on Marguerite Duras’ ”Att Skriva”

Born Under Punches

And the heat goes on … And the heat goes on … And the heat goes on … And the heat goes on …

“Att skriva” is an essay by the French writer Marguerite Duras. The text is about what it promises – and then just a little bit more. Just a little bit.

Originally it came out in French in 1993. It is now translated into Swedish. It reminded me of the first time I read her novels. This was in the mid 80’s when she gained another round of international recognition, especially with the book called The Lover, 1984. I read them then as I read them now in Finnish.

“Att skriva” is, if not the last then at least one of the last texts Duras published. It is hardly a surprise that it has a distinguished personal voice and integrity. It is a journey of a biography that is worth spelling out in sites and numbers. Born in 1914 in French Indochina, now a place called Vietnam. At the age of 17, she moved to France, working during the WWII both in the Vichy government and for the resistance movement. Her husband, Robert Antelme, was deported to Buchenwald, but survived. Duras died in Paris in 1996.

It is a remarkable text. It is a text about what it means to be having a life long practice of writing, and that is writing professionally: the implications and the consequences of it, not on generalizing level, but for her. This text is situated, it is anchored, and it is beautiful. And it deals with issues that hurt and heal, hurt and heal.

The tone is exactly the tone we recall from her books. We can call it laconic, on-your- face or neo-realistic. But it is also a voice that is heroic, coming not so far of celebrating the more miserable parts of the conditions of our conditions of being-with.

This is how she deals with for her the essential circumstances of being alone: “Ensamhet betyder också: Döden eller boken. Men framförallt betyder det alkohol.” And she goes on: “Självmordet finns närvarande i författarens ensamhet. Man är ensam ändå in i den egna ensamheten. Alltid obegripligt. Alltid farlig. Ja. Man betalar ett pris för att ha vågat sticka ut och skrika.” What this means in connection to writing is: “Att ändå skriva trots hopplösheten. Nej: med hopplösheten”.

I don’t believe that this kind of a text could be written today. Not because the plain obvious reason that there will be nobody like her, a singularity of a person called Marguerite Duras, and not because the habits of the heart of contemporary discourse have learned how to camouflage the heroic tones of the self-narrative. The main reason why this kind of a text cannot be written today is because the experiences – the life lived – is so dramatically different between then and now.

Make no mistake about it. My point is not nostalgic. In many ways, what she went through, we must, I repeat, we really must be glad that we (as in most of the citizens living in OECD-countries, that is) do not need to live through today. This is then war, this is then hunger, and this is then death, sickness and cruelty. And yes, all of this in its all-encompassing form and format. This is then life almost not worth living. Almost.

It is about experiences, of living it inside in, going through it. She thinks about death and returns to the times of the war. “Precis som under krigets första dagar kände jag hatet mot Tyskland välla upp i mig igen, med full kraft, i hela min kropp. På samma sätt som jag under kriget föreställde mig att jag mördade varje tysk jag såg på gatan, att jag kommit på idén och vidareutvecklat den, att jag kände kolossal lycka över en tysk som jag själv dödat.”

This is what she recalls and this is what she writes. And she does this at the end of her days, at the age of over 80.

What she has, what she embodies, and what she extremely well transforms and transmits into her novels and into this essay on what it means to be writing, writing professionally is the sense and sensibility of tragedy. This is living with the big big issues. Not because she likes to do so, but because she has no other choice. She does not turn away, or run away. She stays. And she gets closer. Closer than the most.

It is a sense and sensitivity of the gravity pulling. Love hate life and death – and everything imaginable in-between. A sense and sensitivity of how tragedy is and must be a central part of the ways we are being-in-the-world. Not to be lifted up or glorified, but to be faced with and confronted with. And, unfortunately enough, it is a sense and sensitivity that in our contemporary, through and through commodified life-worlds is achingly missing.

And the heat goes on … And the heat goes on … And the heat goes on … And the heat goes on …

[Text to tsnok on Marguerite Duras “Att Skriva” – Mika Hannula 12.10.11]

– Att skriva, Marguerite Duras, Arche 2011, n. 34-35, s. 141-156
– Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), Talking Heads, Remain In Light, Sire Records 1980