Ab-sense of existence in 'The Ravishing of Lol Stein' by Marguerite Duras

by Namiko Haruki

February 23, 2012


This paper concerns Marguerite Duras' (1914–1996) novel The Ravishing of Lol Stein (1964), an especially avant-garde example of her works deemed experimental. I will present my observations of Lol, the main character, and of Hold, the narrator and one of the other characters, taking as guideline the theories of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Finding in the story his concepts, 'enjoyment' and 'anxiety', I will finally consider Lol's madness as a sacrifice that causes the convergence of the infinite chain of mutual rejection played out between Lol and Hold. We cannot say that there is one madness. When there is one madness (il y a une folie), there is inevitably one madness and more (il y a plus d’une folie), or, more strictly speaking, "There is madness due to indeterminacy (il y a de la folie)."



Ab-sense of existence in The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras


1-1. Ravishing and enchantment

          This paper concerns Marguerite Duras' (1914--1996) novel The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein (1964). This novel is an especially avant-garde example of those of Duras' works that have been deemed experimental. The unexpected identity of the first-person narrator of the story is first revealed to the reader at the midpoint of the novel by the narrator's own confession. This narrator is Jack Hold, one of the characters in the story, and at that pivotal moment when his identity is revealed, the reader is deprived of the "stable" reading that he or she should have enjoyed up to that point. One of the functions of the narrator is to provide a framework for what is infinite in reality for the reader. As long as this framing is unquestioned, the things that are bounded by it are naively accepted as "reality." In this sense, the narrator must be an absolute and hidden entity that looks down upon the characters in the work. However, this unexpected confession dislodges the narrator from that position and the reader becomes conscious of the previously invisible framework so that it no longer functions as a framework. In such cases, the reader maintains a certain distance from the events in the work and is prevented from establishing a distance from his own awareness. Thus I would like to unravel this problematic novel, which has set up what we might call a mechanism for the abreaction of repression. I hesitate to refer to what happens as the plot of the novel, but if there is such a thing, it unfolds as follows.


        In the summer of her nineteenth year, Lol, the main character, goes to a dance at Town Beach with her fiancé Michael Richardson. Then Anne-Marie Stretter, a woman possessed of "grace" and an "elegance [that] was upsetting" comes late to the party. When Richardson has finished dancing with Lol, he walks over to the irresistibly beautiful woman and invites her to dance. Left alone and with her fiancé taken from her, Lol is entranced by the scene of the two in an embrace and looks at them, "[seeming to] love them." (Duras 1964, 8) The two of them are so involved with each other that at dawn, they continue dancing for a while, not noticing that the band has stopped playing. When the couple notices the faint light of dawn and starts to leave the dance, Lol cries out for the first time. "It wasn't late, it was only the early summer dawn that made it seem later than it was. She had begged Michael Richardson to believe her" (Duras 1964, 12). When the two of them disappear from the dance, as Lol's groans echo through the hall, she loses consciousness.

         From then on, she is in a state of nervous collapse, and whenever anyone speaks to her, she only repeats the same things, "that it wasn't late, it was only summer that made it seem so." (Duras 1964, 14) One day, while still in this state, she goes out with no particular destination in mind and encounters a man. After this encounter, she marries the man and leaves her hometown. Having settled into domesticity, "this upright sleeping beauty, [in] this constant self-effacement" (Duras 1964, 24) hardly ever goes out, but she bears and raises children and is said to be a faithful wife to her husband. However, when her husband's situation requires the family to move back to her hometown, a discordant note arises in "this impeccable order" (Duras 1964, 24) of her ten years of married life. Freed from the work of raising children, Lol adopts the habit of taking walks in the town where she spent her childhood. One day, she discovers an old school friend, Tatiana, in the company of a man and follows them. The man is Jack Hold, both Tatiana's lover and the narrator of the story. They enter the hotel that is their usual rendezvous spot. Lol quietly lies down in a rye field behind the hotel and watches the two lovers framed by the hotel window. She repeats this action several times.

