Marguerite Duras on Writing

Marguerite Duras has been one of my favorite writers since almost my childhood.

No other writer of prose quite does for me what her strange, preternatural tone of address does for me. The address is to her reader, a very direct form of address, quite often, but also an address to the world as subject matter. As subject matter remade in the act of writing, which is mostly the acts of looking and listening. It is a tone of intimacy but, somehow, an earned one. This stranger is no stranger. Already, she is under your skin.

I find her voice hypnotic and addictive, a drug.

I only recently found this later book, titled simply Writing, brought out by Lumen Editions (Cambridge, MA) in 1998.

This book includes five works, each of them unclassifiable in terms of genre or form. The safest thing would be to call them “essays,” but if they are indeed that, they are certainly mutations of the form.

But then Duras is generally conceded to have created a new genre with The Lover. It fell somewhere between the memoir and the novel, a strange amalgamation whose loosely-basted, deconstructed vignettes could probably only have been written by a creator versed in dramaturgy (as Duras was).

The works, in order, included in this little book are “Writing,” “The Death of the Young British Pilot,” “Roma,” “The Pure Number,” and “The Painting Exhibition.”

I wanted to share some of my favorite passages from the first essay, “Writing,” because I find her so astute in this nearly hallucinatory piece. She puts her finger on so much of what makes writing not merely an avocation but a qualitatively different life.

Maybe you will find something here that resonates with your process or acts as a sort of confirmation to continue in exactly what you are doing.

(These are excerpted in the order in which they appear in the essay, the paragraphs, but are presented discontinuously.)

“The solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing could not be produced, or would crumble, drained bloodless by the search for something else to write. When it loses its blood, its author stops recognizing it. And first and foremost, it must never be dictated to a secretary, however capable he may be, nor ever given to a publisher to read at that stage.”

“The person who writes books must always be enveloped by a separation from others. That is one kind of solitude. It is the solitude of the author, of writing. To begin with, one must ask oneself what the silence surrounding oneself is–with practically every step one takes in a house, at every moment of the day, in every kind of light, whether light from outside or from lamps lit in daytime. This real, corporeal solitude becomes the inviolable silence of writing. I’ve never spoken about this to anyone.  By the time of my first solitude, I had already discovered that what I had to do was write. I’d already gotten confirmation of this from Raymond Queneau. The only judgment Raymond Queneau ever pronounced was this sentence: “Don’t do anything but write.”

 

“One does not find solitude, one creates it. Solitude is created alone. I have created it. Because I decided that here was where I would be alone, that I would be alone to write books. It happened this way. I was alone in this house. I shut myself in–of course, I was afraid. And then I began to love it. This house became the house of writing. My books come from this house. From this light as well, and from the garden. From the light reflecting off the pond. It has taken me twenty years to write what I just said.”

 

“In life there comes a moment, and I believe that it’s unavoidable, that one cannot escape it, when everything is put in doubt: marriage, friends, especially friends of the couple. Not children. Children are never put in doubt. And this doubt grows around one. This doubt is alone, it is the doubt of solitude. It is born of solitude. We can already speak the word. I believe that most people couldn’t stand what I’m saying here, that they’d run away from it. This might be the reason why not everyone is a writer. Yes. That’s the difference. That is the truth. No other. Doubt equals writing. So it also equals the writer. And for the writer, everyone writes. We’ve always known this.”

 

“When I was writing in the house, everything wrote. Writing was everywhere. And sometimes when I saw friends, I hardly recognized them. Several years were spent like that, difficult ones for me, yes, this might have lasted for ten years. And even when close friends came to see me, that, too, was horrible. My friends knew nothing about me: they meant well and they came out of kindness, believing they would do me good. And strangest of all is that I thought nothing of it.”

 

“A writer is an odd thing. He’s a contradiction and he makes no sense. Writing also means not speaking. Keeping silent. Screaming without sound. A writer is often quite restful; she listens a lot. She doesn’t speak much because it’s impossible to speak to someone about a book one has written, and especially about a book one is writing. It’s impossible. It’s the opposite of cinema, the theater and other performances. it’s the opposite of all kinds of reading. It’s the hardest of all. It’s the worst. Because a book is the unknown, it’s the night, it’s closed off, and that’s that. It’s the book that advances, grows, advances in directions one thought one had explored; that advances towards its own fate and the fate of its author, who is annihilated by its publication: her separation from it, the dream book, like the last-born child, always the best loved.”

 

“I wrote every morning. But without any kind of schedule. Never. Except for cooking. I knew exactly when to come to make something boil or keep something from burning. And for my books I knew it, too. I swear it. I swear all of it I have never lied in a book. Nor even in my life. Except to men. Never. And this is because my mother had terrified me with the lie that killed children who lied.”

 

“I don’t know what a book is. No one knows. But we know when there is one. And when there’s nothing, one knows it the way one know one is not yet dead.”

 

“Personally, I’m like everyone else. i don’t believe anyone ever turned around to look at me in the street. I am banality itself. The triumph of banality. Like the old woman in my book Le Camion [The Truck].”

 

“One is never alone. One is never physically alone. Anywhere. One is always somewhere. One hears noises in the kitchen, noises from the television, or the radio, or the neighboring apartments, throughout the building. Especially when one has never demanded silence, as I always have.”

 

“The death of a fly is still death. It’s death marching toward a certain end of the world, which widens the field of the final sleep. When you see a dog die, or a horse die, you say something, like poor thing…But when a fly dies, nothing is said, no one records it, nothing.”

 

“I’m going to speak of nothing.

Of nothing.”

 

“Often with the end of work comes the memory of the greatest injustice of all. I’m talking about the ordinariness of life. Not in the morning, only in the evening does this come, even into the houses, to us. And if one isn’t that way, then one isn’t anything at all.  One is nothing. And always, in every case, in every village, this is known.”

 

“Deliverance comes when night begins to settle in. When work stops outside. What remains is the luxury we all share, the ability to write about it at night. We can write at any hour of the day. We are not sanctioned by orders, schedules, bosses, weapons, fines, insults, cops, bosses and bosses. Nor by the brooding hens of tomorrow’s fascisms.”