Cornée Jacobs, Rotterdam
A Literary Community Possessed by Death
About Maurice Blanchot and Marguerite Duras
A Literary Community Possessed by Death
About Maurice Blanchot and Marguerite Duras
La maladie de la mort by Marguerite Duras.1 Blanchot's text is divided into two parts: La communauté negative and La communauté des amants. In the first part Blanchot investigates the possibilities/impossibilities of a political communis, based on friendship. He combines friendship with the awareness of death; it is when having been next to a dying person that men feel the obligation and necessity to organize a political community. It is a reflection on the ecstatic literature by Georges Bataille. The second part asks the same question about communis, this time based on love and with the same implications as in the case of friendship. La communauté des amants takes Marguerite Duras' ecstatic scenario, La Maladie de la mort, as a starting point, and it is this second part of Blanchot's text that has been taken into consideration here.
My contribution to the investigation of the present-day meaning of sensus communis has been developed as follows. My arguments are based on Lyotard's remarks on sensus communis. Both Blanchot and Duras represent the position of the artist.2 Duras has added stage directions to her literary narrative. It is a script for a film or a play. I discuss her views with the help of Blanchot's analysis and commentary of it. The observations by Duras and Blanchot are dialogically linked to the observations by Lyotard. In this aesthetical approach I take the Kantian concept of beauty and its underlying presupposition of the sensus communis3 to its limits. The discussion of the concept of the sensus communis, linked to aesthetics, for which Duras' and Blanchot's literature serves as a model, takes place within the context of Western philosophy. Although Duras' Indo-Chinese background plays an indelible role in her work, my presentation doesn't focus on this specific cultural difference.4 The authors Lyotard, Duras and Blanchot all belong to the same language community, namely the French that is spoken in Paris; and the three authors have moreover been contemporaries during the greater part of their lives.
In this approach of the sensus communis in arts and philosophy, although it remains within the limits of Western debate, another difference is made explicit, namely the sexual difference. In my opinion this most fundamental difference can serve as a model for further exploration of the differences in the debate on intercultural dimensions. The shuttling between philosophy, literature, commentary and analysis means that the level of abstraction varies continuously. This means in fact a shift in language games and hopefully this will prove to be productive in spite of, but perhaps also thanks to, the incommensurability of the language games that are used. At the end of this essay I will try to raise the ethical/political question by means of Blanchot's reflection.
At the outset Lyotard makes a virtue of necessity of his article. The article is not an exhaustive elaboration of sensus communis, but a set of observations on the subject. He says that his inadequate preparation is typical for the object of the study and claims that no one will ever be prepared for this particular sensus. This sensus is not common sense as good practical sense in everyday affairs, neither is it the intellect of a certain community. It is the call for something communal before there has been thought.
Duras tells a sober and intense story about love and death. It is a particular story about an 'ordinary man and an ordinary woman', which can be told swiftly. The male character wants to have intercourse with a woman for the first time in his life, and the female character is persuaded to satisfy his desire for a remuneration.5 The book has had an enormous impact on its readers, including Maurice Blanchot. The striking effect of the story lies not in the simple story but in the excessive nature of the narrative. The excess depends on the painful experience that is depicted and on the minimal and sober style of the writer.
Because I want to use the narration as a model to clarify the concept of the sensus communis, the first question to be asked is: Can Duras present a metaphorical and poetical image of a community even before it has been thought? It is a question about the nature of hr art. Does art make things visible before they are thought, after they have been thought or during the process of thinking? I suppose, all three positions are possible in art. But I opt in this case for the last one. While writing, and therefore while thinking, Duras creates a community and in Maladie de la mort she reveals us an impotent community. On the level of the story the love only grows after the affair has ended. The story ends: 'Ainsi çependant vous avez pu vivre cet amour de la seul façon qui puisse se faire pour vous, en le perdant avant qu'il soit advenu.'6 The male character discovers his inability to love women. On the part of the female character we hardly ever discover feelings. She plays a passive role and never surpasses that passivity.