        One day, Hold looks out the window while waiting for Tatiana, spots Lol in the rye field, and is struck by an indefinable anxiety. This intense confusion is suppressed by "[having his] worst fears confirmed, fighting back the tears" (Duras 1964, 110). Furthermore, Hold falls in love with Lol. However, even after accepting Hold's confession of love, she does not allow him to break up with Tatiana. On the contrary, she begs him to continue his assignations with Tatiana and does not stop watching the two of them. Hold carries out Lol's order, one that would normally be incomprehensible, by having sexual relations not with Lol, whom he loves, but with Tatiana, whom he does not love.

        It is Hold who brings about a change of tone at the end of the story by taking Lol to Town Beach, where the fateful incident occurred. There they spend the night together for the first time. When the two of them become too intimate, Lol falls into an irrecoverable state of madness.


1-2. Word as absence

        According to Duras herself (1999, 17), the theme of this work is dé-personne, impersonnalité "depersonalization, impersonality". By taking up this depersonalized dimension, she creates several voids within the story. Borrowing terms that Duras herself likes to use, we may refer to them as mot-absence "word as absence" and mot-trou "word as a hole". The mots-trou bored into the novel appear to appeal to us in an uncanny way, with a voiceless voice, to be written. Perhaps for this reason, almost all previous discussions have concerned the madness of the main character Lol. Not only readers but also critics have been distracted by the odd story that plays out with Lol at the center, and few of them mention the role of Hold, who is both narrator and a character. When the existence of the narrator is unquestioned like this, the viewpoint of the "Other" who is the invisible observer is suppressed, and Duras' work is converted into a romance novel for the masses. This paper will part ways with these kinds of observations and direct its particular observations at Hold, who is most often only described in passing as the silent partner in Lol's madness. Of course, both characters lose their boundaries in the course of the story, and one may inevitably be caught in the topological trap of following one and arriving at the other. Even so, the viewpoint of this paper is to avoid being taken in by the phenomenological aspects of the story and to bring out the structure of the characters, who are both individual and linked together, with the main emphasis on the gaze of the Other.

        These kinds of observations are not bound by the framework of madness as a symptom and will interpret the human being who assumes the burden of language as one form of an immutable concept. What lays out the necessary coordinate axis for us is psychoanalysis, which from the beginning of its history has understood madness in terms of its relationship to language. Within psychoanalysis, I would like to take as my guideline the theories of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who took Freud's basic concepts as the starting point for radical observations about the suffering of human beings who are born into the world with the burden of language. In fact, upon reading this novel, Lacan (2001) said, "Duras has proved that she knows my teachings without being taught by me", but where the novelist Duras and the psychoanalyst Lacan, with their two different fields of study, intersect is precisely in turning a critical gaze on language. After confirming the concept of the Subject in the first section, with heavy reliance upon Lacan's thought, I will begin analyzing the novel in the following sections. I will present my observations about Lol in the second section and about Hold in the third section, finally concluding by interpreting them in terms of madness.

2-1. Loss of gaze

Certainly, a single incident provides the impetus for this novel. However, this incident, which might have been expected to frame any interpretation, is almost entirely stripped of its significance as an incident in Duras' hands and is merely described in a perfunctory manner at the beginning. Even so, if we assume that the incident is not a cause that exists prior to the result but is retroactively a "cause" due to the result, we may, in a certain sense, be able to view this way of writing as inevitable.

        Everyone most likely knows from experience the pleasant feeling of being bathed in the gaze of a loved one. It is as if this kind of gaze gives us proof of our own existence, the feeling that we are really here. Conversely, the physical sense of losing that gaze is one of extreme fragility. Patients suffering from depersonalization syndrome are probably the best witnesses to this fact. They often claim that they have no sense of the reality of their own bodies or that they have become transparent. It is the gaze of the Other that gives weight to their drifting bodies and affirms them. Most likely, Lol existed as a beloved person under the gaze of Richardson before the incident. Lacan (2001, 193) expresses this kind of love as "an image in which the Other wraps the self", but it is precisely the white dress that Richardson likes that Lol wears to the party that allows her to appear as "one who is here." However, the incident occurs suddenly. Richardson's loving gaze is removed from her and transferred to Anne-Marie.

