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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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III. Witnessing Trauma: Writing the Novel – Writing the Self 113


113 III. Witnessing Trauma: Writing the Novel – Writing the Self In ritual, the world as lived and the world as imagined […] turns out to be the same world.1 In the beginning of the sixties, the interplay of a signifying subject and repre- sentation was one central matter of dispute in the humanities. Duras examines this problem by mediating the stories of Lol V. Stein and the Cambodian beggar as highly self-reflexive, fictional narratives compiled by two white men, Jacques Hold in Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein, and Peter Morgan in Le Vice-consul. In terms of trauma theory, I will explore them as parallel constructions which problematise any literary discourse as a valid testimony of the other person’s experience. But Duras’s metatextual strategy represents also a feminist element of the postmodernist demand common of the French novel and literary theory of the time: the dethroning of the divine Author.2 As Susan D. Cohen and Martha Noel Evans propose, Duras’s usage of the male narrator signifies a cultural pro- test which calls for a profound transformation of the male-dominated literary canon (see Hill 1993, 72, 170).3 I will specify this thought by drawing attention to the manner by which Duras attacks the illusion of a transhistorical, disembodied narrative identity: she creates a conflict between the implicit memory of a female body and modernist conventions of representing consciousness by constructing an ethnic difference between her two heroines, and accentuates this antagonism by assigning the symbolisation of their memories to two men...

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