For Blanchot it isn't so much the failure of a particular love that is depicted here - and he is aware that it is questionable to label the narrative as a love story: can we speak of 'lovers' and a 'shared relation' when money changes hands? - but rather the realization of love in general. For him every true love can only ever be fulfilled in loss. The 'barren loneliness' can never be overcome by love for another person. The desire for eternity is the only true Eros, Blanchot says after Plato. Moreover, it is only in free and floating desire that love can develop and thus it can never come to fulfilment. Blanchot shares this view with Duras. We must interpret Duras' story and Blanchot's observations along Lacanian lines. On the one hand it is seductive literature which evokes desire and aggression in the reader, but on the other hand I find it a coquettish play. The impossibility of love for the other may account for most of the love stories in literature, but this is contradicted by the existence of living couples. Without love no life. This principle is not changed by the fact that love affairs may end one day or become routine in the end. With every first tremble of desire between two people this principle is reaffirmed.
Blanchot recognizes the greatness of love, and in the end he says, love is stronger than death, though here love must be seen as a kind of spiritual love. But Blanchot's vision of love differs both from the Platonic Eros, the Idea which combines goodness, beauty and truth, and from the Christian love for God which forms the basic concept of ethics. In Blanchot's vision those metaphysical concepts of love are no longer valid. In his vision love is rooted in eroticism but not connected to eternal truth. Furthermore, his spirituality stems from the human faculty of imagination and presents itself, for instance in art. I would like to claim that in the case of love all the faculties and their source, the body, are involved. About the strength and nature of human passion little has been said as yet.
Can lovers be seen as the monad of a community? Blanchot presents us a paradox here. On the one hand he says that the lovers undermine the community: 'Whether the lovers want to or not, whether they enjoy it or not, whether they are connected by coincidence, "mad love" or passion through death (Kleist), the essential aim of the community of lovers is the destruction of society.' On the other hand he answers the question: 'Do they nevertheless constitute something like a community?' with a firm: 'It is precisely for that reason that they constitute a community.'7 A union of lovers undermines an existing community in the perspective of the start of a new community. In the example by Duras, the union of lovers constitutes a sterile community. The male character has never loved a woman and has never desired a woman,8 he admires the bodies that resemble his own body. The female character says he suffers from the disease of death because he isn't able to love women. He confirms that he has never loved a woman and consequently he doesn't love her either.9 Duras tells a story of unbridgeable loneliness.
This is the reason that, unlike Blanchot, I can't see this story as exemplary. For me it remains the narrative of a particular love. The difference between Blanchot's and my interpretation raises questions like: why can't this man love a woman? Is it impossible for a man to love a woman, or does this man love her but is he just unable to express it? The male character does everything that has to be done in a play of love and the female character recognizes that, when she says: 'it is done', but nevertheless he still expresses his inability to love her. In the stage directions, added to Duras' text, we read that the man is mortally in love with another man.10 Why does Blanchot think that this fact about the sexual inclination of the man is more or less negligible?
A few years later Duras deals with the same theme in the novel Les yeux bleus, cheveux noirs.11 Not only do the themes and atmospheric description run a parallel course, in the use of language interesting similarities can also be pointed out. In this novel Duras again tells the story of a man and a woman, who make a contract for the night. This man isn't able to have intercourse with the woman either. In this novel it is also clear that the man is a homosexual.12 It concerns a triangle here. The man is attracted to a friend of the woman and wants to come into contact with him through her. When he isn't successful in his strategy the situation turns out to be dangerous for the girl.
Like in La maladie de la mort this affair also takes place in the twilight zone between prostitution and pornography. The fear and aggression, aroused by the inability to have sexual contact, are recognized and acknowledged by the woman. She says to the man that according to her other lover in a sense everybody is like him.13 Moreover she says about herself that this problem has determined her whole love life.14 Subsequently this inability is induced to a universal principle.
