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Title

The insistence of literature in Blanchot and Derrida

Advisor(s)

Szeto, MM

Author(s)

Chan, Wai-chung;

Citation

Issued Date

URL

Rights

Chan, W. []. (2008). The insistence of literature in Blanchot


and Derrida. (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong
Kong SAR. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.5353/th_b4088781
2008

http://hdl.handle.net/10722/53142

The author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patent rights)


and the right to use in future works.

Abstract of thesis entitled

The Insistence of Literature in Blanchot and Derrida


Submitted by
CHAN Wai Chung
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
at The University of Hong Kong
in September 2008

The thesis is an examination on how Maurice Blanchots and Jacques Derridas


writing on literature puts itself in suspension or abeyance (en instance) for thinking of
the insistence of literature. I suggest that Blanchot demonstrates how literature insists
upon itself for its ek-sistence (standing outside) as Blanchot invokes various exigencies in
literature, including writing, death, return, neutre, dsoeuvrement and the fragmentary.
Death as an important notion of Blanchot will be read through his rcits, literary reviews
and fragmentary writing. Derridas notions of literature will be explored through his
works, especially Demeure: Fiction and Testimony and Passions by which his notions of
institution and passions of literature are read as important directions to drive the ethics
and politics of literature from its insistence. The ethics and politics of literature will also
be explored through the relation of literature to the nature of otherness, as well as the
notion of commitment of literature in Adorno and Sartre. The life of Blanchot and his
intersections with the writing of other writers including Derrida, Foucault and Adorno are
discussed in the thesis.
The notion of the insistence of literature is developed from the writings of Blanchot,
Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger and Lacan and is a response to the question of what
literature is. In the exploration, I suggest that there is insistence in literature which can be
interpreted as the following interrelated elements: the relation of death to literature and
language; the ek-sistence of literature, that is the standing inside as institution, and the
standing outside of itself for the unknown, outside, unreason, neutre, Other; the
dissolution of subjectivity and Self-same; the passions of literature as elaborated by
Derrida in the thinking of literature as injustice, debt, undecidability; as the instance of

literature that displays exemplary, agency, solicitation, judicial nature; as writing in


relation to diffrance, neutre, dsoeuvrement, the fragmentary; as fiction and testimony of
the witness (of the death of the author, the reader in anonymity, disaster, trauma and
death); as contestation, the step/not beyond and eternal return; as the search of the
nothingness, secret and primal scene anterior to the being of literature.
(350 words)

The Insistence of Literature in Blanchot and Derrida


by

CHAN Wai Chung

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for


the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
at The University of Hong Kong
September 2008

Declaration

I declare that this thesis represents my own work, except where due
acknowledgement is made, and that it has not been previously included in a thesis,
dissertation or report submitted to this University or to any institution for a degree,
diploma or other qualifications.

Signed
Chan Wai Chung

Acknowledgement

I would like to express my greatest thanks to Professor Jeremy Tambling of his


incessant and valuable advice, inspiring suggestions and scholarly guidance, not only on
the dissertation but also throughout the whole course of study. This thesis comes from his
insightful introduction to Blanchot at the very early beginning when I began to read
literary works. I appreciate his academic mind, enthusiasm in education, broad knowledge
about literature and art. Besides, I am grateful for his patience towards my writing.
I would dedicate my sincere gratitude to Kitty Lin for her encouragement, in-depth
discussion and comments and cautious proof-reading of this thesis. Without her advice
and friendship, the thesis would not be polished well.
Sincere thanks are given to Ian Fong, Louise Lo, and Kelly Wong for their helpful
discussion and suggestions. I greatly appreciate their friendship, support and enthusiasm
in learning.
I also thank my family members for their care, guidance, encouragement and
patience in providing me with the warm environment for my schooling, academic study
and my life.
I would like to express gratitude to the following scholars who inspired me:
Professor Ackbas Abbas, Dr. Patricia Erens, Dr. Esther Cheung, and Dr. Mirana May
Szeto. I would also like to thank the Department of Comparative Literature of The
University of Hong Kong for their support in the administrative work for this thesis.
I am also greatly indebted to the many writers whose works I use, quote or discuss in
this thesis and who are fully acknowledged in the notes and bibliography. I am especially
grateful to Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida though I have never met them, for their
oeuvres inspire me in the thinking of Literature.

ii

Contents
Declaration
Acknowledgement
Contents
Abbreviations of Texts in use
Introduction
- The Beginning
- Blanchot A Life of Friendship and Literature
- Blanchot and Derrida: Their Interactions
- Literature in the light of Blanchot and Derrida
- The Title: The Insistence of Literature in Blanchot and Derrida
- The Structure of the Thesis

i
ii
iii
v

1
2
10
23
36
48

Chapter 1: The Outside: Blanchot and Foucault


- Blanchot and Foucault
- The Thought from Outside
- The Song of the Sirens
- The Gaze of Orpheus
- Blanchot/Foucaults Outside
- Companion and Celui que ne maccompagnait pas

52
58
62
65
71
80

Chapter 2: The Instant of My Death, Demeure and Passions


- Fiction and Testimony of Blanchots The Instant of My Death
- Dates, Autobiography and History
- Trauma and History in The Instant of My Death
- Autobiography and Tropes
- Passions of Literature
- Derridas Passions: impossibility, Non-savoir and Secret
- The Impersonal Passions of Literature

83
87
91
95
101
105
111

Chapter 3: Death and Neutre- Blanchot on Literature


- Literature and the Right to Death
- Neutre

116
132

iii

Chapter 4: The Madness of the Day and Law of Genre


- Blanchots The Madness of the Day
- Rcit
- Structure of Un rcit?
- Derridas Law of Genre
Chapter 5: The Step/Not Beyond and A Primal Scene?

144
148
153
156

- Insistence as the Eternal Return


- Dying and Writing
- A Primal Scene?

158
159
163
166

Chapter 6: The Insistence of Literature: Commitment and Autonomy


- Adorno, Blanchot and Derrida
- Adornos Commitment
- Commitment and Autonomy
- Adorno and Blanchot on Literature

172
182
187
189

Conclusion

197

Bibliography

199

iv

Abbreviations of Texts in use


Maurice Blanchots texts:
BC

Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2003).

BR

Maurice Blanchot, The Blanchot Reader, ed. Michael Holland (Oxford: Blackwell,
1995).

DS

Maurice Blanchot, Death Sentence, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, N.Y.: Barrytown
Ltd., 1998).

FP

Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2001).

Maurice Blanchot, Friendship, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford


University Press, 1997).

IC

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis:


University of Minnesota Press, 1992).

IMD

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death/Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and


Testimony, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000),
pp.2-11.

MD

Maurice Blanchot, Madness of the Day, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, N.Y.:
Station-Hill Press, 1981).

TO

Maurice Blanchot, The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, trans. Lydia Davis
(Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1993).

SB

Maurice Blanchot, The Step/Not Beyond, trans. Lycette Nelson (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1992).

SHBR

Maurice Blanchot, The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction and Literary Essays,
trans. Lydia Davis, Paul Auster and Robert Lamberton, ed. George Quasha (Barrytown,
N.Y.: Station Hill/Barrytown, Ltd., 1999).

SL

Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1989).

WD

Maurice Blanchot, The Work of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1986).

WF

Maurice Blanchot, The Work of Fire, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1995).

Jacques Derridas texts


AL

Jacques Derrida, Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992).

DFT

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death/Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and


Testimony, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000),
pp.13-103.

DC

Jacques Derrida, Living On/Border Lines, in Geoffrey Hartman, Paul de Man, J. Hillis
Miller, Harold Bloom and Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and Criticism (New York:
Continuum, 1999), pp. 75-176.

WaD

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge & Kegan
Paul, 1978).

Other writers texts


AP

Theodor W. Adorno, Commitment, trans. Francis McDonagh, in Aesthetics and


Politics, ed. Ernst Bloch (London: NLB, 1977) p.177-195.

FB

Michel Foucault and Maurice Blanchot, Foucault/Blanchot, trans. Brian Massumi and
Jeffrey Mehlman (New York: Zone Books, 1987).

OED

A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner (eds.) The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1989-)

PS

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie, 2nd ed.
(London: Allen & Unwin, 1961).

vi

Introduction

The Beginning
This thesis is an exploration of the insistence of literature as exemplified by
Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida. Blanchot incessantly writes on literature
throughout his life and produces obscure rcits, fragmentary writing and literary
reviews. Derrida, the founder of deconstruction, writes on philosophy with continuous
reference to literary writing. Michel Foucault, who is a scholar on the history of the
system of thought, has written on literature with enormous interests in Blanchots
works. This work tries to explicate the notion of literature through the reading of the
texts of Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Besides, the ethics
and politics of literature will be probed through the reading of the works of Theodor
Adorno and Blanchot. This work also attempts to illustrate their influence on each
other in their works on literature. I will work on how literature insists upon itself
through some of the texts of Blanchot and Derrida. Particular interests will be on those
texts that are their intersections: their writing on each others works, as well as their
writing on other writers whom they have common interests. Derrida has written on
some of the rcits of Blanchot, namely - Death Sentence and The Madness of the Day
in his essays Living on, Law of Genre and Before the Law. In these essays, the
relation of literature, life-death, genre and law are discussed. These themes which
Derrida has analysed cannot be done without Blanchots notions of literature. Franz
Kafkas texts are also at the intersections of Blanchot and Derrida. Emphasis will be
put on the reading of Kafkas short stories and novels in relation to Blanchots and
Derridas writing. Apart from Blanchot and Derrida, Foucaults notions of literature
will also be discussed. Foucaults thought from the outside comprises a close reading
of Blanchots many texts, including Blanchots essays of literary reviews and creative
writing of rcits and romans. In fact, Foucaults thought from the outside is much
indebted to Blanchot.
In this thesis, the ethical aspect of literature will be discussed through the reading
of Blanchots The Instant of My Death and Derridas Demeure: Fiction and Testimony,
from which the issues of testimony, justice and the Other are explored. The political
aspect of literature will be explored through the concepts of commitment and
autonomy. How is literature committed for actions? Depending on what features is
literature committed for actions? What are the problems of autonomous literature?
These problems will be explored through the reading of Theodor W. Adornos essay
Commitment and Blanchots writing on Adorno and Brecht. Before I go on with the
1

main areas of discussion, I will give a brief introduction of Blanchot and Derrida as
they are the key figures of this thesis.

