Letters from an Unknown Filmmaker: Chris Marker's Sans Soleil and the Politics of Memory

Chuck Tryon

[1] During an early sequence of his 1982 film, Sans Soleil, Chris Marker's restless camera records what he describes as a Japanese ceremony for broken dolls. On a specific day every year, Marker tells us, Japanese girls bring their broken dolls to this ceremony to be consumed by a fire. In the shot we witness the detritus of everyday life, the discarded objects that might provide us with an interpretive clue for understanding our position within mass culture. A following shot shows a broken doll Marker later found in the marketplace in Guinea Bissau. The shot of the burning dolls seems to suggest the speed with which they have become outmoded, fallen out of fashion. This disjunction between the temporality of Guinea-Bissau and of Japan provides Marker with a position from which he can consider, more broadly, the construction of cinematic time and space. These questions of constructions of time and space inevitably have political consequences in that our understandings of time and space inform our definitions of history, memory, utopia, crisis, and revolution [1]. Sans Soleil, itself an artifact from an already receding past, uses emergent digital technologies to disrupt the reified, regulated time of cinematic movement in order to challenge the dominant historical narratives of the 1980s that had come to celebrate the spectacular culture associated with the expansion of capitalism into new sectors of the world and the subsequent transformations of everyday life that this expansion entails. In Sans Soleil, this reflection on cinematic time takes the form of a traveling filmmaker who circles the globe, filming images that capture his interest. Through this figure, Sans Soleil offers a new way of seeing and thinking not only our relationship to images but also the role of images-cinematic and otherwise-in producing our experience of time. This disruptive force involves the relative temporal structures of cinema, television, and new media as they impose upon definitions of history, memory, and utopia, in that the disruption of reified and regulated cinematic time constitutes an interruption of the standardized chronological time that emerges with the development of industrial capitalism. This disruption of chronological time also enacts a resistance to the present that can be understood as a starting point for utopian thinking.

[2] Sans Soleil employs a time-travel narrative in order to reflect on the temporality of cinematic, televisual, and digital images. The film focuses on the journeys of a fictional filmmaker, Sandor Krasna, who travels around the globe, filming whatever interests him and sending those images to an unseen woman, Alexandra Stewart, who reads, paraphrases, and sometimes comments on the letters that accompany his films. In one of his "letters," the filmmaker reports that he has become interested in "the coexistence of different concepts of time." Marker's film generally consists of documentary footage taken in Japan, Guinea-Bissau, San Francisco, and Iceland, though many of the film's images are composed on a synthesizer that Krasna refers to as "The Zone," in homage to Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. These documentary images are reworked, worked on, by the new technology of the computer synthesizer, establishing Marker's complicated analysis of the viewing technologies of the cinema and television and the new one associated with the computer. Sans Soleil shifts restlessly between Iceland, Japan, and Guinea-Bissau, drifting back and forth between the 1960s and the 1980s, simulating the space and time travel of the cinematic time machine. These cinematic journeys, which resemble the unpredictable rhythms of memory itself, allow Marker to create a "resistant memory" through the work performed by the computer synthesizer, which "remembers" the images of the past, but also transforms them, reactivating them in a new context, for the purposes of political transformation [2]. This physical transformation of the image becomes a means of rethinking the ways in which the past is rewritten by technologies of history and memory and therefore provides a key for resisting the current social order, which Marker accomplishes through the disruption of cinematic time, which he presents as homologous to the disruption of the everyday. Through the "disruptive" visual interpretations he creates in the Zone, Marker reactivates the forces of resistance from the social revolutions in the 1960s, reclaiming them for the present in the spirit of continued resistance against domination. This emphasis on disruption, figured through the Zone, allows Marker to think historically, while at the same privileging the act of creating new concepts and mew images.

The Emergence of Post-Cinematic Time

[3] In order to understand the disruptive force of Marker's cinematic time machine, it is important to keep in mind that cinema itself has long been understood in terms of its capacity for representing time. Within discussions of film theory, it is not uncommon to understand cinema as a type of time machine, a technology that, figuratively speaking, can transport us through time and space. Anne Friedberg, tracing cinema's tendency toward producing time-shifting experiences, notes that cinema constructs what she calls a "mobilized, virtual gaze," which had the potential to provide spectators with the illusion of being transported in time and space. Friedberg reads this virtual mobility as potentially overwhelming to viewers who were not familiar or comfortable with such time-shifting technologies, creating the effect of "detemporalized" spectators [3]. Friedberg's concept of a detemporalized spectator seems to imply an original, temporalized subject-before the emergence of the cinema and other time-shifting technologies who had an unmediated relationship to time.

[4] More crucially, this understanding of cinema as producing temporal disorientation requires a cinematic time characterized by the construction of a reified, regulated, linear time. In The Emergence of Cinematic Time, Mary Ann Doane notes that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, "the emerging cinema participated in a more general cultural imperative, the structuring of time and contingency in capitalist modernity" (3-4). Doane argues that new technologies of representation led to a thorough reconsideration of the representability of time, a question that re-emerges in contemporary considerations of digital technologies and their relationship to the construction of time. In this context, it is important to note that I am not arguing for the existence of a natural, or unmediated, experience of time that antecedes the emergence of cinema and other "time-shifting" technologies. Instead, cinema is one of many technologies that emerge during industrial capitalism that were involved in changing human representations and experiences of time and space. The image of time that emerged in the early twentieth century, Doane points out, "became increasingly reified, standardized, stabilized, and rationalized" (5), a temporal organization that can be understood in terms of the inexorable progression of photograms at twenty-four frames per second through the film projector [4]. Doane further argues that this rationalized, irreversible time is complicit with "notions of the inevitability of a technologically induced historical progress" (7).

