Sunday, March 10, 2013

the ingenuity of history | Chris Marker and the Future Anterior

He used to write me from Africa. He contrasted African time with European and Asian time. He said that in the 19th century, mankind had to come to terms with space, and the great question of the 20th century would be different concepts of time.

Sans Soleil (1983)

Since Chris Marker's death in July of last year (remarkably the 29th, the exact date of his birth 91 years earlier), there have been any number of attempts to address his life's work. One particularly memorable piece is an obituary by Finn Brunton aptly titled "Future Anterior,"1 the verb form of future remembrance, a mark of what will have been. Brunton writes:

The heart of both Marker's art and his politics lay in the future anterior, the knowledge that there is always an after, a next, which we cannot predict and which will change irrecoverably the value of what we have been and done. (69)

During his lifetime, Marker himself often reflected back upon his earlier work, as when reediting his 1977 film Grin Without a Cat (Le fond de l'air est rouge) in 1993 he added a coda of sorts to the end, commenting among other things on the words that did not then but have gone on to have great political resonance, "words like boat people, AIDS, Thatcherism, ayatollah, occupied territories, perestroika, cohabitation ...." Marker, significantly not in his own voice but in that of a commentator, not in the first person but in the third, continues: "Thus our author marvels at the ingenuity of history, which always seems to have more imagination than ourselves."

What is remarkable here, in the comment and in Marker's work in general, is that deference to the imagination of history itself. Not that he was not engaged, that he did not have a stance—he absolutely did—but that he took his life in some great measure to be more fully or accurately a "marker" of his time. A time that was not his alone, that always was in some very real sense beyond him.

image: from Grin Without a Cat (1977)

1 Radical Philosophy 176, November/December 2012, 68-71. [available here]