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  • Je est une autre: Of Rimbaud and Duras
  • Mairéad Hanrahan (bio)

Relatively little attention has been devoted to questions of intertextuality in the work of Marguerite Duras. Or, more precisely, while there has been a considerable focus on links between different Duras works, and a number of comparative studies have sought to relate Duras’s œuvre to that of other women writers, most of whom are successors rather than predecessors, there have been few readings of her work in relation to the vast body of writing in French which preceded her. 1 It is significant that the “Other” who has featured most in relation to Duras is the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, mainly because he himself established links between her writing and his theory in his article “Hommage fait à Marguerite Duras, du ravissement de Lol V. Stein.” 2 It must be stressed that, for Lacan, this relationship is one of identity; reminding us that Freud had already asserted that the artist always precedes the analyst, he continues: “C’est précisément ce que je reconnais dans le ravissement de Lol V. Stein, où Marguerite Duras s’avère savoir sans moi ce que j’enseigne.” 3 [End Page 915] And while a number of earlier critics, notably Michèle Montrelay, 4 adopted this point of view, seeing in Le Ravissement an illustration of Lacanian theory, more recent work has shown how Lacan’s reading—like every reading—is a partial, subjective one. 5 In other words, the reading of the very theorist who argued that desire is always “le désir de l’Autre” 6 —and whose work was devoted to elaborating the place of the Other in language and in desire—treated Duras’s text, in effect, not as the site of an Other’s voice, an Other voice, but as a mirror. Lacan found in Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein an image of his own (desire).

The first part of this article explores Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein in the light of another pronouncement on otherness, Rimbaud’s celebrated formula, “Je est un autre.” The differences between these two authors are so obvious as to require little comment: on the one hand, a twentieth-century, mature woman novelist, on the other, a nineteenth-century, adolescent male poet. Nevertheless, Rimbaud is one of the few authors Duras acknowledged as an influence on her, 7 and her production is profoundly similar to his in that both are governed by what can be characterized as a poetics of alterity, of alteration. The question of the relationship between Self and Other is central in both the theme and the structure of Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein. We learn after only a few pages that this first-person novel, whose author is a woman, has a male narrator. However, it is only one third of the way through the text that the narrator identifies himself as Jacques Hold, the man whom the je has been describing Lol following around the city in the previous chapters, and who has been consistently referred to in the third person. The unknown stranger turns out to be je—or je turns out to be a stranger: “Tatiana présente à Lol Pierre Beugner son mari, et Jacques Hold, un de leurs amis, la distance est couverte, [End Page 916] moi.” 8 As in Rimbaud’s formula, the contradiction between the first and third persons highlights the divisions within—and the divisibility of—the subject. But the shift in gender between author and narrator introduces a specifically sexual dimension: to what extent can—does—je differ sexually from itself? Is a je’s Other of the same or the other sex? In a phallocentric culture where femininity is marked as “other,” is the relationship between a masculine je and its Other not inevitably different from that of a feminine je? Importantly, these same questions can also be asked of Rimbaud. As we shall see in the second part of the article, focussing on his “Délires I,” he too was concerned with probing sexual difference within the subject, including within the feminine subject. The interest of approaching these works together is that while Rimbaud and...

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pp. 915-936
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