Marguerite Duras

Is there a reason to be optimistic? No. There isn’t just one. There are many. The sun scaled my scrap of sky this morning; I am writing this, the open books on the smooth surface of my desk cupping each other like clam shells filled with briny juice and delicate pearls; I have a splendid legacy of authors who came before me, daring to break new ground with their pens, typewriters and keyboards; last and most exciting of all, I am about to make a pilgrimage to France to visit the town where one of my favorite writers, Marguerite Duras, penned some of her most dynamic works. I’ll be staying in the very building (which is now a hotel) in which she had an apartment in Trouville, a town in Normandy sluiced by brisk ocean waters and buffeted by maritime winds.

The beach at Trouville

Largely locked in her apartment at Les Roches Noires for days on end, Duras wrote The Malady of Death among other books. The prolific author penned plays, screenplays and novels; and directed films and theater, culled largely from her own material. One of her biographers, Laure Adler, wrote of her, “She became an excellent administrator of her own talent, constantly recycling Duras.” Le Monde called The Malady of Death “…an extended haiku on the meaning of love…” Duras’ writing was enigmatic in many cases: the film India Song, for example, holds dialogue that rolls along with a hypnotic repletion of the word “yes” spoken by a voice detached from human form. The word continually answers questions spoken by another voice sans body.

Claude Monet painted the Les Roches Noires

One of her best-known works outside of France is The Lover, which is said to be semi-autobiographical and based upon her childhood in Vietnam. In the book she wrote, “The story of my life doesn’t exist. Does not exist. There’s never any center to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it’s not true, there was no one.” It has taken me years to make this trip happen, the seed of which was planted when I saw the film Cet Amour-Lá by Josée Dayan. The movie is based upon Duras’ years in Trouville when a young man named Yann Andréa Steiner came into her life. The film is a moving tribute to Duras’ appetite for the written word and her drive to get it on the page even when alcohol and cigarettes took their toll on her health. I share this determination to make a mark as a writer and this trip will be my heartfelt homage to her lust for language and determination to make her writing wholly unique.

Duras’ The Lover was made into a feature film of the same name

At the end of The War: A Memoir, Duras wrote, “It’s dark. I can’t see the words I’ve written any more. I can’t see anything except my motionless hand which has stopped writing to you.” She’s one of the brave writers who inspire me to continue working even when self-doubt and feelings of arrogance that what I have to say matters creep in. She’s one of the reasons I have been able to continue posting The Road to Promise, even when I wondered why I would. I can’t wait to breathe in the salty air from that swath of shoreline at the edge of the English Channel. “There are reasons to be optimistic?” “Yes.”

  • jb @BMoxieBMore

    Saxon I am very happy for you making your journey and thank you too for sharing the story of Marguerite Duras.Kudos too on Yes — the perfect title.

  • Saxon Henry

    Thank you so much! I am so excited; I’ve been a fan of hers for so long and this is an honor for me. She was the reason I began writing plays, one of which was produced a few years ago. Glad the title worked for you; almost called it “Under Duras”!

  • Brian Meeks

    Your deft touch with the pen is almost as great as Monet’s was with the brush. You painted a wonderful image of why you are feeling optimistic.Before I read your piece, I was already firmly ensconced in the optimism camp, but now, even more so. You have brightened my day. Thanks.

  • Saxon Henry

    Wow, Brian! What a beautiful thing to say! Truly! I loved your piece, too, and feel the same way about Let’s Blog Off: It has become a great satisfaction for me as the quintessential lonely writer in her garret putting words on a page that so fewer people used to read! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  • Steve Mouzon

    Wow, I didn’t even know Duras! I’m definitely going to have to read some of her work!

  • Saxon Henry

    Hey Steve:She can be challenging to read but worth it, I think. I’ve seen one of her plays performed and unless an actor really gets what she’s trying to do with language, it’s a disaster. I truly felt sorry for the poor woman trying to perform “Savannah Bay” on off-Broadway! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Cham

    I’m going to repeat jb and mention that I love your title choice – especially as I began reading and this emerged:”…a hypnotic repletion of the word “yes” spoken by a voice detached from human form. The word continually answers questions spoken by another voice sans body.”As you make your pilgrimage to walk the halls and beaches of Duras, I hope you hear that soft utterance. I can’t imagine better encouragement for a writer than to go where inspiration was born for those we admire most. I look forward to reading what you discover there.

  • cindy frewen wuellner

    some people start sentences with either the word yes or no on their minds. do you sense that? (heh. didnt mean to set you up!) your title makes me feel like I waste words. if the question is, Is there a reason to be optimistic, the optimist says: yes. really thats all we need. thank you for the tip on Duras and for your beautiful writing. it’s a gift. I wonder if getting your play created is much like getting your book published? I wonder how they are alike and how not. cindy @urbanversee

  • Saxon Henry

    Thanks, Cham. I really do look forward to what I might discover there and I actually don’t have a preconceived notion, which I think is best; that way, I’ll be open to the experiences that meet me there. So appreciate your recognition of the diligence that I am looking to undertake as I follow this dream I’ve had. I somehow think you’re on an odyssey of your own…

  • Saxon Henry

    I guess I didn’t think I’d be that wise going in but now that you mention it, I do think the title is quite astute! There is a difference between having a play produced and a book published. When I sat in the audience of the theater and the actors began the dialogue for my first produced play, I had an out of body experience because up until that point, the words had been in my head. It’s as if the actors had made the dialogue real and the words became a part of the universal law that had nothing to do with me. Maybe it was like having a child that had grown into an adult and the process required a certain letting go? The book is always there, sitting in its entirety, whereas a play is dynamic and needs other beings to make it sentient, I suppose. There’s something vitally different about it that makes it more ephemeral. Thanks so much for asking that question; I’d never thought about it and it will make me a better playwright for it!

  • Denese Bottrell

    A journey with this much passion behind it can only lead to great things. Like Cham said, I can’t wait to see what unfolds for you because of it. Inspiring (and educational) post!

  • Denese Bottrell

    and I love that you’re going without expectation! such an important aspect of any journey……

  • Saxon Henry

    Thanks so much, Denese. I’m happy that it struck a chord with you. I was reading over The Malady of Death last night and I got cold chills just knowing I’ll be invoking such a master of words. I was talking with a friend of mine about it over drinks and she said, “I don’t think there’s any way an American woman could have written that.” It gave me pause and I’m thinking maybe she’s right: maybe there is something to the French that allows them to be so sensually awake. The book opens with: “You wouldn’t have known her, you’d have seen her everywhere at once, in a hotel, in a street, in a train, in a bar, in a book, in a film, in yourself, your inmost self, when your sex grew erect in the night, seeking somewhere to put itself, somewhere to shed its load of tears.” Wow! I want to be the American woman who can write like that! That’s what this pilgrimage is all about for me!

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