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Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for No More / C'est Tout
Book cover for No More / C'est Tout

In her last book, Marguerite Duras meditates with a fierce poetic fervor on facing death, her life’s literary work, and love.

Sex, and death. All of Marguerite Duras's writings are suffused with the certitude that absolute love is both necessary (sex) and impossible to achieve (death). But no book of hers embodies this idea so powerfully, so excessively, as No More (C'est Tout), the book she composed during the last year of her life until just days before her death.

No More (C'est Tout) is literature shorn of all its niceties, a shout from the depths of Duras's being, celebrating life in defiance of the death she knew had already entered her immediate future. In part, it is also Duras' raucous salutation welcoming death. No More is a collection as pure as poetry and her words and ideas recirculate in hypnotic fits of lucidity, desperation, and noise, but the overall effect is both unsettling and, at times, piercingly true.

Book cover for No More / C'est Tout
Book cover for No More / C'est Tout

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“It is at once pure artifice, a literary mind in its death throes, and also the rawest thing she's ever written. . . Duras was a micromanager-author, and here she orchestrates even her own annihilation, a bonfire of self-loathing using lovers, past and present, as kindling.”

blog — March 15

Excerpt: No More / C’est Tout by Marguerite Duras

 

To celebrate the paperback release of our bilingual edition of No More / C’est Tout by Marguerite Duras, we are proud to share an excerpt from the book: a short portion from the beginning of Duras’ final text, paired with introductory notes by translator Richard Howard and French publisher Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens.

 

 

 


 

  

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

It was Chateaubriand who initiated a literature explicitly from the other side, posthumous writing, d’outre-tombe. There are subsequent French instances — Drieu La Rochelle’s Récit secret, Gide’s mortuary pillow-book Ainsi soit-il, some late Jouhandeau, quite a lot of Montherlant, perhaps Céline’s last three volumes — the mere instancing of these ominous names suggests the ethical risk of such an enterprise. Who makes book here — isn’t there always someone else, someone not entirely to be trusted who will have to collect the disjecta verba, to straighten things out —in Duras’s case her last young lover, appearing so mysteriously as a gruesome interlocutor, the angel of death masked as the last coital gasp, drowning out all foregoing competition during these inter-comatose manifestations of that special literary fanaticism which asserts not merely that this is happening (after all, Duras has written a hundred works, novels, stories, plays, films; expression is her trade) but that this is happening to me!

No attempt will be made to please, to beguile the (loathed?) reader. Nor to identify anything so trivial as circumstance. We are in the abstract — and perhaps fraudulently dated — halls of Dis where only glints of consciousness, when they come, will suffice: angry, dismissive, these are the intermittences not of the heart, as in Proust, but of the spleen. Baudelaire indeed is the plausible prototype, though what scorn M.D. would have for all his formal scruples, his attention to the classi cism of ruin. Here is nothing but what the French call hargne (surliness, resentment, bad temper . . .), tense and often mocking observations of the still-articulate soul, betrayed by the still-longing body. This is one of the fiercest little books in our culture, the converse of the Stoic manual of proper dying. Give it the last inch on your bedside table to remind you (like the slave whose function it is to slap the victorious Roman general before he sets out on his Triumphal March) of the degradations of mortality: greedy, illicit, profound. Odi et amo

—Richard Howard
Spring 1998  
New York City

 

FOREWORD

It was toward the end of August 1995 that Yann Andréa brought me the beginnings of C’est Tout: a few typed sheets which went from November 20, 1994 to August 1, 1995. We published them right away, and Marguerite Duras was able to see the book. Everyone knew at the time that she was mortally ill. Then a few days after her death on March 3, 1996, Yann gave me the pages which end on February 29. In the notes she herself wrote or in those retranscribed by Yann, the striking thing, for anyone who knew Marguerite Duras toward the end of her life, is that immediately recognizable voice, her outrageous and powerful way of forcing the language to obey her thought, a way which has here become lapidary, on account of the urgency of the message and the fear of silence. She spoke exactly as she wrote, or the other way around. It is for what they say, and also for her will to speak to the very end, that I find these pages — poorly typed on an old machine, not even an electric typewriter — so overwhelming. And also because the whole of her work is to be found in them, in fragments and flashes and echoes, as always reworked and revisited, this ultimate time, truly the last.

—Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens
Spring 1998 
Paris, France

 

November 21, afternoon, rue Saint-Benoît.

Y.A. [Yann Andréa]: What would you say for yourself?

M.D.: Duras.

Y.A.: What would you say for me?

M.D.: Unintelligible.
 

Later, the same afternoon.

Sometimes I am empty for a very long time.

I have no identity. 

At first it is frightening. And then it

turns to an impulse of happiness. And then it stops.

Happiness: I mean dead, somewhat.

Somewhat missing from the place where I am speaking.

 

Later still.

It is a question of time. I shall

write a book.

I want to, but it’s not certain I am

writing this book.

It is aleatory.

 

November 22, afternoon, rue Saint-Benoît.

Y.A.: Are you afraid of death?

M.D.: I don’t know. I don’t know how to

answer. I don’t know anything anymore

since I’ve reached the sea.

Y.A.: And with me?

M.D.: Before and now it is love between us, between you and me.

Death and love. It will be whatever you want, whatever you are.

Y.A.: Your definition of yourself?

M.D.: I don’t know, just as right now

I don’t know what to write.

Y.A.: Which of your books do you prefer to all the rest?

M.D.: The Sea Wall, childhood.

 

Y.A.: And you’ll go to paradise?

M.D.: No. That makes me laugh.

Y.A.: Why?

M.D.: I don’t know. I don’t believe in

such a thing.

Y.A.: And after death, what’s left?

M.D.: Nothing. Except the living who smile, who remember.

 

Y.A.: Who will remember you?

M.D.: Young readers. Students.

 

Y.A.: What is on your mind?

M.D.: Writing. A tragic occupation, at least in relation to the

course of life.

I am in that without effort.

 

Later, the same afternoon.

Y.A.: Do you have a title for the next book?

M.D.: Yes. The vanishing act.

 

November 23 in Paris, 3 in the afternoon.

I want to talk about someone.

About a man of twenty-five

at the most. He is a beautiful man who wants

to die before being marked by

death.

You loved him.

More than that. 

The beauty of his hands,

Yes, that’s right.

His hands which move forward with

the hill—distinct now, bright,

as luminous as a child’s

grace.

I kiss you.

I wait for you the way I wait for

someone who will destroy this failed

grace, gentle and still warm.

Given to you, wholly, with my whole

body, this grace.

 

Later the same afternoon.

I wanted to tell you

that I loved you.

To shout it.

No more.
 

Marguerite Duras

Born in French Indochina in 1914, MARGUERITE DURAS was one of the towering figures in 20th century French literature. The author of of over 73 books, mostly novels (including No MoreThe Vice-Consul, The English Lover, The North China Lover, and the bestselling The Lover), she also penned the original screenplays for films such as India Song and Hiroshima Mon Amour, which won the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Critics Award, and memoirs including The War. About Marguerite Duras, Germaine Brée has written, "Love, the fierceness of love, the happiness, the pain, the compelling and destructive power of love is Marguerite Duras's essential theme." Duras died in 1996 in Paris.