Maurice Blanchot A Life of Friendship and Literature


Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) is a French literary writer who is an obscure figure
since he refused any publicity of his life. His writing also has an obscure style which is
difficult to understand. He rarely gave any interviews or photographs to the public.
However, his importance is not affected by that. He is a writer who is often read or
referred to by other famous writers and philosophers, including Jean-Paul Sartre,
Roland Barthes, Georges Poulet, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault,
Georges Bataille, Emmanuel Levinas, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller and many
others.1 Many of the above writers, as well as Gilles Deleuze, have admiration on
Blanchots works and his notions about literature. In an interview, Deleuze says,
I admire Maurice Blanchot: his work isnt just a mass of little bits and pieces and
aphorisms, but an open system that built up in advance a literary space in which to
confront whats happening today. What I and Guattari call a rhizome is precisely one
example of an open system.2

Jean-Paul Sartre, Aminadab; ou, du fantastique considr comme un langage, in Jean-Paul Sartre,

Situations I (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), pp. 122-142; Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero, trans. Annette
Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), pp, 37-38 & 76; Georges Poulet, Maurice
Blanchot as Novelist in Yale French Studies, No. 8 (1951), pp. 77-81; Paul de Man, Impersonality in
the Criticism of Maurice Blanchot, in Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of
Contemporary Criticism (London: Routledge, 1986), pp.60-78; Jacques Derrida, Parages (Paris: Galile,
1986); Michel Foucault, Le Pense du Dehors (Paris: Fata Morgana, 1986); Georges Bataille, Maurice
Blanchot in Lignes, No.03, Octobre 20 (2000), pp. 149-157. Emmanuel Levinas, Sur Maurice Blanchot
(Paris: Fata Morgana, 1976); Geoffrey Hartman, Maurice Blanchot: Philosopher-Novelist, in Geoffrey
Hartman, Beyond Formalism- Literary Essays 1958-1970 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970),
pp. 93-108; J. Hillis Miller, Death Mask: Blanchots Larrt de mort, in J. Hillis Miller, Versions of
Pygmalion (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 179-210; Pierre
Klossowski, Sur Maurice Blanchot, in Pierre Klossowski, Un si funeste dsir (Paris: Gallimard,
Collection Limaginaire, 1994), pp. 151-172.
2

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1995), p.32.

The study of Blanchots notions of literature is probably a stepping stone to


understand the different ideas of the writers named above. Before going into the details
of Blanchots works, it is necessary to have an introduction on Blanchots obscure life.
However, it is difficult to know his life since he refused to bring his life under broad
daylight for exposure and discussion. A few slices of his life can be found in his essay,
For Friendship.3
Apart from his own pseudo-autobiographical essays which do not aim to reveal
truth but as a meditation on friendship in relation to his life, one can refer to
Christophe Bidents biographical work on Blanchot in French, Maurice Blanchot:
Partenaire Invisible, Essais Biographique.4 Though less than a complete biography,
Leslie Hills work, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary also has a lot of descriptions of
Blanchots life.5 In Hills book, there is a comprehensive bibliography of Blanchots
oeuvre which is based on the bibliographical work by Franois Collins in French,
Maurice Blanchot et la Question de lcriture.6 For a brief summary of Blanchots life,
one can also refer to Michael Hollands Introduction in The Blanchot Reader, or
essays by Leslie Hill and Roger Laporte in Maurice Blanchot: The Demand of
Writing.7
Despite the above biographical works, I will give a few anecdotes about Blanchot.
Beginning his journey in the literary domain, Blanchot often contributed articles to
various journals or newspaper as early as the 30s. Unfortunately, his writing in the
30s was problematic at that period as he was much attracted to the French extreme
Right who hoped to shatter democracy. The ideas for promoting a totalitarian powerful
government are welcomed by Blanchot.8 He wrote articles with topics in favour of the
3

Maurice Blanchot, For Friendship, trans. Leslie Hill, in Oxford Literary Review, Vol. 22 (2000),

pp. 25-38.
4

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essais Biographique (Seyssel: Champ

Vallon, 1998).
5

Leslie Hills work, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (London: Routledge, 1997).

Franois Collins, Maurice Blanchot et la Question de lEcriture (Paris : Gallimard, 1971).

Michael Holland, Introduction, in Maurice Blanchot, The Blanchot Reader, ed. Michael Holland

(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), pp.1-15. Leslie Hill, Introduction, in Maurice Blanchot: The
Demand of Writing, ed. Carolyn Bailey Gill (London: Routledge, 1996), pp.1-20; and Roger Laporte,
Maurice Blanchot Today, in Maurice Blanchot: The Demand of Writing, ed. Carolyn Bailey Gill
(London: Routledge, 1996), pp.25-33.
8

Emmanuel Levinas has ever described Blanchot as a monarchist. See Emmanuel Levinas, Is It

Righteous To Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas, ed. Jill Robbins (Stanford: Stanford University

Right which were submitted to the publication house or journals of the Right. These
issues were first discovered by Jeffrey Mehlman, and later discussed in Steven
Ungars work.9 However, after the late 30s or some may say the early 40s, Blanchot
stopped writing about the Right and seldom returned to the domain of politics, except
in the period of the Algerian War in 1958-1961 and in the student movement in May
1968 in France. Since the early 40s, he focused on writing on literature, producing
creative writing of rcits or romans and many literary reviews.
Blanchot forms a life-long friendship with two close friends: Georges Bataille and
Emmanuel Levinas.10 In fact, their encounter in the early life of Blanchot is important
for the development of Blanchots thinking on literature. Blanchot met the Jewish
philosopher, Levinas in the University of Strasbourg in 1923.11 Blanchot saved
Levinass family during the period of the Second World War.12 Because of Levinas,
Blanchot knew the philosophy of Heidegger and his work Being and Time. In addition,
he knew much more about Judaism and got much rigor against Anti-Semitism. He also
Press, 2001), p.29
9

Jeffrey Mehlman, Blanchot and Combat: Of Literature and Terror in Jeffrey Mehlman, Legacies of

Anti-Semitism in France (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), pp. 6-12; Jeffrey
Mehlman, Pour Saint Beuve: Maurice Blanchot 10 March 1942 in Carolyn Bailey Gill, ed. Maurice
Blanchot: The Demand of Writing, pp.212-231. For Jeffrey Mehlmans re-examination of the last essay,
refer to Jeffrey Mehlman, Of Literature and the Occupation of France: Blanchot vs. Drieu in Substance
No. 87 (1998), pp. 6-16; Steven Ungar, Scandal and Aftereffect: Blanchot and France since 1930
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995). For other viewpoints on Blanchots silence on his
writings and politics in the 30s, refer to Philip Watt, Blanchot: Rebuttals in Philip Watt, Allegories of
Purge: How Literature Responded to the Postwar Trials of Writers and Intellectuals in France (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 83-105; Richard Wolin, Maurice Blanchot: The Use and Abuse of
Silence, in Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from
Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 187-219.
10

Georges Bataille (1897-1962) is a writer and [b]y profession a respectable librarian (at the

Bibliothque Nationale) and is a member of Collge de Sociologie. Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) is


a moral and religious philosopher born in Lithuania of Jewish family and later took French
nationality. From Peter France, The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1995), p.69 & 459.
11

Jill Robbins, Altered Reading: Levinas and Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999),

p. 150.
12

Emmanuel Levinas, Is It Righteous To Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas, p.29; Simon Critchley,

A Disparate Inventory, in Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconi (eds.), The Cambridge Companion
to Levinas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. xix xx.

learned more about phenomenology and Levinass philosophy of existentialism. As


most critics describe, Blanchot met Bataille in Paris in 1940 which was probably
referred in Batailles short piece of writing, Autobiographical Note in 1958: At the
end of 1940, he [Bataille] meets Maurice Blanchot, with whom links of admiration and
agreement are immediately formed.13 Probably their first meeting, if not, one of their
early meetings was in Batailles room which functioned as a literary salon with
Nietzsche as the theme of discussion on that occasion.14 The meeting was
interestingly described: when the audience were perplexed and maintained silence
after Bataille stopped midway in his presentation, it was Blanchot who broke the
silence and uttered a few sentences of dazzling brilliance [and] [t]hey restored [the
audience] to the joy of understanding.15 Blanchot is much attracted by Batailles
discussions on unknowledge, experience and expenditure, Nietzsche, body,
transgression and secret society. There is a turning point in Batailles life after
Batailles encounter with Blanchot.16 The friendship and intellectual sharing among
these three writers can be traced in their writing and reference to each other. There is
an explicit reference to Blanchot and his rcit, Thomas the Obscure, in Batailles Inner
Experience.17 Bataille quoted Blanchots roman, Aminadab in his notes in 1942-1943,
which is later collected in a book titled Guilty.18 Reference to Blanchots rcit,
Thomas the Obscure can be found in Levinass early meditation on the existence and

13

Georges Bataille, Autobiographical Note in Georges Bataille, The Bataille Reader, eds. Fred

Botting and Scott Wilson (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), p. 116.


14

See Michael Holland, Bataille, Blanchot and the Last Man in Paragraph, Vol. 27, No. 1, March

(2004), pp. 50-52. In that essay, Michael Holland quotes a passage describing the meeting between
Bataille and Blanchot and give English translation, from Jean Lescures French book, Posie et libert,
Histoire de Messages, 1939-1946 (Paris: Editions de lIMEC, 1998), pp.181-182. I am not sure
whether it is the first meeting between Bataille and Blanchot since there is no explicit reference
mentioned in Michael Hollands essay. Besides, Christophe Bident who wrote a biography on Blanchot
suggests that there is some oblique evidence that they might meet each other in 1938. See Christophe
Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, essai biographique (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1998),
pp.168-169, footnote 4.
15

Michael Holland, Bataille, Blanchot and the Last Man, pp. 51-52.

16

Michael Holland, Bataille, Blanchot and the Last Man, p.50.

17

Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Bolt (Albany: State University of New York,

1988), pp. 101-102. Maurice Blanchot, Thomas the Obscure, trans. Robert Lamberton, in Maurice
Blanchot, The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction & Literary Essays, ed. George Quasha (Barrytown,
N.Y.: Station Hill/Barrytown, Ltd., 1999), pp. 51-128.
18

Georges Bataille, Guilty, trans. Bruce Boone (Venice, California: Lapis Press, 1988), pp.81-82.

the notion of there is (il y a) in his Existence and Existents.19 Levinas has four essays
on Blanchot, one of which is an interview, and the essays are later collected in his Sur
Maurice Blanchot.20 Blanchot expresses his admiration for Batailles erotic rcit
Madame Edwarda in an essay called Story and Scandal in which Blanchot describes
Batailles Madame Edwarda published in 1941 as the most beautiful contemporary
narrative [rcit].21 Blanchots reference to Levinas work Existence and Existents can
be found in his important essay on literature, Literature and the Right to Death.22
More than their reference to each others writing, Blanchot embraces the invaluable
friendship between them. Just after the death of Bataille in 1962, Blanchot wrote an
essay Friendship in 1962 as well as the essay The play of thought in 1963 in
homage to Bataille.23 Blanchot cherishes the companionship of Levinas too as he
writes in the essay Our Clandestine Companion,
[A]s soon as I encountered a happy encounter, in the strongest sense Emmanuel
Levinas, more than fifty years ago [from 1980], it was a sort of testimony that I
persuaded myself that philosophy was life itself, youth itself, in its unbridled yet
nonetheless reasonable passion, renewing itself continually and suddenly by an
explosion of new and enigmatic thoughts or by still unknown names, who would later
shine forth as prodigious figures.
Philosophy would henceforth be our companion day and night, even by losing its
name, by becoming literature, scholarship, the lack thereof, or by standing aside. It
would be the clandestine friend we always respected, loved, which meant we were not
bound by it all the while giving us to believe that there was nothing awakened in us,
vigilant unto sleep, not due to difficult friendship. Philosophy or love. But philosophy
19

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsbourgh: Duquesne

University Press, 2001), p. 58.


