Duras- Desire and Denial

Duras’ play-novel-film Détruire dit-elle (1969) (1) played a key part in shaping Duras as a public Intellectuelle who dares to voice marginalised narratives (2). Whilst ‘arousal of [public] discussion’ (3) on Duras is often due to slippage between realities common in both her writing and interviews, her discussion of feminine sexuality implies another type of arousal- a “shocking” desire (4). Writing in this blog is understood as inter-medial, plural. Duras’ book cover (Fig. 2) and poster (Fig.3) communicate a sense of provocative duality that evoke her thinking on sexual desire. Lesbian desire is written into French public consciousness as a form of engagement in Détruire dit-elle. However Duras’ seemingly progressive engagement in lesbian representation simultaneously exists in the violent denial of her own desire, and invalidity of lesbian desire in the 60s.


The French Intellectuelle rather than English Intellectual culturally suits Duras. Since the Cambridge definition writes, “She was too much of an intellectual to find popular movies interesting”(5). As the auteur of internationally successful film Hiroshima Mon Amour (6) Duras not only rejects English tradition that separates the Intellectual from popular culture; she uses popular culture, and media scandal (7), to promote her ideologies. Another typical Intellectuel act Duras performs is authority on public social issues (8), including selecting whose narratives should be visible (2). In the case of Duras’ Détruire dit-elle this is the events of ’68; Détruire dit-elle is « un livre politique, qui exprime je crois mai 68’» (9) Duras reinforces her ‘text’ as politically active, and revolutionary. Specifying ‘un livre’ rather than ‘une histoire’ aligns Détruire dit-elle with ‘the original’ Intellectuel text by Zola J’accuse (10) through identification with the literary. Like the typical Intellectuel (8), Duras seemingly strives to improve society through writing about a public political moment. This is what is understood by engagement. However, her treatment of the 1968 riots is more thematic than literal in Détruire dit-elle following a group of lovers and two academics in an empty ‘hotel’ rather than the crowds of Parisian scholars and workers.


Figure 1: The mirror scene, Détruire dit-elle, (1969) Duras, M.


Figure 2: (1969) Minuit 1st edition DÉTRUIRE DIT-ELLE, Book cover
Figure 3: détruire dit-elle, film poster (source unfound)













A conversation between Détruire dit elle’s book cover (Fig 2) and film poster (Fig 3) displays a considered reference to duality and desire in Duras’ public-facing imagery. Duras’ original book cover (Fig 1) is sober and imageless. Her publications brandished in her famous Apostrophes interview (11) imply a standardised academic format. Meanwhile the film poster (Fig 2) appears to be an inversion of the former featuring a grey-scale image and red lettering in lowercase. Black and white, red and blue chromatically oppose on the colour spectrum. Duras’ choice to invert her imagery references the mirror scene (Fig 1) in Détruire dit-elle, the key moment Alissa expresses her lesbian desire for Elisa, « nous nous ressemblons…je vous aime et je vous désire » (1). The posters’ duality and reflective quality form a ‘disruptive space of sameness’ (12) common in lesbian texts. So, despite these media artifacts being imagery they retain a textual value, perhaps to remain loyal to the CAEE (13). However Duras’ “ambivalent” presentation of “female subjectivity and sexuality” (14) can represses lesbian desire. The media artifacts imply rather than directly detail lesbian desire, offering evidence to Duras’ denial of lesbian identities.


Autobiographical narratives typify Duras’ writing (15); hence her packaging of Détruire dit-elle likely reflects on her experience, as well as wider truths. Despite the beginnings of sexual liberations in ’68 riots, Duras continued to write heterosexuality and homosexuality in opposition and identified herself as outside of the homosexual. This allows us to understand Duras’ self-representation of denial in Détruire dit-elle. She employs third person pronouns “ils”,“eux”, rather than “nous”; « …par contre l’incommensurable misère de l’homosexualité. Ils s’aiment eux-mêmes en aimant l’autre. » (16) She explicitly writes herself out of, apparently, her own desire. In the same text Duras describes the ‘perfect hell’ (16) of heterosexuality consequently lesbian desire represents the ‘evil heavenly’ if it acts in opposition. This oppositional mentality erases bisexual identity that may well have been Duras’ sexuality. The image of the mirror in the poster and book cover is related to lesbian desire, writing «Ils s’aiment eux-mêmes en aimant l’autre » (16). Duras depicts homosexual desire as a ‘Narcissistic’ self-love that isolates the lover(s) entrapped in their own reflection. Duality evoked by form and chromatics in the artefacts implies the erasure and impossibility of lesbian desire for Duras and the era. Lesbian desire is held in an unreachable imaginary space: the mirror. Duras’ engagement in lesbian representation is amnesic, where the erotic idea of duality is alluded to through dualistic imagery and in her dialogue, but criticised in plain terms.


