Well, Hideyuki, your letter was rather grim. You point me in the direction of loss, the death of friends, questions of personal survival, and a more general survival of things that have had value to us. There is a mournful tone, that invites me to answer, "friends die, I am alone and far from home, what we valued and fought for is disappearing, we are invisible." I could write like this. It's one of the main veins of feeling, it's out there, and if you want to plug into that way of feeling you always can. But I don't want to. I'm not there.

Friends?

"Are you God?" they asked the Buddha.
"No," said the Buddha.
"Are you an Angel, then?"
"No, I'm not."
"A Saint?"
"Oh no," he said.
"Then what are you?"
The Buddha said, "I am awake."

And I would say, "Trying to be awake," that's what the friends are doing, they're still trying to be awake.

Friends?

The real companions, dead or alive, are the energies you cloth yourself with. They accompany you, they arm you, and they advise you when the going is hard or the forest particularly dark. You know, companions depose their essence inside eachother. We reproduce inside each other. There is no end to the promiscuous continuity.

Continuity?

It seems more than ever that continuity (such as it is) exists as a certain function of the percentages of populations. Are we talking biology and genetics? Are we talking Darwinism? Are we talking class and caste or generations? I don't know, but the fact remains that a certain percentage of a population will be fearful of change, and try to fight against its inevitability. The extreme-right in Europe, and particularly in France, is alot about this nagging fear of "generalized loss of everything that was important in Life." A certain percentage will welcome change as such, find it tonic and liberating, and live it essentially as an explosion of new techniques with a seemingly inexhaustible range of applications. From post-modernism to sex to yuppies to dreams of technological utopias that permit us to transcend the human condition, there are more than enough distractions. And then there is a rather small percentage (I think of us as dancers, or navigators), who will restlessly try to find an appropriate relation, a right distance, between the rapid current of inevitable changes, and the more permanent desires and goals that our hearts or heads or inheiritance imposed on us. Finding a right distance in order to be able to think about it. To visualize it. Finding a point of view. Inhabiting someplace, a place from which a movie might come, or a book, or a living philosophy, or some words that made sense to someone who is just lost out there in the rush and chaos.

There is something here about fighting for breathing space, about not being too attached, not to a religion or a nation or a people or a cause, or a new technology, not even to a work (to "cinema" for example, which might have to be abandoned at any minute, or to one's own systems of thought and perception). There is something about avoiding habits, and a suspicion of comfort, and I would say there is a certain contempt for power in the way it has been imagined and abused by our contemporaries, and our ancestors. They are capitains of their ships, but there is also something not grown-up or adult about the people I'm describing, they never settled down, and this helps to account for their impertinence. In this case, nomad might mean: "there are many different places to make camp, seasons change, the game changes and so do the flowers and fruit: there is still so much that has not been seen by my eyes!"

Following this all out a little farther, you can say that this distance, this being less attached, makes it more possible to accompany. Accompany who? Accompany what? Indeed! I don't know--accompany the others, all hey are parts of our collective and inevitable potential. Like pieces of the planet, we might have "discovered" them; but not only were those pieces always there where they were, but so were the people who had always be born there.

Isolation? It's just talk. It's just another word for living in this place.

the others, who feel this same restlessness and dissatisfaction with what is. Who feel the same curiosity. Who feel the same blind joy and are taken by surprise by their pleasure. I don't think we know what work we're really doing. I don't think we can know. We don't know what our role really is. We're not too sure which part of our life is important. We have little idea of the purpose or use of our activities. All of which is only more reason to insist, and to not be troubled by the inevitable isolation.

Isolation?

Well, for one thing, it's implicit in the situation. It is a sort of given. If it was different, the world would be a very different place.

And I went looking for it, isolation, didn't I?

And for another thing, isolation, well, isolation is a relative matter, and not so easy to judge. In fact we are connected and inter-connected in so many different ways, and the networks are constantly multiplying. So, if "isolation" is experienced as a problem, perhaps it is because of expectations one had, because of what one thinks one needs or deserves, because of "how one lives with oneself." As a movie-maker, and brought up in the USA culture where movies were the mass art form, it's odd to say that I am as confidential as any poet, as abstract or as uncertain of the results as any pure research scientist. If you are in the habit of being a star, any kind of star, a singer, an actor or politician, a philosopher or a movie director, the withdrawal of all that star attention can be killing. Just as killing as the withdrawals from heroin or booze, and for the same reasons: enormous doses of external energy have kept the system functioning, the root systems are underdeveloped, the plant is incapable of caring for its own needs. When the sun is sick, look for the deep shade.

Isolation?

When I arrived in Paris in 1980, I mentioned to someone who was well placed in the film world that I was going to see Chris. Marker. "Why, is he still alive?" he replied.

And is Bresson still alive? Or, have you seen the last films of Stephen Dwoskin or Jean-Pierre Gorin? At the end Serge Daney was weak but incredibly alive mentally. He found the situation darkly amusing: "I had to be dying before the television asked me what I think about the Media." In the last months invitations to talk and write and record poured in.

Herman Melville ended his days as a customs inspector in New York harbor. No one knew he'd written "Moby Dick," and nobody much cared, since it wasn't popular like his earlier tales.

Isolation?