20

Emmanuel Levinas, Sur Maurice Blanchot (Paris: Fata Morgana, 1976). For the English translation

of this book, see Emmanuel Levinas, On Maurice Blanchot in Emmanuel Levinas, Proper Names,
trans. Michael B. Smith (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), pp.125-170.
21

Maurice Blanchot, Story and Scandal, in Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte

Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), p.189; Georges Bataille, My Mother, Madame
Edwarda, The Dead Man, trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Marion Boyas, 1995), pp. 135-159.
22

Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death, in Maurice Blanchot, The Work of Fire, trans.

Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p.337.


23

Maurice Blanchot, Friendship, in Maurice Blanchot, Friendship, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford:

Stanford University Press, 1997), p.289-292. The play of thought is a section in Blanchots essay
Limit-Experience, in Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1992), pp. 211-217.

is precisely not an allegory.

24

In this quotation, Blanchot says that philosophy is life itself renewing itself
continually for the enigmatic thoughts but it must be stressed that through Levinas,
Blanchot develops his companionship with philosophy. Another point is that
Blanchots companionship with philosophy is marked with philosophy becoming
literature; he even contemplates the disappearance of philosophy and that philosophy
is losing its name by standing aside. Philosophy can be seen as the one who was
not accompanying literature or the one who was standing apart from literature.25 In
Blanchots rcit titled The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, it depicts the I of
the narrator as in proximity with a he who is an impersonal one remaining apart from
the I.26 Borrowing Blanchots idea in the rcit, philosophy can be considered as the
neutral impersonal one beside literature. This does not mean literature is premised on
reasoning or positivity, as philosophy would be also in proximity with the enigmatic
thoughts, the unknown and also Knowledge of the Unknown.27 Literature and
writers are not bound by philosophy since there is Knowledge of the Unknown and
the Outside outside philosophy (IC, p. 49).
If the encounter of Blanchot and Levinas makes a testimony thatphilosophy
was life itself, youth itself, in its unbridled passion, renewing itself continually, it
needs literature, the companion of philosophy, to tell or to be written incessantly for
the testimony, passion, suffering, enduring and experience of life and philosophy.
Often through the works of literature, philosophy develops its thinking. For instance,
as said before, in the description of the thinking of il y a (there is) in Existence and
Existents, Levinas makes a note about the literary text of Blanchot as a description of il
y a:
24

Maurice Blanchot, Our Clandestine Companion, trans. David B. Collison, in Richard A. Cohen

(ed.), Face to Face with Levinas (Albany: State University of New York, 1986), pp.41-42.
25

I am punning on the name of Blanchots rcit, Celui que maccompagnait pas (Paris: Gallimard,

1953). The English translation of this rcit is titled The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, trans.
Lydia Davis (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1993).
26

On this rcit, see my discussion in Chapter 1.

27

The phrase Knowledge of the Unknown is the title of the essay in Blanchots book The Infinite

Conversation. This essay is Blanchots discussion about the relation between philosopher, Unknown and
Autrui (Other). In this essay, Blanchot mentions that he borrows the ideas of Georges Bataille and
Emmanuel Levinas in his discussion. See Maurice Blanchot, Knowledge of the Unknown, in Maurice
Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1992), pp. 49-58.

Thomas lObscure, by Maurice Blanchot, opens with the description of the there is
(Cf., in particular Chapter II, pages 13-16). The presence of absence, the night, the
dissolution of the subject in the night, the horror of being, the return of being to the
heart of every negative movement, the reality of irreality are there admirably
expressed.28

Il y a, as described by Levinas, is [the] impersonal, anonymous, yet


inextinguishable consummation of being, which murmurs in the depths of
nothingness itself.29 It is a description of the state before existence, in which
everything disappears, including the subject. It is anonymous and is in the depths of
nothingness. Levinas also quotes Shakespeares tragedies, Hamlet and Macbeth for
discussion in the description of il y a.30 Levinass philosophical work, Totality and
Infinity, begins with The true life is absent. But we are in the world.31 This line is
a modified quotation of a line in the poem A Season in Hell of the French poet, Arthur
Rimbaud (1854-1891): The true life is absent. We are not in the world.32 On the
citation of Rimbauds line in Totality and Infinity, Jill Robbins analysis concludes with
perhaps rather than reading Rimbauds poetry as an illustration that serves in Totality
and Infinity, all of Totality and Infinity can be read as a gloss on Rimbauds A Season
in Hell.33 The above comments on Levinass quotations of literary works in his
philosophical work claim that Levinas tries to use literary works to illustrate his
philosophical ideas. This is not to say philosophy must need literature to articulate, but
is to show that literature can be regarded as a clandestine companion of philosophy. At
the same time, Blanchot also uses Levinass philosophical notions of il y a, Autrui or
infinity in his writing on literature. Literature as a companion can articulate the
testimony, passion, suffering, enduring and experience of life.
28

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, p.58. Levinas is referring to the abridged French version

of Blanchots Thomas lObscur.


29

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, p.52.

30

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, pp. 56-57. On Levinas and Macbeth, see Jeremy

Tambling, Levinas and Macbeths Strange Images of Death, in Essays in Criticism: A Quarterly
Journal of Literary Criticism, Vol. 54, No.4, October 2004, pp. 351-372.
31

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis,

(Pittsbourgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001), p. 33.


32

Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters, trans. Wallace Fowlie (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 186-189.


33

Jill Robbins, Altered Reading: Levinas and literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999),

p.131.

In the above quotation about companion and philosophy, Blanchot highlights the
words passion and testimony in relation to Levinas. Of course, the friendship
between Blanchot and Levinas is full of passion and their writings are the testimony of
their friendship. Philosophy is philosophia in Greek containing philos which is love
and that is why Blanchot writes Philosophy or love. Passion is a kind of pathos in
Greek which means that [i]t is what happens to anything that undergoes, suffers ad
experiences anything.34 To Levinas, one of the sufferings of life is the death of
Levinass family members and the deaths of the millions of Jews in the Holocaust of
World War II. Levinas dedicates his book of philosophy, Otherwise than Being, or,
Beyond Essence
To the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the
National Socialists, and of the millions on millions of all confessions and all nations,
victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same antisemitism.35

Blanchot makes a comment on the dedication in a philosophical text of Levinas


that, How can one philosophize, how can one write within the memory of Auschwitz
of those who have said, oftentimes in notes buried near the crematoria: know what has
happened, dont forget, and at the same time, you wont be able to.36 In response to
the suffering in the Holocaust, Blanchot in an essay War and Literature mentions the
rcit of Robert Antelme, The Human Race as the simplest, the purest, and the closest
to this absolute while the absolute which is intended by Blanchot is the Second
World War that is named when one utters Auschwitz, Warsaw (the ghetto and the
struggle for liberation of the city), Treblinka, Dachau, Bchenward, and so many
others (F, pp.107-108).37 Robert Antelme was a deportee to the Dachau
Concentration Camp in 1944. He was later released and went back to Paris where he
wrote The Human Race to narrate his life in the camp. Edgar Morin in an essay which
preceded the English translation of Antelmes rcit writes, The Human Race is an
astonishing book. It is a masterpiece of literature without anything literary, it is a
document in which the works render the whole richness of a lived experience.38
34

J.O.Urmson, The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary (London: Duckworth, 1990), p.126.

35

Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being, or, Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lignis (Pittsburgh:

Duquesne University Press, 1998), p.v.


36

Maurice Blanchot, Our Clandestine Companion, pp. 50.

37

Robert Antelme, The Human Race, trans. Jeffrey Haight and Anne Mahler (Evanston: Marlboro

Press/Northwestern, 1992).
38

Edgar Morin, Homage to Robert Antelme, in Robert Antelme, The Human Race, trans. Jeffrey

Blanchot writes about The Human Race again,


[Antelmes book] is not, as I have said, simply a witnesss testimony to the reality of
the camps or a historical reporting, nor is it an autobiographical narrative. It is clearly
for Robert Antelme, and very surely for many others, it is a question not of telling
ones story, of testifying, but essentially of speaking. But which speech is being given
expression? Precisely, that just speech in which Autrui[Other], prevented from all
disclosure throughout his or her entire stay in the camp, could, and only at the end, be
received and come into human hearing. (IC, p.134)

According to Morin, a document documenting the richness of lived experience,


even without literary elements, can be considered as literature. Literature as a kind of
writing is a companion for the suffering of life. Antelmes rcit, with its suffering, can
be regarded as literature of passion, which is the kind of literature about suffering of
life and also under Blanchots notions, literature being passionate about the speech of
smothered words.39 The speech that is to be heard contains the Other (Autrui). In
passion, there is an Other which reinforces the endurance against the suffering. If there
is a truth for literature to testify, this is the truth that literature is a kind of passion for
the Other of literature: language and life. Blanchot gives a reading of passion in his
work The Step/Not Beyond, in relating passion to passivity and the step/not beyond (le
pas au del). Besides this, Jacques Derrida reads Blanchots work The Instant of My
Death in Demeure: Fiction and Testimony for the elucidation of the passions of
literature. These works will be discussed in the following chapters of this thesis.

Blanchot and Derrida: Their Interactions


Having given a brief introduction to the Blanchots life, I will give some
comments on the relation of Jacques Derrida and literature. The life and biography of
Jacques Derrida can be found in various works elsewhere.40 Jacques Derrida
(1930-2004) is a famous French/Algerian philosopher and the founder of
Haight and Anne Mahler (Evanston: Marlboro Press/Northwestern, 1998), p. viii.
39

I borrow from the title of Sarah Kofmans book Smothered Words (Paroles Suffoques). See Sarah

Kofman, Smothered Words, trans. Madeleine Dobie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998).
40

Jason Powell, Jacques Derrida: a Biography (London: Continuum, 2006); Herman Rapaport, Later

Derrida: Reading the Recent Work (New York: Routledge, 2003). For the autobiography of Jacques
Derrida, see Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida, trans. Geoffrey Bennington
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

10

deconstruction. Not only French/Algerian, he had Jewish blood. His life seems to
make him live and think in a state of in-betweenness.
In 1967, Derrida published three important books which brought him prestige in
the intellectual field. The books are Speech and Phenomenon, Of Grammatology and
Writing and Difference.41 These books give important critiques on the domination of
the strong pole of many binary opposites such as presence/absence, speech/writing and
culture/nature. By means of incessant arguments and with punning on words, Derrida
is successful in subverting the philosophy of presence and logos. Another important
theme is writing. Later, he published other important works like Dissemination,
Margins of Philosophy and Spurs, the latter being a meditation on Nietzsches
philosophy.42 Apart from philosophical writing, Derrida has an interest in thinking and
writing about many literary writers, including Stphane Mallarm, Paul Celan, Franz
Kafka, Francis Ponge and James Joyce.43 Derrida joined the Yale University in the late
70s as a visitor, continuing in the 80s and worked with Geoffrey Hartman, Paul de
Man, J. Hillis Miller and Harold Bloom in philosophy and literary theory. These
intellectuals are known as the representatives of the Yale School of deconstruction. In
1979, they published a book called Deconstruction and Criticism and each of them
contributed an essay on the reading of the poetry of the Romantics. This book is
famous as the manifesto of deconstruction of the Yale School. In fact, they invoke a
kind of deconstructive thinking through the literary works of the Romantics, Coleridge,
Wordsworth and Shelley. In Derridas essay titled Living On/Border Line in the book,
he included a reading of Blanchots rcit Death Sentence.44 The above is a brief
41

Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomenon and Other Essays on Husserls Theory of Signs (Evanston:

Northwestern University, 1993); Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan
Bass (London: Routledge, 1978).
42

Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981);

Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (London: Prentice-Hall, 1982); Jacques
Derrida, Spurs: Nietzsches styles, trans. Barbara Harlow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).
43

On Stphane Mallarm, see Jacques Derrida, The Double Sessions, in Jacques Derrida,

Dissemination, pp. 173-287; on Paul Celan, see Jacques Derrida, Shibboleth: Pour Paul Celan (Paris:
Galile, 1986); on Francis Ponge, see Jacques Derrida, Signponge (Paris: Seuil, 1988); on James Joyce,
see Jacques Derrida, Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce, in Jacques Derrida, Acts of
Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992).
44

Jacques Derrida, Living On/Border Lines, in Geoffrey Hartman, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller,

Harold Bloom and Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and Criticism (New York: Continuum, 1999),
pp. 75-176; Maurice Blanchot, Death Sentence, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill

11

illustration of the importance of literature for Derridas thought and his writing. In his
writing on the works of literature of various literary figures, Derrida develops his ideas
of literature that are unique in his style. Next, I will come to the interaction of Blanchot
and Derrida in the theme of writing and literature.
Many French scholars and writers had read Blanchots literary works since the
40s as Blanchot was already a famous writer in France at that time. Derridas
awareness of Blanchot can be traced in his early writing. As indicated by Timothy
Clark who studied the sources of Derridas notions of literature, Derridas essay
entitled Force and Signification underlies the proximity of his essays on literature to
Blanchots.45 In the essay, Derrida made a reference to Blanchot in a discussion on
the operation of creative imagination and the experience in literary act (writing or
reading).46 That experience, according to Derrida, is the experience of conversion
where one must be separated from oneself in order to be reunited with the blind origin
of the work in its darkness. Derrida further describes this separation or departure,
For in question here is a departure from the world toward the place which is neither a
non-place nor an other world, neither a utopia nor an alibi, the creation of a universe
to be added to the universe, This universe articulates only that which is in excess
of everything, the essential nothing on whose basis everything can appear and be
produced within language, and the voice of Maurice Blanchot reminds us, with the
insistence of profundity, that this excess is the very possibility of writing and of
literary inspiration in general. (WaD, p. 8)

Derrida considers that the essential nothing which is in the excess of everything is
in the domain of exteriority and otherness where language can speak of, as well as
where writing and literary inspiration becomes possible. Clark also indicates that the
thought of the constitutive nothing is the literary thought.47 The word
profundity as mentioned by Derrida may be referred to the profound thought and
writing of Blanchot and also Blanchots ideas of profundity. Blanchots insistent uses
of the word profundity are quite numerous in many of his essays collected in various
books such as The Work of Fire, The Space of Literature, and the word is used even
Arts, 1998).
45

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot: Sources of Derrida's Notion and Practice of Literature

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.110. Jacques Derrida, Force and Signification, in
Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 3-30.
46

Jacques Derrida, Force and Signification, p.8.

47

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, p.11.

12

more than twenty times in The Book to Come.48 The word profundity is used in
relation to image, meaning and poetry, probably derived from Blanchots readings on
the works of Mallarm and Hlderlin. In the discussion on time in Prousts novel
Time Regained, Blanchot quoted the scene that Marcel tasted the madeleine.49
Blanchot links the Outside with the image and profundity of meaning in the essay
The Experience of Proust,
Yet, at this time, everything becomes image, and the essence of image is to be entirely
outside, without intimacy, and yet more inaccessible and more mysterious than the
innermost thought; without signification, but summoning the profundity of every
possible meaning, unrevealed and yet manifest... (BC, p.14)

What Derrida describes as the essential nothing can be understood as what Blanchot
depicts as the entirely outside which both Blanchot and Derrida link to language.
Besides, Blanchot in The Space of Literature describes the profundity of the
worklessness of being (la profondeur du dsoeuvrement de ltre) that relates the
literary works being to nothing:
[T]he work declare[s] being in the unique moment of rupture those words: it is, the
point which the work brilliantly illuminates even while receiving its burst of light we
must also comprehend and feel that this point renders the work impossible, because it
never permits arrival at the work. It is a region anterior to the beginning where nothing
is made of being, and in which nothing is accomplished. It is the profundity of the
worklessness of being. (SL, p.46, translation modified.)

The literary work at the instant of its enlightening affirmation dissolves itself,
including its being and brightness. The literary work returns to the anterior region of
nothing pertaining to the region of what Levinas describes the il y a preceding the
appearance of being.

48

Maurice Blanchot, The Work of Fire, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press,

1995); Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1989); Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2003).
49

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, Volume 6: Time Regained and A Guide to Proust, trans.

Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, eds. D. J. Enright, Terence Kilmartin and Joanna Kilmartin
(London: Vintage, 1996), p.217.

13

Besides this, in a footnote in the same essay Force and Signification, Derrida
makes a reference to Antonin Artauds writing which is taken from an essay by
Blanchot, Cited by Maurice Blanchot in LArche, nos. 27-28 (August-September)
1948, p.133.50 However, Derrida gives an incorrect year of publication as the correct
one is 1947.51 The essay Force and Signification (Force et signification) was
published in 1963. Hence, as early as in 1963, Derrida had already read Blanchots
works. In another essay La parole souffle, originally published in 1965 which
includes a brief discussion on Antonin Artaud and later is collected in Writing and
Difference, Derrida also makes reference to Blanchots essay on Antonin Artaud.52
Another reference slightly earlier (in 1962) to Blanchot can be found in a footnote in
Derridas book Edmund Husserls Origin of Geometry, an Introduction.53 The footnote
is a quotation of Hegels words,
Hegel also writes: This act, by which Adam is made master of animals, was to impose
on them a name, i.e. he annihilated them in their existence (as existents) (System of
1803-1804), Cited by Maurice Blanchot in La Part du feu (Paris: Gallimard, 1949),
p.325.

Interestingly, this reference is from Blanchots essay Literature and the Right to
Death (WF, p.323) which discusses the ontology of literature through the philosophy
of Hegel and Levinas, in combination with the articulation of the ideas from
Mallarms and Francis Ponges poetry. I will have a discussion on this important
essay in Chapter 3, in order to illustrate Blanchots ideas of literature. The quotation
can also be treated as a reminder of the importance of naming and language in
Derridas early philosophy which has been further developed in his later work on the
50

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p.303n.20. The quotation is read as I made my debut in

literature by writing books in order to say that I could write nothing at all. My thoughts, when I had
something to say or write, were that which was furthest from me. I never had any ideas, and two short
books, each seventy pages long, are about this profound, inveterate, endemic absence of any idea. These
books are lOmbilic des limbes and le Pse-nerfs, which can be found in Blanchots essay Du
merveilleux. This essay can be found in a book in French published recently: Christophe Bident and
Pierre Vilar (eds.), Maurice Blanchot- Rcits critiques (Tour: ditions Farrago, 2003), p.44.
51

The reference to the year of publication is from the Bibliography of Blanchots works in the book:

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essai Biographique, p.600.


52

Jacques Derrida, La parole souffle, in Writing and Difference, pp.169, 171-173; Maurice Blanchot,

Artaud, in Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, pp. 36-37, 40.


53

Jacques Derrida, Edmund Husserls Origin of Geometry, an Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr.

(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), p.67n.62.

14

critique of proper and proper name. It also suggests that Derrida has already read
Blanchots important essay on literature in or before 1962.
The above bibliographical reference to Blanchot does not give solid evidence of
Derridas direct interaction with Blanchot in his thinking and writing, but is a proof of
Derridas early awareness of Blanchots writing. On the other hand, an instance of
Blanchots reference to Derridas writing can be shown in the following words as
Blanchot writes, How can one understand force, or weakness, in terms of clarity and
obscurity? observes Derrida. Form allows force to escape, but it is not received by the
formless (IC, p. 160). Derrida writes in Force and Signification, Form fascinates
when one no longer has the force to understand force from within itself (WaD, p.4).
An invisible conversation between Blanchot and Derrida can be seen from the above
reference on the word force.
The importance of Derridas notion of writing for Blanchot can be interpreted
from the fact that Blanchot paid homage to Derrida in an essay published in 1990 in a
philosophical journal. The title of the essay is Thanks (be given) to Jacques
Derrida.54 At the beginning of this essay, Blanchot writes,
After such a long silence (perhaps hundreds and hundreds of years) I shall begin to
write again, not on Derrida (how pretentious!), but with his help, and convinced that I
shall betray him immediately. Here is a question: is there one Torah or two? Answer:
there are two, because necessarily there is only one. (BR, p.317)

In the later part of the essay, Blanchot continues,


As Jacques Derrida writes, spelling out the demands of the doubling of the Torah, a
doubling that is already inscribed in the way in which the Torah is written with the
finger of God: The Torah is written in white fire on black fire. The white fire, a text
written in invisible letters (designed to remain unseen), may be read in the black fire of
the Oral Torah which comes after the event to outline the consonants and punctuate the
vowels: the Law or Fiery Word, Moses says. (BR, p.321)55
54

Maurice Blanchot, Thanks (be given) to Jacques Derrida, trans. Leslie Hill, in Maurice Blanchot,

The Blanchot Reader, ed. Michael Holland (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 317-323; the original essay is
Grace (soit rendue) Jacques Derrida, in Revue philosophique de la France et de l'tranger, Vol. 115,
No. 2, avril-juin (1990), pp.167-173. This issue of the journal is dedicated to Derrida.
55

For a more detailed discussion on Blanchots interpretation of the Torah, see Kevin Hart, The Dark

Gaze: Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp.176-181.

15

Blanchot makes a reference to Derridas writing in the essay Dissemination which is


a discussion on Philippe Sollerss roman, Nombres (Numbers). Derrida writes in that
essay,
[T]he white fire, a text written in letters that are still invisible, becomes readable in the
black fire of the oral Torah, which comes along afterward to draw in the consonants
and point (ponctuer) the vowels.56

The citation on the topic of the Torah and the writing between Derrida and
Blanchot can be traced back to 1963-1964. Blanchot then had a discussion on the
Egyptian writer Edmond Jabs in an essay Traces collected in the book Friendship.
This essay is the second part of the original essay titled Interruption published in
1964.57 The first part of the essay is collected in The Infinite Conversation with a title
Interruption (as on a Reiman surface) (IC, pp.75-79). The essay Traces in
Friendship is made up of three sections and the last section is titled The Book of
Questions (F, pp. 222-227).58 The title Le Livre des questions (The Book of
Questions) is the same as the title of a book in French written by Edmond Jabs
published in 1963.59 Blanchot gives a discussion on Jabss new book which is made
up of a totality of fragments, thought, dialogues, invocations, narrative movements,
and scattered words that make up the detour of a single poem. Importantly, Blanchot
find[s] the powers of interruption at work in the book with the rupture that is
marked by poetic fragmentation at its various meaning, but is also questioned, suffered,
regrasped, and made to speak twice, and each time doubled: in history, and in the
writing at the margin of history (F, p.223). In the writing of the book, Jabs includes
the ideas of Judaism in his poetic work. The ideas of Judaism and the catastrophe
which befell the Jews in WWII make Blanchot think that writing is doubled. Blanchot
comments on the story of Moses and the broken Tablets of the Law in the Exodus
56

Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p.343.


