Wednesday, January 6, 2016

they’re not such strangers

Why does Marguerite Duras in Blue Eyes, Black Hair, 1987 (tr. Barbara Bray), tell you so often that a character weeps: "He weeps" on page 46, "He weeps," on page 35, "He's weeping," on page 14, "She weeps," on page 111, "She's weeping," on page 92, "They weep as they would make love," on page 86, "They begin to weep," on page 85, "She weeps, she smiles at him," on page 69, "But no, she goes on weeping beside him," on page 10, "He asks if he was weeping," on page 71, "Her look is that of someone distraught and unconsciously weeping. So is his," on page 30 ("It strikes him they are alike"), so on, so on, not for the sake of realism or empathy but for pattern, perhaps, variations, a musical effect, the “rhythmical fullness” that Tadié assumed in Proust -- rhythmical tension in Duras, Duras in a relationship with the later twentieth-century minimalist composers, one string plucked, pause, same string plucked in a slightly different setting on every third page or so of this hundred-and-seventeen-page book. The slightness of the difference is significant, in Blue Eyes, against the straitness of the actions and the surroundings, the theatre of rigidity in which the characters would not have to be so stiff if the alertness of their sensitivity was not paralysing them inside a ritual (and the sadist author even makes them costume themselves first, outlining the couple's eyes with "traces of blue kohl" and making the man arrange his room) until the compressed emotions are pressing on the back of the story with a diseased pressure, radiating outward from the morbidly hopeful persistence with which the two people continue to despair against the constricting blanket, a persistence that the author, in the form of the story, cruelly forces into them, like someone stuffing a goose for pâté.

I know that books are written and read by the brain, not the stomach, because that drama-word, "weep," has been picked for its relationship with emotional brain-reactions and not the equivalent kinds of upheaval that would pertain to the tum, to wit, burping, farting, both releasing actions, just like weeping, though the sensitivity they require is intestinal rather than mental, honestly, they're exactly the same if you take away the bias. Why should it be sad when you cry and funny when you fart? Because the brain thinks the stomach's sensitivity is silly.

But that bigot brain wants me to sympathise with it, so I won't, I'll go to war with brains.

He has shut his eyes in order to die. She looks at him. She farts. p. 82

For a long while she is silent, farting. p. 68

Every time she stops speaking, she farts. p. 109

When they woke once more they both were farting, eyes turned to the wall, in shame p.110.

He stands there, watching. Farting. p. 111

And then she kisses him and he farts. When you look at him intently, he farts. And she farts to see him. p. 38.

She says they’re not such strangers, now he’s spoken of the farting. She lies down. p. 86


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. the "motif" mechanism, common in classical music, is a proven way to get a point across, i guess. funny how our minds are conditioned to respond predictably to certain stimuli from an early age; utilizing such "knee jerk" reactions is/would be useful to an author desiring to emphasize certain aspects contained in the human emotion bucket. shock value is important to some authors, more so in today's world; presumably to attract more attention and sell more books. following the theory, i presume, that there is no bad notoriety. this may be a bit cynical, but then, i'm old... even so, i can't see why duras uses the motif so frequently unless she is doing it in a musical sense; otherwise maybe she thinks her readers are just idiots and need reminding a lot

    1. The idea of the motif is fundamental to her, I think: the characters are agitated and their agitation takes place in this cage of identical gestures so that the agitation itself is repetitious and ritualistic (and I think of Proust, who used motif too, and repetition, but in him it was extrapolated and complex, and the difference is like the difference between the older classic music and the minimalist kind, which can use one chord to represent the place where the old complicated extrapolation would have been; or the difference in the visual arts, where a series of lines can take the place of the old figurative group).

    2. makes sense; sort of like john cage compared to wagner, or better, brahms. i've been peeking into ortega y gasset lately, thinking about the emotional scale he invented that reflects the distance between the art and the observer and contrasting that with virginia woolf: maybe waves could be interpreted from his pov, with v.w. assuming the end of the scale wherein she is actually the work of art herself. i like to think about it in that way...

    3. The structure of that book is so strict, though, and the sensations are distributed so carefully between the characters, it distances itself from the author, and (speaking for myself) I can't imagine her being The Waves any more than I can imagine Shakespeare being a rhyming couplet.

      (That's a strange and interesting though, though: there's a Picture of Dorian Grey in there somewhere.)

  3. "Why does Marguerite Duras in Blue Eyes, Black Hair, 1987 (tr. Barbara Bray), tell you so often that a character weeps"
    It is Bray, not Duras, who tells us they weep. Which word[s] did Duras use?

  4. I know, you know, we know, Bray is the translator: she's obviously the one who wrote the word "weep." I don't know which word[s] Duras used. If you like then feel free to substitute Bray's surname for Duras' in all of that: why did Bray feel compelled to use the word "weep" so many times? Somebody certainly did, because there it is.

    None of this tackles the more important issue, which is the absence of farts.