In Memoriam Sait Maden (1931-2013)

Sait Maden, the master of Turkish graphic design and typography, passed away this morning. Poet and translator of poets from distant lands. We will remember you and continue to cherish your work. The roses in the garden will miss you. We will miss you. Rest In Peace.

Defter - Poesia Turca Contemporanea

Immagine

The great translator, poet and graphic/type designer Sait Maden has just left us. A selection of his graphical works ia available at http://luc.devroye.org/fonts-65685.html. He is known for his translations of the poetical works by Neruda, Majakovskij, Lorca, Paz, Aragon, Baudelaire and Montale. His complete poems were published in three volumes between 1996 and 1997. His poetry is rich in symbols and references to Surrealism, through which he questions the values of modern human kind. Elveda, white-haired wiseman.

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The Turkish Etymology for Mini

I just came across a clipping from Günaydın newspaper, dated 25 December 1968, on Geçmiş Gazete. The article claims that a young Turkish woman studying in the UK in 1959 by the name of Meral Tüfekçi is the source for the name of the iconic make of the British Motor Company’s Austin and Morris: the Mini.

The title reads: 'A Turkish girl popularized the word 'Mini' around the world'

The title reads: ‘A Turkish girl popularized the word ‘Mini’ around the world’

According to the newspaper, a story published in a British newspaper by Robert Blacke accounted for the naming of the Mini car. The story goes, Meral Tüfekçi was visiting Earls Court Motor Show (now renamed the British International Motor Show) in 1959 when she exclaimed ‘ne mini mini’ (literally, how tiny) in Turkish upon seeing the world’s smallest car. When the executives of the Austin Morris company heard her, they chose it as the new model’s name. The dates cited by the Wikipedia entry on the Mini makes the story plausible:

The Mini was marketed under BMC’s two main brand names, Austin and Morris until 1969, when it became a marque in its own right. The name Mini was first used domestically by BMC for Austin’s version in 1961, when to match the Morris version the Austin Seven was rebranded as the Austin Mini,[24] somewhat to the surprise of the Sharp’s Commercials car company (later known as Bond Cars), who had been using the name Minicar for their three-wheeled vehicles since 1949. However, legal action was somehow averted,[25] and BMC used the name “Mini” thereafter.

Morris Mini-Minor 1959

Morris Mini-Minor 1959

However, the Wikipedia gives another etymology:

The word minor is Latin for “lesser”; so an abbreviation of the Latin word for “least” – minimus – was used for the new even smaller car. One name proposed for the Austin version was Austin Newmarket. Austin dealers sold their almost identical car as an Austin Seven (sometimes written as SE7EN in early publicity material – the ‘7’ the letter V rotated left so it approximated the number 7), which recalled the popular small Austin 7 of the 1920s and 1930s.

1960s_red_mini

The OED entry also favors the Latin combination form -mini rather than Mine Tüfekçi’s ‘mini mini’ as the etymology of the cute marque:

Etymology: Short for Mini Minor, the proprietary name of a distinctive small car first made in Britain in 1959 < mini- comb. form + Minor (in Morris Minor, the proprietary name of another car made by the same manufacturer).

Compare earlier, apparently isolated, use designating a motorcycle:

1953 Power & Pedal May 18/1 This ‘Mini’ [sc. Minimotor, a 49cc cyclemotor]..is a machine of very real performance.

A distinctive make of small British car. A proprietary name in the United Kingdom.

[1959 Autocar 28 Aug. 85/2 There is good reason to believe that the new Austin 7s and Mini-Minors will be able to better..the remarkable records of the two small car series after which they are named.]
1960 Autocar 24 June 998/1 My car, not a Mini, has a magnetic sump plug for the gear-box.
Mini cars and miniskirts

Mini cars and miniskirts

The definition of mini mini and minicik [diminutive of mini (lit., tiny)] is ‘tiny, very small’ in James W. Redhouse, A Turkish and English Lexicon, Shewing in English the Significance of the Turkish Terms (Constantinople, 1890). However, Nişanyan Etmyological Dictionary gives a French etymology for the Turkish word mini, and notes the resemblance with mini mini:

~ Fr/İng mini small ~ Lat minus, minor- smaller, lesser << Indo-European *mi-nu- < Indo-European *mei-2 small

● The word mini etek [lit., miniskirt] entered the Turkish language in 1960s. * The resemblance with the Turkish idiom ‘mini mini’ that has the same meaning seems arbitrary.

