Marguerite Duras, “Writing,” in Writing, trans. Mark Polizzotti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011): 1-45.
The solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing could not be pronounced, or would crumble, drained bloodless by the search for something else to write. When it loses its blood, its author stops recognizing it. And first and foremost it must never be dictated to a secretary, however capable she may be, even given to a publisher to read at that stage.
The person who write books must always be enveloped by a separation from others. That is one kind of solitude. It is the solitude of the author, of writing. To begin with, one must ask oneself what the silence surrounding one is—with practically every step one takes in a house, at every moment of the day, in every kind of light, whether light from outside or from lamps lit in daytime. This real, corporeal solitude becomes the inviolable silence of writing. I’ve never spoken of this to anyone. By the time of my first solitude, I had already discovered that what I had to do was write. I’d already gotten confirmation of this from Raymond Queneau. The only judgement Raymond Queneau ever promounced was this sentence: “Do nothing but write.”
Writing was the only thing that populated my life and made it magic. I did it. Writing never left me. (2-3)
An open book is also night.
I don’t know why, but those words I just said bring me to tears.
Write all the same, in spite of despair. No: with despair. I don’t know what to call that despair. Writing to one side of what precedes writing is always to ruin it. And yet we must accept this: ruining the failure means coming back toward another book, toward another possibility of the same book. (18)
I wrote every morning. But without any kind of schedule. Never. Except for cooking. I knew exactly when to come to make something boil or keep something from burning. And for my books I knew it, too. I swear it. I swear all of it. I have never lied in a book. Or even in my life. Except to men. Never. And this is because my mother had terrified me with the lie that killed children who lived.
I think what I blame books for, in general, is that they are not free. One can see it in the writing: they are fabricated, organized; one could say they conform. A function of the revision that the writer often wants to impose on himself. At that moment, the writer becomes his own cop. By being concerned with good form, in other words the most banal form, the clearest and most inoffensive. There are still dead generations that produce prim books. Even young people: charming books, without extension, without darkness. Without silence. In other words, without a true author. Books for daytime, for whiling away the hours, for traveling. But not books that become mourning for all life, the commonplace of every thought.
I don’t know what a book is. No one knows. But we know when there is one. And when there’s nothing, one knows it the way one knows one has not yet died.
Every book, like every writer, has a difficult, unavoidable passage. And one must consciously decide to leave this mistake in the book for it to remain a true book, not a lie. I don’t yet know what happens to solitude after that. I can’t talk about it yet. What I believe is that the solitude becomes banal; eventually it becomes commonplace, and so much the better. (23-24)
We are sick with hope, those of us from ’68. The hope is the one we placed in the role of the proletariat. And as for us, no law, nothing, no one and no thing, will ever cure us of that hope. I’d like to join the Communist Party again. But at the same time I know I shouldn’t. And I’d also like to speak to the Right and insult it with all the force of my rage. Insults are just as strong as writing. It’s a form of writing, but addressed to someone. I insulted people in my articles, which can be every bit as satisfying as writing a beautiful poem. I draw a radical distinction between a man of the Left and a man of the Right. Some would say they’re the same man. On the Left there was Pierre Bérégovoy, who will never be replaced. Bérégovoy number one is Mitterrand, who isn’t like anyone else either. (26-27)
*Translator’s note: Bérégovoy was fiance minister, then prime minister under Mitterrand. He committed suicide in 1993, when Duras was putting the finishing touches to Writing.
Living like that, the way I say I lived, in that solitude, eventually means running certain risks. It’s inevitable. As soon as a human being is left alone, she tips into unreason. I believe this: I believe that a person left to her own devices is already stricken by madness, because nothing keeps her from the sudden emergence of her personal delirium. (27-28)
The problem all year round is dusk. Summer and winter alike.
There is the first dusk, the summer kind, when you mustn’t turn the lights on indoors.
And then there is true dusk, winter dusk. Sometimes we close the shutters just not to see it. There are chairs, too, which we put away for the summer. The porch is where we stay every summer. Where we talk with friends who come during the day. Often just for that, to talk.
It’s sad every time, but not tragic: winter, life, injustice. Absolute horror on a certain morning. It’s only that: sad. One does not get used to it with time.
All over the world, the end of light means the end of work.
As for myself, I’ve always experienced that time not as the moment when work ends, but when it begins. A sort of reversal of natural values by the writer.
The other kind of work writers do is the kind that sometimes makes them feel ashamed, the kind that usually provokes the most violent political regrets. I know that it leaves one inconsolable. And that one becomes as vicious as the dogs used by their police. (39-40)
Here, one feels separated from manual labor. But against that, against this feeling one must adapt to, get used to, nothing is effective. What will always predominate—and this can drive us to tears—is the hell and injustice of the working world. The hell of factories, the exaction of the employers’ scorn and injustice, the horror they breed, the horror of the capitalist regime, of all the misery stemming from it, of the right of the wealthy to do as they please with the proletariat and to make this the very basis of their failure, never of their success. The mystery is why the proletariat should accept. But there are many of us, more of us each day, who believe that it can’t last much longer. That something was attained by all of us, perhaps a new reading of their shameful texts. Yes, that’s it. (41)
Deliverance comes when night begins to settle in. When work stops outside. What remains is the luxury we all share, the ability to write about it at night. We can write at any hour of the day. We are not sanctioned by orders, schedules, bosses, weapons, fines, insults, cops, bosses, and bosses. Nor by the brooding hens of tomorrow’s fascisms.
The Vice-Consul’s struggle is at once naive and revolutionary.
That is the major injustice of time, of all times: and if one doesn’t cry about it at least once in life, then one doesn’t cry about anything. And never to cry means not to live.
Crying has to happen, too.
Even if it’s useless to cry, I still think we have to cry. Because despair is tangible. It remains. The memory of despair remains. Sometimes it kills.
It’s the unknown one carries within oneself: writing is what is attained. It’s that or nothing.
One can speak of a writing sickness.
What I’m trying to say isn’t easy, but I believe we can find our way here, comrades of the world. (42-43)
If one had any idea what one was going to write, before doing it, before writing, one would never write. It wouldn’t be worth it anymore.
Writing is trying to know beforehand what one would write if one wrote, which one never knows until afterward; that is the most dangerous question one could ever ask oneself. But it’s also the most widespread.
Writing comes like the wind. It’s naked, it’s made of ink, it’s the thing written, and it passes like nothing else passes in life, nothing more, except life itself. (44-45)