In short, the text of 1986 supports Blanchot's interpretation of 1983. In Les yeux blues, cheveux noirs the woman has two affairs. One affair is with a homosexual man, which constitutes the main story line, and another is with 'a townsman'. Both affairs are violent ones. The men insult and abuse the woman and ask her to insult them. In both men the desire is alive to kill the woman. The woman in Les yeux bleus, cheveux noirs says that this desire is firmly rooted in our culture,15 though with the restriction that this only goes for certain women.16 Finally Duras sighs: 'Nous ne savons rien, ni vous, ni moi. Ce que nous savons, c'est que cette différence, cet empêchement que vous éprouvez pour moi, il est là pour cacher une chose qui a trait à la vie.'17 The difference between man and woman is an essential characteristic of life, but, according to Duras we don't know what is hidden by this difference. I don't agree with this interpretation of the sexual difference, I can't see there is some strange secret hidden by the most fundamental difference. What interests me more is not the so-called secret of life, but the possibility of outbursts of violence in sexual relationships.
What does this desire for death mean, or rather, this desire for killing and in particular for killing women, who themselves have no wish to kill and who don't really want to die either? Is pleasure close to aggression in men, and is pleasure at its height when aggression is at its height, up to killing the other? Is pleasure close to fear in women? Is pleasure at its height when fear is at its height, until one's own life is at risk? Is this only valid for homosexual and sadomasochistic relationships or is this universally valid for intersexual relations? There are so many counter examples that the last possibility can not be the case. It goes too far to nail eroticism to the cross of violence forever after, even though the combination occurs frequently.
Also in the oeuvre of Duras, the champion among writers about love affairs, this can't be maintained. She depicts all sorts of loves: Love of a daughter in Un barrage contre le pacifique; of a mother in Moderate Cantabile; of a sister in La mort du jeune aviateur anglais; of a woman in L'Amant; of a man in Le Vice-Consul; of incestuous love in Agatha etc. Nevertheless, questions about violence in combination with sexuality can not be avoided. These could for example, shed some light on the practice of rape in times of war, which time and again occurs and horrifies us. We have to ask what causes violence. Is it an outburst of strength, is it excessive tension that is no longer controllable, is it powerlessness, fear, sheer aggression or is it a way of surviving? There seem to be many possibilities.
Hannah Arendt18 warns us not to analyse violence politically if we use organic metaphors for it. Indeed, the implements of violence can increase and multiply human strength and on the biological level violence can be combined with creativity. But this is not so on the political level: 'Neither violence nor power is a natural phenomenon, that is, a manifestation of the life process; they belong to the political realm of human affairs whose essentially human quality is guaranteed by man's faculty of action, the ability to begin something new'. There violence is an instrument to maintain, transgress or overthrow power. Much of the present glorification of violence is caused by severe frustration of the faculty of action in the modern world. We see this in all sorts of cultural manifestations, such as art, pop concerts, movies, television series, comic strips etc. etc.
In the affair between a homosexual man and a young woman who lets herself be paid, Duras describes one of the possible relationships between men and women. This is, however, only one specific story and has its roots in Duras' own biography. In the time she wrote the story she was ill, suffering from alcoholism, which brought her close to death. It was during this period that she started an affair with a young (homosexual) student, to whom she gave the name Yann Andrea.19 Duras herself has claimed universality for this inability and she has managed to convince Blanchot. According to her this relationship reveals things which may also occur in other relationships but which then stay more hidden.
The passion for death, does it exist only in men? Duras' female characters rarely express the wish to kill, although some are very much attracted to death. The Duras' male characters do express it. Up to a certain extent women undergo the violence exercized by men, but in the end they remain independent. In the two texts discussed here, the women draw up a contract and they stick to it. They see it as a business agreement. Which isn't the whole story, for they too more or less loose themselves in the play of passion. But apparently they feel sufficiently protected by the contract in order to surrender to the gaze of the other.