        Robbed (ravie) of her fiancé, Lol displays not the kind of anger or sorrow that we might expect, but an entranced (ravie) expression. However "in Lol, this vision and this conviction did not appear to be accompanied by any sign of suffering. (....) she seemed to love them". ( Duras 1964, 7-8) As long as she does not focus on the substance but only on the form, the essential nature of this situation is invisible to her. For Lol, this robbery incident is not a loss but a replacement. That is, the object held in place by Richardson's gaze was "Lol, the person loved by him," but from this point on, that has been replaced by "Anne-Marie, the person loved by him." Lol identifies with Anne-Marie, who shines under Richardson's loving gaze, and is lost in a certain sort of fulfillment, as if that were a manifestation of herself, who was originally supposed to be in that position. In other words, Lol has not lost the gaze that is the reference point for her own existence. It is as if Lol's desires are being realized in a certain sense while Richardson and Anne-Marie are dancing, entranced with each other. Thus, it is not the object of identification itself but the gaze of the Other, which places the object of identification in the background that must be questioned. People use the gaze of the Other as a clue for discovering the object with which they ought to identify. For that very reason, as Duras (1999, 13) points out, as long as the Other (Richardson) and his Object of desire (Anne-Marie) are in her sight, Lol "forgets that she is no longer loved". However, the party cruelly comes to an end, and Richardson and Anne-Marie leave the dance hall, abandoning Lol. That is when Lol "cried out for the first time" (Duras 1964, 12). For the first time, she is robbed of the glance of the Other and stripped of the meaning of existence. As Lacan says, at the same time that Lol is stripped (dérobée) of her fiancé, she is also stripped (dérobée) of the dress that wrapped her existence in meaning. Now naked Lol suffers a breakdown. For Lol, the incident at Town Beach has now exceeded the boundaries of the loss of her lover and become an experience in which the Nothingness of the lack of existence recurs and cannot be filled in with the present Other. From this time on, her questioning of her own life shows up in the dimension of the truth of existence. For this reason, let us discard the overly naïve interpretation of "pitiful Lol, abandoned by her fiancé" and make further observations in the dimension of the existential questions exposed on the occasion of the loss of her love.


2-2. Wish for existence

        After a calm and undescribed ten years of marriage, Lol returns once again to the town where she was born and catches sight of a friend from finishing school, Tatiana. She follows Tatiana, discovering her tryst with her lover, Hold. Lol watches the scene of their passion, framed by the hotel window, from a rye field that extends behind the hotel, almost as if she is viewing the scene between Richardson and Anne-Marie on that summer night. Later, Lol visits Tatiana's house and when introduced to Hold, who happens to be there, she tells him what she has done. Fearful and hesitant, Hold asks her what she wants. Her answer is, "I want…" (Je veux)" (Duras 1964, 102). The transitive verb vouloir "to want" lacks an object. It is not that she has no desire. A Subject who desires is certainly generated within that utterance. However, that is not a desirable desire. Not a segmented object, but an indivisible phrase full of holes is generated when she turns her desire to an object that is in a pure state from the beginning. The position of the grammatical object, or, in other words, the topos of the signified object, is not buried by ellipses but is turned into a mot-trou, which is the very essence of a riddle. The uncanniness that covers Lol is far from swept away. In her state of nervous collapse, she eviscerates the reality in front of her eyes into something inane and opens up a domain of uncertainty. That is, she is not involved in "what was done to her" (losing her fiancé) on the night of the incident. Instead, her gaze is directed at what was done to her. It has not yet achieved effective strength, and since it remains instead at the level of latent capacity, it has no temporal or spatial orientation, but by leaving reality suspended in midair, she calls forth this impossible domain. That is a domain that belongs neither to the present world in which we live nor to the world that formerly existed. This is nothing other than what we call a "primordial existence." In order to rescue something yet unborn, Lol tries to trace things back to the primordial. She attempts to realize this absence, this mot-trou, in the here and now with the love scenes between her close friend Tatiana and Hold as a stage.

