the report of a Parisian to a friend in the provinces on the moral and theological issues then exciting the intellectual and religious circles in the capital. Pascal, combining the fervor of a convert with the wit and polish of a man of the world, reached a new level of style in French prose. The 18-letter series was published between 1656 and 1657 under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte and incensed Louis XIV. The king ordered that the book be shredded and burnt in 1660. In 1661, in the midsts of the formulary controversy, the Jansenist school at Port-Royal was condemned and closed down; those involved with the school had to sign a 1656 papal bull condemning the teachings of Jansen as heretical. The final letter from Pascal, in 1657, had defied the Pope himself, provoking Alexander VII to condemn the letters. But that didn’t stop all of educated France from reading them. Even Pope Alexander, while publicly opposing them, nonetheless was persuaded by Pascal’s arguments. He condemned “laxism” in the church and ordered a revision of casuistical texts just a few years later (1665-66).

    Aside from their religious influence, the Provincial Letters were popular as a literary work. Pascal’s use of humor, mockery, and vicious satire in his arguments made the letters ripe for public consumption, and influenced the prose of later French writers like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

    Wide praise has been given to the Provincial Letters. Voltaire called the Letters “the best-written book that has yet appeared in France.” And when Bossuet was asked what book he would rather have written had he not written his own, he answered, the Provincial Letters of Pascal.

    Wikipedia, Blaise Pascal article

  • MHV, while any appearance of Marker in print is a good thing, I the book you mention seems to contain only a few pages of extracts, and not the entire text.

  • Ah yes, you’re right. I bought the book “Le voyage vers l’est” and was sad to see that only excerpts had been used. The editors even specially underlined Marker’s contribution.

    However, the CD-ROM Immemory has the entire text of Coréennes in French, on top of having all the photos. They are in low resolution, and somewhat photoshopped like those in Staring Back, but they are there nonetheless.

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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