2. The sexual difference
How could a community arise from love if the difference outlined above is at the basis of every single relationship? According to Duras' and Blanchot's line of reasoning men are not able to love women and all women draw up contracts with men, either as a wife or as a prostitute. During the seventies this same line of reasoning was often put forward in radical feminist circles. Maybe 'love' has a biological aim and the community of lovers arises from care for one's offspring. This possibility is contradicted by the existence of numerous couples who don't form a family. The couple in Maladie de la mort is like that. Their love only flourishes after their relationship has ended. These two lovers don't share a common desire for a child. This relationship is an extreme example of the difference between men and women, for nothing will ever destroy or surmount the difference between them.
Blanchot calls this relationship the ultimate counter model for a community that strives after a union of all its members. In a political sense - and every community is in a sense political - this relationship forms a counter model for every fascist or totalitarian community. In other words he uses this example of a community to raise the political question as he did in the case of friendship. In the case of friendship he sees death as the ultimate difference, from which stems the obligation and necessity to organize a community. In the case of love the difference stems from human imperfection and Blanchot doesn't believe that people are looking for their lost other half as is stated in the myth of Plato's Symposium. In his opinion men and women don't share the same attitude towards love: 'What is the difference then between these two lives, whereby the one searches for love that is denied him and the other, miraculously inspired, is created for love, knows everything about love, judges and condemns those who fail in their attempts to love, but who only offers herself to be loved (under contract), without ever giving any signs of being able to move from passivity towards endless passion herself?'20
Blanchot is right in his observation of the extreme female passivity in this story. In other texts some female characters play a more active role. But it is also true that most of Duras' female characters are highly passive in their love affairs. Such as Anne-Marie Stretter in India Song, Elisabeth Alione in Detruire dit-elle, or Lol V. Stein in Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein. However different these female characters may be, they have one thing in common: they can't surpass their passivity. They never change their world into a better place, in the end they all flee into death or into madness. This brings Duras' female characters in line with those of the great novels of the 19th century, such as Madame Bovary, Thérèse Desqueroux, Anna Karenina and Eline Vere. All these characters suffer deeply under their love affairs and the only possible end to these pathetic stories seems to be dead. There are also differences with these tragic female characters. Nearly all of Duras' female characters oppose male domination and they are all experts in sleep and silence. In the late Sixties these differences where regarded as the emancipatory strength of her work and made Duras a focus of attention of the feminist debate. Her work has been the subject of a lot of research and for a great part these analyses were in the field of Women's Studies. If we are looking for the political impact of Duras' work we will find it on this level.
Men and women differ not only in their attitudes towards love but also in their attitudes towards death. The male character suffers from the disease of death because he is unable to love a woman, but his homosexuality is not the final cause.21 It is right that the disease of death means the inability to love, but it also means the movement of loving itself. The man discovers this disease not in himself, but in the appearance of her body. Her body unrelentingly reveals her difference and this difference causes his extreme loneliness. It is suggested by the woman that it would help the man if he were able to destroy (his image of) that other body. If he found the strength to impose death (and I read this metaphorically as psycho-analysts do) upon another, he might also find the ability to love, since he can't, he is expelled from the realm of love.
Blanchot calls the female body the incarnation of life and at the same time he calls this vitality a sign of death. Eros and Thanatos, two sides of the same coin. According to his line of argument the disease of death, thus connected to the female body, becomes a sign of the impossibility of a lasting union and therefore a moment to realize one's own death. As Henri Jacobs says: 'Look into your own birth via the vulva and so gain (in-)sight in your own death.'22 We have already seen that for Blanchot death is hopeful; the negation of the immediate and the particular existence of things offers man the possibility to create a meaningful world for himself, one he can inhabit and dominate. Somewhere else Blanchot claims that the awareness of death is the only hope man has to become man.23
I don't see why women shouldn't have this awareness of death. They have parents, children, men, lovers and friends too, and they do die occasionally in their presence as well. But they also have an awareness of life itself. Life goes through them as they give birth and that is the difference between men and women. This is not a secret, it is a biological fact. So, indeed, Eros and Thanatos are combined in the female body. Men can also gain an awareness of life if they are next to the woman when she gives birth, but this doesn't surmount the fundamental difference between the two sexes.
