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Selous, T. (1987). A triumph of the will. Free Associations, 1(9):95-101.
(1987). Free Associations, 1(9):95-101
A triumph of the will
L'Amant, by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray as The Lover, Collins/Fontana (Flamingo), 1986, 123 pages, pb £2.95.
Over thirty years or so, from the fifties onwards, Marguerite Duras built up an enthusiastic following amongst French (and Francophone) intellectuals for her writing, plays and films. Her work was praised for its innovatory simplicity and power, for its fascinating silences and ‘blanks’; feminist writers called her writing ‘feminine’ and hailed it as a step towards a new language that would escape masculinist chauvinism; even Jacques Lacan awarded her his highest accolade, saying that her novel The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein, published in 1966, showed that she understood his teaching without any help from him. But she remained something of a cult figure, always a little too odd to be solidly integrated into the French literary and cinematic establishment.
Her work has always been concerned with grand themes — the intertwining of love, (sexual) desire and death — and peppered with constantly recurring names, settings and figures: Anne-Marie Stretter, S. Tahla, tennis courts, hotels. Around these she gradually created her own highly idiosyncratic world, full of suppressions and resonating with things unsaid, ruled by the twin powers of death and desire. But by the early eighties, her texts and films were becoming so idiosyncratically sparse that some were suggesting that she had reached a silent impasse. Perhaps, it was muttered, she was simply going round in ever smaller circles, dancing on the pinhead of the same personal obsessions. Few, I suspect, would have guessed, if they were not in the know, that she had a prize-winning bestseller up her sleeve.
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