Posts tagged Jenny Boully
"fraught with the highest bliss"

I've just begun Mechthild Cranston's anthology In Language and In Love Marguerite Duras: The UnspeakableIntroducing Inger Gilbert's essay, "Imagination Into Myth: Love (Language) As Madness In Plato and Duras," Cranston writes:

"Assuming that, like Beckett's, Duras' is a world of 'Imagination dead,' Gilbert shows how the Beckettian imperative to 'imagine' nevertheless floods that world with an outpouring of 'love' not sanctioned by Christian, Romantic, or Freudian tradition. Seeking its roots in Plato's Phaedrus, Gilbert defines Duras' love as divinely inspired madness, 'fraught with the highest bliss.' 

'Fraught,' because for Duras as for Plato, says Gilbert, love, like language, is both 'the measure and the prison-house of human identity.' We fall in love because we remember an always already lost and perfect original beyond. Their wings clipped, Duras' lovers have nothing but language and image to (at)tempt transcendence: Hiroshima mon amour. Language itself, however absurd, thus becomes illumination from within, its own protagonist that falters, according to Gilbert, not because of a lack (Lacanian or otherwise), but because of a fullness of meaning beyond words. Writing, then, becomes the touchstone (but also the tombstone) of the unnamable other 'authenticated' in death: the translatio of an always already prior but ultimately irretrievable text. 'Lost beyond living and telling,' Dachau and La Douleur, the seduction of a name: 'Marguerite Duras: The Unspeakable.' In language and in love. In love and madness." 

In language and in love. 

In love and madness. . . . 

In Marguerite Duras: A LifeLaure Adler tells us: "All through her life, Duras was afraid she might go mad, yet often she courted madness; she decided to befriend it rather than make of it an enemy to be defeated. 'To be one's own object of madness and not become mad, now that would be a most wonderful misfortune,' she wrote in Green EyesVery much later, when it was already too late, she realized her mother was mad. And as though to exorcize her own share of madness, she admitted it and wrote it."

I don't know what this means. I don't know why I'm transcribing these texts here. I believe I could be working on something, but I don't know what. 

Perhaps I am simply meditating on the ongoing mystery of my potential Problematics (Lance Olsen's term (Melanie Rae Thon calls it "Lines of Inquiry") or, in other words, the lens through which I will read next year). Perhaps, here, I am making my reading "problems" public. Bringing them to you. Asking for help.

Duras: "I've talked a lot about writing. But I don't know what it is."


Other books in my recently acquired stack of Duras criticism: 

  1. Carol Hofmann's Forgetting and Marguerite Duras
  2. Trista Selous's The Other Woman: Feminism and Femininity in the Works of Marguerite Duras
  3. Lisa F. Signori's The Feminization of Surrealism: The Road to Surreal Silence in Selected Works of Marguerite Duras
  4. Sharon Willis's Marguerite Duras: Writing On the Body
  5. Susan D. Cohen's Women and Discourse in the Fiction of Marguerite Duras: Love, Legends, Language
  6. Marilyn R. Schuster's Marguerite Duras Revisited

Do you notice what I notice? It is the first thing I notice. That women write about Duras. Women write about Duras' women. We want to know them, understand them. We have things to say, things to offer, about them, about her. We matter. She matters. And this is not unimportant. 

Duras: "Now, of all the characters in my books, Lol V. Stein comes top of the list. It's a funny thing. She's the one who 'sells' the best. My little madwoman."


My favorite Jenny Boully book is [one love affair]*one of her lesser known and much less critically discussed titles from Tarpaulin Sky, which draws continual inspiration from Duras. Here's some of the jacket copy: 

"Told through fragments that accrete through uncertain meanings, romanticized memories, and fleeting moments rather than clear narrative or linear time, Boully explores the spaces between too much and barely enough, fecundity and decay, the sublime and the disgusting, wholeness and emptiness, love and loneliness in a world where life can be interpreted as a series of love affairs that are 'unwilling to complete.'"

Another contemporary writer, Amina Cain, has a wonderful book of stories that also interweaves text from Duras (as well as Clarice Lispector and Hannah Weiner). This book is called Creatureand it was published by Danielle Dutton at Dorothy.  

Women. Women everywhere.

