Friday, March 7, 2014

Ode to Duras

April 4,  2014, is the centenary of the birth of the French writer Marguerite Duras.

Hailed as one of the leaders of the French avant garde, Duras wrote novels, plays, film scripts as well as directing her own film and theatre pieces. Her best known works are the screenplay for Hiroshima Mon Amour (directed by Alain Resnais) and her novella The Lover which won the Prix Goncourt in 1984. See full list of over 50 published and produced works here. 

At Cafe Parliament on King in Newtown, Sydney, from 5-9pm on Friday, April 4, we will celebrate Duras' birthday with an evening of poetry, called Ode To Duras.

Poets, non poets, Duras lovers and innocent bystanders will be invited to read, write or construct odes, laments, rants & raves, in the spirit of desire, longing and melancholy, to this iconic literary figure.

Dress will be black tie/formal à la India Song, or dress Vietnamese style in 'ao dai' in. Guests will be encouraged to drape themselves languidly about the furniture and stare avec ennui into the distance.

For inspiration watch clip here

More about Duras

Marguerite Duras was born Marguerite Donnadieu in a small village on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam (then part of the French Protectorate known as Indochine), to French school teacher parents. When she was four, the family, along with her two brothers, moved to Hanoi where her father worked as a mathematics teacher. Her mother, unable to secure a teaching position, purchased a house and set up a school.

Despite its Frenchification they didn't like Hanoi and after a couple of years moved to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. (The French Indochina protectrate included present day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). They hadn't been in Phnom Penh long when Marguerite's father was struck down with a recurring tropical illness and sent back to France. He was no stranger to French hospitals where his wasting disease baffled the doctors. With no hope of recovery he discharged himself and went home to die in his village of Duras, from which Marguerite later took her name.

Left a widow, but without a widow's pension due to the maner in which her husband died, Duras' mother struggled to support her three children, moving back to the Mekong towns of Vinh Long and Sadec in Vietnam, where she taught by day and played piano at the local cinema by night.

When Marguerite was around ten years old her mother bought an acreage of land 500 miles away in Cambodia  and embarked on an ambitious plan to farm rice.

The battle went on for many years and became the subject of one of MD's early novels, Le Barrage Contre La Pacifique (published in 1950, made into a film by Cambodian director Rithy Pahn in 2007). Marguerite left Indochina for France at the age of 17 never to return, but her early Indochine years were to be a strong influence on her writing.

Marguerite's most famous novel, The Lover ( L'Amant), wasn't written until much later in her life, when she was 70. It tells the story of a 15 year old girl's affair with a rich Chinese man. Said to be an autobiographical account of Marguerite's own romance, it began its life as captions for a photo album and became an experimental discontinuous narrative set around one single image that was never photographed.

So, I'm fifteen and a half.
   It's on a ferry crossing the Mekong river.
   The image lasts all the way across.
   I'm fifteen and a half, there are no seasons in that part of the world, we have just the one season,     hot, monotonous, we're in the long hot girdle of the earth, with no spring, no renewal.

 Jan Cornall has been a self confessed Duras fan (fanatic) since she acted in her play L'amant Anglaise at The Pram Factory in Melbourne in 1979. Duras' writing was the subject of her Masters project at the Sydney Consortium, UWS in 2012.

Jan is currently working on a memoir about a trip she took following the footsteps of Marguerite Duras in Vietnam and Cambodia in 2009.  Read more here. She will lead a 15 day writing retreat, Indochine Journey, to share her discoveries with writers in Vietnam Aug 16-30.

Jan is currently an Australian Poetry Cafe Poet in Residence at Cafe Parliament on King in Newtown, Sydney.

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