To the extent that she is familiar to Americans, Marguerite Duras is known for Hiroshima mon amour, the 1959 screenplay she wrote for Alain Resnais. Among its other accomplishments, that film has the distinction of being the anti-singularity of modern cinematic language, an originary limit point that acknowledges how the immense weight of an immediate and incomprehensibly violent past has broken the time of the present and preemptively attacked the future. One would have thought that Duras’ contribution, which did earn her an Oscar nomination, would have hardened her legacy in this country. But her tendency, in her near-perfect later films and fiction, to work at the edge of narrative, along with a basic American negligence — an irony given that American postmodern writers would co-opt her techniques to weakened effect — has obscured her importance. The situation is compounded in the literary present, which joins supposedly disparate political camps in their frenzy for positive identification. Duras instead wrote identification slantwise; she wasn’t offering an anti-self so much as a refusal to offer. She isn’t Yeats; she’s Duras.
It’s with interested accrued that her “most unreadable, most obscure book,” according to one biographer, has just been published by Open Letter and translated by Kazim Ali. The novel, Abahn Sabana David (1970), has also been called an “apocalyptic political thriller” and cited as an example of what Duras’ herself referred to as “an inner scream of refusal.” It is intense, elliptical, and haunting; and it lives somewhere near the blood-drained edge of the nouveau roman, a genre she is sometimes over-associated with. It’s also pitched against every comfort of contemporary fiction. [Read More]