Monday, December 8, 2008

The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon

This odd promotional video for the book is almost certainly an homage to Chris Marker's "La Jetée," right?

No voice-over, but there are similarities, no?

Of course, the most obvious predecessor of Aleksandar Hemon's new book—which features stark black-and-white photographs, some archival, some assumably taken by the friend he references in his acknowledgements and on the book's cover (beneath the dust-jacket), each photo acting as a chapter-seperator—is W.G. Sebald, whose novels made use of the same photo-and-text procession.

The relation of Sebald to "La Jetée" and Chris Marker more generally has been remarked upon by no less a critic than David Thomson, but also by this blog specializing in Sebaldiana. So I think we may be on solid ground here.

This formal relation in itself is not particularly enlightening. I think there are also some very significant theme-related similarities between The Lazarus Project and "La Jetée," but I also think those similarities are fairly obvious once you start thinking about them, so I'll leave you to your own devices on that score.

What I think is more fascinating (it may not be enlightening) is how this form of narrating—picture, then text, with the two not always linking up, but implicitly commenting on one another—is becoming not only more and more common, but more and more standard when it comes to narratives which explicitly problematize memory (and, more generally, time).

To go all new media on you for a second, the blog This Recording, which is one of the best blogs I have ever run into, structures many of its posts in just this manner (particularly this brilliant post on Jayne Mansfield). Some, like many on the front page right now, are lists, which is not what I'm talking about, but many older posts are essays which intersperse photos (some of which have very ambiguous relations to the text) with a meditation often dealing with a forgotten subject (like this one, about some amazingly obscure rock sub-genres or this one, which eventually gets around to a history of the phrase "wall of sound").

Tumblrs, which are often constructed according to this process, are a sort of amphetaminic version of the problematics of memory. Obviously related to commonplace books, the uncategorized aggregation of a Tumblr nevertheless is not so much a cure for as an embrace of ephemerality—unlike a commonplace book, the point is not so much aggregation as collection as it is aggregation as consumption. Collection implies a rescuing from the loss of forgetting, but consumption intends to forget.

The Lazarus Project is a stunning book; Hemon is, in my opinion, more adroit than anyone now active at making ideas work through his characters and plot. His use of language is rightly praised universally for its inventiveness and freshness; it is also wondrously moving. Right now I can only add, please read this book.

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