The Malady of Death

Last night I read Duras’s The Malady of Death. I didn’t think it was very interesting. I thought it was a shadow of her many much better works. Actually, it kind of felt like the abject, the fingernail clippings of the rest of the body of work. It dealt with the same themes as most of her books, same motives, etc. but it was just so short. I didn’t feel taken in and overwhelmed with her points as I did in the books of the India Cycle. At the end, she has a message about how the book might be staged as a play. But actually I disagree with the way she would stage it. I think the element that is missing, that is so present in the India Cycle works, is Time. I think that it would be interesting to do what Duras does in her films (the ones she wrote and made herself, not Hiroshima or The Lover) and have way too much, uncomfortably much time. Especially because one of the protagonists is sleeping for about half the book. I think an interesting film of the book would have the following elements:

  1. Not be shot in black and white, but have desaturated colors nonetheless. I think there are colors in the work but they’re desaturated, exhausted– grays, pale gray-blue, gray-green, black, beige. The color of the beach on an overcast day.
  2. Be extremely elongated if not in actual real time. I think the course of events is over something like 2 weeks? So that would be a very long film. But let’s say the film lasts far too long– 4 hours– and very little, almost nothing, happens. There is very little speech. I’m thinking here of the opening 22 minutes of India Song, in which nothing happens. Maybe the sun’s position changes a little? Maybe there is birdsong? But there’s not “action.” It’s more like watching Andy Warhol’s Empire, but it’s differently contextualized because it’s part of a film in which something will happen, is expected to happen. And 22 minutes is an excruciatingly long time to wait for something to happen (not that there’s literally “nothing” happening, any more than 4’33” is really “silent”).
  3. The only sounds in the film besides the characters’ occasional conversation would be the sound of the sea through a wall, the static of a quiet room, perhaps a breeze, and breath (which moves as different speeds and is louder or softer depending on whether the characters are fucking or sleeping).

I grant that this would probably be a painfully slow movie to watch. Knowing that Duras is comfortable with the painfully slow in film I think it would suit her. And I think it would provide a layer of exhaustion for the viewer that is not attained in the book because the book is so short. But the book is definitely “about” that threshold– exhaustion, love, death, the sea– I just felt that it needed to take more time.

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About Jessica Smith

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