        Lol lies down in the rye field and attends the love scenes between Tatiana and Hold as an outsider. That is something that she must inevitably set up in her attempt to trace things back to the primordial. Unable to accept the symbolization (loss) of the primordial through language, she needs to see her birthplace firsthand. That is because her own origin is also the basis of the truthfulness of existence. For that reason, Lol tries to establish the truth of existence by attending the moment of her own birth from the outside, a position in which she can guarantee the truth. According to this unique theory, the act of being present at sexual relations between a man and a woman while being excluded from them is inevitably required of Lol to prove the fact of her origins. In other words, the mot-trou can be called the original self. This primordial existence no longer arrives at the scene of love between a man and a woman as itself. When human beings enter the field of language, existence itself has already been lost in the mesh of language. The object is rooted in the topos of the loss of existence, but one thing is lacking to demonstrate the existence of the subject in the representational world framed by the language that is generated. Lol, who rejects the introduction of representation into this void and expects an impossible object, ends up calling forth the void as a void.

        Assailed by this impossible object, Lol cries out, "naked beneath her dark hair, naked, naked, dark hair" (Duras 1964, 105-106). In Lol's eyes, Tatiana's black hair set against her pale skin looks just like an ink stain fallen on white paper. Although the "stain" provides no meaning, in the sense that it makes the other person aware of an uncanny line of sight, it has the function of a "gaze."

        Thus the existence that is supposed to have been lost borrows the position of Tatiana, who is on the object side, and directs its gaze that is not really a gaze at Lol. In other words, as Lacan (2010) points out, the gaze here is not on Lol's side but on the Object's side. Lol thus continues to be exposed to a meaningless empty gaze. In contrast to the complementary gaze of the lovers, this gaze can be called an inhuman, one-sided gaze. In other words, it is not a gaze that covers the lack of existence by imparting meaning but one that exposes the fact of the absent existence to bright light and forces suffering upon the person who faces it. Lying in the rye field, Lol is never one who takes pleasure in gazing but one who suffers an uncanny gaze.

        "With her body rendered infirm by the other she cries out, she waits in vain, she cries out in vain" (Duras 1964, 41). Here she is crying out for and seeking "the other half" of her lost existence with her entire remaining body. Yet, given that it is impossible to call back a fundamentally lost existence, this attempt is always accompanied by failure. When continuing to wait indefinitely for something unattainable, the temporal structure known as "recurrence" controls that world, and she is unable to escape from souffrance "suffering" or an indeterminate state. Despite this, she uses her own body as collateral, lies down in the rye field, and is unable to stop making solitary wagers on an object that is impossible to cry out for. She gives voice to an unquenchable desire for something to come into the emptiness of the mot-trou.


2-3. Enjoyment, rapture at ab-senses

        In Lacan's terms, the object that Lol continues to wait for is positioned as "the real" that lies on the far side of the representational world. For a subject that has taken on the burden of language, this very thing is deemed impossible, and it is a domain that one cannot enter as long as one is a subject. However, Lol, lying in the field and caught in the midst of hopeless recurrent failure that is her fate, anticipates that the absolute primordial moment will be realized. Among these pure structural recursive movements (Lacan's chain of signifiants), encounters with the impossible real world come to touch the subject in the form of tyche. Lacan defines these unique experiences of the real world with the word "enjoyment(jouissance)."

