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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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V. Crime in the Salon: The French in British India 203

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203 V. Crime in the Salon: The French in British India C’est pas un hasard si c’est l’Inde. C’est le foyer mondial de l’absurdité, le feu cen- tral de l’absurdité, cette agglomeration insensée, de faim, de famine, illogique.1 The storyline of the desperate colonial perpetrators, Anne-Marie Stretter and the Vice-consul, repeats one distinctive mark of Duras’s oeuvre: erotic passion as a destructive power. As indicated by its title, Le Vice-consul is organised around the person of a French official, and especially, as it appears, his crime against colonial law condensed in a violent attack in Lahore. A striking fictional fact giving this emplotment a specific post-colonial overtone is that the imaginary French society is located in British India and not in French Indochina. Moreover, as Dorrit Cohn notes, compared to historical narrative, the fictional narrative is able to embrace the essentials of life as it ‘makes an entire life come to life as a unified whole in a short span of story time, as short as a single day in novels like Joyce’s Ulysses and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway’ (Cohn 1999, 18). Duras follows this principle by exposing the European colonists’ typical life as a three-day drama in an isolated European enclave, set amidst the overwhelming misery of an exoti- cised Calcutta, in which the world of a Cambodian beggar is embedded as a ten- year temporal extension. In the frame story, the French Vice-consul’s dubious position is narrated by a seemingly omniscient diegetic voice as combined with the mimetic...

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