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MLN 117.4 (2002) 936-939

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Book Review

Duras, Writing and the Ethical:
Making the Broken Whole

Martin Crowley, Duras, Writing and the Ethical: Making the Broken Whole. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000. 344 pp. Cloth ISBN: 0-19-816013-5 $85.00.

Based on Martin Crowley's doctoral thesis, Duras, Writing and the Ethical: Making the Broken Whole studies Duras's written œuvre, covering her journalism and lesser-known works in addition to the more famous texts. Crowley's main concern, and the fil conducteur of his study, is the ethical in the writing of Duras. It is thus somewhat surprising that his argument begins with the following statement, "Duras is not an ethical writer" (1), because, for Crowley, Duras does not openly try to influence her readers to lead a good life or to solve ethical issues that arise from the very nature of our conditionhumaine. Indeed, Crowley argues, the question of the ethical is a more subtle one in Duras's œuvre.

Via a close reading of Duras's texts throughout her various creative phases, Crowley succeeds in demonstrating that the work of Duras is constantly troubled by ethical inquiries and dilemmas. "The ethical in Duras is found at [End Page 936] its limit; the passion, violence, and loss with which she was fascinated both burst the coherence of its terms and continue to evoke their necessity" (286). She forces the reader to confront ethical questions through her work—one marked by passion and excess—offering in exchange an uncertain complicity rather than solutions or comfort.

Critical approaches to Duras's work tend to stress notions of excess and transgression, as her texts are overwhelmingly and awkwardly occupied by experiences at the limits of life. Crowley disagrees with critics such as Julia Kristeva, who equates Duras's writing with extremity in her study "La Maladie de la douleur" (Soleil noir: Dépression et mélancholie [Paris: Gallimard, 1987], 227-65). On the contrary, for him Duras's work does not qualify as one that refuses catharsis, and he thustakes a far more positive approach to Duras'sœuvre. The subtitle of Crowley's study, Making the Broken Whole, expresses his discontent with the critical reception of Duras by his colleagues in literature departments and his attempt to provoke a change. He suggests that, while using the terms of excess and transgression in order to be able to discuss the corpus of texts, critical discourse should add another perspective to our reading of Duras, so as to recognize a larger scale of her achievement and to re-assess the model of her writing usually proposed. According to Crowley, critics of Duras must be concerned both with the possibility (and simultaneous impossibility) of her writing in terms of excess, transgression, and violence, and with her fascination with the edge of the ethical. The author demonstrates the necessity of this through an insightful and illuminating series of detailed textual analyses.

Structurally, Duras, Writing and the Ethical: Making the Broken Whole is divided into two parts, consisting of six chapters. Each chapter begins with a significant quotation from one of Duras's texts, reminding us that the critic's task is merely to read the text rather than to readinto the text. Part I, Impossible Enactment, consists of three chapters that cover Duras's texts chronologically from 1943 to 1971. The first chapter looks at her early texts, dating from 1943 to 1957, and points out the birth of the structure of "writing on the edge of beyond" (15) that introduces the encounter with the ethical. Chapter 2 (1958 to 1967) concentrates on the traumatic, eruptive event, while The Politics of Incomprehension (1969 to 1971) makes a series of cross-references, moving between Duras's writing and her involvement with the French intellectual and political scene after the events of May 1968 as it continues to "explore the encounter produced by Duras during these periods between the area of ethical interest and the business of writing" (15). Crowley gives a clear account of Duras's engagements in the ethical and political issues of...


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