Category Archives: Marguerite Duras

Dialogue with a Carmelite

Our purpose here is to relate an experience honestly lived and honestly transcended. Unless we are willing to limit our role as purveyors of information, we cannot refuse to relate one kind of experience because we would rather talk about another. There is no special audience for this kind of truth. Truth is not aristocratic or exclusive but belongs to everyone, and the most homely item of local news is as unfathomable as anything that happens anywhere in the province of heart and mind. Heart and mind, we believe, are the world’s most widely shared possessions, and even though we expect to be attacked in any number of contradictory ways for printing this story, we think it our duty to do so.

Q. Do you think that the ‘truth’ about the Carmelite convent in which you lived for fifteen months is of such a special kind that not everyone will be able to understand it?

A. I don’t think so. Anyone who is open to an honest account of a sincere experience will agree, I think, and will not claim to understand more than can be understood. Continue reading

A possible book

Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome. I believe that the person who writes does not have any ideas for a book, that her hands are empty, her head is empty, and all that she knows of this adventure, this book, is dry, naked writing, without a future, without echo, distant, with only its elementary golden rules: spelling, meaning.

– Marguerite Duras, Writing (tr. Polizzotti)

For years and years I thought about the light through the window, the light through the shutters. It seemed a pity not to reveal how it was. That light and the noises of the city outside. Although I was in complete privacy, no one in the street knew I was there. I was in bed with a man, my lover, yet at the same time I was also in the street. It felt like being in front of an audience. I was in public but at the same time totally private, completely hidden. I saw the street, but they didn’t know I was there. It’s a bit like the process of writing. The writer’s viewpoint is lost and taken over by the work itself.


‘Time seems shorter when one is talking’, said the girl.
‘And then afterwards, suddenly, much longer.’
‘Yes, like another kind of time. But it does one good to talk.’
‘Yes, it does one good. It is only afterwards that it is rather sad: after one has stopped talking. Then time becomes too slow. Perhaps one should never talk.’
‘Perhaps’, said the girl after a pause.
‘Only because of the slowness afterwards: that was all I meant.’
‘And perhaps because of the silence to which we are both returning.’
‘Yes, it is true that we are both returning to silence. It seems as though we are already there.’

–Duras, The Square (tr. Pitt-Rivers and Morduch)

Some people are like that

She says, ‘Nothing can come from outside you and me to teach us.’
‘No knowledge, no ignorance?’
‘None. Some people are like that – closed – they can’t learn from anyone. Us, for example – we can’t learn anything, neither I from you nor you from me, nor from anyone, nor from anything, nor from what happens. Like mules.’
No matter how many centuries of oblivion pile up over their existences, their ignorance will have existed just as it is at that moment, on that date, in that cold light. They realize this and are delighted.
Also, that in a thousand years’ time this day will have existed for a thousand years to the day. And the ignorance of the whole world about what they’ve said today will have a date too. Without words, without ink to write it down or a book to read it in, it will have a date, a place in time. And they’re delighted about that too.
She says, ‘And so everything there is is here, in the room.’ And with the palm of her hand she indicates the tile floor, the sheets, the light, the bodies.

— Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair (tr. B. Bray)

During the night, still a long time before dawn, while the walkers are going along the beach, she asks him a question she’s been wanting to ask him for several nights.
‘What you meant was that paying for time spent in this room was paying for time lost, wasted. Wasted by the woman?’
At first he can’t remember, then he does.
‘Wasted by the man, too. Time that he had no further use for.’
She asks him what he’s talking about.
He says, ‘Like you, about our affair, about the room.’
‘The room is no use now either,’ he says. ‘Everything in it has stopped.’
He must be on the wrong track. He can’t ever have thought it would be of any use. What use could it have been?
She says, ‘You said the room was to keep people here, with you.’
He says that applied to young male prostitutes, but not to this case.
He has stopped trying to understand. So has she.
She says, ‘It was also so that they had to go, had to leave you, when the time was up.’
‘Perhaps. But I was wrong, I didn’t want anything.’
She looks at him a long while, her gaze taking him and keeping him shut up inside her till it hurts. He knows it’s happening. And also that it’s nothing to do with him.
She says, ‘Perhaps you’ve never wanted anything.’
Suddenly he’s interested. He asks, ‘Do you think so?’
‘Yes. Not ever.’
He’s the sort of man who doesn’t notice whether something is said by himself or by the other person, doesn’t notice who answers questions, even if they are put by himself.
‘It’s possible. Never wanted anything.’
He waits, thinks, says, ‘Perhaps that’s what the matter is. I never wanted anything, ever.’
Suddenly she laughs. ‘We could leave together if you like. I don’t want anything anymore either.’
He laughs too, but with a sort of uncertainty, of apprehension, as if he had just escaped from some danger, or from some piece of good fortune he hadn’t asked for.

— Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair (tr. B. Bray)

A woman’s voice

She wants him to remind her what she said just now when she woke up. She sometimes speaks when she’s still half-asleep, and then when she’s fully awake can’t remember what she said. But this time she recalls quite clearly a woman’s voice similar to her own, and some complicated, painful words torn out of her own flesh, words which she hadn’t quite understood and which made her cry.

— Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair (tr. B. Bray)