[5] This automatic movement produces, as Gilles Deleuze points out, an automatism of thought as well, reinforcing habitual ways of seeing and thinking [5]. Deleuze describes this relationship in terms of the transition from the regime of the movement-image into that of the time-image. Rather than the ordered, logical, and rational movement of chronological time associated with the early cinema's attempts to track movement, the time-image becomes identified with "images of disorder, instability, and diversity" (Rodowick 16). Deleuze argues that the crisis of the movement-image grew out of an increasing number of situations that outstripped our abilities to react and describe [6]. Like Deleuze and Doane, I see the cinema of the movement-image as producing habitual ways of thinking and seeing. Further, cinematic time develops alongside other technologies-such as the assembly line and railroad transportation that have similar effects on structuring experiences of time and space [7]. It thus becomes the goal of cinema to create new concepts of time.

[6] Against the irreversible linearity of cinematic movement, other temporalities can and do emerge to challenge this notion of progress. In fact, it is precisely this homogeneous time that allows for Marker's temporal experimentation in Sans Soleil. During the opening sequences of the film, Sans Soleil uses tracking shots taken from the window of a commuter train, creating a homology between the linear movement of the train along the railroad tracks and the steady progression of the filmstrip through the movie projector. Gradually, in Sans Soleil, as new visual technologies are introduced into the narrative, this homogeneous cinematic time begins to unravel, opening the film up to the temporal structures of television and computers. In this context, it is important to recall that cinema itself constantly engages multiple temporalities simultaneously. Thus far, I have been speaking primarily of the temporality of the apparatus itself, the ordered movement of film frames through the projector, but against that temporal movement, we must also consider the temporality of reception, which may very well be distinct from the apparatus, despite efforts to fuse them together. Further, the time of the narrative itself may diverge considerably from the time of the apparatus and the time of reception.

[7] In Sans Soleil, Marker not only disrupts the regulated chronological time of cinema with the incursion of the digital, but he also makes visible time relations within the image by invoking pasts that haunt the present, but may also provide a key to transforming the present and the future. This approach to cinema is consistent with what D.N. Rodowick refers to as a "utopian art and philosophy." According to Rodowick, "The utopian aspect of art and philosophy is the perpetuation of a memory of resistance. This is a resistance to habitual repetition-a time that is calculated, rationalized, and reified. But it is also a resistance to all forms of commerce or exchange, whether in the form of communication or that of commodities" (204). Sans Soleil enacts this form of resistance by disrupting cinematic time through the new digital technology that Marker refers to as "The Zone," which is explicitly portrayed as breaking the habitual repetition of the "everydays" of both Tokyo and Guinea-Bissau and recovering forgotten aspects of their pasts in order to transform the present.

[8] Sans Soleil challenges these dominant narratives, in part, through its critique of documentary form. One of the typical expectations of documentary filmmaking is that the film will be "objective" in its presentation, that the camera, because it is "objective" can or will present the material it films without bias. In "Signs of the Time," Laura U. Marks writes, "documentary's discursive stumbling block is the myth of objectivity" (201). According to Marks, because the ideal of truth in documentary filmmaking is based upon a fiction, working within the logic of objectivity will always reaffirm the dominant history. Marker resists this logic through his efforts to acknowledge the subjectivity of his approach to the images he films. He emphasizes the filmmaker's subjectivity through the trope of the letters or "cinematic postcards" that the film's fictional filmmaker sends to the unseen narrator. At the same time, this "subjectivity" is complicated by the distancing effect of the narrative premise of the fictional filmmaker Sandor Krasna. Further, the narrator's comments on the letters emphasize the role of the viewer in making sense of the images. Catherine Lupton affirms this complication of the distinction between objective and subjective images, commenting that this layering of recollections in Sans Soleil "alert us to the fact that even the most apparently spontaneous verbal expressions of personal memory are no less representational and conventional than filmed images" [8]. Instead of an authoritative account of these global relations, Marker offers us a partial narrative, one that is clearly filtered through the lens, and language, of the fictional filmmaker. Through this method, Marker avoids the dangers of producing a purely objective or subjective image of Japan or Guinea-Bissau.

[9] This recognition of the difficulties of representation and recollection manifests itself in Krasna's reflection on how to film the women of Guinea-Bissau, culminating in a series of medium-close-ups of African women in the marketplace conducting their daily business. The camera sustains a respectful distance, looking closely without invading the space of the other. These sequences acknowledge Marker's self-consciousness about the possibility that his camera may be seen as invasive. As Olu Oguibe observes, "Wherever open hostility developed towards the camera, it almost always had to do more with the invasive tactics of its European operators than with a peculiar African inability to understand or accept the medium" (567) [9]. When Marker films the African women, most of the women look into the camera with a frankness that contradicts the cinematic practice of creating the false image of an objective event taking place in front of a silently observing camera. This sequence culminates in an exchange of glances between Krasna's camera and an African woman: "I see her. She sees me. She drops me her glance but just at an angle where it is still possible act as though it was not addressed to me." Finally the woman looks directly into the camera, but only for the duration of one film frame, reinforcing the extent to which cinematic movement is the product of isolated photograms passing relentlessly through the projector.