Since I couldn’t find the source of the Turkish newspaper article (the newspaper piece by a certain Mr. Robert Blacke), the Turkish etymology may be an asparagas (Turkish for hoax). Whether the young Turkish student exclaiming in the 1959 Earls Court Motor Show is a true story has yet to be proven.

The etymology of miniskirts, on the other hand, is easier to trace. Read from the OED:

British footballer George Best measures the hemline of a Sixties model.

British footballer George Best measures the hemline of a Sixties model

mini, n.2

Etymology: Shortened < miniskirt n. or minidress n. Compare maxi n., micro n.2

A miniskirt or minidress.

1966 Guardian 27 July 6/4 The new thing about the Scherrer mini is that it flares.
1967 Punch 4 Jan. 1/1 The lengths of female laid bare by minis.

The French etymology of miniskirt from CNRTL is as follow:

MINI, adj. et subst. invar.

I. −MODES
A. −Adj. et subst. inv. [En parlant d’un vêtement] Qui est très court. Anton. maxi.Maxi tunique ras du cou sans manches, à porter en robe mini (Elle, 27 janv. 1969, p.46).Manteau mini renard, robe (…) mini sur maxi-bottes (Elle, 25 janv. 1971, p.62, col. 4).

B. −Subst. fém. ou masc. inv.
1. −Subst. fém. [En parlant d’une jupe, d’une robe] Jupe, robe s’arrêtant à mi-cuisse. Marcel Boussac n’a pas su se tenir à l’avant-garde. Négligeant trop les enquêtes de motivations et le marketing, il a contribué à produire des marchandises traditionnelles qui ne correspondaient plus aux goûts des millions d’adeptes de la «mini» puis de la «maxi» de ces dernières années (Le Nouvel Observateur, 14 déc. 1970, p.22, col. 3):
−. … on commence à rencontrer souvent la silhouette de Bonnie, béret noir sur cheveux raides, jupe à mi-mollet du côté de Greenwich Village, de King’s Road et à Saint-Germain-des-Prés, là où s’expérimente la mode d’avant-garde et où la maxi-jupe concurrence désormais la mini. L’Express, 22 janv. 1968, p.64, col. 3.
2.Subst. masc. Mode très courte. Être belle en mini; le mini se vend bien. Si vous avez un léger regret pour le mini, rassurez-vous, la nouvelle mode fera de vous une femme élégante, amincie par la silhouette seyante, svelte et gracile de cette saison (Jours de France, 1ersept. 1970, no819, p.43, col. 1).

For now, the origin of minis seems to be (the) English.


The Mayan Apocalypse: July 1562

“We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.” 

The Madrid Codex

The Madrid Codex

These were the words of Bishop Diego de Landa who ordered the burning of thousands of Mayan codices in July 1562. The codices were the primary written sources of Maya civilisation, along with the inscriptions on stone monuments and stelae that survived. The range of subject matter in all likelihood embraced more topics than those recorded in stone and buildings, and was more like what is found on painted ceramics (the so-called ‘ceramic codex’).

Every claim of Maya civilisation, the meticulous recording of past and present by generations of Mayan scribes over hundreds of years, religious and cosmographical texts, in short everything one could possibly know turned to ashes. Imagining the sense of loss this giant void caused is painful. A sense of doom and surrender must have overcome the Mayas who saw the destruction of their books. The Spanish conquest of Yucatán was the Mayan Apocalypse.


Alonso de Zorita wrote that in 1540 he saw numerous such books in the Guatemalan highlands that “...recorded their history for more than eight hundred years back, and that were interpreted for me by very ancient Indians.” (Zorita 1963, 271-2). Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas lamented that when found, such books were destroyed: “These books were seen by our clergy, and even I saw part of those that were burned by the monks, apparently because they thought [they] might harm the Indians in matters concerning religion, since at that time they were at the beginning of their conversion.” The last codices destroyed were those of Tayasal, Guatemala in 1697, the last city conquered in America.[4] With their destruction, the opportunity for insight into some key areas of Maya life has been greatly diminished. (From Wikipedia, Maya codices).