57

Maurice Blanchot, Interruption in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No.137, May 1964, pp. 869-881.

58

The first two sections (titled Presence and Wakefulness) of the essay Traces collected in

Friendship (pp. 217-222) are originally published with the same title Traces in La Nouvelle Revue
Franaise, No.129, September 1963, pp. 472-480. The bibliographical reference is from Leslie Hills
Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary, pp. 292-293.
59

Edmond Jabs, Le Livre des questions (Paris: Gallimard, 1963). The English translation is: Edmond

Jabs, The Book of Questions, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New
England, 1991).

16

story in the Bible in the discussion on The Book of Questions (F, p.224). Blanchot
writes,
[F]irst of all, the Tablets of the Law were broken when still only barely touched by
the divine hand (a curse consistent with the removal of interdiction, not with
punishment), and were written again, but not in their originality, so that it is from an
already destroyed word that man learns the demand that must speak to him: there is no
real first understanding, no initial and unbroken word, as if one could never speak
except the second time, after having refused to listen and having taken a distance in
regard to the origin. Secondly, the first text (which is never the first), the written
word, the scripture is also, at the same time, a commented text, that not only must
be reuttered in its identity but learned in its inexhaustible difference. (F, p.224)

Remarkably, Blanchots notion of writing can be thought as this: there is no first


writing since the first writing is broken, and as a result all writings are secondary and
commentaries on the loss of the first one. Besides, the notion of repetition in the
reuttered text, accompanied with inexhaustible difference, carries a sense of
insistence on speech and writing with difference. Such notions display similarities with
Derridas notions of writing.
Similar to Blanchot, Derrida also has a discussion on Jabss The Book of
Questions and other works in 1964.60 The essay is titled Edmond Jabs and the
Question of the Book which is later collected in Writing and Difference.61 Regarding
the idea of the broken Tablets and the concept of writing, Derrida writes in the essay
on Jabs,
God separated himself from himself in order to let us speak, in order to astonish and to
interrogate us. He did so not by speaking but by keeping still, by letting silence
interrupt his voice and his signs, by letting the Tables be broken. In Exodus God
repented and said so at least twice, before the first and before the new Tables, between
original speech and writing and, within Scripture, between the origin and repetition
(Exodus 32:14, 33:17). Writing is, thus, originally hermetic and secondary. (WaD,
p.67)

60

Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabs et la question du livre (Edmond Jabs and the Question of the Book)

in Critique, No.20, January 1964, pp. 99-115.


61

Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabs and the Question of the Book, in Jacques Derrida, Writing and

Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 64-78.

17

It can be seen from the above quotation that writing is secondary because of the
rupture and loss of the first Tablets. The secondary writing comes from the loss of
origin and carries only the invisible trace of the first one.
On the topic of writing, Derridas reading on Jabss poetical works in that essay
conveys many ideas about writing and the book, and some of them share Blanchots
ideas of writing and literature. Derrida writes at the end of the essay, Life negates
itself in literature so that it survives better (WaD, p.78). This sentence carries Hegels
notion of negation (that death can be treated as the negation of life). Similarly,
Blanchot brings in Hegels notion of negation in the thinking of literature,
[Literatures] ideal is indeed that moment when life endures death and maintains
itself in it in order to gain from death the possibility of speaking and the truth of
speech. This is the question that seeks to pose itself in literature, the question that
is its essence (WF, pp.321-322). The relation of the notion of literature and the
Hegelian concept of negation will be worked out in more detail in Chapter 3 which is a
discussion on the essay Literature and the Right to Death.
Derrida in the essay on Jabs makes a reference to Blanchots discussion on Jabs
in the footnote. He writes, There have now been major studies devoted to Jabs:
Maurice Blanchot, Linterruption, Nouvelle revue franaise, May 1964 (WaD,
p.310). Derrida does not make any discussion or quotation from Blanchots essay on
Jabs but makes a quotation from Blanchots another essay Ars Nova at the end of the
essay Edmond Jabs and the Question of the Book. Derrida writes,
When Maurice Blanchot writes: Is man capable of a radical interrogation, that is to
say, finally, is man capable of literature? one could just as well say, on the basis of a
certain conceptualization of life, incapable half the time. Except if one admits that
pure literature is nonliterature, or death itself. (WaD, p.78)

62

Derridas essay on Jabs was published in January, 1964 and in the essay, he included
the above quotation which was from Blanchots essay Ars Nova published in May,
1963 and also a reference to Blanchots essay on Jabs that was later published in May
1964. It is possible that the dates of publication as specified by the editors or
publishers of the journals do not necessarily proclaim the exact dates. Besides, there
may be some inspection or proof-read copies of essays being circulated among the
62

Maurice Blanchot, Ars Nova in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No.125, May 1963, pp. 879-887. For

the English translation, see Maurice Blanchot, Ars Nova, in Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite
Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), pp. 345-350.

18

editors, publishers or reading groups. If we take the above dates of publication on their
prima facie terms, Derridas essay in a way can be read as exemplifying the past,
present and future anteriority of writing. An essay can include the reference to the
material that will appear in the future. If the authors of the essays discussed above had
been made anonymous, the above scenario could be read as an instance of thinking of
the (ontological) nature of literature that is anonymous as well as the subversion of the
chronological time. The anonymous and timeless literature can be understood as that
the past, present and future coalesce into the instant of the reading, writing and
commentary. Apart from these fictitious scenarios, the above referential and citation
fact, the reference in the essay Force and Signification and other essays that show
references to Blanchot, I suggest that Derridas awareness of Blanchots writing as
early as those in 1962-1964 is not just simple citation as Derrida has already been
reading Blanchots writing with the purpose of making grounds for development of his
ideas of philosophy and writing.
Both Blanchot and Derrida acquire the thinking of many important continental
philosophers and they develop their ideas in different domains: Blanchot in literature
and Derrida in philosophy. One of the famous philosophers who influences both is, of
course, Martin Heidegger. Heideggers specific influence on these two is a broad topic
that covers many issues, including poetry, Dichtung, literature, philosophy,
Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and ethics.63 I will not discuss these issues here but will
highlight the point that for Blanchot, Heideggers impact is mainly from his notion of
death and more importantly, the notion of language as derived from Heideggers works
on Hlderlins poetry as well as The Origin of Work of Art. Blanchot has also made a
claim about his attention to Heidegger:
Here we ought to remark that the attention brought to language by Heidegger, which is
of an extremely probing nature, is attention to words considered apart, concentrated in
themselves, to such words thought of as fundamental and tormented to the point that,
63

On the comparison of the ideas of Heideggers Dichtung, Blanchots rcits and Derridas littrature,

see Timothy Clarks Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, pp. 84-92, 115-133; On the comparison of
Blanchots and Heideggers ideas on the work of art, Hlderlin and langauge, see Gerald Bruns,
Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy, pp. 11-16, 102-112, and also Leslie Hill, Blanchot:
Extreme Contemporary, pp. 77-91. On Blanchots notions of Shoah in relation to Heidegger, see Ethan
Kleinberg, Generation Existential, Heideggers Philosophy in France, 1927-1961 (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 2005), pp. 209-244. On the comparison of Heideggers and Derridas notions of time
and language, see Herman Rapaport, Heidegger & Derrida: Reflections on Time and Language (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

19

in the history of their formation, the history of being is made to be understood but
never to the connections of words, and even less to the anterior space that these
connection suppose, and whose original movement alone makes possible language as
unfolding. For Mallarm, language is not made of even pure words: it is what words
have always already disappeared into, the oscillating movement of appearance and
disappearance. (BC, p.265n.9)

Derridas works are much influenced by Heidegger as Derrida said in an interview,


My philosophical formation owes to the thought of Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger.
Heidegger is probably the most constant influence, and particularly his project of
overcoming Greek metaphysics.64 Derrida has also written a book on Heidegger, Of
Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, which is a series of lectures on Heidegger, Geist
and his politics.65 He has also written articles on Heidegger which are related to sexual
difference.66 He also wants to write on [a] comparative history in the political tragedy
of the two countries [France and Germany] in relation to the reception and legacy of
Heidegger though such work is deemed to be not yet.67
Apart from the above reference, it should be stressed that Derrida has written on
Blanchots works with detailed commentary and also used Blanchots works for a
piece of writing (in the essay Pas) that is more literary than commentary or
philosophical.68 Derridas essay Living On/Border Lines includes two essays Living
On and Border Lines. The essay Living On can be divided into two parts, with the
first part a reading on Shelleys poem The Triumph of Life, and the second part a
64

Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and the Other, in Richard Kearney, Dialogues with Contemporary

Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage: Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, Herbert
Marcuse, Stanislas Breton, Jacques Derrida (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), p.109.
65

Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel

Bowlby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).


66

Jacques Derrida, Geschlecht: Sexual difference, Ontological difference in Research in

Phenomenology, Volume 13 (1986), pp. 65-83; Jacques Derrida, Geschlecht II : Heideggers Hand, in
John Sallis (ed.), Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 161-196; Jacques Derrida, Heideggers Ear: Philopolemology (Geschlecht
IV), in John Sallis (ed.), Reading Heidegger: Commemorations (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1993), pp. 163-220.
67

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby, (Stanford:

Stanford University Press, 1987), p.177.


68

Jacques Derrida, Pas in Gramma: Lire Blanchot I, Vol. 3-4 (1976), pp. 111-215. The essay is later

collected in Jacques Derridas book: Parages (Paris: Galile, 1986).

20

reading of Maurice Blanchots rcit, Death Sentence.69 The structure of this essay
implies a deconstruction of life and death, as the first part is a reading of life, while the
second part a reading of death. However, at the bottom (the space for footnote), there is
also a text Border Lines which is in the border of Living On, and the two essays are
separated by a line. This essay(s) is a critique of the binary opposite of life and death
and Derrida in fact creates a term life death as a kind of meditation on the
in-between-ness of life and death (DC, p.169).
In 1986, Derrida published a French book including the original French version of
the essay Living On/Border Lines. This book with more than 250 pages bears the title
Parages. Apart from the Introduction, there are four essays: Pas, Survivre, Titre
prciser and La loi du genre.70 The book Parages was later republished in 2003 and
included another essay Maurice Blanchot est mort (Maurice Blanchot is dead). This
essay is a work of mourning for the death of Blanchot and it is possible, though it is
too late that it may be collected in another new edition of Derridas book The Work of
Mourning, which is a collection of obituary essays or essays of mourning for various
philosophers and writers like Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Sarah Kofman, Gilles
Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, etc.71 However, it is always doubtful when reading The
Work of Mourning whether there will be any work of mourning for the death of
Derrida. On 21 October 2004, Jacques Derrida est mort. A number of philosophers
and writers had made salute to Jacques Derrida, including Hlne Cixous and Jean-Luc
Nancy.72
Going back to 1993, Blanchot wrote his last rcit, Linstant de ma mort (The
Instant of My Death). Derrida, having received this script, wrote a conference paper on
69

Jacques Derrida, Living On/Border Lines, in Deconstruction and Criticism, pp. 75-176.