Marker's Cinematic Postcards

[10] In order to develop these questions about cinematic time and memory, Sans Soleil also investigates the problem of cinematic address, meditating not just on the recording and production of motion pictures, but their reception and transmission as well. This conceptualization of the cinema reworks the formula offered by Jean-Luc Godard who once claimed that "to make cinema or television, technically, is to send twenty-five postcards per second to millions of people, either in time or in space, of that which technically can only be unreal" (quoted in Dienst 129). The logic of the postcard as a system for thinking about images, messages, and their transmission is developed in Jacques Derrida's The Post Card, with the postcard becoming a means for thinking about not only the relationship between sound and image, but also about the need for sufficient postage, the tremendous capital required to make a film. Postcards also require a correct address, an audience that is directly addressed by the film [10]. In Sans Soleil, the visuals are accompanied by the voice of an unseen woman, Alexandra Stewart, reading letters she has ostensibly received from a globetrotting filmmaker, Sandor Krasna. This motif makes us more fully aware that the sender of these images, Marker or Krasna, chooses only those images that interest him. At the same time, the unseen reader receives the letters, sorts through them, making connections, and interpreting them in the light of the images that accompany them. More significantly, the postcards convey a sense of fragmentation, of partial and incomplete narratives that stand in for the fragmentation of contemporary experiences of time and space.

[11] This notion of travel is also bound up in the image of the postcard, which as Malek Alloula notes, always involves traversing spatial and temporal distances: "Travel is the essence of the postcard, and expedition is its mode. It is the fragmentary return to the mother country. It straddles two spaces: the one it represents and the one it will reach…. In the postcard there is the suggestion of complete metaphysics of uprootedness" (520). Only a small number of shots in the film were filmed in France, Marker's home. Marker's alter ego, Sandor Krasna, has the capital necessary to make these journeys around the globe, a position that is open only to a small number of people. His apparent unregulated mobility suggests a liberation from the regulation of a public time-schedule based on his apparent freedom to travel unlike the forced mobility of many of the people that Krasna encounters during his journeys across the globe. In Questions of Travel, Caren Kaplan addresses the various distinctions between travel and displacement, reminding us that for many people, the world has changed so deeply that "staying home" is no longer possible (7). Thus, images of travel are always marked by other terms that signal far less desirable separations from home-displacement, homelessness, and exile, a theme that returns with incredible frequency in Sans Soleil. Marker's attention to Tokyo's unemployed and homeless during the opening sequences of the film underscores this focus. This sense of uprootedness is also reflected in the experiences of the people of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands, whom Krasna describes as "travelers, wanderers, and navigators." Finally, Marker considers another, more pernicious form of displacement when Krasna reflects on the experiences of the men and women of Okinawa who were suddenly thrust into the twentieth century due to the violent World War II battles that took place on the island country. He reports that gift shops now sell cigarette lighters modeled on the hand grenades that several Okinawa girls used to commit suicide rather than face the brutality of the war. More recently, the American military base on the island brings with it the detritus of contemporary capitalism and Western culture, such as bowling alleys and gas stations, with the result that the indigenous culture of the island will be lost forever, with history being transformed into mere image.

[12] It is also important to note that all postcards require sufficient postage in order to ensure delivery. In this context, the "stamp" of a documentary film would be the funding required for production and distribution, and as Marks observes, funding institutions tend to privilege those films that already have an established viewpoint: "The funding process therefore biases documentary production to prejudge the world, rather than to allow the world to flow into the film" (202). This approach to documentary filmmaking obviates the creation of new thoughts and merely reproduces accepted truths about the world [11]. Such an approach not only limits the production of new concepts, it also affirms the existent social order. As Richard Dienst observes, "The stamp commemorates a payment to tradition, to heritage and authority" (139). In this sense, the goal of a critical documentary filmmaker is to counteract the official discourse, in Marker's case, on the global relations being mapped by the Cold War proliferation of destructive weapons and the capitalist expansion into new markets. Throughout the film, the images captured by Marker's camera struggle against already established meanings or interpretations of Japan and Guinea Bissau.

"Only Banality Still Interests Me": Marker and the Everyday

[13] Marker's critique of documentary filmmaking in Sans Soleil is informed by his complicated treatment of the everyday. Kransa introduces this focus on the everyday early in the film, commenting, "I've been around the world and now only banality still interests me. On this trip, I've tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter." This "everyday" is intimately linked to the homogeneous time of the dominant history and the reified, regulated time of the cinematic image. During an early sequence of the film, Marker develops a critique of the everyday-the Japanese commuters rising before dawn to travel to the city center and the African women shopping in the marketplace-through images of repetition. The implacable movement of film frames through the motion picture projector echoes the rhythm of the commuter train, with tracking shots out the train's window confirming this perception, this way of seeing. This contemplation on the everyday is framed through Kransa's reference to Sei Shonagon, the 11th century poet who, according to Krasna, drew "a melancholy comfort from the contemplation of the tiniest things," by creating lists of elegant things, things not worth doing, and things that quicken the heart. Krasna identifies himself with Shonagon, noting that her lists are "not a bad criteria" when he is filming his cinematic postcards. At the same time, the references to Sei Shonagon emphasize the act of creation, her act of producing the lists that so profoundly affected Japanese culture.