The extent of destruction was such that, of the thousands that existed in the sixteenth century, only three Mayan codices remain today: the Madrid Codex, also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex (112 pages, 6.82 metres (22.4 feet)); the Dresden Codex also known as the Codex Dresdensis (74 pages, 3.56 metres (11.7 feet)); and the Paris Codex, also known as the Peresianus Codex (22 pages, 1.45 metres (4.8 feet)).

You can read a short history of the Classical and Post-Classical Maya codices.


Could the Mayans Predict the Future?

How millennial thinking dissolves into the collective consciousness is truly fascinating. Everyone is talking about the end of the world or the beginning of a new age on 21.12.2012. Nothing is new under the sun, I remember the last apocalypse craze that coincided with the end of my teenage years.

Kerr0717

I saw in the 1999 Istanbul Film Festival Hal Hartley’s The Book of Life, on the day I was supposed to take the university entrance exam (the Turkish equivalent of the SAT), just one week before my eighteenth birthday. The exam was cancelled before I could take it because some idiot stole the exam questions, the second time this happened to many of us born in 1981. I remember not taking the anticipation seriously. To me, seeing PJ Harvey’s performance in a film was more exciting than the end of the world as we know it. Unfortunately, The Book of Life‘s lack of humour was as serious as the film and PJ Harvey was not as impressive as she sang.

It wasn’t this millennial film, but others that gave rise to debates of a philosophical nature among the masses, setting the tone of the decade to come as the 1990s draw to a close. The Thin Red Line (1998), The Truman Show (1998), Fight Club (1999), American Beauty (1999), and the Matrix (1999) made statements about the limitations of positivism and a readily accessible reality. Hollywood producers seemed to have made a pact to make popular representation, perception of reality, and false reality. These were the topics of everyday exchanges, which then led to popular discussions of quantum physics, often uninformed or misinformed, culminating in What the #$*! Do We Know? (2004). This film was problematical at every level but its viewers seemed to have taken it seriously and its arguments literally.

In the meantime, a lot has changed with the new millenium, especially in our everyday lives due to technological breakthroughs in communication and connectivity. Yet, these changes were not essentially different from the nineteenth- and the early twentieth- century changes in energy, communication and transportation, such as the steam boat, the electricity, the telegram, the telephone, and the aeroplane. The call of an impending future led to science fiction and the dooming millennial thinking of the nineteenth century. Remember the Great Disappointment of Oct 22, 1844?

1767_0071_Page_1 (1)

The Cover of Resimli Perşembe, Sept 30, 1926: ‘How the photos are being transmitted to distances of many miles through the air?/Havadan gönderilen fotografiler millerce uzakda bir mesafeye nasıl nakl olunuyor?’

I remember another period in which millennial fears gripped Istanbul,  I once wrote about it:

If one was able to quickly walk through the gates of Topkapı Palace, around the year 1590 (AH 999), would one find a gloomy spell cast over the second courtyard, see the fear of the approaching apocalypse on the faces of Imperial Council members? I do not think so. But when we read late sixteenth century historiography and advice literature, a general state of depression and decay seems to have ruled the day. There was a popular expectation that the world was going to come to an end in the year AH 1000 (CE 1591) among Ottomans.

03319The millennial perception aggravated their perception of economic, military and social problems. Historians Selaniki Mustafa Efendi and Mustafa Âli were among the most acute observers of decline before the imminent doomsday. The long lists of problems included: slander and libel; unsuccessful and protracted warfare; conscription of the riffraff into the army; budget deficit; debasement, clipping and counterfeiting of the coinage; nepotism and sale of offices; military uprisings; the oppression of the peasants (reaya) by tax-farmers and tax collectors; ad hoc changes in appointment procedures; the increase of the power of those who were close to the sultan; and the disregard for sultanic law (kanun).

There’s a long but incomplete list of all those who engaged with apocalypse tomfoolery throughout history. For various social, political and economic reasons people like to indulge with this way of thinking. I think the inherent hope in an apocalypse motivates them, too. Those who anticipate it consider themselves lucky, not just because they won’t be caught off guard on doomsday, but also because they expect a Saviour in the end. Anticipation is a form of empowerment, but since the awaited doomsday or saviour doesn’t arrive on the appointed hour, they end up feeling enfeebled.

