The Shrine to Summon the Souls

‘men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? What ten years later was poured out in the flood of war books was anything but experience that goes from mouth to mouth. And there was nothing remarkable about that. For never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by mechanical warfare, moral experience by those in power. A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.’[1]


The Shrine to Summon the Souls opens a cycle of films setting the course for many of my future inquiries placing objects, sites and moments of history within the landscape of the modern ‘poverty of experience’ and drawing a network of interconnected narratives suspended between the aesthetic and the political.

It was a spring day of 2013 on which I found myself accompanying a beauty to the garden of one of the larger shrines in Tokyo. Upon arrival, it occurred to me what I intended to be a friendly and casual pastime was interpreted as a romantic affair. How not so, after all the garden was filled with couples undergoing, like Don Quixote, ‘an experience without ever having it’[2]. Their gaze turned towards the trees, or rather their branches immersed in pastel pink flowers. Photographs were taken, the one and only kind which can be easily accessed on social networking sites with the use of an appropriate hashtag. I strolled with my partner in the non-evident crime with an uneasy feeling. The beauty of the place and generally festive mood among the surrounding crowd overwhelmed me with poignancy. As beautiful as the flowers and their petals were, they were not meant to last, and even those which did not yet vanish but flooded the ground on which we all treaded awarded no notice.

At that point in time, I knew nothing of the place, its history nor any peculiarities these might imply. But for some inexplicable reason an obsessive memory of the music of Albinoni’s Adagio did not leave me throughout the visit.

Some years before my trip to Tokyo I spent good few weeks in Venice. I participated in an exhibition at a local foundation which commissioned me to do a project involving the space and works of art within it. One of the pieces which could not have been missed was the film Rage by P.P. Pasolini which utilised in its background the very same music I mentioned. Not only did this score forcibly embedded onto my memory throughout the stay, but it irrevocably associated itself with the archival images Pasolini used in his film: war crimes and domestic unrest, 1956 Hungarian and Cuban revolutions, images of social fear, strive and anger.

Upon leaving the garden I kept pondering, why did this however beautiful and poignant landscape bring back these images of violence. Seeing the garden awoke the music which became intermediary in bringing to mind the associated images. Being a modern man ‘deprived of his biography’[3] this might have been the experience I subconsciously craved for: utilising knowledge in a sort of post-Kantian, Benjaminian sense, affirming multiple ways of knowing at once. This experience of history, impossible without a medium, was of a sort of temporal enframing, transmogrified into an event or kairological time, which enabled a personal authority beyond that monopolized by the state and capital.

Later, I’ve learnt the shrine in which this spectacle of nature and man took place was ‘devoted to the heroes of the country’ among them controversial ones from the period of the World War II. Once considered heroes, now war criminals. The memory which we believe to be paramount to preserve, the nature seemed indifferent to.

A short film titled The Shrine to Summon the Souls (being the literal translation of the shrine’s name) was produced soon after and combined three elements: the images of the shrine’s garden and events occurring thereon, the music, and the excerpts from the text used by Pasolini in the film echoed by a voice whose source remains unknown.

The narrative is likewise organised in three parts: first showing the wider field of the blossoming trees (the ‘non-experience’ of the visitors and close up images of the falling petals; then images of petals framed as if they were painterly compositions; and finally images of faceless bodies walking over this silent and abstracted landscape while paying it no heed.

‘The silence of the mystery is undergone as a rupture, plunging man back into pure, mute language of nature; but as a spell, silence must eventually be shattered and conquered.’[5]

The music activates a spell which conquers the indifferent silence of nature in order to speak out against our own failures while we remain muted (‘man and nature exchange roles before each finds their own place in history’).[6]

In the spoken narrative of the film one leaps from the events of the Hungarian Revolution and split in the communist party to the prophetic words of Pasolini (later paraphrased in his famous poem The PCI to Young People) foretelling the failure of the 1968 in which, in the Althusser’s perspective, ‘students worldwide staged an “ideological revolt” […] They revolutionized the cultural superstructure but not the social and political relations’ in which he saw ‘the end of the New Left, which decided to trade politics for protest.’[7]

As the movie diverts from the seen (looked at) to the unseen (not looked at), the socio-political events conclude with the questions of history and beauty. For the road to the ‘better’ future and the history of progress is filled with failures, with us on one side believing it important to preserve so as not to repeat mistakes of the past (which we nevertheless end up repeating) and on the other, the nature which mercilessly destines all, without exception, to oblivion. The violence of the nature’s program, subjects all to death, in other words to being forgotten, because uninterrupted continuity like the ever-blowing wind into Angelus Novus’s wings would leave nothing but rubble behind (the concept of the ‘ruin’ is later explored in the film which followed The shrine).

The recurring question posed in this work, puts the choice of remembering and forgetting as the paramount framework of history, i.e. human’s self-determined designs. Is it possible to create a better world without forgetting some of the past traumas? After all, in this individual ‘memory’ of the collective experience the final words echo: ‘Of the terrifying world of the past and the terrifying world of the future, nothing remains but beauty’.

‘The past that the angel of history is no longer able to comprehend reconstitutes its form in front of the angel of art; but this form is the alienated image in which the past finds its truth again only on condition of negating it, and knowledge of the new is possible only in the nontruth of the old.’[8]

Michal Martychowiec,2022


[1] Benjamin, W. (1969) Illuminations. New York:Schocken Books. p. 84

[2] Agamben, G. (2007) Infancy and history. An essay on the Destruction of Experience London:Verso. p. 27

[3] Agamben, G. (2007) Infancy and history. An essay on the Destruction of Experience London:Verso. p. 15

[4] Agamben, G. (2007) Infancy and history. An essay on the Destruction of Experience. London:Verso. pp. 69-70

[5] Agamben, G. (2007) Infancy and history. An essay on the Destruction of Experience. London:Verso. p. 70

[6] Agamben, G. (2007) Infancy and history. An essay on the Destruction of Experience. London:Verso. p. 70

[7] Schroeder, J. (2019) Althusser’s Marxism. Platypus Review [Internet] 118. Available from

< https://platypus1917.org/2019/07/02/althussers-marxism/> [Accessed 1 July 2022]

[8] Agamben, G. (1991) The man without content. Stanford:Stanford University Press. p. 110

The shrine to summon the souls

(2013-2014) HD video 00:09:51