3. Community of lovers
I can't endorse Duras' and Blanchot's analysis of the impossibility of love between man and woman. The community of lovers that interests me may not exist on the level of this specific narration. The reaction of Blanchot upon Duras is the other level I want to consider in the search for the meaning of the community of lovers. Blanchot has been provoked or inspired by the ideas of Duras. His fascination for Duras' text turned him into a lover in the 'Platonic' sense of the word and in his own words this is the true lover. Duras has also been affected by Blanchot's text. It could be one of the reasons why she has introduced the theme of Maladie de la mort some years later in Les yeux bleus, cheveux noirs. Both Duras and Blanchot belonged to the same group of people that met to discuss literature and politics. There are more examples of Blanchot's reaction upon the literature of Duras.24
In her writing Duras puts herself in the position of women, the position they are placed in by tradition and therefore by men, which is in her opinion the only way to write and to make movies: 'On n'écrit pas de tout au même endroit que les hommes. Et quand les femmes n'écrivent pas dans le lieu de désir, elles n'écrivent pas, elles sont dans le plagiat.'25 Blanchot's discourse on this text calls a community of lovers into being and therefore Duras and Blanchot form a 'community of lovers'. It is a community born out of a mutual passion for death; a literary community possessed by death. During the World War II the group around Duras, which frequented her house in the rue Saint Benoît, were young adults, they were all changed profoundly by this period and it influenced not only their social lives but also their work. At that time Duras was married to Robert Antelme, who survived a concentration camp. La Douleur26 gives evidence for the impact this period had on Duras. Their sceptical view of love and their fascination with death wasn't only fashionable in France at that time, but also have its roots in these experiences. The community of lovers they started has in time been increased by innumerable readers and interpreters.
4. Sensus communis
What can been learned from the community of lovers in the search for the meaning and full significance of the sensus communis? According to Lyotard the sensus communis demands that the intellect be at a loss, that it has nothing ready. It is a spontaneous activity. In this openness sensus meets with communis. The wandering intellect is the other of the concept, says Lyotard. He refers to the aesthetic experience of beauty, and we can see that this experience is analogous to the experience of love as described by Duras and Blanchot. This sensus appears to elude philosophical debate. It forms a barrier for philosophical thought, and this very barrier is the theme investigated here. The sensus demands another way of ordering. The sensus bridges intellect and desire; it bridges theoretical concepts and practical reason. The sensus is about movements of the faculties of the mind; by means of playful comparisons, according to Kant.
Our historic frame of reference is activated by every new aesthetic experience. Lyotard says that the movements are stimulated by the difference between imagination and understanding. We experience beauty when these mental faculties are aligned with one another. This experience of beauty doesn't teach us anything and it isn't connected with truth. It gives pure pleasure and on this basis we pass judgment. We approve or disapprove directly and spontaneously. We think something is beautiful or not. This judgment exists before we understand it or before we have outlined it, and therefore it is a blind judgment.
That is easy to understand on an individual level. Problems arise when this sensus is connected to communis. What is general about this sensus? If we articulate the aesthetic experience and call something beautiful we expect approval. But even when that is granted, it still doesn't form communis. Neither is it the case when we share experiences with others. We have to imagine the aesthetic experience quite differently, for it isn't directly connected to the observation of objects. Lyotard asks what the meaning of communis is when there is no question of some project or other. He suspects a hidden premise, viz., that there is diversity first and then we need a principle to make order out of chaos. To Lyotard this is untenable. This false premise is connected to the implausibility of metanarratives (metarécits). My question is: Do we have to consider the projects of the common on the level of a meta-narrative as is done by Kant, or can we simply see it as a community of lovers as created by Duras and Blanchot?