70

Jacques Derrida, Parages (Paris: Galile, 1986). Three of the four essays have English translation.

Survivre is the original French version of Living On/ Border Lines. Titre prciser is translated by
Tom Conley as Title (to be specified) in Sub-stance, No.31 (1981), pp. 5-22; and La loi du genre is
translated by Avital Ronell as The Law of Genre in Glyph, Vol. 7 (1980), pp. 202-229. The essay Pas
is not yet translated and published in English though it is known that John P. Leavey, Jr. may be the
translator of the complete Pas. The essay Pas is strangely a creative writing of Derrida on the
meditation of the French word pas in relation with Blanchots fragmentary writing, Le Pas Au-dela
(Paris: Gallimard, 1973).
71

Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning, eds. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2001).


72

Bruno Clment (ed.), Salut Jacques Derrida/ Rue Descartes, No. 48 (Paris: Presses Universitaires

de France, 2005).

21

this rcit, titled Demeure: Fiction et tmoignage in 1995 and the essay was later
published as a book in 1998.73 This book is a thinking of fiction, testimony, death,
remaining (demeure) and literature when taking the case of Blanchot who had faced a
firing squad and escaped his own death execution, as implicitly described in the last
rcit. The study of Blanchots rcit and Derridas commentary do not only allow the
above notions to be articulated but also their relation to literature can be vividly
manifested.
Roger Laporte notices that Blanchot in his book LEntretien infini (1969)
corrected the essay Ren Char et la pense du neutre (Ren Char and the Thought of
the Neutral) which was published in 1963 and effaced the word presence and
sometimes changed it to non-presence. Laporte considers that the above editions can
be attributed to Blanchots reading of Jacques Derridas works (Speech and
Phenomenon, Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference) published in 1967.74 Leslie
Hill partially agrees with Laportes Derridean influence on Blanchot but comments
that reading is insufficient and is only a historical or circumstantial explanation.75
Hill also argues that Blanchots effacement and replacement of presence by
non-presence in 1969 in fact manifests the veiled character of the unknown which
was mentioned in the essay in 1963.76 In addition, he adds that the effacement and
replacement of presence by non-presence problematises naming and
namelessness; and manifests the principle of paucity and excess, suspension and
alteration, effacement and proliferation which in fact is Blanchots notions of
neuter.77 The above analysis is to show that Blanchots notions of literature and
writing have been influenced by Derridas works on the topics of writing and presence.
The interaction between Blanchot and Derrida is shown in their reading of the
works of each other. However, it is difficult to trace clearly whether their ideas about
literature and writing come from themselves or other writers. Perhaps, there is a
problem in the lack of clear reference in their works. Besides, it is possible that their
ideas about literature and writing are close to each other which are thus not easy for
73

Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction et tmoignage in Michel Lisse (ed.) Passions de la Littrature :

Avec Jacques Derrida, (Paris: Galile, 1996), pp. 13-73; Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Maurie Blanchot
(Paris: Galile, 1998).
74

Roger Laporte, Une Passion, in Bernard Nol and Roger Laporte, Deux lectures de Maurice

Blanchot (Montpellier: Fata morgana, 1973), pp.142-143.


75

Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (London: Routledge, 1997), p.128.

76

Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary, p.130.

77

Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary, p.132.

22

attribution. In addition, their ideas about literature and writing can also be considered
as a kind of insistence on literature upon literature itself. I would suggest Blanchots
obscure works can be enlightened by reading his creative writing and critical writing
together, accompanied by Derridas and Foucaults theme of writing and literature.
Literature under their mutual influence establishes its infinite nonbeing which is as
Blanchot writes, a possibility of saying without saying being, and neither denying it
either.78 In answering Blanchots question Is man capable of a radical interrogation,
that is to say, finally, is man capable of literature?, Derridas reply is, if pure
literature is nonliterature, or death itself (WaD, p.78). What is fascinating in their
literary relationship is their friendship, and offering to each other, and their proximity
in literature.

Literature in the light of Blanchot and Derrida


As this thesis has literature as its subject, I will devote the following discussion to
what is meant by literature, firstly from the traditional point of view and later in
relation to the more radical ideas advocated by Blanchot and Derrida. Literature has
been a hot topic recurringly commented on by writers, poets, philosophers,
aestheticians from the beginning of the Western civilization, from Aristotles Poetics,
if not before, to contemporary literary writers and philosophers. I will narrow down
my discussion on the idea of literature since Blanchots and Derridas works begin
from the early twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first century.
In the discussion on how to define what literature is, Ren Wellek and Austin
Warren write, [o]ne way is to define literature as everything in print, and [a]nother
way of defining literature is to limit it to great books, books which, whatever their
subject, are notable for literary form or expression.79 These definitions are highly
generalised, defective and tentative in order to sustain their further discussion on the
nature of literature.80 Their further discussion does not end with a concrete definition,
All these distinctions between literature and non-literature which we have discussed
organization, personal expression, realization and exploitation of the medium, lack of
78

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.387.

79

Ren Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature, 3rd edition (London: Jonathan Cape, 1966),

p.20.
80

The Nature of Literature is the title of one of the chapters in Ren Wellek and Austin Warrens

Theory of Literature. The quotations are drawn from this chapter.

23

practical purpose, and, of course fictionality are restatements within a framework of


semantic analysis, of an age-old aesthetic terms such as unity in variety,
disinterested contemplation, aesthetic distance, framing, and invention,
imagination, creation. Each of them describes one aspect of the literary works, one
characteristic feature of its semantic directions. None is itself satisfactory.81

Ren Wellek and Austin Warren point out that the aforementioned aspect[s] and
characteristic feature[s] are the different approaching viewpoints to understand and
analyse literature that are held long until the modern times. The two authors end the
discussion with, [a] modern analysis of the work of art has to being with more
complex questions: its mode of existence, its system of strata. They also give a
bibliographical list of books that is the basis for their discussion in the chapter titled
The Nature of Literature. Maurice Blanchots book LEspace littraire (The Space of
Literature) is one of those books in their bibliography.
Blanchot starts with writing about literature in the 30s. Having been influenced
by Hegel, Levinas and Mallarm, he raised the concern about what literature is in his
most important essay about the questioning of literature, Literature and the Right to
Death, written in 1947-8. (This essay will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3
of this thesis.) I will address here one of Blanchots important comments on literature.
Blanchot proposes in the essay, Let us suppose that literature begins at moment when
literature becomes a question (WF, p. 300). Blanchots proposition can be re-written
as literature begins and exists at the instant when literature puts itself in questioning, or
literature exists at the instant of the solicitation (en instance) of literature. The words
instant, solicitation and en instance are derived from the meanings of the French
word instance and the reading of Blanchots interesting rcit The Instant of My Death.
I will give a more detailed discussion on such terms in the articulation of the title of
this thesis in the next section. Literature being able to question itself means that
literature displays a kind of self-reflection, or it can be comprehended as that there is
autonomy in literature. The questioning of literature takes place through the works of
literature and through the writers, readers and critics. The autonomy does not imply
that literature exists for itself, or that it carries a kind of unquestionable subjectivity
and center. Blanchot questions the existence and autonomy of literature in the essay
Literature and the Right to Death through his analysis of Hegels negation, Levinass
il y a, and the materiality of poetry derived from Mallarms works. The essay is also a
response to Jean-Paul Sartres work What is Literature? originally published in 1947.82
81

Ren Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature, p. 27.

82

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is Literature? and Other Essays (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard

24

In his work, Sartre asks the following questions about literature, What is Writing?,
Why Write? and For Whom Does One Write?. These questions are the titles of the
first three sections of What is Literature?. Sartre argues that literature is subordinated
to actions and proposes committed literature (la littrature engage). According to
Sartre, a writer of committed literature has to write in prose form with transparency of
meaning that can be passed clearly to the readers and the mass that they can act on the
meaning of the projects conveyed in the prose. Blanchot disagrees with Sartres
transparency of meaning of prose because the transparency of meaning is only a
language of communication, or in Blanchots term, a common language, but not
literary language (WF, p.325). Literature, in Blanchots ideas, is a proliferation of
unintended meaning and even the absence of meaning.83 Blanchot believes that the
action as meant by the committed writers is un-controllable in the part of the readers.
Blanchot writes,
What is far more deceitful is the literature of action. It calls on people to do something.
But if it wants to remain authentic literature, it must base its representation of this
something to do, this predetermined and specific goal, on a world where such an
action turns back into the unreality of an abstract and absolute value. (WF, p. 317)

The message of calling to act, if it is not a communicative message but a message


from literature of action, must be in relation to the unreality or fictionality of
literature which will turn the action into unreal action. Blanchots words here indicate
that literature is incongruent with the world of reality, or rather, the world literature
portrays is unreal. This thinking does not place literature in the ivory tower which has
nothing to do with the human world. The unreality of literature is in a way based on
the human world and by means of language allows everything to happen in the
unreality. Blanchot qualifies everything and writes,
The language of a writer, even if he is a revolutionary, is not the language of command.
It does not command, it presents; and it does not present by causing whatever it
portrays to be present, but by portraying it behind everything, as the meaning and the
absence of this everything. (WF, p.317)

University Press, 1988). The original French version of the essay can be found in: Jean-Paul Sartre,
Quest-ce que la littrature? in Les Temps Modernes, Vol. 17-22 (February-July, 1947) and later
appeared in Jean-Paul Sartre, Situation, Vol. II (Paris: Gallimard, 1948).
83

See my discussion on Blanchots ideas of language and literature in Chapter 3 and on Blanchots

commitment in Chapter 6 of this thesis.

