Posts tagged Marguerite Duras
Fit Into Me

Something happened this summer. Only two weeks ago, I was flying home from teaching at the Yale Writers' Conference (and upon landing, I had to start packing up my apartment so I could move into my new place on July 1st, and yesterday, thank god, just in time for today, I finished unpacking). Today, I am packing again (just a suitcase) and heading back out to New Haven to teach another workshop. (I just got back!) Seriously, though, I love it. I can't wait to be out there again. This was my fourth year with the YWC, and the best year yet by far. For the first time, something incredible clicked into place and suddenly I wasn’t just teaching but singing a heartsong about the timeline of the entire history of literature and our own place on it. I fell in love. I fell head over heels, all over again, with teaching. (At Utah, I’ve been on a no-teaching fellowship for the past two years, and at my MFA I had a three-year work-from-home deal. So it's been a while.) This year at Yale, the most beautiful and inspiring campus I’ve ever set foot on, I fell in love with my students and they fell in love with each other and when we talked about their current work, the necessity of their future work, there was only love in the room. I taught an elective, twice, on the lyric essay, tracking the lyric back to Sappho and the Romantics and the essay back to Montaigne, analyzing these two forms as they endured and worked their way up the timeline, asking my students why, why, are they merging now, in our contemporary moment. The first time I taught it, a woman interrupted to ask if she could record the lecture; the second time, another woman asked if it was normal for people to cry in my classes. And in Session II, I taught the class I have taught for YWC for the past three years, but this year I taught it as a gender studies course, a culture studies course, an inquiry into the moral imperative of writing the contemporary, of the necessity to tell all the versions of all the stories, of rewriting history, of the courageous and daring experiment of breaking from the shapes and forms of the “bodies” of texts we’ve inherited; I proposed it as an act of defiance, a form of literary feminism; I taught, essentially, a history course about what the success story of flash fiction in the industry can teach us about a rapidly changing world and our anxieties about identity in 2015. Of course I fell in love with it. Of course I did. Yes, by all means, record. Yes, I am crying too.

There's more: On the first day of Session I, I introduced myself to Nicholson Baker — one of my literary heroes — after his keynote address. I said, “Hi, I’m Molly,” and he finished, “Gaudry?” You could have knocked me over with an exhale from across the lecture hall. That evening, I sat next to Colm Toibin at dinner. Without hesitation, he indulged my request for a selfie. I sent the pic to a friend from my MFA, a huge fan of Colm’s, and how great was it when Colm took my phone and personally texted my friend thanks for reading. Amy Bloom’s craft talk blew my mind, validated and confirmed — articulately, clearly, more commandingly — everything I had been repeating, over and over again, in my own classroom: that everyone’s process is different, so find what works for you; the imperative of not just knowing but loving your characters; the pressing need for more diversity, more voices, more perspectives, and better representation in the stories we are writing today, now, in 2015. I was shaking when I approached her. I whispered, “Can you just give me a hug?” She pulled me close and I felt her arms close around me and all I could say was, “Thank you.” Thank you. Thank you. For the first time in my life I realized that if I believe, if I allow myself to believe that I can really do this the way I want to, then I need to wake up a few hours earlier every morning and stay up a few hours later every night. Read harder, faster. Research more. Write like every day is already a lost day, because they all are or soon will be. And it hurts, this realization, because it led to another: I can't have the career I'm dreaming of and at the same time be a mother. Because if I'm going to mother — if I, having been abandoned and given up for adoption, having been haunted by the absence of Mother my entire life — am going to enter into that contract with children, with children for godsake, then I'm going to be there. I'm going to be there and not on the page every moment of my life. Because now, even when I'm nowhere near the page, I'm still always thinking about it. I thought I could and I thought I wanted to have it all, career and family. I've realized, though, that I can't. Not yet, anyway. So for now, I'm going to embrace the hurt and ache and sorrow and despair and loss, this traumatic loss of reliving all over again the gaping absence of Mother and choosing now, madly, to end a good relationship with a good man, and to let go all hope of being Mother, filling that space, resurrecting her from the grave, and providing her, with my own body, a second chance to get it right, to make it right. Because I believe that what we do, what writers do, alone in our heads as we take in and rewrite the world, it matters. We matter. Human experience matters. Our record of human experience throughout time — literature —  matters.

