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Fictionalising Trauma

The Aesthetics of Marguerite Duras’s India Cycle

Sirkka Knuuttila

With Marguerite Duras being the most disputed French artist after World War II, symbolising trauma represents the most problematic crux of contemporary trauma research. This book brings together these troublesome issues by way of integrating Duras’s aesthetics and the challenge of working through major historical trauma. Starting from the concept of an embodied mind as developed in current social neuroscience, the study illuminates the stylistic devices of the famous India Cycle that arose from Duras’s relentless struggle with the trauma of French colonialism. It reveals how converting trauma into fiction can become a powerful emotional strategy for surviving traumatic events, which may provoke necessary changes in our cultural memory through collective sharing.


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I. Memory, Discourse, Fiction: The Birth of the Absent Story 47


47 I. Memory, Discourse, Fiction: The Birth of the Absent Story Ce qui vous arrive dessus dans l’écrit, c’est sans doute tout simplement la masse du vécu, si on peut dire, tout simplement… Mais cette masse du vécu, non inventoriée, non rationalisée, est dans une sorte de désordre originel. On est hanté par son vécu. Il faut le laisser faire…1 While the India Cycle represents an imaginative rescription of Marguerite Duras’s own corporeal and affective experiences – the ‘mass of the lived, non-invented, non-rationalised’ – it simultaneously thematises man-made historical traumas by paralleling various stylistic pathways to fictionalisation. In this chapter, I will particularise her multi-faceted creation of the India Cycle as an active grief work of historical trauma. To this aim, it is helpful to distinguish between the notions of mourning and melancholy, all the more so as psychoanalytic interpretations cat- egorise Duras’s rhetoric as melancholic (depressive), while they simultaneously argue for mourning that hovers on the verge of mental illness (see e.g. Kristeva 1987, 242).2 Indeed, Jacques Lacan’s (1965) and Julia Kristeva’s (1987) influen- tial but cursory characterisations have made such approaches canonical.3 As my intention is to offer an alternative for these studies, I will first explore the India Cycle as a public mode of a critical working-through, in order to posit Duras in 1 ‘What hits one during writing is no doubt quite simply the mass of the lived, if it can be stated so bluntly… But this mass...

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