25

Blanchot thinks that literature presents everything not to give the richness of
everything. This everything signifies the meaning of everything and also the
absence of everything. The absence is one of the important themes in Blanchots
notions of the literary language. Such thinking is derived from the reading of
Mallarms poetry and works. Blanchot writes in the essay The Myth of Mallarm,
Language fits into a contradiction: in a general way, it is what destroys the world to
make it be reborn in a state of meaning, of signified values; but, under its creative
form, it fixes on the only negative aspect of its task and becomes the pure power of
questioning and transfiguration. (WF, p.37)

The thing that language presents is immediately destroy[ed] by language and reborn
in the plurality of meaning that is also the negative and absence of meanings.
Under such paradoxical destruction/rebirth and plurality/absence of meaning, literary
language manifests the questioning power on everything as well as the right to say
everything, as Blanchot writes, if literature coincides with nothing for just an instant,
it is immediately everything, and this everything begins to exist: what a miracle (WF,
p.302).
Similarly, Derrida reads Mallarms poetry in the essay The Double Session in
order to develop the idea of the hymen.84 He also comments on the question What
is literature? and repudiates any essence in literature. He writes in the essay on
Mallarm,
Literature voids itself in its limitlessness. If this handbook of literature [Mallarms
Mimique] meant to say something, which we now have some reason to doubt, it would
proclaim first of all that there is noor hardly, even so littleliterature; that in any
event there is no essence of literature, no truth of literature, no literary-being or
being-literary of literature. And that the fascination exerted by the is, or the what
is in the question what is literature is worth what the hymen is worth All this, of
course, should not prevent uson the contrary from attempting to find out what has
been represented and determined under that nameliteratureand why.85
84

Jacques Derrida, The Double Session, in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 173-286.


85

Jacques Derrida, The Double Session, p.223. Derridas text in original French is read as, La

littrature sannule dans son illumination. Ce court-trait de la littrature, sil voulait-dire quelque
chose, ce dont nous avons maintenant quelque raison de douter, noncerait dabord quil ny a pas ou
peine, si peu de littrature; quen tous cas il ny a pas dessence de la littrature, de vrit de la

26

The question What is literature? invites one to think about the essence of literature
and how literature exists. If the answer to the question What is literature? is the
being-literary of literature or the literary-being of literature, there is a close and at
the same time categorical different relation between the literary and literature. As
Derrida describes the hymen as an operation that both sows confusion between
opposites and stands between the opposites at once, the question What is literature?
calls for the structure and operation of hymen: at once the confusion of (virginal)
integrity, (marital) alliance, penetration, and difference, and especially the
in-between-ness.86 Literature as a proper noun is also an improper noun, waiting for
the remembrance and oblivion of its virginity, for the alliance with the outside of its
limit. The being-literary is the character of literature being defined but also implies
that literature is being broken down, penetrated, in alliance with the Other or the
Outside. The important words for such structure and operation of hymen in literature is
the in-between-ness and undecidability.87 Derrida also concurs with the absence or
voids in literature. In addition, he puts literature into the sphere of the limitlessness to
probe its being. The essence of literature, according to Derrida, is annulled in the voids
of limitlessness of literature, that is, in Blanchots terms, the Outside and the Other.
Even as there is no essence of literature, the questioning of literature is still an insisting
demand for the questions what-is-literature? the questioning of each of these
words. In other words, it is also the questioning of the question What is literature?.
There is a wide range of literary theory developed by various theorists, scholars,
schools and institutions in America and Europe.88 Superficially, literary theory acts as
a third party, like a medical or juridical examiner, to examine and apply ideas to the
littrature, dtre-littraire de la littrature. En que la fascination par leest, ou lequest-ce que
dans la questionquest-ce que la littrature vaut ce que vaut lhymen ... Ce qui ne doit pas empcher,
au contraire, de travailler et savoir ce qui sest reprsent et determine sous ce nom littrature et
pourquoi. See Jacques Derrida, La dissmination (Paris: ditions du Seuil, Collection Points Essais,
1993), p.275.
86

Jacques Derrida, The Double Session, pp. 212-220.

87

Jacques Derrida, The Double Session, p.212 & 220.

88

There is a huge volume of texts on the topic of literary theory. The following is just a few suggestions

for that: Ren Welleck and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949);
Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1975); Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice (London: Methuen, 1980); Ralph
Cohen (ed.), The Future of Literary Theory (New York: Routledge, 1989); Terry Eagleton, Literary
Theory: an Introduction, 2nd edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).

27

various analyses, commentaries of the works of literature. In brief, literature is an


object being analysed by literary theory. Jonathan Culler writes in a book published
recently, Whenever the discourses of theory originate, they generally work to alert us
to versions of literariness at work in discourses of all sorts and thus reaffirm, in their
way, the centrality of the literary.89 Culler stresses that the idea of literary is to be
found always, intentionally or involuntarily in the application of literary theory on
various works of literature. Culler adds, Exploring the role of the literary in theory, I
seek to rectify this neglect [of literary in theory in Cullers past works] by bringing
theory to literature and bringing out the literary in theory not keeping literature and
theory safe from each other. Such a claim agrees that there are literary elements even
in the various theories, analyses, examination of literature and in the theories there is
insistence on the return to the literary.90 A problem can be noticed in such claim for
it emphasises that literature is literary in itself. If such idea is correct, it leads to a
demarcation of what literature is or is not by the idea of the literary, as if that was a
clearly defined idea for differentiation of what literature is. However, literature and the
nature of literary are far from being easily defined. Derrida writes in an interview
questioning about what literature is,
There is no text literary in itself. Literarity is not a natural essence, an intrinsic
property of the text. It is the correlative of an intentional relation to the text, an
intentional relation which integrates in itself, as a component or an intentional layer,
the more or less implicit consciousness of rules which are conventional or institutional
social, in any case (AL, p.44)

The literarity of a text is not an essence of the literary text. It is an interaction of


the intentions of the actors and performers (i.e. readers and writers) with the text
during their acts of reading and writing. The readers will detect and be affected by the
literarity of the texts while the writers will intentionally or involuntarily introduce
literarity in the written texts. However, what is literary to the readers may not be
necessarily same as the literary as conceived by the writers. Derrida also adds the
non-subjective elements in the characterisation of the literarity which are the
inscriptions of conventional, institutional and social aspects. These inscriptions
are not necessarily direct and direct injections into the text, but also shadowy,
89

Jonathan Culler, The Literary in Theory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), p.5.

90

The return of the literary, as claimed by Nicholas Harrison in a recent issue of the journal

Paragraph with the topic on The idea of literary, has been evidently seen in postcolonial criticism. See
Nicholas Harrisons articles Preface and Who needs an idea of literary? in Paragraph, Vol. 28, No.2
(2005), pp. iii-vi, 1-17.

28

ideological, unconscious, implied embossing onto the text. The latter can be detected
and even produced in the various interactions and experience of the readers and writers
with the texts. Derrida thus agrees that [t]here is therefore a literary functioning and a
literary intentionality, an experience rather than an essence of literature (natural or a
historical) (AL, p.45). The literary functioning is the action like reading or writing of
commentary, as well as those of institutional nature such as publication, editing,
teaching, education, political, academy, judiciary, censorship, political, ethical, etc.
Derridas writings provide foundation for the ideas of literature and literary
brought out in the interview mentioned above. Timothy Clarks analysis in one of his
books discussing the nature of literary in the works of Derrida, Heidegger and
Blanchot comments that [m]uch of Derridas originality in relation to the literary lies
in readings of Heidegger and Blanchot.91 Clark invokes the phrase the mode of
being of the literary and considers that,
Most literature, [Derrida] acknowledges, is as metaphysical through and through as
any philosophical text. The name of Mallarm serves to mark the emergence of
littrature in Derridas limited, specialized sense (in referring to Mallarm in this way,
Derrida follows Blanchot). Moreover, Derrida seeks to practise a form of literary or
heteronomic philosophical writing that would engage otherness in a way inaccessible
to the theoretical texts.92

The word heteronomic, as explicated by Clark in the analysis of Levinas work,


suggests in the text a continual suspicion of itself and an openness to alterity.93 The
address of the alterity or otherness is not simply important in philosophy and ethics but
also in thinking of literature which will be discussed later in this chapter. Clark also
points out the problematic aspect of Derridas term littrature,
If littrature is truly aside from being [i.e. the being-literary, or literary-being], the
determination within a literary text of a subject-matter is always necessarily
compromised for two reasons: (a) such a determination succeeds only by ignoring
precisely the literary dimension of the text, and (b) it becomes, in its small way, an act
of unscholarly violence by resisting the indeterminate realm which the would-be
thematic content yet needs in order to appear.94
91

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, p.134.

92

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, pp. 17-18.

93

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, p.48

94

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, p.116.

29

My reading of the two sides of problems (the existence of literary in literature or


there is no essence of literature) as mentioned above is that the issues here are the
problems of essentialism/anti-essentialism, determinate/indeterminate thought, and the
ready-at-hand/abstract method in thinking about literature or the literary in literature.
I will leave this hard problem open, but with the following comments. The
in-between-ness in these issues is the place where we need to recognise and question.
One way to think about such issue in the reception to the above differends (in
Lyotards term) is to take the metaphor of wave-particle duality of light in physics.95
Light shares these two characteristics, one in classical scale and the other in quantum
scale. I also envisage that there is uneasiness in the public reception of something
indeterminate within literature. On such issue, my comment is that I enjoy the notion
that there is the literary in literature, no matter how fixed or loosely-defined it is. At the
same time I affirm that the idea of the literary is not an essence at all, or there is an
essence of literature if the literary is open and responding to the Other. I will draw the
example of genre in literature. Genre is basically a classification or a categorical
imperative for the study and grasp of the subject matter, but any descriptive
classification of genres always leave some exceptions outside and one has to
re-examine the classification of genres again and such operation has to be repeated
over and over again.
In an interview in 1989, Derrida responded to the question What is literature?
and linked literature to the notion of institution. Derridas reply was,
[L]iterature as historical institution with its conventions, rules, etc., but also this
institution of fiction which gives in principle the power to say everything, to break free
of the rules, to displace them, thereby to institute, to invent and even to suspect the
traditional difference between nature and institution, nature and conventional law,
nature and history. (AL, p. 37)

The emphasis on the instituting action in literature has already been seen in various
discipline and institutions of literature and comparative literature. There is recently a
95

Lyotard, writes, [A] differend would be a case of conflict, between (at least) two parties, that cannot

be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments. One sides legitimacy
does not imply the others lack of legitimacy. However, applying a single rule of judgment to both in
order to settle their differend as though it were merely a litigation would wrong (at least) one of them
(and both of them if neither side admits this rule). See Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Differend, trans.
Georges Van Den Abbeele (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p.xi.

30

continual reexamination of the nature of literature by invoking the question of


literature in a number of institutions, conference, symposium and academic journals.96
Although these essays cover many different views and approaches to think about the
question of literature, one can discern Derridas influence on rethinking the question of
literature in some of the essays. The historical institution of literature can be linked to
the divisions, classification and formal rules that establish the institution of literature,
and what Ren Wellek and Austin Warren discuss in Theories of Literature is an
instance. Derrida has discussed the proposition that the notion of literature can be
related to the culture of Christianity and the Greco-Romanic culture.97 In thinking
about the idea of the institution, Derrida has in mind an idea of counter-institution in
which [t]he word contre, counter or against, can equally and at the same time mark
both opposition, contrariety, contradiction and proximity, near-contact.98 Literature is
both an institution and counter-institution in Derridas terms,
No more than philosophy or science, literature is not an institution among others; it is
at once institution and counter-institution, placed at a distance from the institution, at
the angle that the institution makes with itself in order to take a distance from itself, by
itself.99

Such institution and counter-institution of literature embody a structure that manifests,


empowers, makes autonomous itself as well as distances from it-self, by-itself,
de-centers itself, and searches for the outside of itself. Literature exists in its eccentric
place and de-centers itself. One can discern that there is an insistence of de-centering,
dis-stance-ing and otherness in Derridas ideas of literature.