Others like Graham Hancock argue that instead of an apocalypse, a new age is dawning on 21.12.2012 :

This New Age approach is even more naive in its hope of positive change happening like a miracle.

The right way to approach an impending apocalypse is to do something to forestall the doomsday, or show that like Ridley Scott and Steve Jobs did back in 1984:

This is very different from the Hancock-like expectation of a New Age, as the girl in the ad threw a gigantic hammer! One should always do something rather than nothing… For instance, on 21.12.2012 I’m getting a manicure, so that stockings I wear to work do not run. Later I will avoid all apocalypse-themed parties that are going to be filled with desperate people who will seek their saviours in one-nighters.

I know it’s just a statement of the obvious, but I go with the suggestion of the grocer who watches his TV religiously in the small Bosphorus village I live in: if the Mayans were so good at predicting the future, how could not they foresee their own demise?

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scan

Francis Ford Coppola knew it. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century futurism turned dark the moment the preparations for the Great War began. An apocalypse that can be predicted on the basis of some human writing, carving, calendar, prophesy or dream is going to be the one we bring onto ourselves. The Mayans got to know it, too.


The Ultimate Startup Song: Once in a Lifetime

The startup culture is fascinating. A world of vision, hard work, talent, innovation, fame and daring. The dream of going from rags to riches and the reality of losing it all. The biggest roller-coaster of the twenty-first century economy. The (upper) middle-class kids’ version of becoming Pelé.

Swedish serial entrepreneur Hjalmar Winbladh, whose latest startup is Wrapp

That’s why ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Talking Heads is the ultimate startup theme song:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

The live version from Stop Making Sense (1984) remains a classic.

Even if the daring youths meet their comeuppance trying to make big business, there’s still hope. They just gotta figure it out again. Because in this brave new world, even failures count. How to get your act together after a fiasco? Get your tip from Talking Heads:

Water dissolving and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Remove the water, carry the water
Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, into silent water
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground
Letting the days go by, into silent water
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

‘Once in a Lifetime’ was the lead single of Talking Heads’ the 1980 album Remain in Light. The single did not make it to the top of the charts, but became popular thanks to this video featuring David Bryne’s fresh dance moves inspired by his choreographer, Toni Basil, who showed him footage of epilepsy sufferers.

TGIF.


OK, but what does it mean?

Okay, OK is the most frequently used word, especially post-internet revolution. But what does it mean? On the internet it means ‘go on’, ‘submit’, ‘save’, ‘next.’ ‘Alright’, ‘well’, ‘go on’, or ‘fine’ in daily speech. Was this always the case? Where does okay come from?

The accepted etymology of the word gives OK as the abbreviation of Old Kinderhook, the nickname of the eight president of the United States, Martin Van Buren (1782–1862; in office 1837–1841). The name sounds so Dutch, right? Van Buren was the first American president who wasn’t of English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh descent. In fact the only American president who did not have English as his first language, for he was Dutch. Some other prominent presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush also had Dutch ancestry, but none like Van Buren, who grew up speaking Dutch in the village of Kinderhook, New York and never lost his distinctive Dutch accent.

Photograph of the late Martin Van Buren by Mathew Brady from circa 1855-1858

Martin Van Buren was nicknamed Old Kinderhook in reference to the village where he grew up. In the presidential election campaign of 1840, the Democratic Party candidate Van Buren and his supporters used OK as an election slogan. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one group within the party, The Democratic O.K. Club, gave the abbreviation its currency. Other sources claim that Van Buren used it as a slogan back in the 1836 campaign, which brought him to power. However, this etymology, which was established by Allen Walker Read and accepted by the greatest dictionary of English language, is contested.

The folk singer Pete Seeger sang in the sixties:

‘You know this language that we speak,
is part German, Latin and part Greek
Celtic and Arabic all in a heap,
well amended by the people in the street.
Choctaw gave us the word “okay”‘

In the sixties the widely accepted etymology of okay related it to the Choctaw ‘okeh.’ Until 1961, the Webster dictionary gave the following etymology for the word: ‘Prob. fr. Choctaw okeh it is so and not otherwise.’ The Choctaw etymology of OK goes back to 1825. The substantial treatment of ‘okey’ can be found in a Choctaw Grammar from 1870. According to the grammar, it meant ‘it is so and in no other way’ used as an interjection to get the attention of the user. When spoken more quietly it meant ‘thank you.’

