Image: Duncan Wylie


Commentary on the book by Marguerite Duras


The last time I wrote in The Earth Is Round by Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) was almost three years ago, on September 22, 2020, having commented on four of his novels – Whole days in the trees (1953) Half past ten in the summer (1960) Half past ten in the summer (1960) the pain (1985) and Emily L. (1987)

Writer, screenwriter, poet, playwright and film director, she is considered one of the greatest novelists of the last century. Associated with the movement of new Roman, established himself as a scriptwriter for Hiroshima, my love (1959), directed by Alain Resnais.

I transcribe one of the paragraphs contained in my 2020 article; “Duras wrote almost five dozen books, becoming known worldwide with Or lover (1984), translated into dozens of countries and which sold more than two and a half million copies in France alone and earned him the coveted Goncourt Prize. Daughter of French parents who worked in the French colony of what was then Indochina (now Vietnam), Marguerite Donnadieu, her real name, was born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where she spent her childhood and adolescence before moving to Paris. , aged 18, to study law at the Sorbonne.”



Em Write, originally published in 1993, the author makes a kind of revisitation or balance of everything; memories, intimacy, ways of writing, home and places where her writing was (is) emerging. Mariana Ianelli remembers in the ears of the volume that was at her house in Neauphle-le-Château that she wrote many of her books; it was also there that, one day, she recalls, “she found her old clothes inside a certain blue wardrobe. war notebooks, which gave rise to the novel the pain”. And it is in this aforementioned revisiting of everything that the five texts of this small book appear.

For Julie Beaulieu, author of the preface, “Write”, the initial narrative, which has the same name as the volume, is the largest and “most substantial”. There is “The death of the young English aviator”, “Rome”, “The pure number” and “The painting exhibition”. I find them all thought-provoking, but I will favor the first, although the one dedicated to the aviator and the painting are captivating, in addition to the provocative “the pure number”.

But first, I would like to say a word about “Roma”, where the conversation between a woman and a man in Piazza Navona is found. She, writer-director (Marguerite Duras?), has just finished filming; he, it is not known exactly who he is – perhaps a guest at the hotel where they are; an ex-lover. They look at the fountain in the Piazza and engage in the following dialogue, simple, gratuitous, but for me, quite expressive, a groping approximation (or distancing?):

“It looks like it rained.
That's what we find every night. But it doesn't rain. It hasn't rained in Rome these days… It's the water from the fountains that the wind makes splash on the ground. The entire square is soaked.
The children are barefoot…
I look at it every night.
It's getting a little cold.
Rome is very close to the sea. This cold is from the sea. Did you know.
I think so.



Write is an essay of just over 40 pages and, in a record that I understand as autobiographical, reflects on the act of writing. In another book, And it all, bilingual edition, talking to Yann Andréa, when answering what is the use of writing, says: “It is, at the same time, to be silent and to speak. To write. It also means shutting up sometimes”. She adds, not very encouragingly, “I've been writing for a lifetime. Like an imbecile, I did it. It's not bad either. I was never pretentious. Writing for a lifetime teaches you how to write, it does not save you from anything.”

The novelist and poet Conceição Evaristo said somewhere that “writing is a way to bleed”, while Clarice Lispector was adamant: “I write not to die”.

Gabriel García Márquez, in turn, declared before the existence of the internet and cell phones, that he could write anywhere, as long as there was no telephone nearby; in later interviews, he said that he became demanding and full of little quirks, and that he could only write if he had a small vase with a carnation on his desk, but it had to be red, etc.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, for years, standing up, hammering his typewriter. He only drank when he stopped his work. Speaking of the writings of William Faulkner, he liked to remember that he detected in the writings of the American “when he took the first drink”. Osman Lins, on the other hand, said he was boring, as he had become a slave to his writing, keeping a strict schedule for sleeping and waking up; if he went out of his routine, staying up later or if he drank, he couldn't write the next day.

Marguerite Duras spoke about loneliness in the act of writing: “I was a person alone with my writing, alone and far away from everything (…) I kept that loneliness of the first books. I took her with me. I always took my writing with me wherever I went (…) The solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing does not happen, or else it crumbles, bloodless, from so much searching for what else to write. (…) Writing was the only thing that filled my life and delighted it. I did. Writing never left me.”

But she had some tricks and habits: she didn't write in hotel rooms, she always carried whiskey in her suitcase “in case of insomnia or sudden despair”. Also, she had lovers, but avoided showing what she was writing to them and "when she finished a chapter, she hid it from them".

His home in Neauphle “is the place of solitude”, and “solitude is not found, it is made. Loneliness makes itself. I made it. Because I decided that was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books. That's how it happened (…) This house became the house of writing”.

Marguerite Duras presents her arguments, certainties and doubts. Julie Beaulieu draws attention to the fact that “Writing” is organized around various fragments of texts in more or less long paragraphs, but sometimes with short sentences, one or two lines, a few words. But, for the writer, the act of writing “is a contradiction and also an absurdity”, because “to write is also not to speak. It is to shut up. It's screaming without making noise”; writing is a “convict's job”.

However, it can be done at any time, without the many limitations involving “orders, bosses, guns, fines, insults, police, bosses and more bosses. And brooding chickens of the fascism of tomorrow”. One never knows, before writing, what will be written, “it is the unknown of oneself, of one's head, of one's body (…) If we knew something about what we were going to write before doing it, before writing it, we would never write. It wouldn't be worth it." He concludes by saying that “writing arrives like the wind, it is naked, it is made of ink, it is writing, and it passes like nothing else passes in life, nothing else, except for it, life”.

In one of the chapters of imaginary goods, Deborah Levy transcribes, as an epigraph, the following excerpt from Paris, France (1940), by Gertrude Stein: “After all, everyone, that is, everyone who writes, is interested in living inside himself in order to be able to tell what is inside himself. That's why writers need to have two countries, one where they belong and one where they actually live.”

I don't know if Marguerite Duras would agree with such a judgment; perhaps yes…

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..


Margaret Duras. Write. Translation: Luciene Guimarães de Oliveira. Belo Horizonte, Relicário, 2022, 144 pages.


Deborah Levi.Real Estate (trans. Adriana Lisboa). Belo Horizonte: Authentic, 2023.

Margaret Duras. É tudo/C'est tout – bilingual edition. Translation: José Costa. Lisbon: Edition Books of Brazil, 1999.

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