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Marguerite Duras

Born in 1914, Marguerite Duras was a French writer and film director. Her novel, The Lover, won the Prix Goncourt in 1984 and was made into a widely acclaimed film. She died in 1996.

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"Writing displays Marguerite Duras's unique, detailed perception to reveal great reverence for human life and respect for memory. An enthralling book."

– Library Journal

"Mark Polizzotti's translation from the French captures the poetic simplicity of Duras's style--a language delicate, yet rich in imagery."

– The New York Times Book Review

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Writing

On Marguerite Duras and "Writing"

11/11/11

Marguerite Duras’s essay, “Writing,” ends with: “Writing comes like the wind. It’s naked, it’s made of ink, it’s the thing written, and it passes like nothing else passes in life, nothing more, except life itself.”

Marguerite Duras. What a name.

Like Lol Stein.

I am listening to Soley, this song on repeat, thinking about solitude and loneliness, thinking about Friday night and Daylight Savings, how dark it is suddenly, thinking about Marguerite Duras and her essay, thinking about “Writing”:

“Dusk is the time when everyone around the writer stops working.

“In the cities, the villages, everywhere, writers are solitary people. Everywhere, always, they have been.

“All over the world, the end of light means the end of work.

“As for myself, I’ve always experienced that time not as the moment when work ends, but when it begins. A sort of reversal of natural values by the writer.”

Doritos for dinner. A bite-sized Snickers, from Halloween. Chamomile tea. Cold. Now coffee. Milk like normal but also a spoonful of sugar. Indulgence. The need for something stronger.

Wikipedia says Duras battled with alcoholism. I think of her in these dark hours, craving:

“Crying has to happen, too.

“Even if it’s useless to cry, I still think we have to cry. Because despair is tangible. It remains. The memory of despair remains. Sometimes it kills.

“To write.

“I can’t.

“No one can.

“We have to admit: we cannot.

“And yet we write.

“It’s the unknown one carries within oneself: writing is what is attained. It’s that or nothing.

“One can speak of a writing sickness.

“What I’m trying to say isn’t easy, but I believe we can find our way here, comrades of the world.”

She made movies. Is this one? Hard to say but I guess yes. Maybe. I used to want to make movies. Thought, Maybe film. Maybe acting. Directing. I think now, Maybe producing. Maybe one day.

Duras, Marguerite. Before “Durasoff, Steve” and after “Duras, Claire Louise Rose Bonne de Coëtnempren de Kersaint de Durfort, duchesse de.” I know, right?

Marguerite Duras says: “Writing was the only thing that populated my life and made it magic. I did it. Writing never left me.”

I think: I don’t want it to leave me either. It’s my magic, too. I think: Why do it? I think: Why do you — why do we — do it?

__________

II.

“Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome. I believe that the person who writes does not have any ideas for a book, that her hands are empty, her head is empty, and that all she knows of this adventure, this book, is dry, naked writing, without a future, without echo, distant, with only its elementary golden rules: spelling, meaning.”

I am in that strange place familiar to many writers — that weird space in which one book has been written and published and the next has yet to come. This is no easy space to navigate. There is doubt. There is “possibility.” There is “nothing.” And there is also solitude. The door, I know now after so many false starts, must shut tight.

(Who said that? King?)

Solitude — a particular focus of Duras’s “Writing”:

“I preserved the solitude of those first books. I carried it with me. I’ve always carried my writing with me wherever I go. Paris. Trouville. New York. It was in Trouville that I ended the madness of becoming Lola Valerie Stein. It was also in Trouville that the name Yann Andrea Steiner appeared to me with unforgettable clarity. That was one year ago.”

Yesterday, while walking in the rain, I said aloud, over and over: and it was the rain on the leaves and the leaves falling soft on our wet bodies, and it was the rain on the leaves and the leaves falling soft on our wet bodies.

Who knows why. Just words.

I am entering a new madness now. The madness of becoming myself. “I” as character. Another retelling, but this time also a biography of women. A biography of how many women and of myself. An autobiomythography. I’ve heard this term before. Feels silly to use it myself, though. A myth, then. Mythology of myself? And fairy tale, too, of course.

We’re just thinking aloud here, right? These are just words?

The fear of the second book. That it won’t be good, won’t be better. Must be better. Must transcend.

Fear. Fear and paralysis.

I will overcome this fear. I will get up. I will stop being afraid. I will get back up. I will stand up. I will try again. I will shut the door and write another book.

“The person who writes books must always be enveloped by a separation from others. That is one kind of solitude. It is the solitude of the author, of writing. To begin with, one must ask oneself what the silence surrounding one is — with practically every step one takes in a house, at every moment of the day, in every kind of light, whether light from outside or from lamps lit in daytime. This real, corporeal solitude becomes the inviolable silence of writing. I’ve never spoken of this to anyone. By the time of my first solitude, I had already discovered that what I had to do was write.”

__________

III.

I spent two hours yesterday Google Imaging “Shabby Chic.” Fell in love with this table, all of these settings, wanted to take a nap on this couch, wanted this to be my bedroom and this to be my dining room, and decided I wouldn’t mind this one bit.

I have been imagining how I might decorate a space — a space for my characters, the cottage they live in; and a space for me, where writing happens.

“One does not find solitude, one creates it. Solitude is created alone. I have created it. Because I decided that here was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books. It happened this way. I was alone in this house. I shut myself in — of course, I was afraid. And then I began to love it. This house became the house of writing. My books come from this house. From this light as well, and from the garden. From the light reflecting off the pond. It has taken me twenty years to write what I just said.”

