Place, Memory, and Subjectivity, in Marguerite Duras' Hiroshima Mon Amour

By Mohsen, Caroline | The Romanic Review, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Place, Memory, and Subjectivity, in Marguerite Duras' Hiroshima Mon Amour


Mohsen, Caroline, The Romanic Review


Place possesses a manifest reality [whereas] time on the other hand possesses an obscure one, since it exists only as conceived by mind.

--Simplicius, In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium

Et si l'on veut depasser l'histoire, ou meme en restant dans l'histoire, detacher de notre histoire l'histoire trop contingente des etres qui l'ont encombree, nous nous rendons compte que le calendrier de notre vie ne peut s'etablir que dans son imagerie ... [Il faut] desocialiser nos grands souvenirs et atteindre ... les espaces de nos solitudes....

Ici l'espace est tout car le temps n'anime plus la memoire.

--Gaston Bachelard, La poetique de l'espace

One has only to peruse a bibliography of Marguerite Duras' "oeuvre" to conceive the importance Duras confers upon particular places and geographical locations in her writing: Le Square, Un Barrage contre le Pacifique, L'Homme assis dans le couloir, Les Viaducs de la Seine-et-Oise, Les Eaux et forets, India song, La Femme du Gange, Le Marin de Gibraltar etc., are just a few examples of titles of plays, novels, scenarios where a particular place, or place-name is significantly put forward. Duras' insistence on the importance of place is the guiding motivation behind this essay. For Duras, place is especially significant in the formation of women's identity and experience.(1) Place is incorporated in women's identity as the result of the forced silence and solitude women endure in patriarchal societies, where they are relegated to the interior of homes, or to Nature, while men partcipate in the political sphere and monopolize speech, a situation that the female protagonist in Hiroshima mon amour has experienced in all its traumatic implications, since her identity is built as loss or erasure. Duras in this sense intersects with Luce Irigaray's genealogy of women's relations to space-time in ancient mythology and in the history of philosophy, where space has long been understood as the mode of perception of what is exterior to the subject, while the subject's understanding of time is the mode of apprehension of his interiority. Irigaray asserts that time has been associated with the masculine (the only subject with an interiority) while the feminine, pure exteriority and external to men, is associated with space. Women are thus commited to the private and the personal while men evolve in the conceptual and the political. This essay posits that Hiroshima mon amour is a significant account of the feminine experience's interface with places, and that the film/scenario demonstrates how places and feminine lived-in (corporeal) experience affect and construct each other.(2) I will therefore read Hiroshima mon amour in its spatiality, through the physical elements and places that further the progression of the narrative.(3) Place, memory of places, and the historical events places contain (or remember) long after their occurences are instrumental in the psychological development of the female protagonist. Place, memory, and subjectivity constantly refer to one another, and each one, in the course of the narration's progression, comes to undermine and complicate the meaning of the other, as by the end of the narration the protagonists become what Michel Foucault calls heterotopic places. Foucault in "Of Other Spaces" opposes "heterotopia" to "utopia", and outlines heterotopias as mixed joint experiences, placeless places that

   exert a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy....
   [Heterotopia] makes the space I occupy at the moment ... at once absolutely
   real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely
   unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual
   point which is over there. (24)

Foucault's designation of heterotopia proves useful in the analysis of the alternative subjectivity Duras creates, as the heterotopic is sexless, or rather contains a revision of both masculinity and femininity. …

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