Deleuze, Duras: Desire, Community, Power

Marguerite Duras, comme chacun le sait, elle adore la mer. Bon, bon, pourquoi, pourquoi?
—Deleuze, Cinéma et Pensée

Deleuze’s readings of Duras’s cinema (primarily in Cinema 1 and 2, but also in his mid- 90s lectures at the University of Paris VIII) offer a useful starting point for thinking about Duras and Deleuze together. In this paper I draw on “The Components of the Image” from Cinema 2, especially those moments where Deleuze explores the relationship between image, time, and space. Mapping Deleuze’s readings, as he situates Duras and her oceanographic images within a modern cinematic crisis of representation, I suggest that Duras creates a cinematic mode apt to experience outside a classical “masculine” mode. As Leslie Hill and James S. Williams have noted, Duras conceived of her written work as in some way fluid, constructing a “capacious” style which, if not in conscious opposition to phallogocentric literature, was certainly predicated on multiplicity and the breakdown of reified literary categories. Hill in Marguerite Duras: Apocalyptic Desires cites Duras’s reference in La vie matérielle to “fluid . . . écriture flottante,” while Williams in Revisioning Duras: Film, Race, Sex recalls Duras’s self-definition of her work as “écriture courante, Duras’s answer in the 1980s to écriture féminine.” Looking closely at Duras’s “India Trilogy”—La Femme du Gange (1974), India Song (1975), and Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta desert (1976)—and exploring the notion of a feminine cinematic mode predicated on fluidity, I read desire as it is understood by Deleuze and Guattari: as a productive force, which, through its very refusal to be reduced to a single figure or object, is reminiscent of the linguistic figure of multiplicity—“and”—which represents, for Deleuze in Negotiations 1972–1990, a “line of flight” along which “things come to pass, becomings evolve, revolutions take shape.” Exploring how notions of identity and community are troubled through the figure of desire, as “making love is not just becoming as one, or even two, but becoming as a hundred thousand” (Hill, Revisioning Duras: Film, Race, Sex), I read Duras with Deleuze, mapping the link between cinematography and revolutionary desire, and drawing Durassian cinematic liquidity towards anti-oedipal territory.

Voice and temporality. In “The Components of the Image” in Cinema 2 Deleuze builds on his discussion of modern cinema, exploring an “irrational cut” that occurs not at the level of montage, but rather in the relationship between the very elements of the cinematic experience: image-track and sound-track. For Deleuze, “modern cinema implies the collapse of the sensory motor schema.” A break is effected, as a result of which speech “withdraw[s] from the image.” The “visual image,” for its part, becomes marked by a renewed focus on space and its “strata,” elements of the visualisation of space qualified by Deleuze as “those silent powers of before or after speech.” If, in the cinema of (male) filmmakers like Alain Robbe-Grillet, these modern visual images are classified as “archaeological, stratigraphic, tectonic,” Duras’s images are awarded their own epithet: “oceanographic.” But what, precisely, does Deleuze mean by this? Although it is certainly true that many of Duras’s films refer to or focus around bodies of water—lake, river, ocean— the “oceanographic” quality proper to her films goes beyond such literal representation. The Durassian image’s oceanographic quality, I argue, can be thought in relation to time and trauma, space and experience, movement and desire.

If stratigraphic images “take [the viewer] back” (Cinema 2) to “the deserted layers of   our time which bury our phantoms,” the specific intervention of Duras’s visual oceans might be their refusal to formulate time into strata; Duras’s images might thus be read as so many time-images evoking Bergsonian durée, wherein virtual and actual coexist, as moments of past and present surface, mirroring the workings of the unconscious. Indeed, later in the chapter Deleuze states that Duras’s intervention is to create visual images that “go beyond its stratigraphic or ‘archeological’ values towards a peaceful power of river and sea which stands for the eternal, which mixes up strata and carries away statues.” Such a connection suggests a possible reading of Duras’s anti-narrative cinematic style, where action and linear progression are replaced by circularity, repetition, and static staging, as her films “tear… the speech-act away from myth.”

Space. For Deleuze, as “sound image” and “visual image” obtain autonomy, the newly structured visual spaces take on a new quality: “the specific readability of the visual image becomes oceanographic” (Cinema 2), as it gestures towards a “marine perception that is deeper than that of things.” As we have seen, the experimentation with desynchronisation in La Femme du Gange begins the work of destratification; however, it is when Duras turns her attention to the decadent spaces of India Song, and to their ruin in Son nom  de Venise, that the apocalyptic possibilities of oceanographic space emerge. Reading the construction of space in the two films, I explore the ways Duras approaches the question of absolute desire, the apocalypse, and their visual (non)representation, as the visual is “torn from its empirical exercise and is carried to a limit which is at once invisible and yet can only be seen (a kind of clairvoyance, differing from seeing, and passing through any- space-whatevers, empty or disconnected spaces).”

Movement, flow, desire. In Cinema 2, Deleuze is more concerned with the voices and settings of Duras’s characters than with their physical embodiment. Although these do not always coincide, it is productive to focus on the movement of desiring bodies in Duras to draw the visual fluidity of Duras’s cinema to new Deleuzian territory. Expanding the notion of a “liquid quality,” a term Deleuze uses to denote the constant return in Duras’s films to misty, water-logged settings, I read the characters’ glacial, languid circulation and stagnation in La Femme du Gange and India Song alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s conception in Anti-Oedipus of a desire outside the Freudian economy, marked by fluidity, flow, and movement. Thus, if, for Deleuze and Guattari, “desire is present wherever something flows or runs, carrying along with it interested subjects . . . towards lethal destinations” (Cinema 2), the workings or flows of desiring-production with capitalist society can be interrupted, diverted, towards a revolutionary horizon. Drawing on, and departing from, Laura McMahon’s reading of Duras’s communities of lovers, I argue that Duras sets up desiring communities in which sexuality exits the “bedroom of Oedipus” for “wide-open spaces”, in order to “cause strange flows to circulate that do not let themselves be stocked within an established order.”

In his close reading of Duras’s cinematic style, Deleuze explores the ways in which her films use image and sound to elaborate a “marine perception” that exceeds traditional representational modes. Spaces are emptied out and clock-time deconstructed as Duras’s Atlantic subjects are set adrift in an immanent plane of desire. Reading Cinema  2 alongside Anti-Oedipus reveals the revolutionary potential of Duras’s fluid cinema, via the elaboration of desiring communities at the limits of the socius in the “India Trilogy.”