Marguerite Duras on writing


My zillionth interlibrary loan book of the year landed on my desk yesterday. The frequency with which I make use of this library perk is part of the reason our interlibrary loan person hates my guts. I keep her busy, between ordering and receiving books I feel an urge to read. I see it as job security for her; she sees it as a pain in the @$$.

If I ever were to move out of this library system she'd have to take up a hobby to fill the extra time – knitting or something - remembering fondly days past when she wore a path in the carpet from her desk to mine. Or, when she doesn't trust herself not to say something rude, from her desk to my mail slot. Which explains why she's so thin, from all that walking while carrying heavy objects.

[FYI: the former interlibrary loan person used to lob the books I ordered from her desk to mine, in a show of what I can only believe was passive-aggression. It's a wonder she never hit me; our desks are at least 15 feet away. Quite an arm she had. The Sox should sign her.]

But I digress, already. My topic of the day is Marguerite Duras and her very slim book Writing. Thinking it may hold some good advice to pass along to my writers' group, I started paging through it. By about page two I knew I was in trouble. Why? Duras' prose is over the top – as purple as purple gets. She goes on and on (and on) about how writing's one big spiritual experience, something she romanticizes until it becomes soap operatic, making it into a practice only the select few can do. Which may explain why I haven't gotten a whole lot of writing work lately, but again I'm going off topic.

Duras has a distinct flair for the dramatic. I can just picture how she must have looked writing this book:  wearing her dressing gown, hair splayed on a satin pillow, lounging back upon her sofa, hand to forehead. She makes statements like this:

"Writing was the only thing that populated my life and made it magic. I did it."

You did what? Made magic? Just a bit egotistical. And this sort of thing goes on ad nauseum.

I couldn't get through my days without writing, either, but I don't give it credit for being magical, or myself credit for being anything other than the medium between what my brain thinks and my hand transcribes. It's an outlet, creatively and personally. There's no magic, no reason anyone can't do it. Some have more talent and panache than others, sure. But not everyone writes for the same reasons. We won't all publish, but you know if you're the type who must write. If you are, you just do it. Often that's good enough.

But magical? Not so much.

Every now and then I can identify with her:

"Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you."

Many's the time writing has saved me, keeping me from total despair. I don't know what I think about something until I write it all out. Often I'll put off answering a question, especially a major one, 'til I've had a chance to see what I think by getting it all out in my journal. I think best when the process goes from my brain to my hand(s). I can't always think on the fly. Sometimes, but not always. But thinking in writing is unfailing. It always makes me feel better; it's great therapy.

Intentional obscurity, drama, and pomposity don't impress me. I skimmed through her book, written more as an ode to herself and her self-proclaimed great talent than speaking to the actual process of writing, and realized I couldn't read it all the way through. It isn't worth wasting my limited reading time.

I'd take Hemingway's volume on writing (collected by his editor over the course of his career, not written as a writing primer) over Duras' any day of the week. Though his spare, sometimes testosterone-laden writing bespeaks his reputation for ripping open his shirt, beating on his chest like a gorilla, at least he had a reason for it; he was drunk. Drunks I can handle. At least they eventually sober up. The pompous aren't as easily deflated.

So, on the same day I received the book, back it goes. I think I'll avoid letting our interlibrary loan person know that, though. I don't really want to be smacked in the back of the head with a book, should she develop the technique of her predecessor. And if there's anyone in the library whose good side I care about staying on it's her's, lest my books begin to "accidentally" go astray.

I think I've made enough magic for one day. I'm going to go nap on the sofa, hair matted into a big ball on the scratched up leather, waking up with a floor-shaking snort, dog hair covering every inch of my clothing. Then I shall have to condescend the clean the house. Both my sons are having their family birthday party on Sunday (one born July 30, one July 31, two years apart), so it behooves us to dig out from under all the accumulated stuff littering every surface in the house.

Back to reality. And rudely, too.

3 thoughts on “Marguerite Duras on writing

  1. “at least he had a reason for it; he was drunk. Drunks I can handle. At least they eventually sober up. The pompous aren’t as easily deflated.”
    Sounds like this book is a bit difficult to stomach. But I love your comment on Hemingway. *Going to look up his book now.*


  2. “at least he had a reason for it; he was drunk. Drunks I can handle. At least they eventually sober up. The pompous aren’t as easily deflated.”
    Duras was actually a very open and sloppy drunk. Couldn’t make it through the day without a whole bottle, save a few sober months here and there much later in life.
    Of course, she’s mighty pompous, too. I’m sure the two characteristics are related.
    My inter-library loan people hate me as well. 🙂


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