        In the dimension of enjoyment, where, in addition to being systems of linguistic differences, the categories of subject and object, transitive and intransitive, and active and passive lose their validity, the subject who assumes the burden of language is itself eliminated. In this departure from meaning, this ab-sens, Lol is transformed into a non-reflective entity and is touched by existence by itself. In this case, "the idea of what she is doing never crosses her mind [....] Living, dying, she breathes deeply, tonight the air is like honey, cloyingly sweet. She does not even question the source of the wonderful weakness which has brought her to lie in this field. She lets it act upon her, fill her until she thinks she will suffocate, lets it lull her roughly, pitilessly, until Lol Stein is fast asleep" (Duras 1964, 53-54). She is in the rye field without even thinking about it. She is no longer a subject who gazes but has become one with the object manifesting itself in the form of Tatiana's naked body. Due to this experience that completely avoids knowledge, a pure and simple life that is consonant with primordial existence is brought into being in the margin between time and time. The ravishing (ravissement) of Lol V. Stein may be an enchantment (ravissement) with all of existence itself, even if it is an impersonal state. However, no matter how sweet such an experience is, it inevitably becomes a failed encounter. In the moment of coming into contact with primordial existence the subject is fated to awaken to the ordinary. Since life is always continuing, living in the moment is not allowed. In order to be a human being who is burdened with language, one must awaken not to the dimension that belongs to enjoyment but to the dimension of meaning. Having passed through an experience of unknowing which touched upon its own truth, the subject is made to know the impossibility of arriving at the fundamental object through this awakening.

        Based on the above, when hoping for the object, which is the very void of lack of existence, desire is inclined in the direction of enjoyment. In the rye field, Lol cannot escape the enjoyment that turns her own existence into an impossible object. Someone who is alive and ought to be able to say things can be called already dead. She is trying to take on the identity of an object that cannot say anything. Thus when an object that cannot be desired is desired, death is incorporated into life. Lacan's statement (2001, 197) that the characters that Duras portrays are "between two deaths" means exactly this. Desire culminates in enjoyment that is a dimension of death.


3-1. A blow of anxiety and non-lost loss 

        Hold is waiting for his lover Tatiana in a room at the rendezvous hotel, the same as always. Glancing briefly out through the window, he sees Lol in the rye field that lies outside. This is where he encounters a gaze that cannot be. "I [Hold] stifled a cry, prayed to God for help, I ran out of the room, retraced my steps, paced the floor like a caged animal, too much alone to love or not to love, sick, sick of my frightful inability to admit what was happening" (Duras 1964, 110). At that moment he is unexpectedly beset by an unnamable anxiety.

        As we have seen previously, the pure and simple situation is the meaningless void that stems from lack of existence. This void is usually capped by sweeping away the actual objects from the dimension of meaning one after another. However, conversely, in this anxiety, it seems just as if the meaninglessness of the object has taken up space in the actual object, and all of a sudden, he sees its face in the cracks in the meaning. That is, his anxiety is aroused by the fact that a lack of existence, which is not supposed to be in the dimension of meaning, is present. In other words, it is because there is a lack of a lack. At the sudden appearance of an object that cannot be, the subject begins to fall out of its position. Thus despite the fact that Hold, having encountered the gaze that cannot be through Lol, is completely removed from there and left to stand alone, he is also unable to flee from there right away. That is the kind of event of non-resistance that he has fallen into. When the sense of sight begins to function as the sense for knowing the outside world, the gaze as an object that cannot be is a gaze that falls out of the domain of the visible, and it can be referred to as something that was not originally in the domain called the visual field, a "hole" bored in the visual field. Lacan (2001, 194) explains this kind of uncanny gaze as Ça vous regard sans vous regarder "looking at you (being connected to you) without looking".

       Since ça "that" ought to be positioned as the source of the vous "you" who is seen, it is inside "you." However, at the same time, since "that" no longer has any continuity with "you," who are burdened with language, it is also the outside of "you." This kind of primordial existence that is both inside and outside the subject now becomes an uncanny object and is gazing at Hold with a gaze that cannot be a gaze. At this time, the subject is thrust into an unframable infinity and falls into a complete timelessness that appears to be consonant with the riddle itself. In order to escape this hideous timelessness and to break into a time that the subject can live in, one certainty is required. Establishing one certainty in order to join a meaningless existence to the dimension of meaning allows the thread of time to pass through.

