Unreal Nature

March 26, 2016

Nail Marks

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… because this needs to be told, you need to bear this knowledge from the past.

Final post from Chris Marker: La Jetée, by Janet Harbord (2009):

… At the edges of the story is a sense that both words and images are flimsy fabrications of time. At best, words and images sculpt time, craft it into shapes and frameworks, but these bear little relation to subjective experience. Language and images do not hold or contain this substance, but possibly they present a tentative consensus about how time will be displayed, performed and acted out.

In the narrator’s insistence on the ‘now’ of telling, there is, of course, a type of truth. Each time the film is shown, the time of telling is the present. But by the same token, the present is also moveable, a reiteration of a ‘now’ that can in fact be spoken at any time, and is delivered at every repeated exhibition of the work. In the gap between the time and the record of the time lies a wealth of speculation.

[ … ]

… Working with scriptwriter Jean Cayrol, Marker co-wrote the commentary for Resnais’s Night and Fog, a film that returns to Auschwitz ten years after the liberation. Mixing contemporary images with archive stills and footage, the narration articulates questions of memory as place. In its construction (the design detail of watch towers, the process of organizing the building works), we find that these very ‘mundane’ matters facilitate this most extraordinary event.

[line break added] Place is the retainer of traumatic memory if we know how to look. In one of the final images of the film the camera moves across the surface of a ceiling in a chamber. The narrator says this: ‘The only sign — but you have to know — is this ceiling, dug into by fingernails.’ The sentence hangs in the air in its ambiguity or its fullness of meaning — ‘you have to know’ inferring that you need to be told for the nail marks to become legible. And it signifies again: ‘mais il faut savoir,’ because this needs to be told, you need to bear this knowledge from the past.

My most recent previous post from Harbord’s book is here.

-Julie

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