And so, with a vengeance, I came home and between packing and moving boxes and getting Marguerite Duras's "Writing comes like the wind. It's naked, it's made of ink," tattooed on my stomach, I finished Desire: A Haunting once and for all. Previous posts here have declared it "done" (more than once), but it wasn't. It is now. The form is right. I finally got it right. Like, two days ago. Minor, minor changes to the lineation, but they are the right changes. Dog's lines are broken like her voice is broken. Open and down, she breaks and breaks. And breaks. Her fragments surge and swell, then disappear. Her silences are as loud as, even louder than, her words. I am so in love with this book again. I am so proud of it. And I am ready to finally let dog go, even though I am terrified to release her into the world, to you.

What this really means, though, is it's time for me to return now to Fit Into Me. In its current state, it is a stranger to me. It's had a good long resting period, so I feel ready to go back in and spend time with the tea house woman again (my bride-to-be in We Take Me Apart, widow in Desire). Now she gets to tell her version, her story. It's her turn. So her manuscript is coming with me (along with If Not, Winter and The Metamorphoses), and as I wait at my gate tonight in anticipation of flying back to New Haven, where some part of my heart still is and will always be, I'm going to go deep, deep into the darkest corners of the tea house, this hundreds-of-years-old business that saved the narrators of my first two books, and I'm going to get down on my knees and crawl, with a flashlight in my mouth, into the heart and mind of the woman who was waiting for them, who brought them inside, fed them, provided them with rest, shelter, care. The question, of course, is: Why do I need to finish her story now?

The only thing I can think of is heartbreak.

A few days ago, I decided to start blogging again. I confessed: "I've missed it. Because it was always there for me. A place to go and be read, heard, by people who cared. A place to pour it all out in the middle of the night when there was nowhere else to put it."

Yes, it was always there for me. I needed it. But what I'm struggling with today is: Why do I need it again, now? 

The only thing I can think of is heartbreak. 

*

I think it must be my general state of being.

Default mode. Comfort zone. Code for: sadness.  

It has been steady and present throughout most of my life. In childhood and adolescence, into my young adulthood, and now it's here, again — that old familiar feeling.

I can't describe it.

But Rebecca Solnit touches upon it in The Faraway Nearby: "A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another."

Can we just linger on that line for a while? 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. 

She goes on: "The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give others." 

Heartbreak.

I've carried it with me so long, I don't resist it anymore.

*

Over at Poor Claudia, Danielle Vogel writes: "For all creatures, the most primal form of shelter is a hollow: a simple cavity dug into earth, a depression in the sand, the carved out alcove of a tree. For a writer, the most primal form of shelter is a word."

Think of the curve of a spoon, what shapeless form it's meant to delicately cradle, carry, hold, lift, raise. Now think of an egg, its perfect fit.

Think of your back pressed fast to your lover's chest. Think of your lover's arm around your body, how it shields. 

Think shelter. 

Think love.

Think. How fragile the shell. 

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Kelly Flanagan: "It's a lifetime that forms us into people who are becoming ever more loving versions of ourselves, who can bear the weight of loneliness, who have released the weight of shame, who have traded in walls for bridges, who have embraced the mess of being alive, who risk empathy and forgive disappointments, who love everyone with equal fervor, who give and take and compromise, and who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of presence and awareness and attentiveness."

A more loving version of myself, then.

To bear this loneliness.

To release so much shame, like a red balloon let go into the sky.

To build bridges instead of walls. And how lovely is that image. 

Risking empathy. Forgiving disappointment.

Loving. 

This mess of being alive.

*

Rebecca Solnit: "Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone." 

When I read Duras's later work, her "autobiographical cycle," I feel this even more — intimacy and loneliness — and I feel it deeply.

Her books throb in my chest.

Hear them pulsing when you place your ear against the cavity of my ribs, rest your head in the hollow of my lap. 

*

Marilyn R. Schuster tells us in Marguerite Duras Revisited that some of the frameworks used to read Duras include: "absence and alienation, the body, nothingness, silence, love, desire, sorrow, forgetting, and destruction (among other recurring obsessions)."

Of course.

These are my themes, too.

And my recurring obsessions are magic, dresses, and flowers. Because I need to believe they have the power to heal those old wounds.

Although, with regard to magic, what I really mean is the miraculous. Performed with fanfare, at that. 

And when I say dresses, I am speaking of a symbolic object that not only beautifies the wearer, but transforms her into a whole new person, so that she can shed the rags of the past and leave them there, walk away, move on, into a future she never even dreamed was possible, a future in which she can be happy, ever after.

And flowers.

Because they are so beautiful and fragile while they are here, and at the same time strong, unsheltered, able to withstand the elements.

Rooted by nature, they can also, if picked, persist, in this moment of their dying, reminding us that our lives, too, are short. And that, like them, we are brief, bright offerings that bloom once, and then are gone forever. 

"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?