   "I discovered that she too must have been able to see me." (Duras 1964, 110) With this declaration, Hold, who has reverted to being an object and is pressed with a merciless fear, finds an escape hatch for affirming his nearly lost self. He challenges the gaze of the void, which arouses anxiety, by recovering it under the name of Lol. With one affirmation, he attaches some sort of symbolism (=meaning) to the meaningless void, and the preceding time of anguish is erased. Unresistingly exposed to the uncanny gaze, Hold acquires his own position as seeing subject with this assertion. The void of lack of existence is pushed behind Lol, and in its place, Hold introduces gaze of being so as to impart meaning—in other words, a "lack of a lack." At the same time, it means that the "object that stirs up anxiety" is converted into "a desirable object." Here, once again, the exit from anxiety emerges as the doorway to fantasy.


3-2. Staging of fantasy, technique of the courtly love

        By asserting that "she can be expected to look this way again," Hold induces the impersonal gaze of the void to become a gaze that can impart meaning to himself. He fabricates a love for Lol in which he can literally lose himself. What appears in the fantasy is the desire for the Other, but Hold, the Subject of the fantasy, will also sincerely respond to the demands of Lol, who has deviated from the expected path. The command that Lol lays upon Hold is not to part from his lover Tatiana but to continue to rendezvous with her as before. Hold knows that Lol "loves the man who must love Tatiana" (Duras 1964, 122). Of course, he no longer loves Tatiana. However "[he belongs] to a perspective which she is in the process of constructing with impressive obstinacy, [he] shall not resist" (Duras 1964, 122), because the irregularity of the world in his previous state of anxiety is involved in the "perspective device" known as Lol, which is formed as a center and limited. Having adopted Lol as an absolute source of light, Hold does not resist being the object desired by Lol—the man who must love Tatiana. Hold settles upon the object that he ought to desire according to Lol's "perspective." Hold, who is so infatuated with Lol that he wants to send her odes to her beauty and meet her nearly every day, abides by Lol's eccentric command. By the way, Lacan (2001) has described this as a structure similar to that of the courtly love of the Middle Ages.

        In the poems of courtly love, the lady is worshipped as an abstract ideal, but the actual lady is an impersonal being who assigns impossible tasks, a woman with whom no shared feelings are possible. For that reason, simply understanding courtly love as a purely platonic love between a beautiful lady and a faithful knight is quite problematic. Moreover, a knight who has feelings for a lady is prevented from fulfilling that love due to some sort of impediment, and the emergence of that impediment is well timed (or unfortunately timed) in an exquisite manner, so that it is almost impossible for it to be anything other than an impediment that the knight himself has laid down. That is, by setting up the impediments himself, the knight conceals the fact that he cannot approach the object of his desire—or, strictly speaking, is afraid to do so. In this sense, courtly love can be called a fantasy technique for maintaining a relaxed relationship with an unattainable object. If we transfer this idea to the relationship between Lol and Hold, Hold (the knight) undertakes the impossible task that Lol (the lady) assigns. By setting up Tatiana as his own impediment, Hold constructs a fantasy in which he would be able to go find his way directly to the object (Lol) if there were no such impediment. The object first becomes a desirable object when one can keep one's distance from it.

        Based on the above, we cannot understand the techniques of courtly love as simple prohibitions and a dialectic process of desire aimed at working up desire by raising the value of the desired object. In Hold's fantasy, the idealization of Lol is something secondary, and the true objective is to continue concealing the object of anxiety behind the idealized Lol. The techniques of courtly love are a carefully worked-out compendium of rules for this purpose. In this sense, desire is satisfied precisely by not being satisfied. In the first place, a recipient is always needed for this love token of self-sacrifice, and that recipient is none other than the Other. To put it the other way around, the very gesture of previously posited commitment to the recipient is a way of fabricating the existence of the Other in a way that conceals one's own lack of existence. In this sense, self-sacrificial love is a profession of the existence of the Other, and from the point of view of the person in question, it conceals the aspect of self-satisfaction. Hold's previously mentioned conviction that "she can be expected to look this way again" is a way of suspending the suffering-filled reality of his existence.