Duras: "What I haven't said is that all the women in my books, whatever their age, derive from Lol V. Stein. Derive, that is, from a kind of self-forgetting. They all see quite clearly and lucidly. But they're imprudent, improvident. They all ruin their own lives."

Women's words surrounding. Dripping down from the crying sky, drenching, permeating the air like magnolia blossoms, fragrant, saturating and seeping. Demanding to be heard. Read. Told. 


Duras: "We never throw out flowers in this house. It's a habit, not a rule. Never, not even dead ones; we leave them there. There are some rose petals that have been in a jar for forty years. They are still very pink. Dry and pink."

When is the last time you looked at a flower? When is the last time you held one in your hands, touched its petals with your fingertips? Brought it to your nose and closed your eyes? Inhaled? 

"He wondered just what kind of child-kingdom it was that he was about to destroy"

Several years ago, Kristi Maxwell introduced me and the rest of our Psychoanalytic Theory classmates to Boully's The Body, which was republished by Essay Press.From their website:

Comprised of footnotes to a non-existent text, The Body: An Essay is a meditation on absence, loss, and disappearance that offers a guarded “narrative” of what may or may not be a love letter, a dream, a spiritual autobiography, a memoir, or a scholarly digression, a treatise on the relation of life to book. [. . .] First published in 2002 and excerpted in such anthologies as The Next American Essay and The Best American Poetry 2002, The Body: An Essay continues to challenge conventional notions of plot and narrative, genre and form, theory and practice, unremittingly questioning the presumptive boundaries between reflection, imagination, and experience.

I'm now reading Jenny Boully's The Book of Beginnings and Endings (some of which was published online in Conjunctions) and I am struck, again, by the power of her ideas. Or should we call them "constraints"? Boully is again challenging "conventional notions of plot and narrative, genre and form," but this time by cutting away all the middle stuff. She gives us only beginnings. And endings. In each, lush descriptions of meditation, character study, and scene. 

But it is the layout of the book itself that intrigues me, for Boully's beginnings end at the bottom of pages. The endings begin at the top of pages and often end a paragraph or so later. It is the turning of the page that compels me. Half a dozen beginnings and endings into the book, I still felt a slight shock that the beginnings didn't continue. Apparently I am so trained as a reader that even while fully aware, I am surprised by my expectations of what must happen when the page turns. Sometimes the shock is complicated by a grammatical shift in the "continuity" of the "sentence" from one page to the next, or a point-of-view change "reminds" me that the beginning has ended and the ending has begun. 

In the end

Finally, I found myself reading simply to enjoy the moments Boully captures. Here's one of my favorites:

She would continue to look for four-leafed clovers when the Ice Cream Man drove his wares away; she would continue to catch and release butterflies in her room in the belief that they would mate and lay eggs, which would hatch and produce caterpillars, which would swoon and spin themselves into green cocoons, which would split and spit out more butterflies, that they would all forever stay alive.

If you're interested, Sarabande offers a Guide to The Book of Beginnings and Endings (complete with an author interview). Boully proposes — in answer to the question, "In an interview with Kenmel Zaldivar in Mipoesias, you remark that poetry is "not a form or genre, but an experience, a moment." Could you talk about this?" — that poetry should be called "verse" and that poetry, which is a "moment," should be recognized in all writing: 

I think that poetry is something that happens to you; it comes, unexpectedly, in small, intense doses. Some of us feel compelled to attempt to translate this something with language, which often fails us, I think. Some of us want to translate this moment in the form of what we think of as poetry, and some of us want to translate this moment in prose. There is a lot of writing these days passing under the guise of poetry, but the writing contains no poetry; on the other hand, there's also much writing passing under the guise of nonfiction, fiction, or even scientific writing that contains much poetry. I think we should stop thinking about poetry as a genre and more as a moment. The genre should, more appropriately, be termed "verse" perhaps. I think the world, the experience of being alive and feeling our beings contrasted against an infinite time and space continuum sometimes passes through us with such intensity, and we feel such a hold, such a shock, such a deep awe; I think that's poetry. It seems to me that the Haiku masters wanted to translate this feeling into a short form, a form that would be as intense and fleeting as the moment of poetry.

It seems strange to me that Boully would make any distinction that would label, I think, lineated prose as "verse," but I love the idea of captured moments. The power of moments. Moments as fragments of experience. . . .