In the 1960s, Allen Read, a Columbia University professor and the editor of the scholarly American Speech journal, was trying to establish a different etymology, based on his discovery about Martin Van Buren and the Democratic O.K. Club. Some experts disagreed with Read, for instance the editor of the Dictionary of American English (DAE), who published a paper in American Speech. He argued that “Old Kinderhook” was not the origin of the expression and that it was not a significant component of the etymology. In turn, Read published six papers in American Speech between 1963-1964.

Jim Fay, an American English etymology specialist, presented plausible evidence to reestablish the native American etymology of OK. Fay argued that Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States between 1829–1837, was the one gave the word its currency. According to Fay, OK was a slogan standing for ‘orl korrect’, a humorous form of ‘all correct’ or ‘Oll Korrect’. Jackson established his career in the frontier zone and the word OK is attested several times in his papers. Choctaw was the lingua franca of the southern and western frontier, which played an important role in the shaping of American political culture. Another frontier notable was John Jacob Astor, the first American millionaire, who owed his wealth to fur trade, which put him in contact with Native Americans. Astor used the word OK to confirm business transactions from 1839 until his death in 1848.

Andrew Jackson photographed on April 15, 1845 by Mathew Brady

Fay argued that Read only acknowledged evidence about Choctaw etymology in order to refute it. Allen Read treated the evidence as the folklore of the word. Fay argued that Read preferred the Van Buren etymology because it represented the language of ‘godliness and civilization’ as opposed to Choctaw, which was associated with drunkenness, ignorance and immorality.

Whether you accept the Van Buren or Choctaw etymology, it is okay!


Pinteresting Changes in Consumer Culture

If blogging led to early-onset writer delusion in a portion of the population that never suffered from it before, Pinterest is the domain of the visually literate. It says kudos to all those who asked ‘How do you read such thick books with no pictures?’ Users board images into cute piles of colour, metaphorical structures (bridges, tunnels, and doors), hairstyles, nails, typography, illustrations, and package design… It is possible to pin videos as well, yet most of the pins are images.

Most Pinterest boards are visual lollipops for grown women

Although the gender and age profile differs from country to country, Pinterest is the first major social media tool where women are the majority. Earlier this year, 83% of the US users were women, with the typical age range between 35-44. In Great Britain, 56% of the users were male and their age profile was more youthful, on average 10 years younger than in the US. Since there are more users from the States, the average pinterest user is a career woman or housewife in her late thirties. There are also quite a few creative types active on Pinterest, but the majority of users look like the desperate housewives turned quaint. This stereotypical profile has a great influence on the popular user from other countries, as following boards and repinning images is the basic mode of user interaction on Pinterest. Given the age-gender profile, it is surprising to see a lot more logo, typography, and package design collectors than you’d expect. There are also umpteen pinners of designer garments and objects, indicating the successful dissemination of design culture among the masses. However, the stereotypical Pinterester is not likely to be able to afford most of what she pins in a million years.

domestic but quaint, mrs. french of Portland, Oregon is very popular

Pinterest is quickly changing early twenty-first century consumer culture and social media. Pinterest is taking design consciousness from the in crowd and feeding it to the masses. One possible impact is investment by FMCG producers in package design, slowly moving towards quaint packaging. Retro and quaint packaging, associated with organic and artisanal food, incites consumer trust about the quality of the product. With the popular pinterest in package design, we may see more blue chip FMCG clad in cute packages, even if only for specific marketing campaigns. Coca Cola’s limited edition ‘125 years box set’ from last year can be seen as a precursor for blue chip catering to mass vintage hysteria.

Brands like Bonne Maman can boast of cool packaging, as well as claiming ‘artisanal’ quality. Despite the fact that, it is ‘the largest exporter of jam in the world. It’s image, reputation and worldwide distribution make Bonne Maman one of the most famous brands that represent France abroad.’

