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The Malady of Death

The text: The Malady of Death (pdf)

Please refer to the assessment page for details of the proposal and how and when to submit it.

Previously, I have used this text with students and inserted divisions in the text to indicate sections that they may wish to focus on but I think it is better for groups to take from part or all of the text as they see fit. To the right I have included links to previous student interpretations of the text, which may help to initiate discussions on how your group approach the text.

Duras writes some thoughts about the staging and filming of the work at the end of the piece (and reproduced below). You may choose to follow or ignore these as you see fit:

The Malady of Death could be staged in the theatre.

The young woman of the paid nights should be lying on some white sheets in the middle of the stage. She might be naked. A man would walk back and forth around her, telling the story.

Only the woman would speak her lines from memory. The man never would. He would read the text, either standing still or walking about around the young woman.

The man the story is about would never appear. Even when he speaks to the young woman he does so only through the man who reads his story.

Acting is replaced here by reading. I always think nothing can replace the reading of a text, that no acting can ever equal the effect of a text not memorised.

So the two actors should speak as if they were reading the text in separate rooms, isolated from one another.

The text would be completely nullified if it were spoken theatrically.

The man's voice should be rather high-pitched, the woman's deep and almost off-hand.

The man's pacings to and fro around the young woman's body should be long-drawn-out. He ought to disappear from view, to be lost in the theatre just as he is lost in time, and then to return into the light, to us.

The stage should be low, almost at floor level, so that the young woman's body is completely visible to the audience.

The man reading the text should seem to be suffering from a fundamental and fatal weakness-the same as that of the other, the man we don't see.

The young woman should be beautiful, distinctive.

A big dark opening admits the sound of the sea-always the same black rectangle, never any lighter. But the sound of the sea does vary in volume.

The young woman's departure isn't seen. There should be a blackout when she disappears,

and when the light comes up again there is nothing left but the white sheets in the middle of the stage and the sound of the sea surging in through the black door.

No music.

If I ever filmed this text I'd want the weeping by the sea to be shot in such a way that the white tur­ moil of the waves is seen almost simultaneously with the man's face. There should be a correlation between the white of the sheets and the white of the sea. The sheets should be-a-prio -image of the sea.

All this by way of general suggestion.

You'll find various materials online relating to the text and theatre and film versions, as well as articles. This piece by Tony McKibbin might be a useful discussion point:

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The Malady of Death
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2009 versions of text

(click video and then select Watch on Youtube to see these at full size)