Excerpt from "L'Amour" at Guernica
The beach and the sea are in darkness.
A dog passes, going toward the sea wall.
No one walks on the boardwalk, but, on the benches lining it, people sit. They relax. Are silent. Separated from one another. They do not speak.
The traveler passes. He walks slowly, he goes in the same direction as the dog.
He stops. Returns. He seems to be out for a walk. He starts off again.
His face is no longer visible.
The sea is calm. No wind.
The traveler returns. The dog does not return. The sea begins to rise, it seems. Its sounds getting closer. Muffled thudding coming from the river’s many mouths. Somber sky.
And as a special bonus, here’s a bit of Sharon Willis’s afterword:
L’Amour forgets. Of course, this is a novel about forgetting—and memory. But its narrative presents itself as dispossessed of the very memory that runs through it in the form of recycled figures and images that recall two of Duras’s previous novels, The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein (1964) and The Vice Consul (1965). Sometimes known as the “India cycle,” this extended text, relayed across three books, performs its own forgetfulness, and imposes a frustrating—even terrifying—amnesia on the reader. But to read L’Amour apart from the earlier novels presents another problem, this time more epistemological: without the trans-textual memory that structures and binds these three narratives into one prolonged text, how does L’Amour become legible?
Reducing characters to figures as residues, remnants, and fragments, this book produces a textual relay that becomes its own internal memory and that dissolves its narrative frame, substituting its memory of the previous texts for the reader’s own, implanting memories in us. But like the dead dog on the beach to which L’Amour returns with unsettingly frequency—as if this corpse structures the narrative space—these are figures in the course of deterioration. Memory is erasing itself. The dead dog, mentioned once in The Ravishing, reappears repeatedly in L’Amour. Around this dreadful site/sight, a hole in sense, circulate the unnamed residues of characters that the reader “remembers” from previous texts. Remembering here means fleshing out these haunting ghosts—worn to nubs, “sanded down,” to cite the translators—transposed from The Ravishing and The Vice Consul: Lol V. Stein, her fiancé, Michael Richardson, and Jacques Hold, the narrator who tells their story while he gradually enters into it.
But instead of grinding to exhaustion in its obsessive return to these figures, this novel relaunches them—translates them—into film, the medium that will preoccupy Duras in the coming years. Haunted by its shape-shifting textual ghosts (in French revenants; literally, one’s coming back), L’Amour also anticipates a cycle of films marked by these same narrative remnants and traces: La Femme du Gange (1972), India Song (1974), and Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert (1976). Situated at the join between the prose cycle and the cinematic one, L’Amour produces a site of translation, a space where everything keeps turning into something else. Hence this text’s fascination with liminal or threshold spaces: dawn, dusk, the crepuscular. We might even see this space as the place where we can watch this extended novel turning into cinema.
L’Amour is a theater of translation, in which the ongoing conflict between eye and ear, image and speech, stillness and passage, present and past, endlessly mutates. This sense of ceaseless mutation coheres with the persistent boundary failures, between texts, between genres, between textual spaces and between the characters who uneasily inhabit them, that mark Duras’s work in general, and that emerge within _L’Amour_’s narrative unfolding, troubling its ability even to begin and to end.
L’Amour is available at better bookstores everywhere, or can be ordered from Open Letter “directly.” (And at a really nice discount . . .)