In the case of falling in love there is 'chaos' first. I'm referring to what Nietzsche calls the Dionysian experience. Loss of the self is part of the experience of love. Blanchot connects this with Bataille's sacrifice, which we have to see as a gift, as a complete surrender. Also on the creative level of, which is in the this case the writing of a text, we may suppose chaos first; a blank sheet of paper and a wandering mind. A great deal of art springs from the Dionysian. Nietzsche himself mentions lyrical poetry and music. The Dionysian certainly plays an important role in Duras' and Blanchot's work. Their writing is passion. While writing they start with affections and impressions and eventually they find the order of the ratio. The other way around from ratio to emotion is also possible, but it seems to me that the writers discussed here operate in the way mentioned first.
It was the hope of these French writers that the readers would also be able to reach this state of pure emotion where no order exists, only the trembling of passion: a literary ecstasy. It is a nice thought, but we can only hope that literature can achieve that much. Mostly it will not be the case. Although certain books do have a tremendous impact on their readers, as every good work of art has. But I believe that in the end we are mostly not lead there by works of art or literature but by living men and women. When we fall in love we enter a field of chaos. There are only 'dead people' on this field of passion, it is a battle-field. That means the subjects are destroyed, what remains are intensities and they form new connections over and over again, but not on an intersubjective level. It is not the interiority of the subject, but a glide outside bounds.27 Here the intensities meet the ground without ground of communication.28
The ground without ground doesn't point to something unnameable, but to a space. A space wherein the communis is found, in other words, becomes possible. The trembling of passion does not connect us with the other on a higher or deeper level, says Blanchot,29 but I can't endorse this claim either. I firmly believe it does connect people on other levels with each another, but whether the lovers approach one and another with tenderness or as 'war machines', the other persists in her or his difference, and time and again this causes a temporary excess of emotions: a kind of insanity. Nothing more, nothing less.
Usually, however, there is no question of chaos, there's is no point representable where the world isn't ordered. For Nietzsche the fall in the Dionysian, which must be followed by an Apollinian ordering, remains the very principle art proceeds from. The Dionysian intoxication can be experienced by the individual (Archilochus) or by the masses (popular feast). It is always a destruction of the existing order, but only to re-establish this order more, may be even more firmly than before. In other words, the Dionysian condition forms the basis for every community, however great or small we think it. In Nietzsche this ordering is cosmic, in Kant it is universal and in Lyotard it is differential. The Dionysian experience, as Nietzsche puts it, brings us to a sphere where everything is one. However, this unity is in itself a disunity! For Kant this experience is harmonious. What kind of harmony do we experience when observing beauty or falling in love? In Lyotard's opinion this harmony can never be represented in a metanarrative. The question that remains unanswered is: Can it be represented in a story about love and death? The story told by Duras and interpreted by Blanchot forms a model for a deconsecrated and nihilistic community. And no harmony is intended here. It is precisely the uncertainty that no harmony exist in the universe that causes the despair. This fear makes this story so profoundly bleak.
6. Faculties of the mind
The communis of the sensus is not the audience present at a performance. Neither is it the art world which at a given moment in time determines what is art and what is not. We need to protect the sensus from these anthropological forms, says Lyotard. (On this level we definitely can't introduce ethics.) It is not a project of a group of people. The sensus communis is about a faculty of the mind and this faculty is universal, that is, we have to presuppose it in every existing individual. The universal is subjective in the sense that it concerns relations between the different mental faculties. The faculties constituting the experience of the beautiful in the subject, are imagination and understanding. Lyotard says that in Kant this means harmony, but though he is in doubt about this, he doesn't come up with anything else.
The harmony between the faculties of the mind does not produce knowledge. Kant speaks of agreement (Einstimmung), and this phrasing gives Lyotard the idea to connect the faculties literally to the voice. A subject hears itself, before it sees itself. In Lyotard the principle of subjective union, of agreement between the different faculties, gets more lively as it escapes the form of the intellect more.
