October 04, 2005

Corridors in which time is abolished: notes on Last Year in Marienbad


We find ourselves in an endless loop, let's call it a film.

When we come in, it has already started.... Some acousmatic sleeptalk, fitfully legible, is already babbling.... we attribute it, almost certainly mistakenly, to someone that we later learn - though not while we are watching - is called 'X'... ('X' is not a person, surely?)

We have been warned. Psychology is the great temptation to be resisted. We must not ask who the couple are, or speculate as to whether they 'really' met last year, whether they were 'really' lovers. Such questions lead nowhere, and are missing the point.


We must not look for hidden depths, either. There are no depths here, the effect of depth is an illusion to which we must learn not to succumb. If there are things hidden, they must have been secreted here on the surface. But these are surfaces so densely detailed, so artfully posed and poised, so doubled and redoubled in reflections (of reflections [...]) that it would be easy to hide almost anything on them.

There are clues everywhere - many of the hotel guests stand, fixated, rapt, in front of a map of a labyrinth - but aren't they telling us that this is an enigma that there is no solving?


The effigies here - they seem to resemble human beings, and how can we not be reminded of the marionette trance of the waltzers in Poe's 'Masque of the Red Death'? - are the opposite of Deleuzian nonorganic life. They are devitalized organisms, which we are invited to compare with the marbled frigidity of the statues in the gardens. Becoming is denied them. They are themselves closed loops, a finite set of permutations (like the diabolic-erotic machine dreamt of by Villiers de L'isle Adam in The Future Eve), recordings played by the hotel itself, perhaps...

It's a perfume commercial as film, fashion shoot as hauntology, a feature dreamt out of the future reveries of H. Newton....

There is sequence here, but no duration.

How to account for the space and time lacunae? Perhaps some Thing traumatic has happened, perhaps this whole ornate, baroque structure has been constructed around the denial of that Thing?

Some see the human figures as mere simulacra, finding the key to the labyrinth in which they are lost in Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel. If this is so, then we would in the midst of the first of a 'flood of ontological vertigo films' since, in Casares' novella, 'It turns out that Morel's invention is a diabolical holographic recording device that captures all of the senses in three dimensions. It is diabolical because it destroys its subject in the recording process, rotting the skin and flesh off of its bones, thus gruesomely confirming the native fear of being photographed and also, perhaps, warning of the dangers of art holding up a mirror to nature.'


In these corridors in which time is abolished, in these sumptuous corridors we survey with long, unhurried tracking shots, there are anticipations of other houses, other hotels. 'Resnais' ...vast hotel of the memory and imagination and its lovers in L'Annee derniere ... plays its part in the presentation of the Overlook.'


... and is it fanciful to see echoes here of Mandalay? Place of endless returning, spectral shades....'Last night I dreamt....'


Labyrinths don't have meanings. You either traverse them, or you remain lost within them ...

Posted by mark at October 4, 2005 11:08 PM | TrackBack