3-3. Traversing of fantasy, the end of story

        As we have seen, Hold's determination to fill the void of Lol's inhuman gaze with Being is an escape from anxiety and lets him acquire his own status as a subject in the midst of his fantasy. It will be clear from now on that this fantasy is an exit from the labyrinth of anxiety, and yet, at the same time, an entrance to that labyrinth. While fantasy certainly works to preserve disintegration, at the moment at which the fantasy appears attainable, it paradoxically causes resegmentation. Aiming for these cracks, the object of anxiety, the absence of lack of existence, returns once again. Where Hold encounters the reality of lack of existence once again is the scene in which he takes Lol to Town Beach, where the original incident occurred. This is where Hold finally encounters Lol, his true object, face to face without the impediment of Tatiana (a failed encounter). At that moment, Hold says, "she [Lol] lifts her head slightly, astonished at first, then suddenly grown old, deformed by some intense emotion which strips her of all her grace and delicacy and renders her coarse and sensual. I picture her nakedness next to mine, complete, for the first time oddly enough, in a rapid flash, just long enough to ascertain whether I would be able to bear it if that moment should ever come. Lol V. Stein's body, so distant, and yet so inextricably wedded to itself, solitary" (Duras 1964, 161).


        The praise of Lol, who has been the absolute object at whom Hold directed his love, ceases, and Lol's body is now converted into an uncanny object. The idealized Lol, whom Hold expected to find in his fantasy, first existed in the presence of the impediment of Tatiana. When having a connection with the object, a certain distance from the object is assumed. However, Lol's naked body, appearing here unmediated, that is, not having passed through the process of symbolization, is a redundancy that be subsumed under an imagined body image or be an object of beauty. Having encountered without any intermediary, Hold may see Lol's body, as if it had its skin removed. Lol, who has been a perspective appareil (device) that provides Hold with a stable point of view, now lays that appareil (organ) bare. The beautifully ornamented body recedes, and the almost nauseatingly vivid body appears before him without any intermediary. When he approaches this naked body as closely as possible, Hold, the subject of the perspective that his stable point of view had guaranteed, grows dizzy. The incompatibility of reality as observed from a safe distance and the real world approached closely outside of fantasy becomes apparent, and Hold is forced to discard his previous narcissistic view. Finally, that evening on Town Beach, when the fantasy space crosses the boundaries of actual reality, the naked Lol cries out, as if gone mad, "Who is it?" (Duras 1964, 178)

        Here Hold is changed from a person who asks, "What is it you want?" (Duras 1964, 102) to a person who is asked, "Who is it?" Until now, Hold has been devoting himself entirely to the riddle of Lol, as if to reconstruct her through fantasy, but the result of this work is that we find out that Lol's profound inner core, her unsolvable riddle, was Hold's own riddle. The "hole" bored by the almighty power of the Other is also the lack of existence of the subject itself. Ever since his "tearful affirmation," Lol repeats the question about his existence that should have been covered by her. What Hold is assigned to do from now on is remove (faire partir) the "stain" of lack of existence that the Other has applied and accept it as his own deficiency. At that time, Hold will embark (partir) on a new life. Having traversed fantasy, Hold is now at the starting point of his history as a Subject, and he is taking up the yet unborn, coming cause in the form of possibility. Now that Hold has traversed fantasy, the story loses its narrator and ends here. "She was asleep in the field of rye..." (Duras 1964, 181) are the final words that end the story. Hold no longer sees light in Lol's gaze.


