jeudi 4 mars 2010

Sunless IV

He told me about the January light on the station stairways. He told me that this city ought to be deciphered like a musical score; one could get lost in the great orchestral masses and the accumulation of details. And that created the cheapest image of Tokyo: overcrowded, megalomaniac, inhuman. He thought he saw more subtle cycles there: rhythms, clusters of faces caught sight of in passing—as different and precise as groups of instruments. Sometimes the musical comparison coincided with plain reality; the Sony stairway in the Ginza was itself an instrument, each step a note. All of it fit together like the voices of a somewhat complicated fugue, but it was enough to take hold of one of them and hang on to it.

The television screens for example; all by themselves they created an itinerary that sometimes wound up in unexpected curves. It was sumo season, and the fans who came to watch the fights in the very chic showrooms on the Ginza were the poorest of the Tokyo poors. So poor that they didn't even have a TV set. He saw them come, the dead souls of Namida-bashi he had drunk saké with one sunny dawn—how many seasons ago was that now?

He wrote me: even in the stalls where they sell electronic spare parts—that some hipsters use for jewelry—there is in the score that is Tokyo a particular staff, whose rarity in Europe condemns me to a real acoustic exile. I mean the music of video games. They are fitted into tables. You can drink, you can lunch, and go on playing. They open onto the street. By listening to them you can play from memory.

I saw these games born in Japan. I later met up with them again all over the world, but one detail was different. At the beginning the game was familiar: a kind of anti-ecological beating where the idea was to kill off—as soon as they showed the white of their eyes—creatures that were either prairie dogs or baby seals, I can't be sure which. Now here's the Japanese variation. Instead of the critters, there's some vaguely human heads identified by a label: at the top the chairman of the board, in front of him the vice president and the directors, in the front row the section heads and the personnel manager. The guy I filmed—who was smashing up the hierarchy with an enviable energy—confided in me that for him the game was not at all allegorical, that he was thinking very precisely of his superiors. No doubt that's why the puppet representing the personnel manager has been clubbed so often and so hard that it's out of commission, and why it had to be replaced again by a baby seal.

Hayao Yamaneko invents video games with his machine. To please me he puts in my best beloved animals: the cat and the owl. He claims that electronic texture is the only one that can deal with sentiment, memory, and imagination. Mizoguchi's Arsène Lupin for example, or the no less imaginary burakumin. How one claim to show a category of Japanese who do not exist? Yes they're there; I saw them in Osaka hiring themselves out by the day, sleeping on the ground. Ever since the middle ages they've been doomed to grubby and back-breaking jobs. But since the Meiji era, officially nothing sets them apart, and their real name—eta—is a taboo word, not to be pronounced. They are non-persons. How can they be shown, except as non-images?

Video games are the first stage in a plan for machines to help the human race, the only plan that offers a future for intelligence. For the moment, the inseparable philosophy of our time is contained in the Pac-Man. I didn't know when I was sacrificing all my hundred yen coins to him that he was going to conquer the world. Perhaps because he is the most perfect graphic metaphor of man's fate. He puts into true perspective the balance of power between the individual and the environment. And he tells us soberly that though there may be honor in carrying out the greatest number of victorious attacks, it always comes a cropper.

He was pleased that the same chrysanthemums appeared in funerals for men and for animals. He described to me the ceremony held at the zoo in Ueno in memory of animals that had died during the year. For two years in a row this day of mourning has had a pall cast over it by the death of a panda, more irreparable—according to the newspapers—than the death of the prime minister that took place at the same time. Last year people really cried. Now they seem to be getting used to it, accepting that each year death takes a panda as dragons do young girls in fairy tales.

I've heard this sentence: “The partition that separates life from death does not appear so thick to us as it does to a Westerner.” What I have read most often in the eyes of people about to die is surprise. What I read right now in the eyes of Japanese children is curiosity, as if they were trying—in order to understand the death of an animal—to stare through the partition.

