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Dauda Yillah (University of Oxford, UK)
Difference At The Service Of Sameness, Or The Aporias Of Duras’s Universalizing Gaze

In his Marguerite Duras: Apocalyptic Desires (1993), Leslie Hill underlines what he sees as the French author's overt transgression of conventions, limits and boundaries of every sort in her fiction and film. Such unrepentant iconoclasm is seen in the way Duras as Hill shows, lays waste to conventions of authorship, genre, fiction, love and sexual relations, culminating in the projection and affirmation of a complex, fluid, multi-layered identity. Yet how far reaching is this transgressive thrust of Duras's creative output when considered in terms of the way the author handles issues of difference along the lines of race and culture? The point of this question is that a significant portion of Duras's writing - autobiographies, novels, plays and film scripts - features Europeans living in Far Eastern settings (French Indochina, British India and post-War Japan) and thus draws attention inevitably to the question of self-representation in racial and cultural terms. I will argue that if the subversive thrust of Duras's fiction seems to translate into a shifting, fragmented and all-inclusive self opposed to any claims to racial and cultural priority or specificity, such a transracial and transcultural self possesses ironically if unconsciously, a distinctively Western face. I will illustrate my point by reading closely two works drawn from Duras's fiction relating to British India. These are the novel Le Vice-consul (1966) and the play India Song (1973). In them the India that emerges, an India the author posits as 'un désespoir universel', if an apt metaphor for her own anxieties and fears as a writer living in cold war Europe, remains strictly that: reaching out to alterity or rather silencing it for one's own aesthetic purposes from within a Western cultural space posited as universal.

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