[14] By everyday, I mean precisely the banality, the daily activities that are taken as commonplace, habitual, or normative, the repetition that prevents thinking. At the same time, the everyday involves the possibility of the chance occurrence that can potentially disrupt it. In his discussion of Henri Lefebvre, Peter Osborne comments that "in the past,… the everyday was offset by the interruptive break of the religious holiday, the festival, or the carnival. In capitalist societies, on the other hand, the break from work becomes increasingly routinized within the everyday" (193). Marker engages with this tension throughout Sans Soleil: shots of carnivals in Guinea Bissau link to images of neighborhood festivals in Japan. Japan fascinates Krasna in part because of the many religious ceremonies he encounters and their implied connection to an ancient past, but at the same time, there is the danger that these ceremonies may lose their ruptural force, instead functioning to reproduce the habitual practices of the everyday. Over a shot of Japanese tourists gazing at artifacts borrowed from the Vatican and displayed in a Tokyo department, Krasna imagines the viewers inventing "a more efficient form of Catholicism," or incorporating the disruptiveness into the everyday. Further, Osborne observes that everyday life can be understood simultaneously as "the sedimented result of myriad repetitive practices" and as "open to the randomness of the chance occurrence" (197). Marker's film opens up both possibilities as well, emphasizing the repetitive practices of daily life in Guinea Bissau and Tokyo, while at the same time intercutting the two versions of the everyday in order to break them down.

[15] The everyday must also be understood as a geographically and historically specific concept, one rooted in contemporary global capitalism, but also regionally specific based on modes of production. The "everyday experience" that Krasna tracks during his visits to Tokyo-the spectacular images, the trains, the department stores, and television shows-flourish within the context of the Cold War and capitalist expansion after the Second World War. At the same time, Tokyo, like many other cities, offers a mixture of old and new, cutting between sites of "spectacular imagery" and the ancient past, the neighborhood celebrations, the local legends, such as the statue of a dog who used to wait for his owner beside a rail station. These swirling temporalities inform the experience of everydayness in Tokyo.

[16] In this sense, the everyday is a highly complex temporal concept. The everyday is, on the one hand, marked by endless routine and monotony. On the other, it is characterized by speed and acceleration. As Henri Lefebvre describes it: "The days follow one another and resemble one another, and yet-and here lies the contradiction at the heart of everydayness-everything changes. But the change is programmed: obsolescence is planned…. Some people cry out against the acceleration of time, others cry out against stagnation. They're both right" (10). It then becomes the object of a resistant art to disrupt the everyday, a process that takes place on two levels in Sans Soleil, formally through techniques that interrupt the reified temporality of the cinematic apparatus and philosophically through the reflections on how these techniques can produce a "resistant memory." Thus, by establishing this image of the everyday, Sans Soleil puts us in a position to disrupt it through the travel narrative Sandor Krasna, and later through the interruptive technology of Zone.

Impossible Connections

[17] Sans Soleil asks us to think through the multiple temporalities of cinema in order to rethink the politics of the representation of time. This problem is situated around the logic of cinematic movement and the concept of the everyday. In order to investigate this relationship between cinematic time and the everyday, Marker opens with a compelling montage sequence that is fulfilled only much later in the film. The film opens with a strip of black leader, as Alexandra Stewart reads one of Krasna's letters: "The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland." We then see, without any sound or narration of any kind, a shot of three laughing children walking across a lush green field in Iceland in 1965. Over black leader, the film's narrator recounts that

He said that for him it was the image of happiness, and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me, "one day I'll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don't see the happiness, at least they'll see the black."

The image of happiness cannot be "seen" in its fullness, recognized, until the film cuts to a segment of black leader, disconnecting the shot from the rest of the film and calling attention to the cut, to the links between images and how they create meaning. In this sequence, Sans Soleil introduces the "postcard" motif, with Krasna's letters and images traversing distances of time, space, and thought, while also establishing a disjunction between sound and image, between what the camera witnesses and what the filmmaker says about it. However, rather than affirming either sound or image as primary, Sans Soleil puts into play the tension between the two in order to rethink, and potentially rework, cinematic representation. The voice-over narration emphasizes the opposition between the camera capturing the image and the relays and gaps between filming the image and broadcasting it, while establishing the distinction between sound and image. This method immediately invokes the fragmentary logic of the postcard motif, recalling for the viewer the representational limits of both sound and image, specifically in the context of ethical documentary filmmaking. Laura U. Marks comments that in cinema, "image and sound tracks usually corroborate each other, but they can also be used to undermine each other, to show the limit of what each is able to represent" (204). This limitation has powerful implications in that it gestures toward the impossibility of representing everyday experiences. The image is initially isolated, stranded, at the beginning of the film, in a self-conscious resistance to images that are easily understood and connected to other contexts.

[18] The impossibility of linking two seemingly incommensurable shots is reinforced by the physical and temporal "space" between the first two shots of the film. Following this strip of black leader, we see acquired footage of bomber planes disappearing into an aircraft carrier and satellites orbiting around the earth, recalling the Cold War context in which the film was made, suggesting the potential for apocalyptic destruction and placing the entire film under the sign of crisis. This framing narrative will return later in the film when Krasna "returns" to Iceland a few years after he filmed the children, when a volcano erupted burying their village. The implication is that this moment captured by Krasna's restless movie camera-"the image of happiness"-has been endangered, that it cannot be connected to the contemporary situation in which he produces the film. The bomber planes and Polaris missiles might also be understood in terms of their relationship to cinematic perception, echoing the arguments made by Paul Virilio, who has linked cinematic perception to the logistics of war and fascism [12].

[19] Shots of satellites floating over the earth have a slightly different significance. As Lisa Parks points out, "both satellites and computer networks became the quintessential strategic technologies, emerging at the peak of the Cold War" (279). For Parks, while computer networks, during the Cold War, had the tendency to close worldly space, satellites had the opposite effect, suggesting that "the world would become a smaller and more intimate place" (279). The satellite photographs, which began to appear during the 1960s context crucial to Marker's politics, reinforce this notion of fragility associated with the isolated "image of happiness" at the beginning of the film. However, as Parks points out, more recent projects, such as the Digital Earth, should remind us that these satellite representations are far from innocent and may have the effect of presenting a Eurocentric, culturally elitist, and sanitized history that reinforces official discourses on global relations. Marker's film explicitly challenges this ideology by invoking the images of the satellites and reinscribing them precisely in order to challenge these discourses.