Duras’ book cover and poster are stark and unassuming, which emphasizes the title: Détruire dit-elle. Duras’ media statements and choice of title fuse love to destruction to a problematic end. The command “Détruire” forefronts Alissa’s bloodthirsty out-burst of “Détruire” that references her inclination to kill Elisabeth, the woman she desires. Murder as reactionary to lesbian desire here acts as a pre-emption for Duras to admit “Je vivais une sorte d’amour fou pour cette femme [Anne-Marie Stretter] …et je me suis dit: “Il faut qu’elle meure” (17). This quote expressly details Duras’ wish to deny her own desire by killing the character she was attached to. Reinforced by her earlier words in a documentary on Détruire dit-elle, « on aime les gens et on veux casser tous qu’ils sont » (17). Murderous desire tied up in these media facing texts stigmatises lesbian desire as a violent, inevitably catastrophic, psychosis. Denial appears to antidote the ‘affliction’. Sturrock’s article (1969) notes Alissa and Elisa’s “shared enthusiasm for… moments of madness” (18) omitting lesbian desire and labelling it instead as insanity. This memory of violent desire as “madness”, or destructive as detailed in Duras’ title, writes lesbian desire as a psychotic hallucination. Whilst Duras’ engagement undeniably writes into culture lesbian desire, part of the ’68 sexual revolution, wording of her title Détruire dit-elle hides lesbian desire in shame, presented as a mental health condition rather than a personal truth.


Suppression of lesbian desire appears to be an autobiographical and socio-historical element that impacts Duras’ media for Détruire dit-elle. Personal conflict restrains Duras’ capacity in her engagement Intellectuel for feminine sexuality, since her literary techniques allude rather than concretely detail lesbian identity. Duras’ poster, book cover and title imply lesbian desire through duality, but maintain a heterosexual public image that labels lesbian desire as violent or mad. Stigmatising lesbian identity whilst campaigning for visibility of feminine desire creates a problematic paradox in Duras’ public image that denies plural truth.




  • Duras, M. (1969) Détruire dit-elle
  • Hill, L. (1993: 5) Apocalyptic Desires (Images of Authorship), Routlege: London.
  • “[Margeurite is] deliberately confusing the borderline between fact and fiction to arouse discussion and disagreement” Calder, J (1996) Obituary: Marguerite Duras, Online: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-marguerite-duras-5625876.html\ & “Information she provides is fragmentary and subject to question” Hill, L. (1993:1, 7-11) Marguerite Duras; Apocalyptic Desires (Images of Authorship), Routledge: London and New York
  • “Her portraits of independent women cruising for male companions… had the capacity to shock the audiences in the 1950s” Hill, L. (1993: 11) Apocalyptic Desires (Images of Authorship), Routlege: London
  • Cambridge Dictionary (2019) online: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/engligh/intellectual
  • Duras, M. (1959) Hiroshima Mon Amour
  • Duras publicly denounced a male critic she believed to be misogynistic at a press event. Jardine, A. and Menke, A. (1991:72) Shifting Scenes: Interviews on Women, Wiritng, and Politics in Post-68 France, Columbia University Press: New York.
  • Clemenceau, ‘Intellectuels…were taking positions on public issues’ Paulson, W. (2003: 146) Intellectuals, The Cambridge Companion to modern French culture, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
  • Enzine interview in Crowley, M (2000:122-123), Duras, writing, and the ethical: making the broken whole, Claredon Press: London
  • Zola, E. (1898) J’accuse, L’Aurore.
  • Leridon, J. L. (1984), Apostrophes, Antenne 2
  • M. in Günther, R. (2000: 2), Female Homoerotics and Lesbian Textuality in the Work of Marguerite Duras, Online:10.5949/liverpool/9780853235460.003.0009
  • L’Union des écrivains: «…tous ceux qui considèrent la littérature comme une pratique indissociable du procès révolutionnaire actuel » Crowley, M. (2000:103) Duras, writing, and the ethical: making the broken whole, Claredon Press: London.
  • Hill, L. (1993:1) Marguerite Duras; Apocalyptic Desires (Images of Authorship), Routledge: London and New York.
  • Lamy, S. & Roy, A. (1981: 69-70) Marguerite Duras à Montréal, Spirale: Montreal in Lucey, M. (2013 : 344) The Contexts of Marguerite Dura’s Homophobia, A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol.19, No.3, Duke University Press
  • Cottenet-Hage & Kolker, (1989: 89) The Cinema of Duras in Search of an Ideal Image, The French Review,63, Ed.1. American Association of Teachers of French.
  • Lénier, C. (1969) Détruire dit-elle Marguerite Duras, Online : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPVDvv74Hs0
  • Sturrock (20 March 1969: 286) “Look Out.” The Times Literary Supplement, Online:http://tinyurl.gale.com/tinyurl/CAHkv


Futher Reading

Williams, J. S. & Sayers, J. (2000) Revisioning duras : film, race, sex. Liverpool University Press: Liverpool


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