Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Durassic Park: Evolution and Extinction in the Work of Marguerite Duras

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Durassic Park: Evolution and Extinction in the Work of Marguerite Duras

Article excerpt

Is the work of Marguerite Duras a retreat from reality and truth or an "erasure in favor of the all"? This essay takes an evolutionary perspective on the self informed by transpersonal psychology, offering a critique of common themes in Duras scholarship, particularly indeterminacy.


At this point in history, following the deconstruction of illusions of self-knowledge and self-possession, we are witnessing the death of the ego's permanence. Its pristine isolation and coherence, experienced as power over form, power over the world, and power against the other have been revealed to be illusory. What might be the nature of consciousness after the dissolution of ego boundaries? A critical paradox inherent in the work of Marguerite Duras carries to its ultimate point one aspect of this question.

In her remarks on Duras at the July 1993 Colloquium held in Cerisy-la-Salle, Danielle Bajomee affirms that Duras's negations of time result from a desire to enter into non-time, or eternity: "Le desir d'infini, la regression souhaitee, ne cessent partout de manifester un retrait du monde, sensible dans l'idealisation de l'autre, de soi, et du reel" (256). Equating this nostalgia for the infinite with regression, she continues: "La sensation est la derniere pointe de contact avec le reel lorsque la conscience se perd ou veut se perdre" (257).

Where Bajomee sees a retreat from reality or a loss of consciousness, Madeleine Alleins observes the same evidence and concludes that Duras moves progressively and mystically toward the real: "Seuls, d'habitude, les ecrits philosophiques ou mystiques offrent cet effort, cette progression constante vers le vrai. [...] Les purifications qu'elle decrit correspondent a une montee mystique" (11-18). What quality in Duras's depiction of the dissolving subject has led to these oppositions?

Duras herself contributed to this confusion by describing her novel Le Vice-consul and her film India Song as showing a constant movement toward an erasure of the subjective self in favour of the whole. In her published conversations with Xaviere Gauthier, Duras refers to "ce gommage de l'etre en faveur du tout" (210). How is this movement toward the apparent elimination of the ego incorporated into the substance of the texts and films? Is there genuine progression involved in the erasure of the subject in Duras? And what is the nature of what she calls "le tout," toward which her characters might be moving?

We might imagine that this mystical whole must by definition include everything that the gaze of Duras's characters encompasses. Through Francou, her heroine in the early novel La Vie tranquille, Duras describes what will become the archetypal gaze of all Durassiac heroines: "Ma tete ne sait plus preferer une pensee a une autre et la retenir. [...] Quels qu'ils soient les evenements prochains ne me feront ni joie ni peine. Je me coulerai a travers. J'ai choisi ma place, elle est la ou il n'y a rien a faire qu'a regarder" (135). Taken literally, this expression of absolute neutrality with regard to one's own thought processes might describe the consciousness and the gaze of an advanced Buddhist Vipassana meditator. The central meditative exercise on the road to enlightenment is precisely to watch thoughts arise and let them all go, thereby arriving at supreme detachment, a state that is described as arrival at non-self. Is this what actually happens in the universe that Duras creates? Is the gaze of her characters--and that of their creator--detached? In both Le Vice-consul and India Song, Anne-Marie Stretter and La Mendiante (the beggar woman) have been foregrounded in the debate between regression and transcendence. Our essay suggests a fresh perspective on that debate from one of the contemporary consciousness disciplines.

In 1966, the same year Le Vice-consul was first published, transpersonal psychology emerged alongside Freudian, Jungian, and emerging cognitive approaches as an avant-garde in American psychology. …

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