[20] These impossible linkages, connected through the narrative structure of the traveling filmmaker, anticipate the shift in time and space from 1960s Iceland through 1980s Japan and finally to Guinea Bissau, with Marker himself shifting to a focus on opening up, and rupturing, the everyday. After the shot of the bomber planes, Sans Soleil cuts to an early morning ferry off Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, carrying sleeping commuters into Tokyo. During this sequence, Marker begins his reflection on the everyday, linking it to the repetition of cinematic movement through the tracking shots taken from the window of the ferry from Hokkaido and the commuter train entering Tokyo. Krasna comments in one of his letters that "rich and harried Japanese take the plane. Others take the ferry. Waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep-curiously, all of that makes me think of a past or future war. Night trains, air raids, fallout shelters; small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life" (my emphasis) [13]. Because the shots of the commuters follow several shots of powerfully destructive weapons, the specters of past and future violence-including the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki-haunt the image, but at the same time, the shot sequence emphasizes the extent to which these technologies condition the everydayness of Japanese life.

[21] This shot sequence introducing the everyday life of Japan is disrupted by a cut to shots of the everyday in Guinea-Bissau; the "spectacular culture" of Tokyo is contrasted with the African marketplace. Marker interrupts the everyday of Tokyo through the sudden, unexpected cut to shots of ordinary life in the tiny African nation of Guinea-Bissau. It might be tempting to see these sequences in isolation, to read them in terms of two versions of daily experience, as if the idea of "everyday life has always existed," but Sans Soleil short-circuits that interpretation, focusing instead on how the two locations have much different experiences of time and space. This disruption pivots, in part, on the different temporalities established during these sequences, and these temporal structures are reflected in part by the contrasting modes of production identified with the two locations. During this sequence, Stewart recalls that Krasna had "contrasted African time to European time and also to Asian time. He said that in the nineteenth century, mankind had come to terms with space and that the great question of the twentieth century was the coexistence of different concepts of time" [14]. This division between the two concepts of time is explicitly connected to technologies of visual representation. Tokyo is characterized as a culture completely immersed in spectacle, with televisions, robots, and computers dominating the mise-en-scène, while Guinea-Bissau is initially identified with the illusion of realism associated with documentary filmmaking. Images of work and leisure in Guinea-Bissau might initially appear to be unmediated, the result of a camera objectively filming whatever happens to pass in front of it, but the disjunction between sound and image shatters this apparent objectivity.

[22] During this sequence, Marker also explains his fascination with Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde islands, noting that they successfully fought a guerilla war, led by Amilcar Cabral, against their Portuguese colonizers, with Krasna recalling in one letter that "they did what they could," freeing themselves from their Portuguese colonizers. After the successful revolution against the injustices of colonialism, the two nations fell into political strife. Amilcar Cabral was assassinated before he had a chance to lead the postwar government, and one of Cabral's former generals led a coup against Cabral's brother, Luis, forcing him into exile in Cuba. As Krasna points out, this revolutionary moment is in danger of being forgotten, lost within the official discourses that neglect this history. At the same time, Marker suggests that contemporary images of Guinea Bissau are inadequate in representing this history or the experiences of the people of Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde islands. Instead, new ways of seeing must be imagined.

Television, or the Sense of History

[23] Marker expands this reflection on visual technologies and their corresponding representations of time and history by returning to Japan. Tokyo comes across as a futuristic city, already well into the age of simulation. In Terminal Identity, Scott Bukatman notes that the Tokyo sequences present the city "as a science fiction metropolis" (25), producing in the viewer a sense of disorientation due to the signs that Krasna encounters and chooses to film. In this context, Bukatman argues that Tokyo entails "a proliferation of semiotic systems and simulations which increasingly serve to replace physical human experience and interaction" (26). This alienation, however, is still being contested, as the images of the neighborhood ceremonies and the teenage subcultures imply. These activities continue to offer one potential disruption of the everyday, however attenuated they might be. At the same time, Bukatman misreads Marker's full treatment of spectacular culture when he identifies the experience of Tokyo as utterly passive. Such a reading glosses the film's dialectic between the different temporalities of Tokyo and Guinea-Bissau and their potential disruption in the Zone.

[24] This gradual transformation of the everyday in Tokyo emerges in Marker's treatment of Japanese television. TV, of course, offers a much different representation of time and space than the cinema. As Richard Dienst points out, television is "a machine for the prodigious regulated construction and circulation of time" (159). However, unlike cinema, which tends to produce a regulated, linear, chronological time, TV produces an experience characterized by multiple simultaneous channels. Margaret Morse notes that television entails "multiple worlds condensed into one visual field," adding that "the representation of mixed and simultaneous worlds is deeply allied with the cultural function of television in symbolically linking incommensurabilities of all sorts-the system of goods or commodities and the economic relations it orders, the sexual-matrimonial system which orders sociality, and the symbolic order of language, including images, symbols, and the spoken and written word" (115). Television, in Tokyo, performs precisely this operation, linking together a broad array of images, including a show on Cambodia and a documentary on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which Krasna struggles to understand as he watches in his hotel room, leading him to ask whether these connections were accidents or "the sense of history." Because the images all appear on television, they now have equal status and can be exchanged for each other. The images that Krasna encounters span the globe, suggesting that like the satellites that we see earlier in the film, TV embodies a dream of "seeing" the entire world. Krasna later refers to television as a "memory box," reinforcing this question of TV's status as an object for organizing and ordering our experiences of time and space.