Marguerite Duras. I didn’t even know of her until this review. Still, I didn’t read her. I watched The Lover on Netflix and skimmed the book, but did not read anything else of hers until now.

I was in NY not long ago. I read with Kimiko Hahn, Tracy Smith, and Garrett Hongo who said, Your work reminds me of Marguerite Duras’s. I said, I’ve only read The Lover. No, he said. The writings, the essays.

I began to read. I am reading now. Preparing to write again. And why? Some strange compelling force, unexplainable. A need. A craving. Because it is a madness that will not “leave me”? Because I have found myself in a hole?

“In life there comes a moment, and I believe that it’s unavoidable, that one cannot escape it, when everything is put in doubt: marriage, friends, especially friends of the couple. Not children. Children are never put in doubt. And this doubt grows around one. This doubt is alone, it is the doubt of solitude. It is born of solitude. We can already speak the word. I believe that most people couldn’t stand what I’m saying here, that they’d run away from it. This might be the reason why not everyone is a writer. Yes. That’s the difference. That is the truth. No other. Doubt equals writing. So it also equals the writer. And for the writer, everyone writes. We’ve always known this.”

I’ll end here, with that doubt, and begin, somewhere else. . . .

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2 Comments

  1. ydde said on 11/12/11 at 2:14 am Reply

    I love this post and now feel compelled to read these essays, and I read essays about writing almost never. It feels right, accurate. Especially how the work begins when the day ends. At least for me, always. My sleep schedule never makes sense because if I fall asleep it’s usually when daylight faintly touches the sky and then I’m awake within a handful of hours again, ready to live the day so I can burn the night down. I think it was Yukio Mishima who would come home from the nightclubs at midnight and work till morning every day.

    And writing’s so strange. And maybe I never would’ve even done it had my mother bought me a camera like I always wanted or if there were cool toys to play with when I was sixteen like there were when I was ten maybe a lot of things would be different. But to write is to live in dreams, and living within dreams and constructed realities can be dangerous and it turns life strange. At least for me. I recently wrote a novel, kind of a two week sprint, and the day before I finished I wrote this, which is kind of just the ravings of a lunatic, but that lunatic is me. Or he was me when I was there, just twelve days ago, so deep inside the world I created that the one I was living in felt too far away. And this essay is making me think of the end of that post, too, which is maybe still too accurate feeling.

    — I feel half a man, swollen by an ocean of alcohol and pretty girls who say kind things to me. But I don’t want them. I want none of them. I want nothing and no one. I want my words. I want them endlessly and irresistibly. I want them. I need them. More than the skin of another to drown in, more than the sea of their emotions and the beauty of their hearts and minds. More than all, I need these words. They sustain me. They make me real. I breathe and exist only for these hollow words that I pulse into the pages. I pull them from the demons and visions that surround me, that kill me, that give me life. I’m out of my mind with terror and beauty but the page makes me real. With these words I become human. And all these quests, all these words in this novel, people trying desperately to become human, maybe it’s all me and my constant desire deep at the core of me to one day be human, too. To look at my species, not as strangers, but as sisters. To recognise the self in the other and for that to be enough. To be human. To be one with all of these awful and miserable creatures. What else could it be? The search for love, for understanding, all of that’s secondary. The search for humanity in this vast void of inhumane creatures, suiciding the species and murdering the planet.

    One day I’ll be human. It will be a good day.–

    I didn’t even realise how true it was until I wrote it, how much these words matter to me. Not just this novel, but all of them. So little in life makes sense to me, but when I start flying and everything’s a nebula shining, the world starts to feel right. It doesn’t make any more sense, but it wraps round me and comforts me, holds me inside and whispers kindness, and nothing else matters because, for that day, I can be real and happy. And I always baulked at the idea that writing’s therapy, but this year’s taught me that certain aspects of my sanity depend upon them, and it’s like a sickness, because when the words infect they must run their course, tear everything within me apart, and the only cure is on the page, my heart growing stronger with every sentence, and the more words pile and reality bends, the more whole I feel, and when it ends I’m free, like Sisyphus watching that great boulder roll down the hill, smiling, because we know we must begin again, maybe not today or tomorrow or even this month, but the sickness will return and we’ll push that rock beyond our limits only for the singular pleasure of being free of it the long walk back down.

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  2. Jordan Blum said on 11/13/11 at 4:58 pm Reply

    So eloquently and uniquely written, Molly. Bravo!

    I can completely agree with how it’s simultaneously useless, inevitable, and necessary to cry and feel loss. A snapshot of a memory can invade us like evil, like a nasty smell or a sharp pain, and once it’s there, it takes precedence over everything else. It displays itself in our mind’s eye like a film on a screen, only if we close our eyes, it becomes clearer, not darker. Every other sense is muted; we are in a vacumm. Just us; ourselves and our memory, and it’s a battle that may never end (if it does, we may lose).

    I can sympathize with the fear of a second book, but what about the first one? Certainly there’s the fear to live up to expectations (your own and of those who adore you), but what about those of us who’ve yet to seriously write anything? We have yet to make ANY impression on ANYone. That’s the fear I have now. Well, that, and the lack of confidence in any random amount of words I string together (I have no proof that anything I’ve strung together before was successful).

    I also like the idea of designing our own solitude. I’ve basically spent all day thus far (about 8 hours) in the room, grading papers, designing assignments, publishing music stuff, and now doing this. Honestly, I’m not sure if I ever want to leave today. My solitude is a dim lamp, a computer screen, and a record.

    Writing is strange, as you’ve both said. It’s more rewarding than anything and more intimidating. We have such strong emotions and such ambitious ideas; in our mind, they float freely and abstractly. On paper, they must be organized and perfected. I’m stuck in the middle.

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