DocLit

Chris Marker: Memories of the Future

by Catherine Lupton, Reaktion Books Ltd, 256 pages

Need an inspirational shot in the arm? Ever wonder how to bend technology to your will? Or how to explore complex questions of identity, politics, death? Then spend some time with a master in Catherine Lupton’s Chris Marker: Memories of the Future. In this accessible, compact volume, Lupton details Chris Marker’s entire oeuvre as writer, critic, filmmaker and multimedia artist from the 1940s to the present.

André Bazin once referred to Marker as the camera-stylo because the latter’s film work is so rooted in the written word. Starting out in the ’40s as a poet, novelist and critic, Marker transposed the essay structure into the visual medium. Marker’s documentaries and fiction hybrids rely on random associations, much like Proust’s madeleines, tocreate meditations on the connection between narrative and memory.

Since contemporary Western societies are notoral cultures, it is left up to the media makers to pass on the identity myths of the global village. Profoundly concerned with the narrative legacies we will leave future generations, Marker has traveled the world, much like storytellers of yesteryear, to bring back pieces of ourselves. Opening doors onto forgotten or ignored vistas of cultural memory, Marker’s work reanimates languishing histories.

In his series on ancient Greek culture, An Owl’s Legacy, Marker emphasizes that one thing we need more of in Western culture is a belief like Plato’s: that philosophy is a preparation for meeting death. In Sunless (Sans Soleil), he explores the unwritten history of Okinawa during the Second World War, the nature of cats and Hitchcockian cinema; it’s a cine-essay that enlarges the palette of human emotions available to us. In the same way that knowing more than one language expands our perspective of the world, Marker’s work reveals the depth and complexity of humanity.

Marker is particularly “attentive to the place of technology as support and mediator of memory, ”but also how it effects action. During the late 1960s, he was involved with a militant filmmaking cooperative whose focus was to document trade unionism using film as a tool to incite action and self-actualization within the workers. À Bientôt, j’espére (1968) is about the strikes at the Rhodia factory in Lyon, France. In it, “the men describe the constantly changing eight-hour shift cycle that disrupted their home life and left them too exhausted to do more than watch television and sleep, effectively denying them a right to cultural interests, hobbies, or educational development.” Seeing themselves through the eyes of the documentary, the workers realized, for the first time, that they valued art as much as economics and so began a movement that affected all governmental branches of the arts and culture in France.

A central preoccupation of Marker’s is the division between art and work that democratic capitalism imposes; he believes that technology can be used to heal that Cartesian split. This utopian ideal is best demonstrated in Marker’s CD-ROM project, Immemory. Interactive in innovative ways—icons that open only when the mouse is moved slowly over it and disappear entirely if approached too quickly—is an album of Marker’s memories, a catalogue of decades of observations. It’s also a computer box of madeleines. “Marker’s final wish for Immemory, the same one he had expressed with regard to [his early work], was that the visitor might be furnished with enough familiar cues [so that] everyone might write poetry, and compose their own list of things that quicken the heart.”

American writer Finley Eversole wrote in his book The Politics of Creativity that “in our society, at the age of five, 90% of the population measures ‘high creativity.’ By the age of seven, the figure has dropped to 10%. And the percentage of adults with high creativity is only 2%! Our creativity is destroyed not through use of outside force, but through criticism, innuendo.” Reading about Chris Marker’s oeuvre makes you realize that the reanimation of languishing creativity is as important to personal well being as it is to cultural. Catherine Lupton’s book Chris Marker: Memoriesof the Future makes the point that creativity is intimately and inextricably bound up with notions of history and politics, and that the future will remember only what we create for it now. So ask yourself, what do you want the future to remember of you?