Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

'C'est Curieux Un Mort': Duras on Homosexuality

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

'C'est Curieux Un Mort': Duras on Homosexuality

Article excerpt

The writings of Marguerite Duras are littered with the shadowy presences of a range of marginal figures whose identity is presented as in some sense fragmented, and who are celebrated on the basis of this supposed dispersal as marking the possibility of a generalized fragility and loss of self. (1) From those characters in her early fiction who are rendered outcasts by their experience of passion or existential alienation (see, for example, Les Impudents, La Vie tranquille, and, most dramatically, Moderato cantabile), Duras moves increasingly to figures whose poverty and/or social dislocation makes them harbingers of some sort of fundamental political and philosophical upheaval. Announced particularly by the characters of the maid and the travelling salesman in Le Square, these figures are usually those of women, immigrants, the mad, and Jews. (Duras's work immediately following the events of May 1968 is most instructive here: Detruire dit-elle, Abahn Sabana David, and L'Amour.) In the mid-1970s, another figure is added to the list: the homosexual. This figure is rather more ambiguous than others in Duras's work, however, for while the male homosexual is initially championed in Duras's habitual terms, he later becomes the object of a denunciatory attack on what she presents as the sterility of his desire. At the same time, however, she is working to maintain her writing in a state of 'intransitivity' untainted by polemic: in an interview in the gay press in 1980, for example, she stated that 'l'ecriture est jaillissement intransitif, sans adresse, sans but aucun que celui de sa propre finalite, de nature essentiellement inutile'. (2) The encounter between Duras's writing and the figure of the homosexual in La Maladie de la mort and Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs, which forms the subject of this article, thus represents a considerable test of Duras's aesthetic: she is simultaneously attempting to use her writing as the vehicle for a form of critique and to produce this writing as beyond the contingency, the usefulness implied by such a project. Indeed, it is my contention here that the very techniques of ambiguity employed by Duras to elevate her writing beyond the merely useful also work to keep it hooked into the worldly concerns it strives to surpass in its 'jaillissement intransitif': in La Maladie de la mort and Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs, the relationship between heterosexuality, homosexuality, and the homosocial. (3) In order to explore the tensions generated in these books by their attempt to square the circle of denouncing homosexuality while remaining aloof from polemic, I first discuss the development of Duras's comments on homosexuality, comments made in interviews from the 1970s to the 1990s, before I go on to a detailed examination of the textual features that manifest the ambiguity of her position.

Same-sex desire really emerges in Duras's work in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where it is a question of desire between women, presented as part of a disruptive, valorized feminine proximity to madness. First, in Detruire dit-elle, Alissa (the emblematic figure of a celebrated loss of self) declares to the suffering bourgeoise Elisabeth Alione, 'Je vous aime et je vous desire'; this is met by the horrified response 'Vous etes folle'. (4) Then, the 'voix brulees' of India Song and La Femme du Gange repeat this Durassian link between lesbian desire and madness: in India Song, where 'les voix de ces femmes sont atteintes de folie', the first voice 'se brule a l'histoire d'Anne-Marie Stretter', while the second 'se brule a sa passion pour la voix 1'; (5) in La Femme du Gange, their passion is mutual: 'Elles sont liees par le desir. Se desirent.' (6) From the mid-1970s, however, passion between women fades from Duras's work, reappearing only in the adolescent desire of the narrator of L'Amant for Helene Lagonelle, and even this is, crucially, mediated through the figure of her (male) lover. More than lesbian desire, it is the question of male homosexuality that interests Duras in the later stages of her writing career; from 1974 to the late 1980s, the figure of the male homosexual makes frequent appearances in her interviews and journalism, as well as in the literary works I shall discuss shortly. …

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