9 August 2012

The Invention of Morel by Bioy, 1940

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:26 pm

I approve of the direction he gave, no doubt unconsciously, to his efforts to perpetuate man: but he has preserved nothing but sensations; and, although his invention was incomplete, he at least foreshadowed the truth: man will one day create human life. His work seems to confirm my old axiom: it is useless to keep the whole body alive.

Logical reasons induce us to reject Morel’s hopes. The images are not alive. But since his invention has blazed the trail, as it were, another machine should be invented to find out whether the images think and feel (or at least if they have the thoughts and the feelings that the people themselves had when the picture was made; of course, the relationship between their consciousness and these thoughts and feelings cannot be determined). The machine would be very similar to the one Morel invented and would be aimed at the thoughts and sensations of the transmitter; at any distance away from Faustine we should be able to have her thoughts and sensations (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory).

And someday there will be a more complete machine. One’s thoughts and feelings during life — or while the machine is recording — will be like an alphabet with which the image will continue to comprehend all experience (as we can form all the words in our language with the letters of the alphabet). Then life will be a repository for death. But even then the image will not be alive; objects that are essentially new will not exist for it. It will know only what it has already thought or felt, or the possible transpositions of those thoughts and feelings.

The fact that we cannot understand anything outside of time and space may perhaps suggest that our life is not appreciably different from the survival to be obtained by this machine.

When minds of greater refinement than Morel’s begin to work on the invention, man will select a lonely, pleasant place, will go there with the persons he loves most, and will endure in an intimate paradise. A single garden, if the scenes to be externalized are recorded at different moments, will contain innumerable paradises, and each group of inhabitants, unaware of the others, will move about simultaneously, almost in the same places, without colliding. But unfortunately these will be vulnerable paradises because the images will not be able to see men; and, if men do not heed the advise of Malthus, someday they will need the land of even the smallest paradise, and will destroy its defenseless inhabitants or will exile them by disconnecting their machines.




  1. And yet suddenly, unaccountably, on this oppressive summerlike night, the grassy hillside has become crowded with people who dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad. (page 8)

    Bioy’s novella inspired Resnais, and presumably Robbe-Grillet as well. I’ve wondered why they set the scene at Marienbad when the physical locations they filmed were in Germany. Was it a nod to Lacan, who made his first public presentation at a psychiatric conference held at Marienbad? Was there a political subtext? Marienbad is a Bohemian town; when Resnais made his film it was in Czechoslovakia, part of the Soviet bloc and largely inaccessible to Westerners. Was the movie set in the past, during the male lead character’s childhood, when he and his family might well have vacationed at Marienbad, suggesting an Oedipal interpretation? Some of those interpretations might still hold water, but now I think the choice of Marienbad was an explicit homage to Bioy. Chris Marker, who collaborated frequently with Resnais, also credited The Invention of Morel as the key source for his short film La Jetée, released the year after Last Year at Marienbad. La Jetée was recently named the 50th greatest film of all time in the recently-updated British Film Institute poll.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 August 2012 @ 9:34 am

  2. “Then life will be a repository for death. But even then the image will not be alive; objects that are essentially new will not exist for it. It will know only what it has already thought or felt, or the possible transpositions of those thoughts and feelings.”

    I’ve heard of worse things. I wonder if the Bible caused all these always-dead-dead-dead scenarios, because it’s still just ‘more death’ even with ‘life is a repository for death’.

    If men do not heed the advise of Malthus, someday they will need the land of even the smallest paradise, and will destroy its defenseless
    inhabitants or will exile them by disconnecting their machines.”

    Yes, I think the Marxists will do this. I like to think of them as the ones to render everything an unlivable desert. Poor, non-colliding machines, who’d worked so hard to be efficient in one garden with all the different paradises.

    I like some of the images, and ‘just sensations’ isn’t so bad, because ‘sensations’ have to know they’re happening at some level, otherwise you can’t even be sure they themselves existed, could you?

    “Was the movie set in the past, during the male lead character’s childhood, when he and his family might well have vacationed at Marienbad, suggesting an Oedipal interpretation?”

