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Duras’ War Lawrence D. Kritzman M ARGUERITE DURAS’ La Douleur, written in 1944, apparently forgotten and then published later in 1985, recounts the author’s war experiences during the last days of the occupation as she awaits the Liberation of Paris.1The representation of this moment in French history permits the writer to examine the underlying topoï of her narrative: pain and suffering. The pain in question is a symptomatic manifestation of the threatening consciousness of the unresolved con­ flicts attributed to a split subject.2 The psychic grief produced by the monstrous and painful experiences of the war—be they “real” or imaginary—engenders a crisis of representation for the narrating sub­ ject. Although Duras’ text apparently offers little resistance to remem­ bering, the trauma associated with pain is only relieved in an extremely attenuated or unsentimental manner. Duras’ role as storyteller is validated by the circumstances of her life (war victim and Resistance fighter) which enabled her to witness and par­ ticipate in the events she describes. “ Je sais que je l’ai fait, que c’est moi qui l’ai écrit, je reconnais mon écriture et le détail de ce que je raconte” (10). Although Duras uses factual data for the construction of her nar­ rative frame (dates, places, real events), the subjectivity of her historical account takes itself as “real” and thereby transforms the writing subject into the subject of history. Despite the imperative to guarantee the “ truth value” of historiographic discourse, this narrative testimony con­ stitutes its own private story which is woven into the fabric of history. Far from being conceived of as a universal drama, the scene of witness­ ing in Duras’ text declares the loss of its sense of communality; it tragically becomes a solitary endeavor provoked by the narcissistic separation from a lost object of desire. “ Ceux qui vivent de données générales n’ont rien de commun avec moi. Personne n’a rien de commun avec moi” (14-15). So if, as Shoshana Felman claims, the crisis of repre­ senting history is integrally related to a crisis of literature, it is because “ literature becomes a witness, and perhaps the only witness, to the crisis within history which precisely cannot be articulated.” 3For Duras, then, literature demonstrates its inadequacies in representing history, for as a discursive practice it can only utter the unspeakable horrors of historical reality in an austere way and transcribe this crisis as a form of fiction. VOL. XXXIII, NO. 1 63 L ’E s pr it C r éa teu r To be sure, Duras’ text expresses both horror and fascination for a history that cannot easily be assimilated. Yet, however difficult it may be to describe the scope of this semiotic disorder, one can only attempt to do so by examining the relation of witnessing to the historical experience of war. Accordingly the quest for truth entails the process of narrative testimony, a phenomenon that treats the raw material of narrative not as pure content but rather as a performative act of storytelling whose demonstration subtly reveals the impact of pain through ellipses, gaps, and indirection. Duras’ war memories examine from a variety of perspectives the act of testifying and witnessing history; they function as the origin and con­ text of the psychic drama in which she is engaged. At its most basic level the Durassian narrative enacts a process of self-portraiture in which the writing subject bears witness to her distress through memories and fan­ tasies, reactions to the historical context, that are not fully comprehensi­ ble. On another level, however, the narrative subject witnesses and records the testimonies of the other. In both cases testimony is implicated in the writing of history; its ethical imperative is subsumed by a moral crisis that is revealed by the text’s failure to communicate absolute moral and ideological truths. The starkness of the text, the monotony and numbness associated with the Durassian rhythms of writing, attests to the collapse of a transparent form of historical witnessing. In the first story of La Douleur the female narrator records the anguish she experienced in 1944 awaiting the return of her deported hus­ band Robert L...


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