Sexual Politics: Mapping the Body in Marguerite Duras’s <i>L’Amant</i>


In L’Amant (1984), through the juxtaposition of traditional male/female sexual roles, Marguerite Duras painted a gynocentric portrait of sexual politics. By depicting a series of encounters in diverse parts of the Indochinese (Vietnam) landscape, Duras’s novel described the sexual “coming of age” story of her female protagonist’s. Each Vietnamese setting became a visual and sensory metaphor for the various developmental stages of the protagonist. In this essay, I contend that Duras’s use of contrasting settings serves to “flesh out” the sexual politics conveyed in the novel. Herein, I examine the geographic locations illustrating the sexual politics of the novel, including the Mekong River signifying the female protagonist’s rite of passage, Cholon, the city where the girl experiences sexual liberation and a struggle with the established authority, the lover’s apartment where the couple consummates their relationship, and finally, France representing the land of wealth to which the protagonist will eventually return.

Key words: autobiography, Judith Butler, Cholen (Cholon), colonisation, crossing, gender, juxtaposition, Marguerite Duras, Julia Kristeva, liberation, liminal space, mapping the body, Mekong, Kate Millett, Other, post-colonial, prostitution, sexploitation, sexuality, sexual politics.

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Richard J. Gray II
Ashland University 
Richard J. Gray II is assistant professor of French at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, USA. His fields of study include interdisciplinary approaches to French literary studies, post-colonial studies, and francophone studies. He is the author of the forthcoming book entitled Francophone African Poetic Literature (Jefferson: McFarland and Co., 2014). He is also editor of The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays (Jefferson: McFarland and Co., 2012) and co-editor (with Betty Kaklamanidou) of Film and Television Superheroes in the New Millennium: Politics, Gender and Genre (Jefferson: McFarland and Co., 2011). His articles include “Writing from the Left Bank: Reading Richard Wright’s Native Son and The Outsider against the Backdrop of Communism and French Existentialism” in Black Writers and the Left, Ed. Kristin
Moriah, Cambridge Scholars (2013), “Moving Beyond the Margins: Identity Fragmentation in Visual Representation in Michel Tournier’s La Goutte d’or,” Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture 2 (2012), “A Matter of Fundamentals: Sound and Silence in the Radio
Drama of Samuel Beckett,” Babilónia — Revista Lusófona de Línguas, Culturas e Tradução 10/11 (2011), and “Performing War: Vichyite Ideology from Across the Sea in Camille Morel’s poetic radio dramatic work France!.. Présent!.. Poème épique Radiophonique et Théâtral en un
acte et deux tableaux’,” InterCulture 5: 3 (2008).