mercredi 3 mars 2010

Sunless III

This morning I was on the dock at Pidjiguity, where everything began in 1959, when the first victims of the struggle were killed. It may be as difficult to recognize Africa in this leaden fog as it is to recognize struggle in the rather dull activity of tropical longshoremen.

Rumor has it that every third world leader coined the same phrase the morning after independence: “Now the real problems start.”

Cabral never got a chance to say it: he was assassinated first. But the problems started, and went on, and are still going on. Rather unexciting problems for revolutionary romanticism: to work, to produce, to distribute, to overcome postwar exhaustion, temptations of power and privilege.

Ah well... after all, history only tastes bitter to those who expected it to be sugar coated.

My personal problem is more specific: how to film the ladies of Bissau? Apparently, the magical function of the eye was working against me there. It was in the marketplaces of Bissau and Cape Verde that I could stare at them again with equality: I see her, she saw me, she knows that I see her, she drops me her glance, but just at an angle where it is still possible to act as though it was not addressed to me, and at the end the real glance, straightforward, that lasted a twenty-fourth of a second, the length of a film frame.

All women have a built-in grain of indestructibility. And men's task has always been to make them realize it as late as possible. African men are just as good at this task as others. But after a close look at African women I wouldn't necessarily bet on the men.

He told me the story of the dog Hachiko. A dog waited every day for his master at the station. The master died, and the dog didn't know it, and he continued to wait all his life. People were moved and brought him food. After his death a statue was erected in his honor, in front of which sushi and rice cakes are still placed so that the faithful soul of Hachiko will never go hungry.

Tokyo is full of these tiny legends, and of mediating animals. The Mitsukoshi lion stands guard on the frontiers of what was once the empire of Mr. Okada—a great collector of French paintings, the man who hired the Château of Versailles to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his department stores.

In the computer section I've seen young Japanese exercising their brain muscles like the young Athenians at the Palaistra. They have a war to win. The history books of the future will perhaps place the battle of integrated circuits at the same level as Salamis and Agincourt, but willing to honor the unfortunate adversary by leaving other fields to him: men's fashions this season are placed under the sign of John Kennedy.

Like an old votive turtle stationed in the corner of a field, every day he saw Mr. Akao—the president of the Japanese Patriotic Party—trumpeting from the heights of his rolling balcony against the international communist plot. He wrote me: the automobiles of the extreme right with their flags and megaphones are part of Tokyo's landscape—Mr. Akao is their focal point. I think he'll have his statue like the dog Hachiko, at this crossroads from which he departs only to go and prophesy on the battlefields. He was at Narita in the sixties. Peasants fighting against the building of an airport on their land, and Mr. Akao denouncing the hand of Moscow behind everything that moved.

Yurakucho is the political space of Tokyo. Once upon a time I saw bonzes pray for peace in Vietnam there. Today young right-wing activists protest against the annexation of the Northern Islands by the Russians. Sometimes they are answered that the commercial relations of Japan with the abominable occupier of the North are a thousand times better than with the American ally who is always whining about economic aggression. Ah, nothing is simple.

On the other sidewalk the Left has the floor. The Korean Catholic opposition leader Kim Dae Jung—kidnapped in Tokyo in '73 by the South Korean gestapo—is threatened with the death sentence. A group has begun a hunger strike. Some very young militants are trying to gather signatures in his support.

I went back to Narita for the birthday of one of the victims of the struggle. The demo was unreal. I had the impression of acting in Brigadoon, of waking up ten years later in the midst of the same players, with the same blue lobsters of police, the same helmeted adolescents, the same banners and the same slogan: “Down with the airport.” Only one thing has been added: the airport precisely. But with its single runway and the barbed wire that chokes it, it looks more besieged than victorious.

My pal Hayao Yamaneko has found a solution: if the images of the present don't change, then change the images of the past.

He showed me the clashes of the sixties treated by his synthesizer: pictures that are less deceptive he says—with the conviction of a fanatic—than those you see on television. At least they proclaim themselves to be what they are: images, not the portable and compact form of an already inaccessible reality. Hayao calls his machine's world the 'zone,' an homage to Tarkovsky.

What Narita brought back to me, like a shattered hologram, was an intact fragment of the generation of the sixties. If to love without illusions is still to love, I can say that I loved it. It was a generation that often exasperated me, for I didn't share its utopia of uniting in a common struggle those who revolt against poverty and those who revolt against wealth. But it screamed out that gut reaction that better adjusted voices no longer knew how, or no longer dared to utter.

I met peasants there who had come to know themselves through the struggle. Concretely it had failed. At the same time, all they had won in their understanding of the world could have been won only through the struggle.

As for the students, some massacred each other in the mountains in the name of revolutionary purity, while others had studied capitalism so thoroughly to fight it that they now provide it with its best executives. Like everywhere else the movement had its postures and its careerists, including, and there are some, those who made a career of martyrdom. But it carried with it all those who said, like Ché Guevara, that they “trembled with indignation every time an injustice is committed in the world.” They wanted to give a political meaning to their generosity, and their generosity has outlasted their politics. That's why I will never allow it to be said that youth is wasted on the young.

The youth who get together every weekend at Shinjuku obviously know that they are not on a launching pad toward real life; but they are life, to be eaten on the spot like fresh doughnuts.

It's a very simple secret. The old try to hide it, and not all the young know it. The ten-year-old girl who threw her friend from the thirteenth floor of a building after having tied her hands, because she'd spoken badly of their class team, hadn't discovered it yet. Parents who demand an increase in the number of special telephone lines devoted to the prevention of children's suicides find out a little late that they have kept it all too well. Rock is an international language for spreading the secret. Another is peculiar to Tokyo.

For the takenoko, twenty is the age of retirement. They are baby Martians. I go to see them dance every Sunday in the park at Yoyogi. They want people to look at them, but they don't seem to notice that people do. They live in a parallel time sphere: a kind of invisible aquarium wall separates them from the crowd they attract, and I can spend a whole afternoon contemplating the little takenoko girl who is learning—no doubt for the first time—the customs of her planet.

Beyond that, they wear dog tags, they obey a whistle, the Mafia rackets them, and with the exception of a single group made up of girls, it's always a boy who commands.

One day he writes to me: description of a dream. More and more my dreams find their settings in the department stores of Tokyo, the subterranean tunnels that extend them and run parallel to the city. A face appears, disappears... a trace is found, is lost. All the folklore of dreams is so much in its place that the next day when I am awake I realize that I continue to seek in the basement labyrinth the presence concealed the night before. I begin to wonder if those dreams are really mine, or if they are part of a totality, of a gigantic collective dream of which the entire city may be the projection. It might suffice to pick up any one of the telephones that are lying around to hear a familiar voice, or the beating of a heart, Sei Shonagon's for example.

All the galleries lead to stations; the same companies own the stores and the railroads that bear their name. Keio, Odakyu—all those names of ports. The train inhabited by sleeping people puts together all the fragments of dreams, makes a single film of them—the ultimate film. The tickets from the automatic dispenser grant admission to the show.

Chris Marker