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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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IV. Modifications of the Madwoman Trope 153


153 IV. Modifications of the Madwoman Trope Si on fait tout la lumière on est fou. Les fous opèrent dehors la conversion de la vie vécue. La lumière illuminante qui pénètre en eux a chassé l’ombre interne mais la remplace. Seuls, les fous écrivent complètement.1 Duras’s figure of madness is one of those subversive tropes that she diversified from the middle fifties onwards for over a period of four decades, others being such as love, desire, crime, the Jew, woman, the proletariat and the body (Hill 1993, 22, 30−31). With the figures of two rejected madwomen, Lol V. Stein and the Cambodian beggar, Duras defies the illusion of a compact, Cartesian ration- ality and subjectivity.2 As she notes, the absent state of these figures does not refer to a mental illness but to a state illuminated by the ‘ignorance’ of their ‘inner shadow’, which places them radically – but not unambiguously – beyond all moral evaluations (Armel 1994; P, 123). Seen within the frame of traumatic loss, Duras’s usage of the madwoman trope maps a spectrum of consequences arising from a restriction of women’s social agency in diverse cultural situations and milieus. In the India Cycle, madness is thematised in the disguise of sudden trauma in two principal ways: by portraying the silenced heroines in the after- math of a rejection, and showing their responses as labelled by other characters as insanity.3 But as if fulfilling Caruth’s (1996, 7) succinct thesis, each wounded survivor...

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