Pinterest also changed online identity construction. In a pinteresting twist of lack and desire, all you have to do now is to showcase your taste! You can construct your identity, not on the basis of what you own, but on the basis of what you want to own. Now consumers are window-shopping and window-displaying products they may or may not be able to afford. It’s been a quick ride from the surge of ‘look what I’m wearing today’ blogs to pinning ‘what I’d be wearing, if only I could afford it’ on Pinterest. What used to be exclusive content in Monocle is being repinned every second. This new development in lifestyle has important implications for the future of social media. Social media boomed with sharing real-life experiences: WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Four Square, and Flickr owe their success to the willingness of private individuals in sharing their activities, work, and content. With Pinterest, you don’t have to go to Thailand to display photos of Phuket. Neither do you not have to cite the photographer or the source. While it is possible to track the original sources of most content, one can pin images one hoarded on one’s harddisk onto her or his boards and infringe copyright.

Virtual pilgrimages

Pinterest is converting social media users into curators of consumerism, who consciously construct their online identity by showcasing their taste in content selection and display. What we own used to be central to who we are, we desired what we lacked. On Pinterest we show all that we lack and desire without the necessity of doing anything about it. The world of 21st century online curation is changing the meaning of desire. Come on, pin that, you will be the most pinteresting virtual it-girl of the year!

My un-pinteresting asaroton curation with too much text!!!


Real Urban Legends: the Safety of Amsterdam

When I first got here, I stayed in Amsterdam for a week as I waited for the realtor to prepare my contract. That week, a friend explained to me how safe the city was: on the Queen’s Day in 2011, he had a friend visiting from London who forgot her purse on the steps of a house during a street party. She had 300 euros in the purse, and his number. The next day, a phone call assured them the purse was safe. Those who come from crowded big cities are amazed by the decency and honesty of Dutch people.

How crowded it gets on Queen’s Day by Peter Dejong/Associated Press

In the middle of ‘hot time summer in the city’ last week, probably because of the atypically hot weather (27 degrees) I got out of the tram number 2 without my laptop on my way to a lunch appointment. I arrived in the café, only to realize that my laptop was missing. I was already in a panic by the time my friend arrived. So instead of lunch, I got into the tram 2 and continued till the last stop.

I thought my laptop was gone for good. Every time I forgot my smart or stupid phones, I found them. But I feared expecting the recovery of a laptop was too much-even for me, though like a cat always falling on four feet. When I arrived at the end stop, they told me they found my laptop! But thinking I was going to the central station to pick it up, it was still on the tram 2. The officers of the last stop contacted the tram and asked it to bring it back to the end stop. Meanwhile, I had another appointment at three, one I wanted to show up for. The GVB Service & Veiligheid officials offered me a ride so we could go meet the tram and I could make it to my appointment.

Waiting for the tram with the GVB Service & Veiligheid official

I knew my laptop was safe. I totally enjoyed the adventure of riding over the tram tracks in the GVB car. The GVB guys were so cool, they knew the city inside out, taking short cuts, and entirely lacking the love for bureaucratic procedures that is so common among Dutch officials. It was as cool as one afternoon in 2008 when a young policeman let me use the secret tunnel under the Bosphorous Bridge so that I could load my toll card before I crossed from Asia to Europe. Back then, the KGS card office used to close at seven and I was going to return later than that.

It seems in Amsterdam the only thing to fear for is your bike!


an owl is an owl and a grin without a cat

Chris Marker passed away sometime before the outbreak of World War III on his 91st birthday yesterday in Paris. He was a poet and a cat. Or a French filmmaker, traveller, ethnographer, multimedia artist and photographer. I’m not sure if it makes justice to call him a French anything, as his works defied the boundaries of French cinema and he identified with the interests of more than one nation. He gave up his given name and surname Christian Francois Bouche-Villeneuve for Chris Marker, after the Magic Marker pen. Marker might have been born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia or in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Île-de-France. He travelled as a journalist and photographer, and worked at Éditions du Seuil as the editor of the series Petite Planète in the 50s before starting his film career. Chris Marker might have faked his own decease and travelled back to the future.

the Magic Marker pens

His short essay La Jetée (1962) is set in an apocalyptic post-WWIII future. The photo roman has a single sequence Marker shot with a movie camera he borrowed one afternoon. It’s hard to stop thinking about the crux of the plot and how it might have occurred to him: in the beginning and the closing are images of a child, a man running to a woman on the jetty at Orly Airport, his falling to the ground, an older man with a gun who looks out of place and out of time. Then there are the unforgettable images of the woman, the light falling on her face in diverse places, in the bedroom sequence, in the Jardin des plantes, at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, at the jetty. It is painful to watch the experiment. Dark and beautiful. We are always told we are going to die from early on, but the child witnessing his own death before his time is ingenious.

