Marguerite Duras embarked on a second career as a film director in the late
1960s; by then was already a well-known and highly acclaimed novelist and
playwright. Bearing in mind this dual influence, this book presents an outline
of Duras's early life and of her later political preoccupations,
highlighting the relationship between these two dimensions and her films.
Duras's aim was to transcend the limitations of both literature and cinema
by creating an écriture filmique. Working within the 1970s French
avant-garde, Marguerite Duras set out to dismantle the mechanisms of mainstream
cinema, progressively undermining conventional representation and narrative and
replacing them with her own innovative technique. The making of Nathalie
Granger in 1972 coincided with the period of intense political activity and
lively theoretical debates, which marked the early years of the post-1968 French
feminist movement. India Song questions the categories of gender and
sexuality constructed by the patriarchal Symbolic order by foregrounding the
Imaginary. Agatha mirrors transgressive relationship and quasi-incestuous
adolescent relationship, as the film resonates with the off-screen voices of
Duras and Yann Andréa who also appears on the image-track where he represents
Agatha's anonymous brother. Her work, both in literature and in film,
distinguishes itself by its oblique, elusive quality which evokes her
protagonists' inner landscape instead of dwelling on the appearances of the
, including gender identity. At
this stage, therefore, the child is unaware of the complex social norms and
expectations linked to gender and grafted on to biological sex. However, the
mother/child relationship comes to an end through the intervention of the
father who represents the position of authority in the patriarchalSymbolicorder. It must be noted that ‘the father’ in Lacan is an abstract figure
representing the paternal
.10 Using a psychoanalytically derived theory of the fetish,
she argued persuasively that the reoccurring image of woman’s difference from
man – her lack of a penis – bolsters and maintains the phallocentric symbolic
order. Mainstream cinema reinforces the patriarchalsymbolicorder through
formal devices that consistently objectify and fetishize female characters.
Mainstream film editing, changes in focal distance, plot development, and
Engendering an avant-garde
other techniques rely on the uneasy combination of a viewer’s pleasure in
the depiction of three-dimensional space and
is invited to see through them to other dimensions intimated within or beyond.
David Lomas argues that the appeal of mental illness to the Surrealists lay in
its challenge to the patriarchalsymbolicorder, through its disruption of syntactic and semantic conventions.58 Hysteria is figured in Smokey Stover in similar
though not entirely congruent ways, insofar as the abundance of visual and verbal
puns undermines the autonomy of either mode of signification. Insisting on
the materiality of words and letters and the
, Karel Reisz , p. 53.
Lacan draws a clear distinction between the Phallus
– an imaginary plenitude representing the primal lack of unity
with the primordial mother, a condition shared by both sexes – and
the phallus/penis, the defining signifier of the patriarchalSymbolicOrder, which is possessed only by the male.
view? – which means we cannot see the wood for the trees, and the same goes for other
cultural diversities – religious, economic and political ones.
Sexual difference probably represents the most universal question we can address.
There are those that would argue that Irigaray can be read in a pluralist way, and
her work can be applied to issues of difference other than sexual difference (Oliver
1995; Ziarek 2001),27 but it is of paramount importance to recognise, as Patricia
Huntington does, that ‘Irigaray’s dyadic conception of the patriarchalsymbolic