Dossier Chris Marker: The Suffering Image

Cambridge Scholars Press (2012)
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This study firstly addresses three threads in Chris Marker’s work – theology, Marxism, and Surrealism – through a mapping of the work of both Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida onto the varied production of his film and photographic work. Notably, it is late Agamben and late Derrida that is utilized, as both began to exit so-called post-structuralism proper with the theological turn in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It addresses these threads through the means to ends employed and as ends proper (as production of semi-autonomous works that also, paradoxically, index a much larger field of inquiry and theoretical praxis). It is perhaps French “schizophrenia” regarding theological versus political agency that best accounts for the sardonic deployment of irony and humor in Marker’s work in the face of Big History. Such means to ends (plus a subtle anti-intellectualism vis-à-vis fashionable academic trends) tend to underscore the severity and ultimate sincerity of Marker’s overall cultural-political project. Dossier Chris Marker is also a study of a late-modern chiasmus, impersonal-personal agency, as it comes to expression in the works of Marker, as the dynamic interplay of political and subjective agency. As chiasmus, the complementary halves of this often-apocalyptic dynamis (a semi-catastrophic, temporal or historical force-field) also – arguably – secretly agree to meet, through the work of art, in the futural (problematized in contemporary French post-phenomenological and post-post-structuralist theory as “the event).” Consistent with the classical figure of concordia discors, Marker resolves these irreducible warring aspects of life experience in an atemporal and ahistorical moment that inhabits the work of art from its inception. This redemptive aspect in art is also the ultimate gesture of the artwork as autonomous subject and “mask” (or “screen”) for forces that reside beyond the frame of the image or work, as its proverbial Other, or within the frame, as other to that Other. Despite the complications of the as-yet unresolved post-modern condition (its nihilist-relativist bias), and its similar, mostly circular concerns with the image and/or media, Marker’s work is clearly not post-modern. In fact, when tested against immemorial cultural epiphenomena, that work withstands all attempts at categorization and/or art-historical analysis proper. It remains unassimilable to the post-modern cause ... What emerges, upon closer examination, and through rigorous re-contextualization, is the prescient force of Marker’s works toward that futural state buried in art that is also “theological,” versus atheological, and heedlessly anterior to cultural politics per se. In the case of Marker, this age-old or immemorial “thing-in-itself” (the artwork as image of world-chiasmus) finds its foremost or penultimate formation in his very-still photography – the singular images that are also the building blocks for his renowned ciné-essays. Not without irony, this same austere, reductive force of the still image (as form of proscription) also inhabits the more complex, synthetic works (or montages) that he has formulated and presented “dramatically,” here and there, through the often-sketchy apparatuses of his new-media experiments, as of the late 1980s. Ultimately, this world-image as chiasmus was always present within his earliest literary projects, from the 1940s forward – most especially in books and essays, with or without actual images. Marker’s “return” to photography (to exhibiting still photography in galleries), in the late 2000s, is in many ways a return to the singular object of the artist-critic’s desire; the image in/for itself, while that image – endlessly troubled or interrogated for decades – continues to speak “in tongues” anyway, often against, or oblivious to, the voice of the author/artist/narrator. Marker is a High Romantic Christian Marxist. The “Christic” aspect is rightly well-hidden, but emerges when the eschatological versus historical center of his work is exposed (the existential-metaphysical fuse such as also inhabits the works of Caravaggio), and when his early years are examined in light of his later and/or final years. Marker’s semi-personal/semi-impersonal apocalyptic vision is writ large in diverse works that cross decades, figuring a redemptive, world-shattering formation of art as pleroma.

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