For a margin of Lol V. Stein

        Even though the wager of expecting the repeated arrival of primordial existence via Lol is always accompanied by failure, it has been sustained by desire aimed at enjoyment. Lol repeatedly immerses herself in scenes of the man and woman having an affair, almost as if she loves them. However, Hold's intervention cuts the threads of the tapestry of unlimited love that she has been weaving devotedly like Penelope. In order to transform Lol, who is disengaged from reality and seems "not to be there" into someone "who is here," Hold, a therapist, takes her to Town Beach, where the traumatic incident occurred. However, Hold's sympathetic understanding is insufficient for Lol. From the point of view of Lol, who anticipates an object equipped with the strength of existence itself, the actual incident at Town Beach is no longer a problem. What she craves is not the kind of understanding that one recovers through cooperation but rather the arrival of something that does not exist and ought to come. What she has undermined are encounters with the real world before accommodation to real life. Yet Hold, who has turned into a slave of fantasy, tries to attach his own name as savior to the topos of the void that Lol, who cherishes an impossible object, continues to be proud of. This intervention by Hold has the opposite effect of putting a seal on the dimension of existence that Lol seeks, and it becomes clear that the vectors of the two loves do not intersect. We can say that even though Hold adopts the pretensions of a therapist, it is he himself who is lying on the couch and free-associating. The deep gulf that separates the dimension of meaning and the dimension of existence is never completely filled in. Hold's intervention in disregard of this gap takes Lol back to a state of severe madness. "Later, shouting, she insulted me, she begged me, she implored me to take her again and in the same breath said to leave her alone, like a hunted animal trying to flee the room, the bed, coming back to let herself be captured, wily and knowing, and now there was no longer any difference between her and Tatiana Karl except in her eyes, free of remorse, and in the way she referred to herself - Tatiana does not state her own name-and in the two names she gave herself: Tatiana Karl and Lol V. Stein"(Duras 1964, 179).


        Madness is not an individual incident resulting from a certain cause over tine. When we enter the depths of the individual in search of the riddle of madness, what we encounter there is a tragic relationship between the subject and the Other. As we have seen, Lol views Richardson's gaze as having the function of imparting meaning to her existence. But when she is driven out of the position of Object of that gaze, she barely manages to maintain the meaning of her existence by identification with Anne-Marie at the beginning, but when Richardson and Anne-Marie finally leave, she confronts the lack of existence and falls into a state of collapse. Later, Lol's encounter with Tatiana serves as the opportunity for her vector of desire to turn toward an undesirable object. Lol finds her gaze-that-is-not-a-gaze on Tatiana's naked body in the form of a hallucinated stain and falls into a state of souffrance (suffering or indecision). On the other hand, as Lol continues her odd experiment, her gaze-that-is-not-a-gaze now overwhelms Hold as a figure that symbolizes Nothingness. As Hold produces a fantasy to conceal his lack of existence, he finds a place as a desirable object for Lol and constructs a self-sacrificial love for her. This is nothing other than a technique for sealing the object of anxiety (his own lack of existence) into the underside of the desirable object (the idealized Lol). In this way, Hold tries to fulfill his desire by not attaining the true object of his desire. However, at the end of it all, Lol's madness returns, and Hold also finds his existence questioned.

        All of these attempts are acts carried out under the gaze of the Other. Yet when individuals encounter each other without the Other as a third person, the result is not a joining of one to the other but a sort of repeated mutual rejection for the purpose of self-composition and satisfaction. Lol's madness is offered as a sacrifice to cause the convergence of the infinite chain of mutual rejection played out between Lol and Hold. We can no longer say that there is one madness. When there is one madness (il y a une folie), there is inevitably more than one madness (il y a plus d’une folie), or, more strictly speaking, "There is some indeterminate madness (il y a de la folie)."



Duras, Marguerite.  1964.  The Ravishing of Lol Stein. New York: Pantheon Books. 1966. (In our text, we wright the name of the heroine as Lol V. Stein, respecting the original in french text)

__________.  1999.  Dits à la télévision, Paris, E. P. E. L.

Lacan, Jacques.  1995-96.  Problèmes cruciaux pour la psychanalyse, Séminaire XII (inédit)

__________.  2001.  «Hommage à Marguerite Duras» in Autres écrtis, Paris, Seuil.

__________.  2004.  Angoisse, Séminaire X, Paris, Seuil.

__________.  2007.  The Ethics of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book VII.  Oxon: Routledge Classics.


To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Namiko Haruki "Ab-sense of existence in 'The Ravishing of Lol Stein' by Marguerite Duras". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available http://psyartjournal.com/article/show/haruki-ab_sense_of_existence_in_the_ravishing_o. May 24, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: February 23, 2012, Published: February 23, 2012. Copyright © 2012 Namiko Haruki