The discovery of the writings of Marguerite Duras changed my adolescent life. They helped me give shape to my own literary ambitions and provided me a sense of place in the world by distorting my vision of it. Before Duras, I was the distortion. And, once I found her, I knew there were others like me who lived between the cracks and in the cobwebbed corners. It wasn’t just men who could cast off convention in the name of passion and art.
Marguerite Duras was a French writer born in Vietnam (which was called French Indochina at the time), a member of the French Resistance, a Marxist, and an experimental filmmaker. Her writing moves like slow molten liquid between poetry and prose. Basically, I’m obsessed. Weirdly obsessed.
There are other writers I find my style more closely aligned with but Duras is that first love that gets weird. Not holding hands at school and hand under the shirt make out sessions. Full-on, in the elevator, in the car, threaten to stab an overly friendly ex, cut off all your hair love that you need to walk away from to get a handle on yourself. That kinda love. The name of this blog is even a nod to her work.
“Very early in my life it was too late.”
This line from The Lovers, the first novel I read by Duras, is always in my mind. The affinity was built from there. I discovered her right around the age of 14 or 15, shortly before her death in 1996. At the time, finding her books in translation was a bit of a challenge. I slowly cobbled together my collection.
I’d find a copy of a Black Hair, Blue Eyes at a used bookstore. Once I uncovered a copy of The Malady of Death at a thrift store. And, miracle of all miracles, I once found a first edition of The Ravishing of Lol Stein to replace my own battered, secondhand copy. As time went on, I did begin to see novels other than The Lover from Duras at bookstores, fresh from the printer in English translation, but her body of work remained illusive.
I attended grad school in San Francisco and ransacked bookstores from Walnut Creek to Ocean Beach and from Marin County straight down to Santa Cruz. My Duras collection got downright respectable and I read through each tome as soon as soon as it was purchased. It was a magical time in my life and I am grateful for her companionship during those years as I struggled to come to know myself and how my identity was tied to love, sexuality, society, language, and whatever might exist underneath those layers of hard-packed earth that divided my idea of self from the burning core of my being.
Duras helped me dig myself out muck of societal notions while teaching me about the fluidity of language. The Ravishing of Lol Stein holds the place of personal favorite. It is surreal and post-modern in its explorations of the boundaries of sanity and love. There is something distinctly feminine about her writing and her worldview that Duras herself acknowledged.
If you have not embarked upon the writing of Marguerite Duras, I suggest you do so immediately. Right now. This minute. It’s important for the betterment of your being. Writer or otherwise.
For Further Reading on Duras:
“A Man and a Woman, Say What You Like, They’re Different”: On Marguerite Duras by Rachel Kushner from The New Yorker
Key Theories of Marguerite Duras by Nasrullah Mambrol from Literary Theory and Criticism