[25] This experience of watching television is characterized by Krasna's passivity, his inability to make sense of the images that he watches, as Bukatman points out. Further, watching TV in Japan defamiliarizes the images he sees, making them virtually incomprehensible, with Krasna finding that the images of Europe are the most difficult for him. Later, Krasna reports the sensation of feeling watched by Japanese television ("voyeurizing the voyeurs"), a perception he reinforces by panning and tilting between stacked televisions showing heroines from Japanese horror films, all staring directly into the camera. This is not to suggest that television's construction of time and space is necessarily destructive or utterly resistant to historical thinking. Instead, as Margaret Morse points out, "'Kinks in the road' on television are temporal in order, possibilities of irruption of the unexpected in a plot or a schedule within an endlessness of parallel worlds which go on whether switched on or not" (121). This possibility of the emergence of the unexpected will inform Marker's later attempt to use the Zone as a technology that disrupts the everyday.

[26] This meditation on cinematic and televisual time becomes emblematic of the contemporary experience of Tokyo, with the everyday is permeated by the transmission and flow of images, producing a sense of passivity and artificiality. Krasna himself reflects that Tokyo's residents have "got in the habit of moving around in a world of appearances." Later in the film, Marker expands the stakes of this observation as Tokyo itself becomes a film. A shot of a transit worker collecting tickets from commuters suggests a ticket-taker at the movie theater providing admission to a movie. The shot, showing dozens of passengers passing through the turnstiles, also recalls the association between repetition and the everyday established earlier in the film in the sequence filmed from the commuter train. Then, after the commuters have boarded the train, Marker imagines their "dreams" to be haunted by the television broadcasts we have just watched, specifically the violent images from Japanese samurai and horror films. The filmmaker tells us,

More and more my dreams find their setting in the department stores of Tokyo. […] I begin to wonder if these dreams are really mine, or if they're part of a totality, a giant collective dream of which the entire city may be the projection. […] The same companies own the stores and railroads that bear their name. The train inhabited by sleeping people puts together all the fragments of dreams, makes a single film of them, the ultimate film.

The implication of imagining the city of Tokyo, specifically its department stores connected by the subterranean rail system, as a giant collective dream, one that must be read through the objects of that dream, the television images that grow increasingly disturbing, and the setting, the department stores that contribute to the production of this world of appearances. This "collective dream" can be interpreted via Benjamin's discussion of the Paris Arcades. Howard Hampton comments that Marker's films "could be considered the cinematic equivalent of Benjamin's sprawling, saturnine notebooks for his unfinished, literally interminable Arcades Project" (33) [15]. In this sense, television, fashion, and transportation all participate in the fabrication of an everyday experience characterized simultaneously by repetition and acceleration. It then becomes the goal of the film to reconfigure the everyday, disrupting it in order to imagine alternative forms of existence.

Into the Zone

[27] The world of appearances creates one possibility for reproducing an everyday characterized by repetition and acceleration. However, there are other possible configurations of the everyday that might challenge the official discourse, providing a reconsideration of what can and cannot be seen and said. In this context, it is important to emphasize that older concepts of liberation are untenable. It is impossible to return to a pretelevisual world of politics and the everyday. The concept of the Zone is a potentially resistant memory in that it entails a recognition that we cannot return to a world without television or an economy before capitalism. Instead, according to Marker's model, we are better served by recuperating elements of the failed revolutions of the past in order to imagine a way of transforming the present.

[28] This is not to suggest that all uses of the digital are inherently capable of defamiliarizing or transforming the everyday. In fact, Sans Soleil specifically shows how digital technologies, specifically video games, are already complicit in a kind of sensory training. Krasna recalls that on one of his visits to Tokyo, he became fascinated by the video games that began appearing around the city, including games built into tables so that people could continue to play while they were eating. In these games perception is aligned with weapons intended to shoot alien invaders in much the same way that the Digital Earth would align the viewer with the point of view of a sanitized historical narrative [16].

[29] Even though computer technologies have now remade constructions of time and space in ways that reinforce the logic of consumer capitalism and national defense, Marker identifies, in the defamiliarizing images of the Zone an alternative means of remaking perception and rewriting memory [17]. In order to enact this disruption, Marker thus turns to the emergent computer technologies to work through the representability of history, and the possibility of oppositional memory. This sequence essentially allows the filmmaker to regain control over the image, to overcome the passivity imposed by televisual images. Named in homage to Tarkovsky's Stalker, the Zone radically transforms the cinematic images captured by Marker's camera. In these sequences, shots of revolutionary soldiers led by Amilcar Cabral and of protestors resisting the building of an airport are digitally reworked, so that we become conscious of them as representations. Yamaneko tells Krasna at one point that he prefers the Zone to film because at least its images call attention to the fact, admit, that they are images, inauthentic representations of a lost past: "at least they proclaim themselves to be what they are, images." We recognize them immediately as manipulated, partial, and incomplete, virtually unrecognizable in comparison to the realist documentary footage presented earlier in the film. These sequences disrupt the linear progression of cinematic time, the reified, regulated time that represents technological progress. Instead, they combine a lost past, one that is in danger of being forgotten, with the anticipated future of digital technologies.

