In Marguerite Duras’s Les mains negatives (1978), the
camera shoots a roving, seemingly uninterrupted take of the streets of
the dashboard of a car as the city slowly wakes up. Unflinchingly,
the camera catches groups of workers in its periphery: the sanitation
sweeping rubbish, the cleaning women departing the office buildings
where they worked all night.
The storytellers continue, the automotive industry continues, the workers continue, the governments continue,
the rock ‘n’ roll singers continue,
Though partly a meditation on post-colonialism in modern urban
centers in France, Duras’s voiceover recounts lost love via the
traces of prehistoric cave drawings (the ‘negative hands’ of the
title). Her melancholy is reinforced by that car-propelled dérivé:
through the city’s almost empty streets.
the prices continue, paper continues, the animals and trees continue, day and night continue,
In the present day, while post-colonialism has opened up an entirely different set of concerns, Duras’s concept of the image
passe-partout (an image designed as a container or envelope
for an infinite number of texts) has endured. To some, there
are areas of the city that are consistently barren, at all hours of
the day, where the natural has been replaced by cold steel and glass.
the moon rises, the sun rises, eyes open, doors open, the mouth opens, one speaks, one makes signs, signs on the facades,
signs on the street, signs on machines, which are being moved,
Does that austerity amount to a kind of poverty—or perhaps a
negation of previous ideals? The post-war exodus to the suburbs is
slowly being surpassed by an influx of people moving downtown,
trading ticky-tacky houses in the suburbs for upmarket living, white
picket fences for sound-proofed concrete walls.
movements in rooms, through an apartment, when no one but oneself is there, wind blows old newspaper over an empty grey parking
lot, wild bushes and grass grow over the abandoned lots full of rubble,
The condominium showroom is an exemplar, made to sell a lifestyle
suffused into the concrete walls of a building’s units. Its decor
gives the unit the impression of lived-in-ness. As a real-life
venue or modeled in CGI as digital fly-throughs, the condo showroom is
post-modern image passe-partout, and allows us to composite our own fantasy of day-to-day living into it.
right downtown, the construction hoarding is painted blue, a
sign is nailed to the blue hoarding, Post No Bills, the hoarding, the
posters and the No’s
continue, the elevators continue, the facades continue, downtown
continues, the suburbs continue.
Italicized text: Vorbemerkung (Preliminary Remarks) by Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, 1974, translated by Oliver Husain and Ken McKerrow