by Marguerite Duras
so there's this chick Lol Stein, a real blank broad, gets ditched by her cougar-lovin' fiance. bitch goes crazy, but the quiet kinda crazy, the kinda crazy you keep to yourself. girl gets married to some musician type. years later, she's a mother of three, living in her old town, and she gets wrapped up in her hottie best friend's life. the best friend is busy giving it up to this prick, a dapper don who works with her husband at the local hospital. Lol gets obsessed with the douchebag. some boring get-togethers happen. Lol spends some time watching the hotel room where the two are busy banging it out. mr douche spends some time wondering what is up with Lol. finally Lol and the ever-curious prick take a long-assed train trip to the place where Lol was first ditched years ago. they sit on the beach a while and talk some bullshit. finally, they bone. the end.
so there is an empty vessel. her name is Lol Stein. some say her mind became bent when she was betrayed by her lover; others say her mind was always a blank. Lol is a being who has let form define meaning; she has built her life around ideas such as what should a house and home look like? and how should a wife act, how should a scorned lover feel? Lol begins to be obsessed with her friend's affair... she wants to watch where the two lovers go, she wants to be a silent witness to their acts, she wants to find meaning in the forms of their passion. she wants their passion to fill her. in turn, her friend's lover becomes obsessed with her... he wants to understand what lies beneath that glassy surface, he wants to see his passion reflected upon it. is the nature of their different obsessions simply to be obsessed with the idea of an obsession? is that the nature of passion, of obsession... form eventually becoming meaning?
so there is a french writer, Marguerite Duras. her novels are not written in the classic literary form; her works are a part of the Nouveau roman - they are anti-tradition. her novels reject such stand-bys as narrative, characterization, plot. her novels take the details of the world, the form of her characters' actions, and centralizes them so that these details, these descriptions of form, become the meaning itself. in her focus on these physical details, on the physicality of actions, she could possibly be considered a sensual writer. and yet this distance, this separation of incident from emotion, this focus on dividing intellectual contemplation from emotional reaction, makes her works an often clinical, alienating experience. ironically enough, her novel The Ravishing of Lol Stein is ostensibly about passion and voyeurism and the nature of love, the meaning of obsession, the traps and tricks of perspective and point of view. it is a passionless rendering of the various forms of passion.
so there is a reviewer, mark monday, a shallow kind of guy, one with an automatic bias against the intellectualization of sensuality. he finds it distasteful, hollow, unreal. even worse, he finds it to be Not Hot. perhaps he is merely symptomatic of gender essentialism at its most prosaic - a man who responds to visual, sensory outputs like all men supposedly do - the kind of guy who wants visceral activity, sensual description, the kind of dude who is intimately familiar with the pornographic appeal of the extreme close-up detail. he wants it to be real. and so he rejects Duras' frosty attempt to deconstruct the nature of passion and obsession. it leaves him cold.
so there is this guy, Mark M_____, he's rather an intellectual sort. he is a thinker. one of his favorite films is Hiroshima Mon Amour, written by Marguerite Duras. he admires the film's ability to position two living, breathing characters as - eventually - something both less and more than human... as archetypes for all lovers, for all individuals seeking meaning in escape, in passion, in the forms that meaning takes, within the at-times obliterating, all-encompassing physicality of each other's arms. he admires Duras' distance. he enjoys her lack of reliance on traditional narrative, plot, and characterization. in particular, he appreciates how, in books like The Ravishing of Lol Stein, the reader can literally pick any random page and, reading that page, understand the meaning of the entire work. each detail is symptomatic of the whole. he loves that.
so there was this bookish kid, Mark, who worked in the a/v department (of course) while going to school at ucsd. one evening he was in charge of a special screening of the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, for a class that he was in. unfortunately, Mark was high as a kite and got the reels mixed up... so the viewing audience saw the first part of the film first, the third part of the film second, the second part of the film last. there was not a single complaint from the audience. in class the next day, the students discussed the film - and there was no mention of a narrative breakdown, of a mix-up in reels. the purpose of the film remained clear for the students. each detail within the film distilled the meaning intended by the filmmakers. the narrative order was inconsequential. content did not drive form. characterization was unnecessary. plot was meaningless. meaning was present in each part of the film. each part was a whole.
so there was this book, The Ravishing of Lol Stein. it dealt with passion and obsession, and the forms they take, and the meaning of those forms. it dealt with those subjects intellectually, objectively, without heat or emotion. it showed no interest in rendering its characters so that they could be understood empathetically. it left me cold. Duras began to seem rather heartless, rather cruel. but after some time, i began to recall Hiroshima Mon Amour, and what i loved about that film. i began to consider the novel again. i contemplated Duras' challenging themes. i started to admire the novel's distance, its alienation from its own topic. and so i grew to understand its frigid appeal, its sensual lack of earthy sensuality.
well, what can i say: sometimes i dig a cold, smart bitch.