[30] Because of this complex temporality, Yamaneko sees in his synthesizer a means for establishing an oppositional memory, telling Krasna, that if he does not like the images of the present, then he can change the images of the past. Because of the Zone, Yamaneko and Krasna are capable of changing the memory of the past, of running images through the synthesizer in order to activate the "unfulfilled but possible futures" of the social revolutions of the 1960s [18]. In Marker's treatment of the Zone, the political resistance of the 1960s return to the surface, the memory of failed revolutions reborn through their re-insertion into the Zone [19]. These images include footage of the two political conflicts that capture Marker's attention, the guerilla war led by Amilcar Cabral and the attempt by Japanese activists to prevent the building of an airport. These images are broken down digitally, with colors and figures fading together until the images are virtually unrecognizable. Krasna reflects, in fact, that the images "resemble letters being burned," implying that the Zone is a form of forgetting. In this sense, the malleability of digital images serves as a metaphor for Krasna and Yamaneko's project of changing the images of the past, of reactivating the moments of resistance against the dominant social order. Through this digital simulation, Marker activates a political memory for a lost past, allowing us to imagine alternative futures growing out of forgotten pasts. This oppositional memory should not be understood as completely caught up in the logic of revolution associated with the 1960s. After all, both revolutionary moments that Krasna feeds into the Zone are characterized by their apparent failure: Cabral's attempt to establish a unity between Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau falters after the revolutionary moment, and despite the protests of Japanese peasants, workers, and students, the airport at Narita was eventually completed. Marker instead seizes on the moment of resistant thinking, associated with Amilcar Cabral and the Japanese activists, hoping to renew that moment of possibility when things might have taken a different direction.

[31] For this alternative vision of history and cinema to be imaginable, Krasna imagines making a film about a time traveler from the year 4001, "when the human brain has reached the era of full employment. After so many stories of men who have lost their memory, here is one who has lost forgetting." It is at this point in the film that Krasna "returns" to Iceland, with Marker showing acquired footage of the village he had filmed several years earlier buried under volcanic ash. Krasna observes that U.S. astronauts had visited the village in order to prepare for the experience of walking on the moon, creating the sense of an otherworldly place. But at the same time, the time traveler is also understood in terms of the homogeneous time of cinema, the impossibility of change or difference. In this sense, the time traveler stands in stark contrast to the inventiveness of time as Deleuze imagines it.

The Spirit of Unmailed Letters: Reactivating the Utopian Imagination

[32] As I have suggested, the role of Alexandra Stewart in reading Sandor Krasna's letters opens up this question of the temporality of reception, including the possibility that the letters, the film, might not be received at all. At the end of the film, Krasna, largely assimilated into the culture of Tokyo to the point that he imagines himself to be Japanese, reflects that "even if I was expecting no letters, I stopped at the general delivery window for one must honor the spirits of torn up letters and at the air mail counter to salute the spirits of unmailed letters." This recollection, made at the end of the film, over the defamiliarized and defamiliarizing images of the Zone, ultimately reinforces the utopian logic of the Zone, with its fragmentary images that invoke, for Marker, the possibility of a resistance to the present social order.

[33] As the film concludes, Marker takes us back into Yamaneko's Zone, which produces the falsifying images of the 1960s struggles for liberation that Marker had shown earlier in the film. He tells us in the final letter of the film that he is finally persuaded by Yamaneko's enthusiasm for the Zone: "His language touches me because he talks to that part of us which insists on drawing profiles on prison walls, a piece of chalk to follow the contours of that which is not, or is no longer, or is not yet." The Zone is therefore the site not only of opposition but also of creation, of a utopian imagination. As the film concludes, the reader of Krasna's letters can only ask, "Will there be a last letter?" This question suggests, of course, the impossibility of representing everything, of capturing all the details of everyday life, but it also implies the incomplete project of transforming the everyday, and by extension, the impossibility of such a project ever reaching completion.

[34] Marker's film is deeply concerned with the new, the emergent, the ephemeral, the not-yet-thought. This belief in utopia is not a belief in a new world or a transformed world within the traditional dialectic. Instead, it is focused purely on a resistance to the present, represented in part by the presentness of television broadcasts, an attempt to activate the political resistance of the past through the then emergent technologies of digitization. Sans Soleil asks us "to believe again in the inventiveness of time where it is possible to think and to choose other modes of existence" (GDTM 200). In Sans Soleil, the inventiveness of time meets the inventiveness of cinema in the attempt to develop a utopian resistance to the present. Marker's emphasis on the creative act, whether scribbling lists, scrawling on prison walls, or making movies, becomes a crucial means by which we can navigate, and potentially transform, the everyday.

Works Cited

Alloula, Malek. "From The Colonial Harem." The Visual Culture Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff. New York: Routledge, 2002. 519-24.

Beller, Jonathan L. "Capital/Cinema." Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture. Minneapolis, U of Minnesota P, 1998. 77-95.

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999.

—. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1968.

Braun, Marta. Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904). Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.

Brunette, Peter and David Willis. Screen/Play. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.

Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.

—. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989.

Derrida, Jacques. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981.

Dienst, Richard. Still Life in Real Time: Theory After Television. Durham: Duke UP, 1994.

Doane, Mary Ann. The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, and the Archive. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2002.

Freud, Sigmund. "The Uncanny." Studies in Parapsychology. Ed. Philip Reiff. New York: Collier, 1963.

Friedberg, Anne. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.

Hampton, Howard. "Remembrance of Revolutions Past." Film Comment 39.3 (May/June 2003): 33.

Kaplan, Caren. Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement. Durham: Duke UP, 1996.

Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983.

Kirby, Lynne. Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and the Silent Cinema. Durham: Duke UP, 1997.

Lefebvre, Henri. "The Everyday and Everydayness." Yale French Studies 73, 1987.

