- Reviewed by
In her study of the feminine in the novels of Marguerite Duras, Trista Selous takes to task those critics, mainly Lacanian, who have read Duras's work as examples of a feminine writing engaged in subverting masculine conventions of language. Claiming that Duras has never situated herself as a feminist writer and deploring any essentialist notion of gender, Selous examines Freudian and Lacanian notions of the feminine, as well as those feminist critics informed by such studies (Cixous, Irigaray, Montrelay, Marini) to argue that Duras's style is less subversive than has been claimed. Her approach, at times subjective and a bit idiosyncratic, offers, nonetheless, a careful reading of the works. She examines the "blanks" in the texts from a reader-centered vantage point to show that Duras's writing—and feminist readings of it—concentrate exclusively on and repeat traditional [End Page 288] images of women as manifestations of Woman as marginal Other, eliminating interaction and difference between women.
Part One, an overview of psychoanalytic views of the feminine, is a solid rundown of Freudian and Lacanian theories and their deployment by feminist critics. Selous' final point in this section is that psychoanalysis does not offer a single, satisfactory account of either femininity or masculinity and that, in the long run, psychoanalytic accounts are politically based. In the second part of the book she looks at the "blanks" in Duras's texts as a fetish that invites certain readers to identify unconsciously with her female protagonists, representative as they are of traditional views of woman as masochistic, maternal, or castrating. In this section, Selous raises the interesting question of the power of the fetishized woman object for another woman reader. She also explores Duras's own family romance to examine the role of the absent father, the domineering mother, and the incest taboo as powerful generators of psychoanalytic structures that Duras writes into her text. In a tantalizing deduction, she points to the masculine overview in Duras's works—that woman can exist only as Object of desire—as an inscription of the missing father. Arguing that it is basic to the construction of woman that she be seen as both object and subject of desire, Selous maintains that even when the female is an active desiring subject, as in L'Amant (where the desire is primarily narcissistic), that desire is sexual. It is this position within a relation of sexual desire (and not a relation to artistic creativity or work, for instance) that characterizes Duras's protagonists as conventional Western heroines, in Selous's view. Selous concludes by suggesting that women can escape from the constraints of being typed either as manifestations of Womanhood or honorary men by concentrating upon their individuality and difference from one another. In this respect, she sees the actual writer and filmmaker Duras as more "feminist" than her protagonists and thus as an important role model in the orientation of women toward the particular and away from the archetype.
Selous's study is a refreshing review of feminist theories in relation to Duras's works. It relies on a thorough reading of the novels, a strong grasp of psychoanalytic theories, and much common sense. However, the personal reactions that are sprinkled throughout the text render her argument more opinionated than authoritative at times. One wishes that it were backed by a more forceful command of the scholarship on Duras as well as reader-response criticism. For instance, Selous overlooks the fact that Duras did ally herself with feminist writing in an important interview in Signs magazine in the Seventies. Certain of Selous's contentions could be made stronger with reference to Iser's reception theories or Kristeva's psycholinguistic notions. Finally, it is a shame that the work is marred by so many typographical errors, a detail which does not enhance reader receptivity. [End Page 289]