    Don’t follow. You mean the male lead of ‘Marienbad’, or ‘x’? And he’s fantasizing a big buildup to getting ‘a’ undressed and properly appointed?


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 10 August 2012 @ 1:09 pm

  3. If “x” is reconstructing events not from last year but from a childhood holiday at Marienbad when it was still accessible to Italian and French people, then we could posit “a” as his mother, while her gaunt-faced husband would also be “x”‘s father.

    The machines in Bioy’s story are enhanced filmmaking and projection equipment. Evidently Bioy was infatuated with Louise Brooks, a glamorous silent film star. Presumably the point of departure for his science fiction tale would have been his obsessing over old Brooks movies, watching them again and again even after she had “died” ( i.e., after she left Hollywood and quit making new movies), projecting himself into this eternity of reruns.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 August 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  4. http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/a/anneederniere.html

    This is interesting.

    Yes, I can see that as one of many ways of looking at the film, although Fredericksbad is also mentioned, ‘Marienbad’ isn’t ever quite definite. Robbe-Grillet would be for ‘play’ with the piece, I tend to forget that Resnais is the boss, and don’t too often care for him, except also for ‘Muriel’. But oedipal inaccesssibility followed by long rest in the maternal womb would probably not be Robbe-Grillet’s favourite way of looking at it, since he likes surface, and this film is excellent surface. I don’t quite see the mother thing translating into the suit, the white feathers, the bed, the previous year’s ‘probably without force’ moment in which Albertazii recalls ‘And I LOVED you!’ But you could see it that way. Especially since, now that you bring it up again, I realize how tacky that portrait of Hitchcock is, I just hate it. Robbe-Grillet himself does this kind of thing a lot in the novels. It breaks the mood, makes it artificial in an unsubtle sense, and seems to want to make the viewer some kind of dupe.

    Louise Brooks is a sort of cult. Boozer later on, although lived a long life, she fascinates primarily because of the look. Pabst loved her and made ‘Pandora’s Box’, in which you have to have it hammered in your head that she’s a prostitute, since she just acts like some little elfin thing or waif that wandered in from the forest to be pleasant to urban types. I can’t stand the film, and think she’s hugely overrated. He’s much better in that very early Garbo ‘Joyless Street’, interesting for fact that Garbo hasn’t yet developed ‘goddess quality’, and Marlene is supposed to have a bit in it somewhere. Louise Brooks comes from Kansas and seems like it to me, which is all right, but the way Pabst fell in love with her I’ve never quite gotten. So many better actresses in the period. But if she inspired Blioy too maybe she really had something.

    I’ve done that with re-watching films up to 30 or 40 times, it feels morbid, like the actors are ‘alive right there and right now’. I guess I got something out of it too, but it made me feel ill when I did it a good bit in 1999, so I would only leave one on while going to sleep, but it was no longer the same thing, as a few years ago with ‘Angels Die Hard’, but even that I’ve stopped.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 10 August 2012 @ 3:05 pm

  5. I’m not sold on the Oedipal interpretation; mostly I was trying to reconcile the choice of Marienbad when it had become politically inaccessible. What we are presented though is timelessness, an eternal return. While an oblique Oedipal angle can be seen in Marienbad, there is no hint of an Oedipal fixation in Bioy’s story. Two curiosities though. In the Bioy the “x” character is a political exile, a rebel who escaped life imprisonment by the military government of Venezuela. This information is not revealed until the last few pages, suggesting that it has some bearing on the plot. It beats me what that bearing is though: it doesn’t come readily to mind. And certainly there is nothing remotely political that I can see in Last Year at Marienbad. The second curiosity: in La Jetee the “x” character’s fixation on “a” does seem finally to indicate a childhood fixation on a woman associated with his mother.

    The main connection of Marienbad with Morel is x’s obsession with a to the extent that x tries to install himself in a’s memories and future, even though she may never have actually met him before the conversation that unfolds in the movie.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 August 2012 @ 7:43 pm

  6. “even though she may never have actually met him before the conversation that unfolds in the movie.”

