Homage to Marguerite Duras, on ‘Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein’ : December 1965 : Jacques Lacan

by Julia Evans on December 1, 1965

Homage to Marguerite Duras, on ‘Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein’ :

translated by Peter Connor :

in Marguerite Duras, Marguerite Duras : 1987 : San Francisco CA : City Light Books, p122-129

Available at www.LacanianWorksExchange.net  /lacan 


See www.Freud2Lacan.com, available here

In French :

Published as ‘Hommage fait à Marguerite Duras, du Ravissement de Lol V. Stein’ : Cahiers Renauld-Berrault : December 1965 : 52 : p7-15

Published in Ornicar ? revue du Champ freudien no. 34, juillet-sept. 1985, p7-13

Published at École Lacanienne (pas tout Lacan) : here  & available   Hommage fait à Marguerite Duras, du Ravissement de Lol. V. Stein or here

Published in Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan  or here : Hommage fait à Marguerite Duras, du ravissement de Lol V. Stein.    p191 – 198

A Background Commentary:

From: ‘Every hour a glass of wine’ – the female writers who drank

The long list of male alcoholic authors is well known, but what about their literary sisters? Olivia Laing looks back on the great female writers who sought refuge in the bottle and salvation on the page

By Olivia Laing : The Guardian : Friday 13 June 2014 14.00 BST or published in the Saturday Review Section on 14th June 2014 : Available here

Quote: If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as I did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues? … And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer?

In her 1987 book Practicalities, the French novelist and film-maker Marguerite Duras says many shocking things about what it means to be a woman and a writer. One of her most striking statements is about the difference between male and female drinking – or rather the difference in how the two are perceived. “When a woman drinks,” she writes, “it’s as if an animal were drinking, or a child. Alcoholism is scandalous in a woman, and a female alcoholic is rare, a serious matter. It’s a slur on the divine in our nature.” Ruefully, she adds a personal coda: “I realised the scandal I was creating around me.”

She’d been an alcoholic, she figured, from the moment of her first drink. Sometimes she managed to stop for years at a time, but during her bingeing periods she’d go all-out: start as soon as she woke up, pausing to vomit the first two glasses, then polishing off as many as eight litres of Bordeaux before passing out in a stupor. “I drank because I was an alcoholic,” she told the New York Times in 1991. “I was a real one – like a writer. I’m a real writer, I was a real alcoholic. I drank red wine to fall asleep. Afterwards, Cognac in the night. Every hour a glass of wine and in the morning Cognac after coffee, and afterwards I wrote. What is astonishing when I look back is how I managed to write.”

What is also astonishing is how much she managed to write, and how fine most of it is, rising coolly above the sometimes dire conditions of production. Duras wrote dozens of novels, among them The Sea Wall, Moderato Cantabile and The Ravishing of Lol Stein. Her work is elegant, experimental, impassioned, incantatory and visually striking – almost hallucinatory in its appeal to the senses, its rhythmic force. A forerunner of the nouveau roman, she dispensed with the conventions of character and plot, the heavy furniture of the realist novel, at the same time retaining an almost classical austerity – a clarity of style that resulted from obsessive redrafting.

Duras’s childhood was marked by fear, violence and shame: a common enough concatenation in the early life of the addict. She was born Marguerite Donnadieu (Duras is a pen name) in 1914 in what was then Saigon to French parents, both of whom were teachers. When she was seven, her father died, leaving the family in abject poverty. Her mother saved for years to buy a farm, but was cheated on the price, buying land that was regularly inundated by the sea. Both Marguerite’s mother and her elder brother beat her. She remembered hunting for birds in the jungle to cook and eat, and swimming in a river that would fill with the corpses of miscellaneous creatures that had drowned upstream. At school, she had a sexual relationship – seemingly encouraged by her family for financial reasons – with a much older Chinese man. Later, in France, she married, had a son with someone else, made films, and lived and wrote with a singleminded intensity. Her drinking worsened as the decades passed, stopping and starting, gaining traction, until at the age of 68 she was diagnosed with cirrhosis and forced to dry out – a terrifying experience – at the American hospital in Paris.

Not many writers manage to get sober and those who do often suffer a decline in output: testament not so much to the power of alcohol as a creative stimulant as to its role in destroying brain function, obliterating memory and playing havoc with the ability to formulate and express thought in former alcoholics. But Duras wrote one of her best and certainly most famous novels two years after she stopped drinking. The Lover tells the story of a 15-year-old French girl in Indochina who has an erotic relationship with – yes – a much older Chinese man. Much of the book was drawn from the violence and degradation from which Duras had emerged.

As later published versions make clear, she was capable of returning again and again to this primal scene of childhood, redrawing it in an almost infinite variety of colours: sometimes erotic and romantic, sometimes brutal and grotesque. Retelling the same stories; going back repeatedly to the substance that she knew was destroying her: these repetitive acts, some generative and some profoundly destructive, made the critic Edmund White wonder if Duras was not in the grips of what Freud had called the repetition compulsion. “I’m acquainted with it, the desire to be killed. I know it exists,” she once told an interviewer, and it is this intensity, this absolute and uncompromising vision, that sets her work apart. At the same time, this statement seems to shine a light on how she used alcohol: as a way of giving in to her own masochism, her suicidal ideation, while simultaneously anaesthetising herself from the savagery she saw at work everywhere, filling the world.

Duras’s nightmarish childhood raises the question of origins, of what causes alcohol addiction and whether it is different for men and women. Alcoholism is roughly 50% hereditable, a matter of genetic predisposition, which is to say that environmental factors such as early life experience and societal pressure play a considerable role. Picking through the biographies of alcoholic female writers, one finds again and again the same dismal family histories that are present in the lives of their male counterparts, from Ernest Hemingway to F Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams to John Cheever.


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Sandwich, Kent & London


Further posts:

Some Lacanian history here

Of the clinic here

Topology here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

Jacques Lacan in English or here

Translation Working Group here

Use of power here

By Julia Evans here