Chris Marker’s Petite Planète series, which he founded for Editions Seuil and which he directed for the first 19 books, have received a lot attention lately, with articles and exhibitions drawing attention to them. The attention is well-deserved. It is hard to think of a more profound déternoument of a by-then moribund literary format, the travel guide. With their inventive layout, playful irony, and mixture of found images with original photography – by Marker himself, as well as friends such as Agnes Varda – they rank among the most interesting publications of the 20th century. The anecdotes are well-known – the fictional guide to Mars in the Resnais and Marker documentary Toute le Mémoire du Monde, the influence on William Klein’s Life is Good and Good For You in New York – but what is less known is that English translations of some of the volumes exist, published by Vista Books in London in 50’s and early 60’s. The English editions largely preserve the format and layout of the French originals, giving the English readers a chance to enjoy them. In the coming days we’ll be profiling several of these, beginning with one of the best – Joseph Rovan’s Germany, which was originally published by Editions Seuil as the 7th book in the Petite Planète series. Marker also contributes 11 of his own photographs to the book.
This was likely an important volume for Marker in the series, as it was written by his close friend Joseph Rovan, who was Marker’s employer at the Centre national de documentation de la culture populaire, and was also involved with Travail et Culture and Esprit, the magazine in which Marker published his first stories, poems and travelogues.
Rovan spent his youth in Germany, and during the war was imprisoned at Dachua by the Nazi’s for his activities in the Resistance. After the war he spent time in French-occupied Germany engaged in educational activities, part of an effort at postwar reconciliation between the two nations which was a passionate cause for Rovan. Marker sometimes accompanied him on these trips, which he recounted in an essay in Esprit. Rovan’s autobiography, Mémoires d’un Français qui se souvient d’avoir été Allemand, contains some beautiful reminscences of Marker, playing piano one of these German trips, and also sleeping on the table at the DOC offices in the 50’s when he was young and had no place to sleep. Rovan’s book is an amazing work in its own right, and deserves a translation into English. I am very grateful to Catherine Lupton’s excellent study of Chris Marker, Memories of the Future, which is where I first read of the passages about Marker in Rovan’s book.
Rovan, Joseph [Chris Marker]. Germany. London: Edward Hulton, 1959. First edition thus. 12mo, 192 pp, photographically illustrated wraps. Translated into English by Margaret Crosland.
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