"This is the story of a man marked by an image from his childhood.”
The first line of Chris Marker’s La Jetée presents a narrative of ontological search that is haunted by its ghostly absence. The image itself is fixated somewhere between life and death, like Orpheus’s journey to save Eurydice, attempted to look back at the shades.
To tell a story of such search, it is always imperative to invite the ghosts. My mind has been marked with an image as well - it is June 2015, just before my first arrival to the United States. I was watching TV and saw the shooting happened at a Charleston church. Nine days later, as part of the eulogy process, president Obama came out to the church and sang Amazing Grace tearfully on stage.
This event somehow marks my first impression of America. The very image sticks, more than any trauma or understanding associated with the event itself. Eight years from the shooting now, when I look back at that very moment, shadows grow faster than actual things. After all the political backlashes, not much has been changed - whether it is gun control, hate crime or the structural poverty under free market neoliberalism. We still live in a country inflicted with its very own problems, if not for the worse turn. It is a nation haunted by its social and cultural past. Every failed social experiment and economic reform, specters of lost futures, still lingers on land, returning in the shelter of nostalgia.
How can we buy ourselves free from the past then?
Obama clearly doesn’t have an answer. Four years after he left White House, in a podcast, he told Bruce Springsteen why he decided to sing Amazing Grace at the funeral:
“You know, I’ll want to go to the funeral, but I don’t want to speak. I don’t have anything left to say. I feel like I’ve used up all my words.”