Love, Literature, and Destruction: an Introduction to Marguerite Duras
Novelist, playwright, and experimental filmmaker, Marguerite Duras resists easy categorization. Despite endless attempts by critics and scholars to claim her for emerging genres and movements, it may be easier to say what she was not: she was not part of the nouveau roman (new novel) movement in France, she was not a forerunner of autofiction, she did not write autobiography, and essays, she thought, were “debased.” She didn’t care about Hélène Cixous’s description of her as a practitioner of écriture feminine (feminine writing) any more than she cared for Jacques Lacan’s claim that she was a “rapturer.” She was and was not a member of the French Communist Party, a post-colonial thinker, a feminist—if we’re to believe Duras’s own account, anyway. Notwithstanding a body of work that spans all manner of writing and film, which draws ambiguously on her early life in the French colony of Cochinchina (now Vietnam), as well as her later love affairs, political activities, and alcoholism, what mattered to Duras was seeking a truth she saw as peculiar to literature. But what sort of truth does Duras’s work reveal: about love, desire, addiction, depression—and the destructiveness that shadows our social and interior lives?
This course will explore a selection of Duras’s expansive creative output to grapple with how she treats desire, seduction, memory, destruction, melancholia, silence, and femininity. Readings will be drawn from the following:The Lover, Destroy, She Said, The Malady of Death, The War, Emily L., Green Eyes, India Song, andHiroshima, mon amour. Secondary reading will include work by Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Maurice Blanchot, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Pierre Fédida, and others. We will ask: How is desire portrayed within matrixes of colonial and gendered power dynamics? In what ways does memory become attached to missing photographs or unmoored, “without recollection,” in Foucault’s words, and how does this technique inscribe forgetting at the exact place we expect to find remembrance? What does the pervasive theme of destruction suggest about melancholia, love, and loss? What’s at stake in her preoccupation with an austerity of language that reaches for silence? How might we read Duras’s ambivalent political actions and affiliations alongside, in, and through her work? What kind of ethics might be at work in her representations of atrocity? Above all, we’ll be curious about the writing itself and how it traces a certain style of a distinctive character.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 13 — August 03, 2022