La Jetée

Always standing on the left-bank, Chris Marker explored memory, time, space, and ‘life in the process of becoming history.’ Despite having seen it countless times, it is not possible to do justice to his masterpiece Sans Soleil (1983) here and now. Marker’s curiosity was only tempered by personal whim. In Sans Soleil, he explored various ways of human existence, loneliness, concurrent cultural alienation and fascination, his favourite themes of time, space, memory. Then there were his favourite creatures, the cat and the owl. His vision was the embodiment of humanism in the twenty-first century: equally curious about three children on a road in Iceland, the noro who entered into a dialogue with the gods, and the Japanese engineer who committed suicide when he could no longer bear to hear the word ‘spring’. His curiosity lacked post-modernism, cultural relativism and permissiveness, for he did not shy away from expressing judgments. If he made documentaries, he was not a Frenchman with a camera recording the impoverished peoples or the injustices of the world. He was not much interested in Western Civilization or the World According to Western Civilization. He was not guilty on the counts of romanticism and naiveté.

From Sans Soleil

Sans Soleil is all about well-kept secrets: ‘the Japanese secret—what Lévi-Strauss had called the poignancy of things—implied the faculty of communion with things, of entering into them, of being them for a moment. It was normal that in their turn they should be like us: perishable and immortal.’ Of men and women: ‘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.’ Of love: ‘If to love without illusions is still to love, I can say that I loved it.’ Of Pac-Man and power: ‘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.’ Of youth and the sixties generation: ‘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… 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.’ Of revolution and independence: ‘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.’ Of wounds: ‘…copying a few lines from Samura Koichi: “Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds. With time, the hurt of separation loses its real limits. With time, the desired body will soon disappear, and if the desiring body has already ceased to exist for the other, then what remains is a wound… disembodied.”’

From Chats Perchés

Chats Perchés (2004) is about the street art M. Chat in the streets of Paris, the protests against the invasion of Iraq, and the presidential elections in 2002. In Chats Perchés, Marker expressed hope that maybe the generation x was not so apolitical after all. Like many social, political hopes he entertained, an illusion. He loved hopes even when the illusions wore out.

Chris Marker was among the early visionaries of the digital age, in 1996 he released Immemory, a twenty-something-hour-long CD-ROM of stills, film clips, music, text and fragments of sound. Immemory could be viewed in different ways by different viewers on Apple operating systems 7.5 through 9. It had the following zones: Poetry, Cinema, Photography, Travel.

M. Chat

I can quote here David Thomson: ‘He wrote a novel; he was involved in the French Resistance; in the late 1950’s and early 60’s he made very personal documentaries about Siberia (”Letter From Siberia”), Israel (”Description of a Struggle”), China (”Sunday in Peking”) and Cuba (”Cuba Si”). He was a friend to the filmmakers of the French New Wave, but not quite a part of their group — he was older, more solitary and in pursuit of the ”essay” film. Susan Sontag has called him an exponent of ”reflective or non-narrative film.” Yet none of those descriptions quite suffices.’

Chris Marker came from the future. His origin in the times to come naturally drew him to explore the past, memory, and history. His non-celebratory approach to French quotidian life and himself made Marker a refreshing model for peers, friends and viewers of his films. On the petite planète, he is survived by his cat, Guillaume-En-Egypte. That is, unless the enigmatic director preferred to be with his cat for eternity, in age-old Egyptian style.

Chris Marker commissioned Guillaume-En-Egypte avatar in 2009

“Cat, wherever you are, peace be with you.”


WordPress doesn’t discriminate between Turks and Arabs!

Turk equals Arabs or is it the turbaned avatar?

Why does WordPress think that I’d like to become the master of my domain by registering mechanicalarabs.com? What’s the relationship between Mechanical Turk and Mechanical Arabs? Is it because of the turbaned anthropomorphic automaton engraving I use as my avatar? That supposedly mechanical chess player is known as the Turk. Can someone please explain?!