Notes on Sans Sans Soleil by Dan Starling

Sans Sans Soleil (2018) is a remake of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (1983). The video and related drawings present a series of documentary images. Comprised of two types, images of crowds and images of solitary individuals, the work charts a day from noon to midnight.

The work assembles a critical montage of inconspicuous images of experience in the “digital age” and thus picks up a theme that is central to modernity: the change in experience for everyday life presented by technology. This theme was central to Walter Benjamin, whose work “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” figures prominently in Sans Sans Soleil. In that text, Benjamin uses Baudelaire’s art as well as his life to examine the changing relationship between the artist and the audience, the poet and the reader, the individual and the crowd in modernity. For Benjamin, modernity was marked by disjointed everyday experiences and a disrupted relationship between the present and the past. The phantasmagoria of commodities stood in, to dazzle people and to cover over the fact that Capital was overturning established social configurations. The fear was that if capitalist modernity was changing our social bond it also threatened to obliterate it.

Under such conditions, for Benjamin, “the true image of the past flits by” and “...can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again (I 255).” The artist could disturb this pacification of commodities by using a “calculated disharmony between the image and the object” to show that “any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else” in order to display the true nature of the new regime. The artist plays a critical role in the re-assembly of these “dialectical” images of the superstructure. “The economic conditions under which society exists are expressed in the superstructure – precisely as, with the sleeper, an overfull stomach finds not its reflection but its expression in the contents of dreams, which, from a casual point of view, it may be said to “condition.” (PW 392)”

The passage to modernity, or in (Lacan’s terms from the “discourse of the master” to the “discourse of the university” or in Ranciere’s terms from the “Representative” to the “Aesthetic” regime) is marked by the “crisis of sublimation”; the lack of consistency of the values of the dominant class. This lack of consistency is tied to the birth of Capital, a new economic configuration that’s ethic is permanent revolution. For Nietzsche and for Freud, the societal configuration appropriate to this new age is characterized by a “beyond.” This beyond is not an advance, however. If it solves the problem of hierarchy, characteristic of the old regime, it can still be experienced as an (even more) oppressive situation. Things presented as new “freedoms” (from the Master, from hierarchy, from tradition) can actually be experienced as a lack of freedom by the individual. The beyond is characterized by what Freud calls the “Super-ego imperative to enjoy,” and what Nietzsche calls “Nihilism.”

The trepidation that was felt due to the loss of a cultural memory is still very much our condition today. But in addition, the rise of digital information has brought on a new problem from the opposite direction as Chris Marker recognized: total recall is memory anesthetized. The reservoir of cultural memory that is the internet changes experience due to its ability to preserve information.

works cited:

Benjamin, Walter. “Convulute K”. Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project). Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.

----. “Theses on the Philosophy of History”. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Shocken Books, 1968.