At this point I would like to introduce the Freudian terminology of the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious operations of the mind can penetrate into beauty and even into truth. Think of Hamlet. To me, his wrestling doesn't mean a plea for more unconsciousness, but rather a wish to penetrate into unconscious processes to gain more consciousness. Nevertheless it doesn't help Hamlet to stop the fatal train of events of which he and his family are the victims. But he knows his destiny and he only wants his descendants to know this destiny, in order to clear his name from the atrocities apparently brought about by his insanity and therefore unknowingly.
What is a pure aesthetic experience in the Kantian sense, and the sensus communis connected with it? A feeling of pure internal 'euphony', raised by the agreement of imagination and understanding? The realization that all of it makes sense produces a good feeling. Harmony says Kant. What kind of harmony is that anyway? Isn't there a hint of the metaphysical here? For Kant this is universal, but for me counts: how to avoid this metaphysical pitfall? What is the relation between art and the aesthetic experience? Does harmony reveal itself only in the Apollinian appearance or behind the Dionysian mask, to quote Nietzsche? That would bring beauty back to the realm of art. The experience of beauty is not necessarily connected to beautiful things, it is a feeling of harmony within the subject.
If I say things are beautiful, I am in another language game, says Lyotard. So seeing a landscape, hearing an etude, tasting food, smelling a perfume, touching skin, reading a book or understanding a formula can all arouse this feeling. And indeed, Andrew Wiles as many other mathematicians speaks of an elegant, simple and beautiful formula.30 The feeling of beauty isn't only aroused by the contemplation of art. Besides, taste doesn't teach us anything about an object, it doesn't even have an object or a referent.31 If the concept of beauty is not exclusively reserved for art, there is not much point in using it to judge art. It is one of the reasons why aestethics nowadays stand to gain more from the Kantian notion of the sublime. In the notion of the sublime there is no harmony between the different human faculties. Things are thinkable as the greatest, the highest etc., but these things are not representable. There is a gap between the imagination and the understanding and this gap can't be bridged in art. It is precisely this notion of the gap that is made productive in the literature of Duras and Blanchot. It is better not to see Duras' work in terms of beauty but in terms of the sublime; according to Lyotard the other Kantian concept for art.
The aesthetic experience is constitutive for the subject and I have to presuppose it as a possibility in everyone. But where is the feeling for beauty aroused? Not within the subject, which must still be formed or be reformed. It is important to note that the experience of beauty, certainly after Freud, is connected to sexual desire. Hubert Damish asks: 'Spectator are you looking for beauty? Isn't the need for beauty our most important motive for looking at paintings? We want to see beautiful forms ... Does this myth (of the judgment of Paris) not tell us that every judgment of beauty has an undertone of sexual desire?'32 The formation of the subject stems from the desire for the other. In this desire we define and redefine ourselves and we form ourselves.
In terms of Hannah Arendt: 'Kant is asserting that thinking, though a solitary business, depends on others to be possible at all.'33 If we connect the desire for the other so closely to the mental faculties of understanding and imagination we come to the ground on which the subject is formed. As Deleuze formulates it: the subject is born in lamentation or delight. This ground is an area of emotions and passions. It is a field where the intensities connect in a way which can scarcely be expressed. If there's an obligation in the sense of a moral obligation then we come across it at this level. It is not an obligation resulting from law, but one that generates law.34 It is only in our desire as a delight or as a lamentation that the possibility of the communal exists. The community of lovers never abolishes the difference, it comes into being by the grace of it. It is because difference is the basis of the community and because the other persists in his difference that the community will renew itself continuously. The sexual difference thus explained can serve as a model for the intercultural debate. In respect and in wonder we are open to dialogue with the other and therefore also with the cultural other.
