Destroy, She Said

I’ve wanted to read this novel for a long time. It has such a wonderful name. You may recall that the first time I erased my blog, in October 2006, that was the title of the first post on the new blog.

It’s a fairly interesting novel and it’s interesting to me because I encountered Duras’s Indian pieces, shall we say, first. The Lover and the whole India Cycle. Only recently with The War and Yann Andrea Steiner have I encountered Duras’s post-WWII life. Destroy, She Said brings in themes from both “lives.” The tennis courts, sonambulant enigmatic thin woman, nearly empty hotel, intermarital affairs, roaming nomadic people as from the colonized Indian landscape. The forest, Jewishness, French- and German-ness of post-WWII traumatized Europe. It is meatier than The Malady of Death but there is a similar character, a dead character, in it. Here the dead character is female and she is very active (Alissa) instead of being dead and passive. I think “dead” here indicates a kind of emotional numbness the likes of which can only occur after some sort of trauma (and Duras’s works are often post-traumatic or as-if post-traumatic even if there is no trauma) . The “living dead.” I say that to evoke some sort of Twilight Zone grayscale futuristic space, which this novel evokes more than her others. It’s an almost Surrealist novel. There is a film– one that Duras herself directed. I’d like to see it.

The used copy of the book that I bought has no copyright or title page. I found this really disconcerting. I don’t know if all the copies are missing those pages. Surely not. It changed the reading experience. I couldn’t flip back to that nice almost-blank beginning page and clear my head. I couldn’t look at the copyright page and think about when the book was written. I need those pages.

At the back of the book there’s a long interview with Duras. I recall reading this interview before although I had not read the book before. Here Duras says,

Lacan had me meet him one night in a bar at midnight. He frightened me. In a bar in a basement. To talk to me about Lol V. Stein. He told me that it was a clinically perfect delirium. He began to ask me questions. For two hours. I more or less staggered out of the place. (129)

Lacan. He really knows how to woo the ladies. First tell them they can’t access language or higher thought. Then corners them with questions in basements and tell them their work is insane. Duras turns to Blanchot:

Blanchot talks to me about Alissa… He sees her “in the first stage of the relationship with death, in the death that she deals, and that she continually meets.” He says that we are all going to wreak capital destruction. He says wreak, make destruction. This wreak delights me. Blanchot is someone who fills you with love and joy.

Later Duras is talking with the interviewer about a new work:

JACQUES RIVETTE: Would it be written directly for the screen?

DURAS: No. Another one of those famous hybrid texts… And it would be a little like Destroy as well, that is to say a sort of superexposition of certain things–and the intrusion of the unreal, but not a voluntary one. That is to say that when it happens I leave it in. I don’t try to pass it off as realism.

RIVETTE: I wouldn’t use the word “unreal.”

DURAS: I nonetheless believe that that word isn’t far off. But when I say the word “superexposition,” does it mean anything to you? And if I use the word “unreality,” you don’t see. How about if I use the word “surreality”?

RIVETTE: Yes, I’d understand that better, except that “surrealism” has the same connotations.

DURAS: Hyper-reality. Yes. But where are we? This film… is not psychological in any way. We’re not in the realm of psychology.

RIVETTE: We’re rather in the realm of the tactile.

This is interesting. I feel like Duras is screwing with Rivette a bit there with the discussion of the meaning of words. It’s like the characters in her books sometimes talk to each other but aren’t talking “with” one another. I think I understand what Duras means by “superexposition,” and I disagree with Rivette that “surreality” and “unreality” are the same (in French? François?), especially following the Surrealists. There are Surrealist aspects to this book that don’t occur in all her other books, although unreality or hyperreality is in all her work. I am wary to agree with Duras’s rejection of the psychological. I think she’s been traumatized a bit by Lacanian psycho(analyst)s trying to co-opt her work. I realize this opinion is psychological. And indeed in Destroy there is not so much psychology going on as in works like Lol V. Stein. But there is a trauma in Destroy and it motivates the action at some level, since one of the central characters (Elisabeth) would not be at the hotel if it had not happened. But the surrealist aspects of Destroy and the undefinable “insanity” (they themselves call it this) of the characters undermine any straightforward psychoanalytic reading. Actions and conversations occur out of joint with each other and themselves. It’s not like Freud’s neat spirals and circles. It’s more like the “out of joint” geometry traced by Derrida.

I am also interested in Rivette’s recourse to the tactile, of course. We could do a little Lacanian jig with Rivette’s name and that desire, the desire to secure the precise word, the precise truth of writing from Duras, and to push her toward the tactile. But we will not tease Jacques. It is interesting to point to the tactile. I feel like Duras’s films are very tactile, although I have only seen one film that she directed herself. I am not a film expert so by saying that the films are tactile I am not sure I am speaking properly. They are not tactile the way Structuralist films are tactile. I do not mean that they are tactile on the level of the film. I mean that they convey a sense of tactility through the meaning of the image, i.e. metaphorically.

Ah, Structuralism. You do make it hard to talk sometimes.


About Jessica Smith
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3 Responses to Destroy, She Said

  1. ian says:

    Psychological novel has certain connotations (Flaubert, Stendhal) which Duras is trying to get away from (as well as Lacanism)… which doesn’t mean she won’t be dealing with latent human psychology

    Rivette’s a little off on unreal/ surreal.. At first it seems he objects to the concession that an ‘unreal’ narrative is not real on some level of consciousness or as a written text, maybe, but then he says Surreal and unreal are the same, which contradicts that possibility.. Surreal is a style of prose which has many dimensions other than unreal. Rivette is not a Surrealist and his films don’t use Surrealist techniques.. The Story of Marie and Julien has some sort of spell going on. He’s still the only filmmaker that got me out to the theater in the last two calendar years.

  2. “Unreal” would be translated from “l’irréel,” which also has connotations of the fantastical. As for “superexposition,” I am not sure if it’s translated from “surexposition” (overexposition) or from “superexposition,” which is a neologism.

  3. Thanks for the help, guys–

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