Editor note: These notes look like an early draft for Mike’s four-part Narratives of Egypt. The “Sync sequence: Head recites texts from Melville concerning authorship, paternity, etc.” will become the basis of Prologue: Infinite Obscure (the first of the four movies). Melville’s Pierre text fragment that anchors the second of the four parts, In the form of the letter ‘X’ is here, along with musings on the letter x. The Sollers quote will one day be spoken in voice-over in (the third part) Cartouche. Mike writes about the four-sided nature of the pyramid (the bottom is the fourth side), which informs his four-part movie (here described as four movements).
Outline: Working Title “Egypt”
Mike Cartmell, April 1985
Key motifs: classification; ordering; lists; models; maps/destinations; place names; etymologies.
1. A Chinese Pharmacy
A layout-out, an ordering of what is to follow. A taxonymy. In a sense, the destination of the film, what it is destined for. Cf. Mao Ze-Dong’s indictment against stereotyped Party writing in “On Contradiction: “arrang(ing) items under a complicated set of headings, as if starting a Chinese pharmacy. Go and look at any Chinese pharmacy, and you will see cabinets with numerous drawers, each bearing the name of a drug – toncal, foxglove, rhubarb, saltpeter… indeed, everything that should be there.”
This section will present elements, both visual and audial, of each section of the film to follow, as would an overture in a piece of symphonic music. The elaboration of a “catalogue,” a notion against which the film will subsequently work.
The hook: “pharmacy” comes from the Greek word “pharmakon” which meant both a poison (Socrates’ hemlock) and a cure. This would relate to two themes here: Death (Cocteau’s notion that the cinema “films death at work”) and Art (the film; its “curative” or cathartic properties).
(Homonymical to the name “Cartmell”) Maps, directions, destinations, guidebooks. Also: routing codes, Circuit diagrams, recipes. How to get from A to Z. Place names: “Melville,” “Cartmell.”
Locations on maps of important sites: Niagara escarpment, the Giant’s Causeway, the pyramids.
Etymology of “cart,” esp. concerning execution by hanging (cf. OED, 17th and 18th century usage)
Hook: Ahab’s charts of Moby-Dick’s movements.
3. Peekee-Nuee-Nuee Encyclopedia
(Fiji word for “whale”)
The names of whales are listed. Images of whales, whalebooks, whale scrimshaw. Passages from Melville.
Idea of possible whale language. Facts about whales.
Do whales have metaphysics? Possibility of “philosophy without the finger.” Whale brain compared to human brain.
Etymology of “whale”: to roll. “Whaling” = “rolling” which is what is said to begin a “take” in filmmaking.
Hook: homonym – whaling/wailing: mourning, death. The wailing wall.
Key motifs: tombs; names. Stones, rocks tombstones. Triangles.
“By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid – and no body is there!” Melville, Pierre
Pyramids, Giant’s Causeway, Niagara Escarpment – Tobermory, Niagara Falls
Death inscribed in the sign: the pit and the pyramid.
Inscriptions of names (Melville/Cartmell) on gravestones.
Sync sequence: explanation of the similar meaning of the names “Cartmell” and “Melville”: chiasmus/intersection.
The letter “X” as denegation, crossing-out, death.
The letter “X” as the Greek letter “chi,” as in “chiasmus,” as in “chimera.”
5. (origin/orphanhood) Title not fixed for this section.
“The function of the concept of origin, as in original sin, is to summarize in one word what has not to be thought in order to be able to think what one wants to think.” Louis Althusser
Myths of orphanhood: esp. Moses, Fionn McUail (Irish hero), my own fictional history.
Images of mothers and babies.
Daddy/Mummy/Me: Oedipal triangle.
Voice over: meditation on the fictions of origin and paternity.
Long static shots of Cartmel Priory, England.
Shots of the text of Moby-Dick. The status of the text as offspring, as orphan, paternity always in doubt, authorship, authority.
Sync sequence: Head recites texts from Melville concerning authorship, paternity, etc.
Approx. duration, 2nd movement: 9-10 minutes.
Key motif: Chiasmus
6. The Passage from 3 to 4
“Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrecoverable process. Another, that the history of the universe – and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives – is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon. Another, that the universe is comparable to those cryptographs in which not all the symbols are valid… Jorge Luis Borges
Rectangles as opposed to triangles or dyads. Emphasis on the four-sided structure of the pyramid over its (apparent) triangular shape. Crossroads, intersections.
Structure: chiasmatic. Ie. Initial presentation of elements in first half, reversed in order (and switched positive to negative) in second half. Heavily optically printed, superimpositions, x-shaped mattes.
The undecidable middle: the site of contradiction/the “sight” of contradiction.
Rectangular shape of rock strata, pyramid stones, etc.
Chiasmatic objects: shoelaces, sutures, sewing, spiral binding.
“Square writing”: Chinese ideograms, hieroglyphics.
Sync sequences “rewriting” chiasmatically texts from Melville.
At the centre of this section, a cacophonous silence: extremely rapid montage.
Approx. duration 3rd movement: 20-22 minutes.
Key motifs: Proper names. Signature.
“A sense of fear of the unknown moved in the heart of his weariness, a fear of symbols and portents, of the hawk-like man whose name he bore soaring out of his captivity on osier woven wing, of Thoth, the god of writers, writing with a reed upon a tablet and bearing on his narrow ibis head the cusped moon.” James Joyce
Thoth/Hermes/Herman (Melville). The hermeticists.
Extremely dense and rapid montage sequence, repeating elements of film, as a finale in music.
“A dream comes and reminds him that he is to construct obelisks, which is to say solar rays of stone, on which he is to engrave letters that are said to be Egyptian.” Philippe Sollers
The signature. The coda.
Homonymical/etymological articulations of “cartouche”: touch of the map; touch of death (by hanging); cartridge; container; “cartmell.”
The key to decipherment as in Chompollion, Warburton.
Series of long slow dissolves.
Hieroglyphics of “Cartmell/Melville.”
Music: Che mi Ferma: sextet from Donizettis’ Lucia di Lammermoor (Victrola recording featuring Enrico Caruso).
Approx. duration 4th movement: 5-6 minutes.