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The possible meanings that notions of certainty and uncertainty, activity and passivity might have in the context of Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras.

The possible meanings that notions of certainty and uncertainty, activity and passivity might have in the context of Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Edel O' Connell. Originally submitted for Law and French , with lecturer Dr. Mary Noonan in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Edel O' Connell. Originally submitted for Law and French , with lecturer Dr. Mary Noonan in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
Keywords
: Uncertainty, Passivity, Memory, Absence and Identity.
 Abstract 
This paper falls within the ambit of the Contemporary French Theatre and more specifically attemptsto underline the possible meanings that notions of certainty and uncertainty, activity and passivitymight have in the context of 
Savannah Bay 
by Marguerite Duras. This paper seeks to examine how,through these themes, Duras rejected the conventional depiction of characters, plot and adherenceto logic in favour of a form that was more reflective of the modern experience.
Savannah Bay 
waswritten in 1982; it was first performed in Paris in 1983 and has two main characters
 –
Madeleine and
La Jeune Femme. The missing link between them is Madeleine’s daughter, Savannah (who alsoappears to be La Jeune Femme’s mother) but as Duras’s theatre is the antithesis o
rationality,nothing can be deduced with certainty. In fact, Duras employs various techniques to create a spaceof fluidity and doubt and there is no definite version of events or definitive interpretation of thestory unfolding. The role of memory is central to dissecting the indeterminacy of 
Savannah Bay 
asLa Jeune Femme tries to force Madeleine to remember a past tragedy that seems to connect them
both. Madeleine’s memory is deteriorating and as she was an actress, she has difficulty
distinguishing between reality and the roles she assumed on stage. The themes of activity andpassivity are also central to
Savannah Bay 
. Madeleine exercises a certain degree of passivity in howshe distances herself from her own past experiences and essentially becomes a spectator in thetheatre of her own story. These themes are also juxtaposed within the relationship of the two main
characters as Madeleine’s passivity regarding her life and past experiences is contrasted with the
desire of La Jeune Femme to piece together events surrounding her birth. Finally, this paperexplores passivity in relation to the act of spectatorship and how due to the nature of 
Savannah Bay 
,passivity does not lend itself to a full appreciation of the fluid and indeterminate form of Dur
as’s
finest work.
 
 
“She realises that writing and loving are both ventures into the same unknown, into the samedesperate impossibility of knowing.” (Marguerite Duras)
 Discuss the possible meanings that notions of certainty and uncertainty, activity and passivity mighthave in the context of 
Savannah Bay 
by Marguerite Duras.
“Ici rien n’est sûr” –
Marguerite Duras, Savannah Bay pg 31Classical literary genres like Romanticism and Realism which were largely embraced in 19
th
centuryFrench literature were challenged
in the twentieth century with the emergence of the “NouveauRoman” movement. In the mid fifties and early sixties, this movement sought to free itself of the
perceived restrictions of the traditional novel. The argument was made that the structure of previous novels with their conventional depiction of characters, plot and adherence to logic were inno way reflective of the modern experience. Robbe-
Grillet argues in “Pour un Nouveau Roman”
1
 that the notion of the novel is evolutionary and that past norms should not dictate present practice.
“Man is here, the world is there and the distance between the two lies at the heart of the new novel
project. We endow the world with meaning (or meaningless) in order to control it.
2
MargueriteDuras is often grouped with the novelists
of the “Nouveau Roman” but she also branched into
theatre and played a vital role in mirroring this literary shift on the stage. The theatre of MargueriteDuras is the antithesis of rationality
. Through her work she sought “to create an act which
1
Alain Robbe-Grillet,
Pour un Nouveau Roman
(Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1963)
2
 
Andrew Gallix, “
In Theory: Towards a New Novel 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/may/13/in-theory-alain-robbe-grillet-fiction> (dateaccessed: 4 January 2012)
 
invalidates traditional logic and confounds systematic political and philosophical thinking.”
3
Indeed,uncertainty and a heightened sense of ambiguity could be said to be the hallmarks of the work of Duras. In
Savannah Bay 
they represent the very fabric of the play. The two characters Madeleineand La Jeune Femme try and search Madele
ine’s memory for “l’inconnaissable du passé”,
4
a taskthat proves difficult
as “fact mingle
s with fiction, reality with desire.
5
As Madeline was an actressshe has difficulty distinguishing between reality and the roles she has assumed on stage and as suchthere is no solidity or certainty attached to the partial memories she recalls. Indeed both the spaceand geography in
Savannah Bay 
are also fluctuating which further serves to reinforce theuncertainty that flows throughout the play. It is as if Duras wants the spectator to inhabit andaccept a world of uncertainty, non fixity and fluidity. This particular style that Duras developedforced the spectator to constantly question their surroundings. Her work does not lend itself to asingle interpretation and as a result the audience is engaged to actively entertain the differentpossibilities.The underlying current of uncertainty in
Savannah Bay 
is explored by Duras in her analysis of the
“sinuosities of memory.”
6
Duras was intrigued with the notion of memory and in a way regarded itas a type of fiction. She felt that man had very little ability to retain anything of the past and that wedelude ourselves into thinking we have the capacity to remember. In a way our imagination turnsour memories into mere stories.
Savannah Bay 
 
is “punctuated by fragments of Edith Piaf’s “LesMot’s D’Amour,” that in their very banality, bring the Jeune Femme and Madel
eine to the edge of a
common memory.”
7
 
Madeline, who has attained “la
splende
ur de l’
â
ge”
8
and la jeune femme, whocould be her granddaughter (Duras does not confirm this stating
“J’adhère personnellement à cette
3
Susan Husserl-Kapit,
 An Interview with Marguerite Duras
(Chicago Journals, Vol.1, No.2 (Winter, 1975)pg.423)
4
Marguerite Duras,
Savannah Bay 
(Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1983) pg55
5
Susan H. Léger,
Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras
(The French Review, Vol.57, No.1 (Oct., 1983) pg137)
6
Susan H. Léger,
Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras
(The French Review, Vol.57, No.1 (Oct., 1983) pg136)
7
Susan H. Léger,
Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras
(The French Review, Vol.57, No.1 (Oct., 1983) pg137)
8
Marguerite Duras,
Savannah Bay 
(Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1983) pg8

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