I have returned from a country where death is not a partition to cross through but a road to follow. The great ancestor of the Bijagós archipelago has described for us the itinerary of the dead and how they move from island to island according to a rigorous protocol until they come to the last beach where they wait for the ship that will take them to the other world. If by accident one should meet them, it is above all imperative not to recognize them.

The Bijagós is a part of Guinea Bissau. In an old film clip Amilcar Cabral waves a gesture of good-bye to the shore; he's right, he'll never see it again. Luis Cabral made the same gesture fifteen years later on the canoe that was bringing us back.

Guinea has by that time become a nation and Luis is its president. All those who remember the war remember him. He's the half-brother of Amilcar, born as he was of mixed Guinean and Cape Verdean blood, and like him a founding member of an unusual party, the PAIGC, which by uniting the two colonized countries in a single movement of struggle wishes to be the forerunner of a federation of the two states.

I have listened to the stories of former guerrilla fighters, who had fought in conditions so inhuman that they pitied the Portuguese soldiers for having to bear what they themselves suffered. That I heard. And many more things that make one ashamed for having used lightly—even if inadvertently—the word guerrilla to describe a certain breed of film-making. A word that at the time was linked to many theoretical debates and also to bloody defeats on the ground.

Amilcar Cabral was the only one to lead a victorious guerrilla war, and not only in terms of military conquests. He knew his people, he had studied them for a long time, and he wanted every liberated region to be also the precursor of a different kind of society.

The socialist countries send weapons to arm the fighters. The social democracies fill the People's Stores. May the extreme left forgive history but if the guerrillas are like fish in water it's a bit thanks to Sweden.

Amilcar was not afraid of ambiguities—he knew the traps. He wrote: “It's as though we were at the edge of a great river full of waves and storms, with people who are trying to cross it and drown, but they have no other way out, they must get to the other side.”

And now, the scene moves to Cassaque: the seventeenth of February, 1980. But to understand it properly one must move forward in time. In a year Luis Cabral the president will be in prison, and the weeping man he has just decorated, major Nino, will have taken power. The party will have split, Guineans and Cape Verdeans separated one from the other will be fighting over Amilcar's legacy. We will learn that behind this ceremony of promotions which in the eyes of visitors perpetuated the brotherhood of the struggle, there lay a pit of post-victory bitterness, and that Nino's tears did not express an ex-warrior's emotion, but the wounded pride of a hero who felt he had not been raised high enough above the others.

And beneath each of these faces a memory. And in place of what we were told had been forged into a collective memory, a thousand memories of men who parade their personal laceration in the great wound of history.

In Portugal—raised up in its turn by the breaking wave of Bissau—Miguel Torga, who had struggled all his life against the dictatorship wrote: “Every protagonist represents only himself; in place of a change in the social setting he seeks simply in the revolutionary act the sublimation of his own image.”

That's the way the breakers recede. And so predictably that one has to believe in a kind of amnesia of the future that history distributes through mercy or calculation to those whom it recruits: Amilcar murdered by members of his own party, the liberated areas fallen under the yoke of bloody petty tyrants liquidated in their turn by a central power to whose stability everyone paid homage until the military coup.

That's how history advances, plugging its memory as one plugs one's ears. Luis exiled to Cuba, Nino discovering in his turn plots woven against him, can be cited reciprocally to appear before the bar of history. She doesn't care, she understands nothing, she has only one friend, the one Brando spoke of in Apocalypse: horror. That has a name and a face.

I'm writing you all this from another world, a world of appearances. In a way the two worlds communicate with each other. Memory is to one what history is to the other: an impossibility.

Legends are born out of the need to decipher the indecipherable. Memories must make do with their delirium, with their drift. A moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector. Madness protects, as fever does.

I envy Hayao in his 'zone,' he plays with the signs of his memory. He pins them down and decorates them like insects that would have flown beyond time, and which he could contemplate from a point outside of time: the only eternity we have left. I look at his machines. I think of a world where each memory could create its own legend.

Chris Marker