The year 2014 will be celebrating the birth centenary of a highly controversial writer, Marguerite Duras.
Known for her non-conservative and scandalous way of life, this feminist writer, won the Prix Goncourt for L’Amant (The Lover). Although the literary society prefers to distance itself from her, Duras has succeeded in leaving behind an indelible mark on French literature and cinema.
Born on April 4, 1914, in Gia Dinh, suburban of North Saigon, Duras spent her childhood in Indo-China.
Later she returned to France, and was very active in the political arena. Duras was a prolific writer and touched upon almost all the literary genres. She has woven into myriad stories the bitter experiences of her widowed mother with the corrupt bureaucracy in Indo-China. All these stories narrate the sufferings of the common man in a world of deceit and cruelty. The dominant social class always reigns supreme. Her works come alive with stories of her life and the people whom she met along the way. The reader can easily identify these characters in his or her midst.
Her style is very simple. No complicated sentences or expressions but each word, each expression are engulfed in a profound philosophy with a touch of poesy.
Duras began her career as a writer when she was in her twenties. Her political life was translated into her works very effectively although in a sensitive and daring manner: ghettoes, horrors of the world wars, racism at its peak, with the common man as the target.
Though a White she was vociferous in attacking the corrupt White colonialists.
She identified herself with the natives of Vietnam and their poverty. Her works traversed the diverse Indian culture and delved into the richness of its spirituality. The materialistic poverty opposes the spiritual strength of the country, a sharp contradiction to the Western materialistic world.
Duras was a visionary. She foresaw the advent of AIDS. Her work ‘La Maladie de la Mort’ criticises the sexual adventures of man and their fatal consequences. She also believed that ‘History repeats itself’.
Man cannot quantify the bitter experiences of war and sufferings. Hence equality is chimerical and a virtual truth. Power in any form, political, economical or social, binds man to a world of lies. War for him, is a means to establish equality and liberty. But as Will Durant and Ariel Durant opine in ‘Lessons of History’, the two will never exist together. Man will always be at war to satisfy his ego.
This is where Duras declares the difference between man and woman. In the real world, war and adventure are a man’s forte. A woman, deep inside is always a mother, who strives to protect her children from the lurking dangers in the vast forest of savage animals. Yet she herself often falls prey to these hungry animals. But it is her eternal love and sacrifice which conserve humanity.
Duras, however does not categorise human beings into man and woman. The difference is biological and functional. Like Carl Jung, she believes that every human being has a male and female component with a degree of variation. Hence the two should have a complementary relationship which is very essential for the survival of mankind.
In the globalised world, man is a product to be commercialised. This has become a legalised concept. Duras, however, has struck this law down in a bizarre manner.
The psychological conflicts which arise from this concept, manifests itself in different forms -- madness, aggression, violence, murder. Duras, true to her nature acknowledges all of them. Yet the most prominent appears in the form of forbidden love, incest. For the author, the act is not important but the essence, ‘love’, is a remedy to all the evils of the world. This innocent love appears also as children, a promising future. Duras creates children who are visionaries like her, who believes that formal education destroys the sensibilities in a human being and carves a monster out of him. Global education which distances children from Nature, their origin, their environment is self-destructive. Duras believes in an education which focuses on the individual growth.
Man has to reach out to the world through his local culture, a vision yet to be realised. Marguerite Duras died on March 3, 1996 at the age of 82. Her ‘immoral’ concept of love shocks the sensibility of an ordinary human being. Yet if one explores her philosophy, the simple truth is revealed. Man indulges in self-destruction when ‘Love’ loses its valour. In such a world, the woman with her intrinsic power and instinct must force herself on the beleaguered society to strike a revolutionary change. Duras thus, will still live in our mileu, hammering the bitter truth into our heads, demanding transformation for a better life, a reality hard to realise, yet worthy to fight forever.
Associate Professor in French (Retd.)