After all those volumes written, and now with Deleuze tied to his oxygen tank, Felix Guattari seemed to seek out that very labyrinthe of love where he could lose himself completely, where he could disappear, where he would literally be swallowed up in complexity, and where no friend would be able to find him, and no one could understand.

Jean Genet could never make himself read Sartre's "Saint Genet. That was already smart. And as he began to get domesticated by the Parisian intellectual life, he knew how to find his way to the Palestinians and the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense. Those alliances reestablished a certain right distance. That was also smart, given how he needed to see himself.

Isolation?

And ideas, like desires, will continue to spring out from the places we hide or imprison or repress them. Because, for one thing, these energies come through us. We articulate them a little, we give them a voice, we may find them a form, but we didn't invent them. They are parts of a shared structure of consciousness.

Glauber Rocha's negatives burned up in the fire at the Rio de Janiero laboratory. And negatives get lost. Negatives disintegrate anyway, and video has an even shorter shelf-life. The history of the world during the 2nd half of the 20th century has been videoed by the world's television networks, and only that minute part of the material that is transferred to digital will survive. In the Third World, in Vietnam, for example, few film records will survive. Movements come and go, and periods of fruitful chaos can only be sustained for a limited time. Movies have become the property of the New World Order. Let's talk mortality and loss! Let's push the conjugation still further, to the point of invisibility.

It goes like this:

marginality / isolation / extinction / invisibility. Our invisibility, that is, or the invisibility of what we wanted.

Hideyuki, in your letter you quote a phrase, "There are no images of the defeated." What were you thinking about? That finally it would be as if we had never existed? As if we were never even there?

Is it true that there are no images of the defeated? Are we thinking about the Iraqis? About the indians of the Americas? About people crushed in the holds of slave ships? About citizens of Hiroshima who were standing at ground zero? Are we talking about our parents in the old age homes, or the couple who have to sleep in the street in front of my window? Or is it the citizens of the former-USSR? Or are we talking about a filmmaker who can't get his films made anymore?

And then, who are the defeated?

Take the Nazis. What an abundance of material, and what a vast market for those archives! But perhaps the Nazis were not really defeated. Or rather, that it is useful to see this provisional setback from another angle, the way Heiner Muller did, when he suggested that Hitler's war aims, with the main exception of the jewish question, had been realized by the unified Germany of the 90's.

Or what about Vietnam? There are an infinity of images of America in Vietnam. How absolute was the American defeat? Since this defeat on the battlefield brought Reagan and Bush to power, since it gave birth to the strategy of the New World Order, and later imposed the necessity of some war, any war, like the Gulf War-- was the original defeat in Vietnam not the start of a process during which the USA would eventually commit Imperial suicide? If so, it is a defeat of global proportions, an epic like "The Fall of the Roman Empire," documented in the most minute and thrilling detail.

Nature programs, images of the vanished forests in Tibet or the Amazonian Basin, or movies like "Microcosmos," have similarities with the images of concentration camps or sites of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. At any rate, they document the precarious status of Nature, or of all the non-human processes and entities that have been colonized and exploited by us. This is a defeat-in-the-making of such colossal proportions, that it will also spell our terminal defeat.

No, I'm doubtful about this "no images of the defeated." It is true that the more we live by and through images, the more that our experience comes through screens, the more what we know is what they have shown us, the more these images of the world will be controlled by those who have the power to do so. One result is a certain very evident decline of moral imagination. And it will be increasingly difficult to get images that talk differently about the world into the global stream of dominant image-reality. Theoretically perhaps, It will not be impossible to make someone or something disappear as absolutely as the disaparecidos in Argentina or Guatamala. It won't be impossible, but it won't be easy. There is a strange story of insistance and repetition: things won't go away, they keep coming back. The ghost of Hamlet's father is no idle anecdote, nor is the plague at Thebes, or Watergate.

"No images of the defeated," however, expresses fear. It says alot about the forces we have set in motion, and our infinite individual fragility. "Everything that's solid melts into air." There is no one left to tell our story!

The American Empire is the dominant economic- political force on the planet, and it has an audio-visual industry capable of representing a world that is congruent with this power. If you're with the Empire, you buy that wallpaper: if you don't buy it you might not have any walls left standing, and you certainly aren't living on the same planet as the rest of us. You just decided to not buy in to the only game in town!

To refuse the Empire or not buy the wallpaper is scarey and frustrating, lonely and isolating, and even dangerous. It may also be impossible. Under heavy pressure Thailand gave up its quotas on American movies: but then there is little left to the Thai film industry. Or look at the problems of France, or of Europe in general, as it tries, very gingerly, very prudently, to mark out a space only slightly independent of the Empire. And what about you? What about Japan, in front of this strange equation where cooperation means loss, and independence is taken for hostility. In this situation, just how much space do you have? And how much will-power is there to sift and sort and hold out for what seems essential? And how much more difficult does this become as China assumes its full imperial force?

Me, I look to the tentetive development of geographical and mental regions that, in the little space left to them during this historical period, try to keep alive an independence of values and practise, and their historical specificity; try to be critical of the Empires; try to keep reaching out to potential allies; try to keep redefining what the real goals might be, who the defeated really are, and what, among many other things worth doing, it is important to make images of.

 

***

Robert Kramer
Paris, France
04/97

 

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