Saturday, March 15, 2008

Oblivion and Marguerite Duras, 1914-96.

My first (unconscious) contact with eastern philosophy happened reading the novels of Marguerite Duras. This French writer abandoned (in the fifties & sixties) the strict tradition and structure french novels had. Born in Gia Dinh, Indochina (now Vietnam) she introduced elements that were new to me: the concept of cyclicity (life and everything in it is cyclic, or very simply said: things come back), one should listen to silence and we just 'are'. So are all our impulses and feelings. Controlling them is ridiculous. So is the often absurd need for to much explicity.

Try to imagine how Flaubert or Proust would describe daylight coming to an end in a hotel as evening is starting. You would get two beautiful pages of twilight description. Now what does Duras give you? Five words at the most. Something like: "nine o'clock. Twilight in the hotel". So this "9 heures. Crépuscule dans l'hotel" gives you the freedom to imagine your own awesome crepuscule. Quite Zen isn't it? This way of writing also applied by other novelist of the 'nouveau roman' was ideal for film producers.

Being an adolescent and having the horrors of the second world war repeated to me, over and over in history class, literature class, on television and at home; I was absolutely astonished by Alain Resnais's "HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR". It was an old black and white movie (1959) but the screenplay was written by Mrs Duras herself. It expressed the full impact of pain without bloody images. A total opposite from Resnais's earlier poetic documentary on concentration camps "NUIT ET BROUILLARD" (32 min of piles of bones and people in terrible conditions). "HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR" is narrated to us through the diologue and the beauty of two young actors Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada (Japanese). The actors have no name in the movie, it is just 'he' and 'she'. Two souls who meet in a beautiful and lovingly one night stand. They share their war experiences. What happened during the second world war? What is real and what is the story we have, the one remaining in our memories? That is the theme of this movie/ screenplay. Which in a way does bring us back to the French tradition of analysing memory. But Duras's novels just start & end somewhere. Like everyday life we are confronted to fragments of events and memories. It is the human brain that internally structures everything. The story, the final structure happens in the viewers or readers mind.

So today I'll just end like this, no conclusion, just quoting Cecile Hanania (March 2007) on BNET: "Her [Marguerite Duras] novels usually mix themes of eroticism and death, often treating existential moments in people's lives. Avoiding the use of descriptive passages, she had her characters reveal themselves through what they say—and do not say."

More about Duras on the site called Marguerite Duras and for further reading: in 2006 two new biographies came out, both written by Jean Vallier on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Duras's death. The first one Marguerite Duras, La vie comme un roman (Paris: textuel, 2006, ISBN 2845971583) retraces Duras's life through photographic documentation. The second, C'etait Marguerite Duras, 1914-1945 (Paris: Fayard, 2006, ISBN 2-2136-2884-X) covers her early life in 700 pages. I cannot wait to read it, with a bit of luck, I have a gap in my agenda in May 2010.

1 comment:

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