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Reviewed by:
  • Orient(s) de Marguerite Duras by Florence de Chalonge, Yann Mével et Akiko Ueda
  • James S. Williams
Orient(s) de Marguerite Duras. Sous la direction de Florence de Chalonge, Yann Mével et Akiko Ueda. (Faux titre, 395.) Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2014. 384 pp., ill.

This diverse collection is the result of a conference that took place in Japan in 2009 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Hiroshima mon amour (dir. by Alain Resnais, 1959). The plural ‘Orient(s)’ in the book’s title foregrounds the editors’ central aim of establishing the multiple textual and contextual ramifications of the Orient in all areas of Marguerite Duras’s work. In a characteristically probing and wideranging chapter that serves as a general Introduction, the late Madeleine Borgomano suggests that the very notion of the ‘Orient’ in relation to Duras, who seldom employed the word, is in fact misleading, since her corpus is always oriented towards the West, as exemplified by the opening image of the setting sun in India Song. The underlying paradox of a corpus profoundly influenced by the Orient yet largely devoid of Orientals is acknowledged by all the contributors who demonstrate in different ways how Duras continually restructured and poetically transformed the land of her childhood, a lasting source of memories of horror and fascination, into the spatially, temporally, and psychically disorienting territory of ‘Durasie’. Loosely organized around four broad themes (‘Penser l’Orient’, ‘Imaginaire et exotisme’, ‘Les Orients du cinéma’, ‘Territoires de l’Asie’), the twenty-five chapters approach her (non-)engagement with the Orient largely in terms of alterity. Florence de Chalonge, for example, carefully argues that in Duras’s narratives set in Indochina, where virtually all the characters are presented as foreigners, the only tangible marker of identity is place. The film chapters focus on different notions of the hybrid, whether a ‘hybrid Orient’ where the co-existence of opposites evokes the Japanese concept of iki (Christine Buignet), the figures of hybridization in Duras’s dislocation of cinematic form (Michelle Royer, Jean Cléder), or Suwa Nobuhiro’s docudrama H Story (2001), an eclectic remake of Hiroshima mon amour (Olivier Ammour-Mayeur). The most original and illuminating chapters address the Vietnamese language, which Duras spoke fluently as a child. Quang Viet Do reveals brilliantly how the interrogative and dialogic structures of Vietnamese impregnated her style and syntax, while Thanh-Vân Ton-That traces the rich musicality and rhythms of Vietnamese in L’Amant de la Chine du Nord. Other proposed connections vary in success: Akiko Ueda’s bold claim that the void subtending Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein has Buddhist resonances is compelling, yet Mattias Aronsson’s assertion of links with Taoist philosophy in La Pluie d’été feels rather forced. Likewise, the three chapters promoting Duras’s direct influence on contemporary feminist and avant-garde literature in Japan and China would require greater expansion to be fully convincing. The largely reverential tone of this immaculately presented and always lively (if uneven) volume is sealed by a highly affecting ‘Témoignage’ by Tsutomu Iwasaki, who collaborated on the post-synchronization of Hiroshima mon amour. Among the few illustrations is the reproduction of a haunting work by an artist Duras championed, Aki Kuroda.

James S. Williams
Royal Holloway, University of London


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