Interlude Docs

Doc 112: Gerard Malanga

Christian Metz, Professor of Semiotics film theory, 1931-1993

Dear Christian, Professor Metz,
                                                 You’ve been dead 3 decades now.
& you must’ve been the kindest of souls
with that smiling, that engaging look
that spells a kinda friendship in retrospect,
had you still been around after class. The nearest café,
preferably the Flore is where you’d find me,
& I wouldn’t put it past you
that we passed each other nonetheless,
but I’d be sitting in a reverie or amongst my sympaticos
taking up the limelight
& you amongst your tweedy horde
yet to break the secret code behind those movie-semiotics,
or any solitary line or fugitive remark
still remaining memorable.  So it’s left to me!
You may have set me adrift,
but don’t bother such enamoured details,
had we gone that far.
The clock is ticking fast.
My studies didn’t go past
Godard. No apologies.
If 1993 was the cut-off point,
then I have to ask: Where was I in the anniversary?
Where were you, for that matter?
I was in the Berkshires, poor as a church mouse,
making ends meet somehow,
but writing furiously as the muse dictates.
I’d been to Paris in 1992 for the vernissage
of my most recent photographs
& renewed friendships from the wayside.
It would be the last time I’d see Alexis de la Falaise.
I’d light his cigarette.  It would be the last time I’d see
Denis Deegan, gardener extraordinaire,
but not the last time I’d see Paris as my poetry attests.
Your book, The Imaginary Signifier
still remains imaginary on my shelf.
Was it 1977 or thereabouts?
Here I thought you snared me in a wonderworld
of slow montage & spectatorships.
Then what’s “film text”?  What is next?
What is the s-l-o-w dissolve?
The dream state that you & I encountered
nightly with those seeds of everlasting sleep.
There’s no probing to be done. No posing portraits. No backward glance.
The coup de foudre is my specialite you might say,
fearing those thunderbolts we’d seen as kids.
What am I to do now that you’re gone?
Who am I waiting for
at the Café Flore?  Should I
at least imagine you with your turned-up trenchcoat?
You looked the part.
The scar still pronounced dead-center on your forehead. Would I
find you on a bench in the Jardin Luxembourg
amongst the common pigeons, the scattered leaves of fall.
Can we acknowledge each other in another life,
a past life even, or a future one… if there’s one.
I can imagine you greeting me with a hearty laugh
& I imagine you walking in the waiting rain.
I can imagine you in a still photograph or two.
That’s all I have to go on. Adieu
To you.  Goodbye.  Hello.
It’s 5:37 p.m. in real time.
                                        Time to feed the cat… there are no cats.


Christian Metz’s The Imaginary Signifier came highly recommended by the proprietor of the St. Mark’s Bookshop in 1982 where I was a devoted customer. So I thought to give it a try, to plunge into it immediately, but I got distracted by other impending issues, then I never got around to reading it. And now this week, 41 years after the book appeared, there was nothing to distract me on my calendar.

Upon opening the book I never got past page 5! I have no patience with any book—especially with poetry—that’s not immediately accessible to my reading habits. Yet this sparked my curiosity. I knew virtually nothing about the book’s author, Christian Metz.

So in Googling him, there was still very little that I could relate, except discovering to my disappointment, that he “died a tragic death” in 1993. Literally 30 years had passed. I was no closer to interacting with this guy than when I first embarked on my search. I decided that the only way I could bring us close to who he was in real life was to channel him through the poem I set out writing: making up instances of encounters along the way and through this process alone the reality seemed to fold in on itself as if turning the pages of his real life. It was like I caught up with him or that we caught up with each other.

I’ve applied this process many times over with friends and strangers alike in which a poem would emerge and it works! But Metz’s situation was eerily strange and different. I hadn’t known that 32 years had passed since his passing. In bypassing his book I was able to keep him alive in my mind’s eye as if he were still alive somewhere in France and that maybe someday there would be occasion for us to meet at some café or other. Yet upon learning of his passing I could go no further and knew intuitively that it was time to exit the poem.

Long ago I discovered that a poem has the capacity to recognize its own ending and to stop when the time seems apparent, coming close to Paul Valéry’s adage, that “a poem is never ended, it is abandoned.”

Born in the Bronx in 1943, Gerard Malanga is an American poet, photographer, filmmaker, and archivist, and a pivotal figure of the New York art scene. He was Andy Warhol’s assistant and collaborator at The Factory from 1963 to 1970, where he filmed over 500 “Screen Tests.” In 1969, he founded Interview magazine with John Wilcock & Andy Warhol. From 1970, he dedicated himself to his own photography practice, with a special attention to the portrayal of artists and poets, but also nudes and urban documentation. He has directed several movies, including In Search of the Miraculous (1967), Preraphaelite Dream (1968), and Gerard Malanga’s Film Notebooks (2005), which had its world premiere at the Vienna International Film Festival, also known as the Viennale. He is the author of several poetry books, including No Respect: New & Selected Poems 1964-2000 (Black Sparrow Press, 2001) and The New Mélancholia & Other Poems (Bottle of Smoke Press, 2021). His most recent book is Gerard Malanga’s Secret Cinema (2023), from Waverly Press. His poetry has been published in PoetryParis ReviewYale Review and The New Yorker, among others. He lives in the Hudson Valley region.


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