Marguerite Duras on writing and “the doubt of solitude”

At the “house of writing” with Yann Andrea in the 1990s

One does not find solitude, one creates it. Solitude is created alone. I have created it. Because I decided that here was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books. It happened this way. I was alone in this house. I shut myself in – of course, I was afraid. And then I began to love it. This house became the house of writing. My books come from this house. From this light as well, and from the garden. From the light reflecting off the pond. It has taken me twenty years to write what I just said.

***

Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome. I believe that the person who writes does not have any ideas for a book, that her hands are empty, her head is empty, and that all she knows of this adventure, this book, is dry, naked writing, without a future, without echo, distant, with only its elementary golden rules: spelling, meaning.

***

In life there comes a moment, and I believe that it’s unavoidable, that one cannot escape it, when everything is put in doubt: marriage, friends, especially friends of the couple. Not children. Children are never put in doubt. And this doubt grows around one. This doubt is alone, it is the doubt of solitude. It is born of solitude. We can already speak the word. I believe that most people couldn’t stand what I’m saying here, that they’d run away from it. This might be the reason why not everyone is a writer. Yes. That’s the difference. That is the truth. No other. Doubt equals writing. So it also equals the writer. And for the writer, everyone writes. We’ve always known this.

I also think that without this primary doubt, there can be no solitude. No one has ever written in two voices. One can sing in two voices, and make music, and play tennis; but write? No, never. From the start I wrote books that were called political. The first was Abahn Sabana David, one of the ones I still hold dearest. I think that’s a detail, that a book can be more or less difficult to lead than ordinary life. It’s just that difficulty exists. A book is difficult to lead toward the reader, in the direction of his reading. If I hadn’t begun writing, I would have become an incurable alcoholic. It’s a practical state in which one can be lost and unable to write anymore… That’s when one drinks. As soon as one is lost with nothing left to write, to lose, one writes. So long as the book is there, shouting that it demands to be finished, one keeps writing. One is forced to keep up with it. It’s impossible to throw a book out forever before it’s completely written – that is, alone and free of you who have written it. It’s as horrible as a crime. I don’t believe people who say, “I tore up my manuscript, I threw the whole thing out.” I don’t believe it. Either what was written didn’t exist for them, or else it wasn’t a book. And when it isn’t a book, one always knows it. When it can never be a book, no, that one doesn’t know. Ever.

– From Marguerite Duras’s Writing, 1993

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