Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Duras on the Margins

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Duras on the Margins

Article excerpt

In the last ten years or so, Duras's writings have generated an increasingly important corpus of critical work of different persuasions. Yet in this wide assortment of highly interesting and diverse readings, few have explored at great length Duras's relationship to colonialism which quite obviously informs a sizable portion of her work. In fact, a number of critics do acknowledge,(1) without dwelling on the nature of the connection, the significance of the experience of the Indochinese years in Duras, especially in such semi or fictionalized autobiographical books as Un Barrage contre le Pacifique, Eden Cinema, and L'Amant as well as in that group of texts/films known as the "India Cycle" which includes among others, Le Vice-Consul, La Femme du Gange, India-Song and Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta Desert. Duras herself in some of the interviews testifies to the impact of that Asian period on her work. In Les Lieux de Marguerite Duras, a series of interviews with Michelle Porte, Duras reminisced about her Indochinese childhood and the story of her mother victimized by the colonial administration which was subsequently transposed in Un Barrage (56-61). In a later interview with Suzanne Lamy, Duras reiterates the strong presence of those years in India Song: "Oui, c'est une zone tres eclairee dans la memoire la moins oubliee. Tout India Song la totalite d'India Song, ce decor fluvial, ce fleuve, ces grilles, ces tennis, cette femme, ca vient d'une annee d'enfance. Je devais avoir entre huit et neuf ans lorsque j'ai connu ca et c'est absolument intact" (Lamy 59).

The object of this study is twofold. First, I will examine some of the ways in which the problematic of colonialism informs Duras's writings with a special focus on the figure of the margins and its ambivalent presence in the texts. Then I will argue that marginalization, while used as a measure of containment by the colonial power to exclude the colonized, has been reappropriated by the text to forge a new space in which to inscribe the poetics of the margins.

Duras's relationship to colonialism is in many ways highly complex and at times equivocal. At one level, her work displays a very clear and unambiguous anti-colonial stand. For example, in her first important novel, Un Barrage, which recounts in a fictional mode the author's own Indochinese childhood during the colonial era, Duras mounted a virulent attack against the vicious and unscrupulous French colonial administration of which the heroine's mother, referred to as "Ma" in the story, is a victim. In fact, even before she leaves for the colony, Ma, then a young woman, already sets herself up as an easy prey to the lure of exotica a la Loti as well as to the empty promises of great fortune awaiting her in the colonies. And what ultimately wins her over is a certain propoganda poster picturing an idyllic scene of earthly paradise in which she sees "a l'ombre d'un bananier croulant sous les fruits, le couple colonial, tout de blanc vetu, [qui] se balancait dans des rocking-chairs tandis que des indigenes s'affairaient en souriant autour d'eux" (23). This cliche image of colonial fantasy-land seems to have materialized in Ma's later life but only in its caricatural form. After suffering numerous disasters and setbacks in her fruitless attempts to fence off the Pacific waves which come annually to inundate and destroy all the crops in her concessions, Ma resigns herself to spending her time growing bananas, the exotic fruit par excellence: "La mere taillait ses bananiers. Le caporal les butait et les arrosait derriere elle," for in her stubbornness, "[l]a mere feignait de croire que ses bananiers, exceptionnellement soignes, donneraient des fruits exceptionnellement beaux et qu'elle pourrait les vendre" (114-15).

The drama that occupies the center stage in the family saga of Suzanne, the heroine, is the mother's hopeless fight against the corrupt and despicable cadestral agents who have total control of all the concessions in the colony and who made their fortune by embezzling half of the revenues coming from the leasing of the over-prized uncultivable lands to the unsuspecting settlers. …

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