1. J.-F. Lyotard: 'Sensus communis', in: A. Benjamin (ed)), Judging Lyotard. London/New York 1992; M. Blanchot: La communauté inavouable. Paris 1983 (quoted as CI); M. Duras: La maladie de la mort. Paris 1983 (quoted as MM).
2. For Maurice Blanchot the text by Duras is not a story, but an argument, (CI, p. 50) Duras tells a love story about a man and a woman and the two are introduced differently to the readers/spectators. The man is addressed as you, and the woman is represented as she. To Blanchot these are more than stage directions. According to him Duras refers to the biblical you when addressed by the ultimate director. It seems to me that Blanchot is the victim of female cunning. Duras captivates her (male) readers by speaking to them directly. There is nothing wrong with that. Because Blanchot doesn't want to be seduced by what in my view is a matter of stylistics, he turns it into a shift from author to Supreme Being. Both Duras and Blanchot play with the idea of divinty. It is a story, how ever mysterious it may seem. The use of personal pronouns deserves further exploration as well in Duras as well in Blanchot.
3. See H. Kimmerle's 'Introduction' to this volume.
4. In her early work her youth in Indo-China rings through. One can hear it in her language and furthermore it becomes clear in her choice of subject matter and the sphere she sketches. Over the ears these sounds diminish, but they never become completely silent. To explore this line of thought is beyond the scope of this essay.
5. Whether this is a question of prostitution I leave to the responsibility of the author.
6. MM, p. 56.
7. CI, p. 68 (translation by me, CJ).
8. MM, p. 34.
9. Ibidem, p. 44.
10. Ibidem, p. 60.
11. Duras: Les yeux bleus, cheveux noirs. Paris 1986.
12. Ibidem, p. 27.
13. Ibidem, p. 121.
14. Ibidem p. 124.
15. Ibidem, p. 128.
16. In both novels love is based on financial agreement. The woman in Maladie de la mort denies that she is prostitute. (MM, p. 23) The woman in Les yeux bleus, cheveux noirs is not surprised by the question and she doesn't laugh when she says she is in a way, becaus she is an actress. (Les yeux, loc. cit., note 11, p. 16) For the clarification of Duras' attitude towards prostitution further exploration is needed. In relation to this topic many characters in her work move in a twilight zone.
17. Les yeux, loc. cit. (note 11), p. 128-129.
18. H. Arendt: On violence. New York 1969/70.
19. Y. Andrea gives an account of this period in Marguerite Duras. Paris 1982.
20. CI, p. 67 (translation by me, CJ).
21. Ibidem, p. 84.
22. H. Jacobs: Parcours de tocht. Museum Jan Cunen, Oss 1997, p. 52.
23. Blanchot: Le dernier à parler. Paris 1984.
24. M. Loomans quotes also Le square and Détruire dit-elle in her essay: 'Naar een andere gemeenschap. Over Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) en Maurice Blanchot (1907)', in: J.J. Hermsen (ed), Het denken van de ander. Kampen 1997, p. 185.
25. Duras/M. Porte: Les lieux de Marguerite Duras. Paris 1977, p. 102.
26. La douleur, POL, Paris 1985.
27. CI, p. 33.
28. Ibidem, p. 34.
29. 'C'est ce vide qui "fonde" la communauté aux yeux de Blanchot: il déploie un rapport qui n'est ni réduction d'un membre à l'autre, ni leur fusion', says Annelies Schulte Nordholt in her dissertation: L'éxpérience de l'écriture dans l'oeuvre de Maurice Blanchot. University of Amsterdam 1993.
30. Andrew Wiles spent more than seven years to prove the formula of Fermat. When he finally succeeded, this was the most important experience of his working life. He described the solution he found in the Kantian terms of the beautiful.
31. Lyotard: 'Sensus communis', loc. cit. (note 1), p. 3.
32. H. Damish, in: Moves. Playing chess and cards with the museum. Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1997.
33. Arendt: Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy. Chicogo 1982, p. 40.
34. CI, p. 74.
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