Know your audience.
–a freshman composition adjunct lecturer’s mantra to his class
A man says to a woman he has met in his journal as he sits at a table in a café over a cup of coffee and a croissant for breakfast one morning sometime a decade or more ago:
I first read Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Marguerite Duras’s screenplay for Alain Resnais’s film of the same title, in a Freshman Composition class when I was as undergraduate, as I think I recall, in my second incarnation as a college student. I recall the teacher who taught the class–she was a Grad student? Was she–she was young, perhaps in her twenties? I don’t recollect as much as I imagine I remember–Duras’s screenplay as much focussed on memory–perhaps even more so on the act of remembering (a virtual Freudian journey to the catharsis).
I had already seen the film the summer before–was it the summer before? I know I had seen it in a summer evening film class–but the teacher, the adjunct? She was a grad student, if I remember correctly, or perhaps I am recalling this incorrectly–but she helped me in ways with my writing that I have probably forgotten, either with wear and thinning over extended years, or unconsciously on purpose, so as to be better able to be full of myself and whatever achievement I have subsequently made in writing, an ability I exercise daily in this blog/review/website I publish.
I had gone on to read and reread a lot of Duras in the years after, one novel or novella called a novel by today’s publishing standards of marketing . . . not so much of her, ma belle douce Marguerite, in the last ten to fifteen years, or so I say. My shelves contain English language translations and French Gallimard editions, as well, of more than a few of her novels, The Lover; The Malady of Death; The Seawall; The Ravishing of Lol Stein; Destroy She Said; Summer Rain; Blue Eyes Black Hair; The Vice-Consul; The Square; Moderato Cantabile; 10:30 on a Summer Night; The Afternoon of Mr Andemas . . .
I recall having bought a copy of Hiroshima in French in a bookstore in Montreal, I think it was the 4th of July holiday in 2001, before 9/11 when we became hyper focussed on Muslims and the Muslim world in a way we had not been since OPEC and the PLO in the 70s.
I have subsequently grown to detest the hijacking of our preconscious moods by both Islamic Terror organizations and the United States governemnt, not to mention a media in the west that has exhibited decidedly reactionary Zionist sympathies and a willingness to manipulate them. Today it seems the only acceptable Zionism is a reactionary one. Sanity and rationality that is measured and hyper-extended is not the concern or the desire when how Zionists are to act or enact policy, or perform as a client state should when the beck-and-call of the United States is made on the State of Israel.
What this has to do with Hiroshima, Mon Amour, ether the film or the screenplay read I will not engage–the woman protagonist in the film is an actress in Hiroshima to make a film on peace just twelve or thirteen years after the atom bomb was dropped on that city in 1945. Peace was a desire; peace was a hope in a world that had learned to hope a lot less–expect even far less than the little it learned to accept. There are only two protagonists to speak of–everyone else could have been played by cardboard with little subtractive effect. Of course, this is hyperbole. When I was in my twenties I had a crush on Emmanuelle Riva from the film.
What then must I do? What now must I do?
The hop-scotch played by Muslims, Christians and Jews is nearly intolerable; the ping pong played rhetorically by governments is maddening enough. The ignorance, lies and semi-literacy pervasive in the world (most heinously in, by and through the media) coupled with greed and want of mythic proportions is overwhelming where concerns for what to do in the world arise–the simple separate person becomes subsumed by his history, having lost the credibility to become macrocosm to historical forces.
What then must we do? What then can we when overwhelmed by one effort after another after another in print, broadcast, recording, film and pedagogic media to fragmentize us.
I am thankful I live in New York–why I am thankful is also coupled with why I am frequently frustrated–New York City perhaps the one place on earth where everyone–or some of everyone in the world come to learn how to live in peace–believe it or not. What then do I do, do I say, can I? Can we? No one cannot; only someone can. Sounds simplistic.
There is a scene at the end of the film, after the two lovers (one French, the other, Japanese–you got this already, didn’t you?) have faced the fact and the effects emotionally and psychically of their very brief love affair and its imminent end (both are married and she is returning to Paris while He remains in Hiroshima). The film covers twenty-four hours of the two lovers enduring their mutual need for the other, the overpowering draw of their desire, of the necessity for a human-being to have contact, have touch with another human being body form to form into form transforming one and the other into another self of one’s Self, deforming the ego and reducing all exteriors to a circumscribed mutual interiority.
Yes, at the end of the film, after one protracted nearly somnambulant extension of waiting for her time to leave, after reanimating the physicality of their love in the afternoon and returning to memory through the day into the night to expiate her ghosts, haunted as she has been for years after the loss of her first love with a German soldier during the occupation of France during the second world war, brought to its culmination when the United States dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, there is a scene where He and She are in her hotel room at the edge of the bed, looking into each other’s eyes, calling each other by the only names they have for the other, Hiroshima and Nevers (she is from Nevers, France, a city on the Loire River). Yes, She looks up to him from her seat at the edge of the bed and says, “Hi-ro-shi-ma. Hi-ro-shi-ma. That’s your name.” To which, he replies, “That’s my name. Yes. Your name is Nevers. Ne-vers in France.” Close scene. The lovers have become their cities, their identities have been transformed by memory and history–history is only what people remember, even when it is history they have read of or about–what is left, the past is ever present, so what is the past? Everything we have ever been is part of what we are now, and yet now is in constant flux. We are never what we are because what we are is perpetually were; we are always becoming.
Americans in general are still simpleton Puritans in the back of their minds–which is not to say that the Puritans were simpletons; and I am not one who confuses Pilgrims for Puritans. We are, though, really. We wouldn’t have the popular culture we have, indicating we still do not know what the fuck to do with sex or sexuality. You imagine we are liberated? Everything about how we treat sexuality and sex in our popular culture only indicates how endemically uptight about sex and sexuality we still are. It’s no wonder we are turning fascist.
But, of course I am glad—I am grateful that I live in New York. In face of you from somewhere else not here, I say as others might have said, could have said, should have said, will say . . . yes, this too is my name, My name is New York, New York in the United States. Yes, I am New York as you are New York.
You can imagine the end as it suits you. What more you need escapes me; I do though understand that there are readers who wish to have more said, have more explained, to have me, as some writers do, provide exegesis?
I am not so sure now that that’s exactly what takes place in most traditional fiction, although even fiction from among traditional western fiction has in its place, critical explanations of a kind—you might want to examine eighteenth century novels again. You could have a look at Fielding’s Tom Jones or Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Cervantes provides passages or prefaces that perform the task of exegesis—and I am one that understands exegesis is appropriate for literature other than the Bible.
On the side—you do know that the older New Criticism has a lot in common with much of Talmudic Exegesis.
Sorry I cannot help you further.
Post Script: I used to say that it was naive to imagine homosexuality could come out of the closet when heterosexuality had only very recently, historically, come out of its closet.