Lupton, Catherine. "Chris Marker: In Memory of New Technology." Silver Threaded Presents: Chris Marker. 3 June 2002. Silverthreaded.com. 5 April 2004. «http://www.silcom.com/~dlp/cm/cm_memtech.htm»

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001.

Marks, Laura U. "Signs of the Time: Deleuze, Peirce, and the Documentary Image." The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema. Ed. Gregory Flaxman. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. 193-214.

Morse, Margaret. Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998.

Oguibe, Olu. "Photography and the Substance of the Image." The Visual Culture Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff. New York: Routledge, 2002. 565-83.

Osborne, Peter. The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde. New York: Verso, 1995.

Parks, Lisa. "Satellite and Cyber Visualities: Analyzing 'Digital Earth.'" The Visual Culture Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff. New York: Routledge, 2002. 279-94.

Potter, Daniel. "Wounded Time." Silver Threaded Presents: Chris Marker. 3 June 2002. Silverthreaded.com. 5 April 2004. «http://www.vajramedia.com/Passagen/cm.home2.html»

Rodowick, D. N. Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine. Durham: Duke UP, 1997.

Silverman, Kaja. The Threshold of the Visible World. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Stewart, Garrett. Between Film and Screen: Modernism's Photo Synthesis. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999.

Virilio, Paul. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. Trans. Patrick Camiller. New York: Verso, 1989.

Walsh, David. "Chris Marker and the Talking Heads: Two Films from 1983." World Socialist Web Site. 13 May 1999. World Socialist Web Site. 4 April 2004. «http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/may1999/sff4-m13.shtml»


[1] For a more detailed discussion of the political valence of these terms, see Peter Osborne's The Politics of Time.

[2] In this context, my use of the term, "resistant memory" consciously echoes D.N. Rodowick's use of the term "memory of resistance" in Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine.

[3] Anne Friedberg, Window Shopping, 2.

[4] In Between Film and Screen, Garrett Stewart emphasizes this problem, noting that cinematic movement generally seeks to suppress its basis in photograms, the still images that create the illusion of cinematic movement.

[5] See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image.

[6] Cinema 2 xi.

[7] See also Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992); Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983); and Lynne Kirby, Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and the Silent Cinema (Durham: Duke UP, 1997).

[8] Lupton's essay focuses primarily on Marker's more recent multimedia work, such as Level Five and Immemory, in order to trace Marker's ongoing interest in new media technologies and the possibility of memory. See Lupton, "Chris Marker: In Memory of New Technology," «http://silcom.com/~dlp/cm/cm_memtech.htm».

[9] See Olu Oguibe, "Photography and the Substance of the Image," The Visual Culture Reader, 2nd ed, Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2002). Kaja Silverman echoes these observations, noting that although Sans Soleil presents images that are apparently ethnographic, Marker's film "does not attempt to 'penetrate' these cultures" (186).

[10] For discussions of Derrida's The Post Card in relationship to film theory, see Richard Dienst's Still Life in Real Time (Durham: Duke UP, 1994), and Peter Brunette and David Willis, Screen/Play (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989).

[11] This observation would seem to affirm the Deleuzian maxim, borrowed from Fellini that "When there is no more money left, the film will be finished" (77). In this context, Deleuze acknowledges that "The cinema as art itself lives in a direct relation with a permanent plot [complot], an international conspiracy which conditions it from within, as the most intimate and most indispensable enemy. This conspiracy is that of money; what defines industrial art is not mechanical reproduction but the internalized relation with money" (Cinema 2 77). Unfortunately, Deleuze abandons this line of argument quickly without fully resolving this "internalized relation." In this sense, like Jonathan L. Beller, I am somewhat troubled by Deleuze's formalist account of cinema as an "expressive machine," which tends to reduce emphasis on questions of political economy. See Beller, "Capital/Cinema," 86-7.

[12] See Paul Virilio, War and Cinema. See also, Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine, 188, and Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, 164-65 and 309.

[13] The shot of the commuters, associatively linked to the shot of the bomber planes and footage of Polaris missiles through the disjunctions between shots, and between sound and image tracks, suggests what Kaja Silverman refers to in The Threshold of the Visible World as "Japanese war memories" (187).

[14] Paul Virilio notes this transformation in Open Sky, commenting that in the twentieth century, "the urbanization of real space is currently giving way to a preliminary urbanization of real time" (9). Lev Manovich notes this logic at work in Virilio, commenting that Virilio noted that "whereas space was the main category of the nineteenth century, the main category of the twentieth century was time" (278).

[15] See Howard Hampton, "Remembrance of Revolutions Past." Film Comment 39.3 (May/June 2003): 33. This Benjaminian reading also seems confirmed by Daniel Potter's online essay, "Wounded Time," in which Potter triangulates between Benjamin and Marker through the figure of the collector: «http://www.vajramedia.com/Passagen/cm.home2.html».

[16] Parks, 281.

[17] Lupton argues that Sans Soleil celebrates the Zone's ability to illustrate "the distorting, transforming operations of recollection. The Zone blocks the illusion that mimetic images of the past give us, which is that we have immediate access to that past."

[18] This term comes from Sigmund Freud's essay, "The Uncanny." In this context, it might make sense to speak of history as haunted.

[19] Marker's treatment of the 1960s gets a much more critical treatment in David Walsh's essay on the World Socialist Web Site: «http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/may1999/sff4-m13.shtml». Walsh's reading of the film ignores the dialectic between the film's mediation between nostalgia for the 1960s and its utopian imagination associated with the new technologies of memory that serve to "change the images of the past."