    Yes, there is something ethereal and fairylike about her, less in the world than he is. I hadn’t thought of the possibility that she wasn’t just being stylish given the trappings they were in (again.) So it could be an elaborate seduction in which she never has to admit anything officially, or maybe she picks up that he won’t like it if she ‘acts like a human girl-woman’, so she becomes impossibly impassive or fake-impassive. As such, it’s even more exciting, because she will have seduced him, seeing what he’s doing as a ‘line’, but still finding him attractive enough if she can have him pretty much on her own terms.

    Absolutely gorgeous movie, and gets more so the more you see how flexible the possible multiple figures may be represented by these two, Arlbertazze and Seyrig. I can’t think of another that has such possibiities. Although I think they did meet, and that they did fuck, and she doesn’t want to seem like an easy lay just because she had submitted to him before. This way, she seduces, but it appears that he is ‘using force’ if he’s lying about knowing her ‘last year’. She knows how to be a sex goddess and god knows they’ve got the time there to figure out how to keep from being boring about deciding it may be ‘time to cut our losses’. I simply adore the film, and it’s even the one that made me see the beauty of severe formal gardens. With parks and gardens like that, who needs the cliched ‘naturalism’ of the English garden–even if they’re German? I recall the summer at Fontainbleau, it was sort of understood that we find the English garden, further away from the palace, more sublime yet than the symmetrical, ordered French garden immediately adjacent. It’s a puritanical attitude, one the French aesthetic has never been able to share. In any of the arts. Even just living in Paris a year will make you know that going into a men’s clothing store is a radically different experience from going into one in the U.S., even the high-end ones with French designer suits, etc.You don’t really see how it could be, and yet it is, immediately.

    Had written a comment I lost earlier, mentioned something about the book I’ve long had and read called ‘The Film Career of Alain Robbe-Grillet’. I probably mentioned it before, but his other films never became well-known or even played the art-houses more than once, if that. Maybe Film Forum has revived them, I don’t know. Diane saw one by accident in Rome, hated it. He wrote all these cine-romans from the novels, I read the one of the film she saw, ‘Glissements Progressifs au Plaisir’. Unfortunately, I thought the title was profound, inarguable and there was no point in resisting it. I thought it was a genius title the first time I read it. I think copies of these films are even very hard to come by even to show them at special festivals, etc., and that you have to know the people. He’s more famous for his novels, and they too, have all these slippages into other plot possibilities. I think it is interesting still how it doesn’t really seem to be Resnais’s film–although that link about the way the places are all mixed up does remind me something of ‘Muriel’. Actually, those who have studied Resnais more may well know better, of course.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 10 August 2012 @ 8:41 pm

  7. I’d like to watch it again while attending to the slippages between narration and image. If we assume that Robbe-Grillet wrote the script while Resnais was responsible for the mise-en-scene and the acting, then maybe we have a similar dance between these two auteurs as between x and a, a mutual seduction and resistance. But then again I always seem to gravitate toward the self-referentiality. If we wanted to be Lacanian then the dialogue is the Symbolic order while the cinematography is the Imaginary order. The slippages between the two open up the portals to the Real.

    In Bioy’s novella the slippages are also I think between Symbolic and Imaginary. The x character is the first-person narrator who shapes the story with words; the a character is pure image: reified, mystified, eternally perfect. It’s when x understands that his narration doesn’t fit the image that he finally understands what’s going on. Suddenly he’s able to work the cinematic apparatus that until now has baffled him; he’s able to project his own image onto the scene, scripting his appearances to juxtapose with a’s. And then he dies, slipping into the eternal machines, together forever with a. It’s a strange tale oddly told; Bioy was buddies with Borges, and the similarities are evident. Bioy also influenced Cortazar, whose short story Blowup has marked similarities to The Invention of Morel. Blowup was published in 1959, 2 years before Marienbad, and there is a distinct stylistic and thematic continuity.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 August 2012 @ 9:35 pm

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