"Books Created from Tears"

(English translation by Phil Holmes)


   (Marguerite Duras qui pleurait parfois pour écrire ses livres)
in Duras, Les Cahiers de l'Herne
(n°86 novembre 2005)

Sometimes, when I remember Marguerite Duras through a fleeting memory or by a chance reading of some pages she has written, I get a strong impression of the enormous freedom which she possessed. In her writing and in her life as a whole. Which is why one day I had the idea of embarking on a story in which Marguerite Duras would be the central character. This was about two years before she died; the book was finished but was published the year after her death. I would never have contemplated writing it if she had already died. If that had been the case it would have become a different book, and for different reasons. No, in this book I wanted to depict her freedom of life. And because she was also without doubt the most literary figure I have ever met, capable at any moment of starting to tell a story. My intention was not to write a novel about her life; even less did I want to claim that her life was a novel. Yes, yet at the same time no. It was she herself who wrote that novel, about writing and daily life. She was a great director of words.
Apropos freedom, one should not forget that in the 1950s, in connection with Le Marin de Gibraltar, people criticised Duras for taking up the theme of social alienation. An expression nowadays curiously disappeared, considering it refers both to human oppression as well as to the pulsations of life.
What Duras meant was that she was free from all social laws and conventions, and, as she said of herself, free from a sense of modesty, a freedom on which her ability to write fiction is based. I would venture to say that Duras’ writing is one long poem, like a mountain without a precipice, like one global ocean. Writing was the act of foundation, the matrix underlying everything, even the film work she did, without being “hard labour”, that was writing too.

Duras had a fascinating tendency to wish to place the writer on a pedestal. In her view the writer and author was set above all others, royal. One should perhaps always remember: the sovereign writer.
Of course this is linked to the huge demands placed on her authorship, in which two central themes would meet; writing should be carried out with the maximum precision, at the same time as it says more about what existed before written language, at least that is what I have gathered.
It is enough to read a few lines she has written, easily recognizable among thousands, to immediately understand this. Her language is so unique that even the anti-Durassians can read a text without realising she has written it, and say “But this is like Duras (pronounced durá and not durass)”.
When I was in a major writing period, I asked her to forbid me from reading her texts because her language is so distinctive and characteristic. This did not necessarily mean that it did not inspire me during my work, rather the opposite.
Some critics considered, however, that Duras’ language was far too complex and full of verbal tics, or that it contained too much fiction and too little realism and psychology. Too much fiction for the critics, quite simply. When one rejects Duras’ works, one also rejects literature.
The reason I felt bound to Marguerite Duras was, above all, what she brought to literature.

What precisely? Well, it is the subject of the writing or talking, in conversation or in the text, not to forget, something that drenches us in a story and a space which overwhelms us as much as they stimulate us. Always she presents polysemy, actual or potential. All the time the text, even if it concentrates on the business at hand, nevertheless can expand and take the reader into uncharted waters. Duras undertook different kinds of journalistic work just as she sometimes used different real events as a basis for her novels. But, despite this, she always had a different preoccupation than the strictly journalistic. Her project reached beyond all boundaries and her texts took the reader closer to “unlimited reading, a reading that does not stop at the end of the book.” This is in my view a reading that is the opposite of merely a “reading of copy”.
On the other hand, I did not feel particularly at home in her inner universe, that of colonial Asia, or the bourgeois, aristocratic aesthetic, in fact the trappings of the bourgeois aristo whom Duras would have become if she had the time and desire to.
On these points I can say that I have not been a true “Durassian”, as one might say a Proustian or a Bergmanian. This does not mean that one cannot love them. One can really love Duras in particular, without, for that sake, keeping to externals, but it is even better if one can seek deep down, for the consistent aesthetic thread in her works.

Apart from literature, which basically comprises everything, and the liberation of the soul and the body, then perhaps madness might act as a main line, is this not the lucidly experienced suffering that leads to a madness which is never very far away?
Many of her themes are still topical, such as e.g. time and how people spend their time. Another theme is that fear which is constantly growing in our society at the beginning of the 21st century.

When I finally held the book L’Amant in my hand, I sat down immediately to read it in one sitting. I read it passionately with all my senses at full stretch. Perhaps I read it in this way because we used to meet regularly at that time; it was a period when we talked a lot, especially Marguerite; I mostly listened. Sometimes she would suddenly stop and burst out: “But don’t you have an opinion!” The text of L’Amant was in some way familiar to me. I loved that book which incidentally helped Marguerite Duras reach out to a wider audience. I still love the book, a novel that has almost become “the perfect book” in the eyes of a publisher.
Certain of her “followers” felt slighted by L’Amant, whereupon some stopped reading her.
Once, when I was re-reading some passages in L’Amant from the July 1984 edition, almost at the end my eye picked up the word peurait which, of course, was corrected in the next edition (avoir peur = be afraid, pleurer = weep). This could not have been a typographical error on Marguerite’s part, as she did not use a typewriter, at any rate not at that time.
I think it is a beautiful word, “afraided”, she afraided. Of course it should be that she wept. But I think it sounds fine, it fits into the text. Immediately after this is: the girl was afraid. The lover, he too was afraid. “Afraided” says more than merely being afraid, it describes an attitude to life. Paradoxically enough, this does not mean that one is cautious with one’s own clarity of vision but rather the opposite, one chooses to be fully conscious of everything on all levels, which may result in insight.

With a secretive air she could describe the feeling “of being afraid of what one is oneself writing”. By this she meant that one can reach beyond what one did not believe that one knew through the text, and that one can discover things one previously was not aware that one knew. This could happen after the writing, but only then, not even in the drafting could you feel what was subsequently going to happen...
Once, when I was writing down different variations of how thought may appear, such as e.g. present, rapid, close, gone, slumbering... she said to me that “I would not have written like that...” The memory of these moments when we were not in agreement caused me to realise that I miss our conversations, no longer being able to talk to her. I was less “alone” when I knew her.

Now and then I think about Marguerite Duras; either when I am reading something she has written, or when I pass by her grave I remember that she once told me how much she had wept when she was writing e.g. Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein or Le Vice-Consul. It was difficult to write what she wrote, as this meant that she came closer to herself and the pain she carried within herself, and as one became frightened by writing the kinds of things that she wrote. When she wrote, she discovered, you see, things that she never otherwise would have touched upon either in her thoughts or in real life.

(English translation by Phil Holmes)

juin 2005 / tous droits réservés / translation 2007

La séparation chez Duras qui fonde son écriture

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écrire à  jean pierre ceton