96

One can refer to the following collections of essays when dealing with the question of literature:

(i) Elizabeth Beaumont Bissell (ed.), The Question of Literature: the Place of the Literary in
Contemporary Theory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); (ii) Nicholas Harrison,
mentioned the return of the literary in the postcolonial circles. See the preface in the journal
Paragraph, Vol. 28, No.2 (2005), p.iii. This issue of Paragraph bears the theme of The Idea of the
Literary.
97

See Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000). I

will have a discussion on this theme with Derridas passions of literature in Chapter 4.
98

Jacques Derrida, Countersignature, in Paragraph, Vol.27, No.2 (2004), p.17.

99

Jacques Derrida, A Certain Madness Must Watch Over Thinking, in Jacques Derrida, Points -- :

Interviews, 1974-1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber, trans. Peggy Kamuf & others (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1995), p.346.

31

Derridas affirmation of the action to take a distance from itself, by itself can be
treated as a suspension of literature itself. The suspension can be linked to the idea of
invention in literature. The capabilities of invention and suspension are related to the
production of literature: in the writing, commenting and reading of literature. The
invention and suspension of rules and norms come parallel with each other. Literature,
framed within a historical institution and bound by conventions and rules, according to
Derrida, is also of transgressive nature that breaks, displaces, institutes, invents or
suspends the rules. Derrida widens the notion of suspension in literature and writes,
There is no literature without a suspended relation to meaning and reference.
Suspended means suspense, but also dependence, condition, conditionality. In its
suspended condition, literature can also exceed itself. (AL, p.48)

Suspension, in Derridas thinking, not only suspend[s] the meaning and reference,
but also the traditional rules and norms of literature. Derrida emphasises that
dependence, condition, conditionality of literature affirm that literature does not exist
in itself. The dependence of literature in other disciplines and domains, the condition
of literature to appear, produce, operate, and educate prove that literature is not
autonomous subjectivity without reference to the Other. The suspension of literature
can also be rewritten as literature en instance. The French phrase en instance carries
the meaning of suspension as well as (judicial) institution. I will further elaborate such
a notion in the next section. On the theme of invention of literature, the reading of
Derridas essay Psyche: the Invention of the Other is helpful. Derrida discusses the
ideas of deconstruction and invention and writes,
Deconstruction is inventive or it is nothing at all, it does not settle for methodical
procedures, it opens up a passageway, it marches ahead and marks a trail: its writing is
not only performative, it produces rules other conventions for new
performativites Its process [dmarche] involves an affirmation, this latter being
linked to the coming the venire in event, advent, invention.100

The notion of invention does not simply indicate the production of something new.
It opens up a passageway that enables new rules and conventions and new
performative for invention and newer invention. In line with the notion of
suspension, the new rules can be seen as the invention and suspension of the old rules.
100

Jacques Derrida, Psyche: Inventions of the Other, trans. Catherine Porter, in Jacques Derrida,

Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume 1, eds. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2007), p.23.

32

The new performative carries the trails of the old performative. A new text containing
new performative can also be a new reading and writing of an old text such as a
Shakespeares play which has its own rules and performative speech act. A text can be
de-structured, de-constructed and analysed in a new way. The welcoming of the
coming of the new performative, new conventions or new texts affirms the
literature to come. In a way, literature expands its interiority. At the same time, it
suspends and destabilises the foundation of its interiority to reach the Outside and the
Other. The stress on invention as coming of the entirely other incorporates an
ethical dimension, as Derrida writes,
This invention of the entirely other is beyond all possible status; I still call it invention
because one gets ready for it, one makes this step (pas) destine to let the other come
(venir), come in (invenir) To get ready for this coming of the other is what I call the
deconstruction that, as deconstructive invention, comes back in the step and also
as the step of the other (au pas de lautre). To invent would then be to know how
to say come and to answer the come of the other.101

The other in the term the invention of the other is defined by Derrida as neither
subject nor object, neither a self nor a consciousness nor an unconsciousness.102 It
displays proximity in the meaning of Blanchots term neutre: The unknown is
neutral, a neuter. The unknown in neither object nor subject.103 The entirely other is
not reducible to Sameness since it is beyond all possible status. The readiness for the
approach and addressing to the entirely other is the step for the others coming. The
step (pas), when considered in the etymological terms, is passionate and passive
readiness for the coming as a singular event. Literature remains (demeure) in-between
a step beyond itself for the entirely other and a step not beyond to maintain itself.
Such scheme does not reject the other, otherwise, literature only maintains itself in the
Sameness. Derrida also emphasises maintaining respect in bending conventions
and institutional rules, for the rules themselves allow the other to come or to
announce its coming in the opening of this dehiscence.104 Literature in respecting its
institutions and conventions of itself insists on addressing the coming of the event
of the coming of the entirely other. Derridas notion of teleiopoesis can be an
illustrative example here to comprehend a mode of addressing the Other. Teleiopoesis
101

Jacques Derrida, Psyche: Inventions of the Other, p.39.

102

Jacques Derrida, Psyche: Inventions of the Other, p.39.

103

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.300. The word neutre is one of the crucial words of

Blanchot in thinking about literature and writing. A more detailed discussion on neutre is in Chapter 3.
104

Jacques Derrida, Psyche: Inventions of the Other, p.44.

33

means the generation by joint and simultaneous grafting, without a proper body, of the
performative and constative, without a proper body (cette generation par greffe
conjointe et simultane, sans corps propre, du performatif et du constatif). Derrida
further qualifies the word as a poetics of from the distance to the remove (une
potique de la distance distance quil sagit ici).105 The addressing of the coming of
the other consists of the constative function that respects the conventions and
institutional rules and at same time with the performative function that declares and
performs. Derrida grafts the words tele with poesis and the grafted word means
poeticising at a distance. In other words, it is an imagination of the entirely other at
a distance by suspending and respecting the conventions and institutional rules. By
means of Derridas teleoipoesis, Gayatri Spivak comments in Death of a Discipline,
If we seek to supplement gender training and human rights intervention by expanding
the scope of Comparative Literature, the proper study of literature may give us entry to
the perfomativity of cultures as instantiated in narrative. Here we stand outside, but not
as anthropologist; we stand rather as reader with imagination ready for the othering,
however imperfectly, as an end in itself This is preparation for a patient and
provisional and forever deferred arrival into the performative of the other, in order not
to transcode but to draw a response.

106

The emphasis on the othering and imagination is explicit in Spivaks comment on


the studies of various cultural and political issues in the institutions of Comparative
Literature. The imagination of the other culture is not for the sake of grasp and control
of the other after the other culture has been studied, understood, and placed under their
agendas and curriculum vitae. Rather, it is a respectful, wishful welcoming and
responding to the coming of the other and, if in an educational institution, the
teaching of such imagination and response to the other to the students. The not-yet and
deferred nature of the coming of the other stands for the distanced always as well as
calls for a prepared relation of the responding to and encountering with the other. One
also notices the importance of the poesis (poetics: the Greek means that which is
made). I refer to the idea of poetics in chapter VI of Aristotles Poetics. Although in
that chapter, poetics refers to tragedy, I imagine that it should be widened for reading
and responding to various literary genres and cultures. Aristotle treats tragedy as an
imitation of an action, by means of language embellished with each kind of artistic
105

Translation modified. See Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London:

Verso, 1997), p.32; Jacques Derrida, Politiques de lamiti (Paris: Galile,1994), p.50.
106

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003),

p.13.

34

ornament, and especially through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these
emotions.107 I interpret action as performative and relate it with artistic and
imaginative elements but I have reservation about the idea of imitation that is based
on the instrumental and appropriative mimesis. The word pathos stands for
emotions, and I prefer using the word passion for pathos since I link poetics with
the word passion in terms of Derridas passions of literature which amounts to, in
brief, experience of love, finitude, responsibility, pain and suffering,
martyrdom and testimony, endurance of an indeterminate or undecidable limit.108
In responding to the other, I suggest that the poetics in teleoipoesis should incorporate
the above elements to avoid reducing the other to Sameness and rationality.
Derrida has an immense influence on many contemporary critics on the issue of
literature. Among those critics, Derek Attridge, for instance, has invoked the idea of
the singularity of literature which is based on some of Derridas arguments on
literature, especially the essay Psyche: the Invention of the Other.109 Attridge writes
in his book, The Singularity of Literature,
The singularity of the artwork is not simply a matter of difference from other works
(what I term uniqueness), but a transformative difference, a difference, that is to say,
that involves the irruption of otherness or alterity into the cultural field. And this
combination of singularity and alterity is further specified by inventiveness: the work
comes into being, through an act that is also an event, as an authored entity. Among all
the intentions that can be so characterized, works of art are distinctive in the demand
they make for a performance, a performance in which the authored singularity, alterity,
and inventiveness of the work as an exploitation of the multiple powers of language
are experienced and affirmed in the present, in a creative, responsible reading. But
performance in this sense, I have argued, is a matter both of performing and being
performed by the work: hence the eventness of the reading and thus of the workis
crucial.110

107

Aristotle, Poetics, trans. S.H. Butcher, ed. Richard Koss (Mineola, New York: Dover, 1997), p.10.

108

Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, pp.25-27. I will have a more detailed discussion

on Derridas terms for the passions of literature in Chapter 4.


109

In his essay titled Innovation, Literature, Ethics: Relating to the Other, Derek Attridge emphasises

that the arguments he made in the essay are drawn concretely on the work of Derrida and Levinas
(p.30). The essay is in PMLA, Vol.114, No. 1 (January 1999), pp. 20-31. The essay is a prototype of his
book The Singularity of Literature.
110

Derek Attridge, The Singularity of Literature (London: Routledge, 2004).

35

The words in italics in the above quotation are by Attridge. Without these words, the
singularity of the works of literature would be trivialised. Attridge discusses each of
these words in an individual chapter in his book which addresses the importance of
them in making literature not to be understood as historical and canonical, but to
emphasises the nature of invention, otherness, reading, event and language in literature.
By the end of the book, Attridge discusses the importance of responsibility and ethics
in literature. In the above quotation, Attridge invokes the words being and demand
which I consider as partially unavoidable in the discussion on what literature is and
how singular literature is. The demand made in the discussion and in the writing about
literature embodies a kind of insistence of literature that one has to make reference in
speaking about the being of literature. The being of literature is also the non-being of
literature as literature embodies institution and counter-institution that suspends and
invents the new rules and conventions and new performative.
Apart from Attridges work, the idea of the singularity of literature and its relation to
the contemporary issues of institution is analysed by Timothy Clark in his recent
publication.111 In another essay, Clark also introduces a notion of literary force in
terms of various elements, including singular institutionality and the aporetic
relation between the singular and the universal, to contest the institutional value and
cross-disciplinarity.112 This notion has insistent actions and transgression to the
Outside which is similar to the ideas that the title of this thesis suggests.

The Title: The Insistence of Literature in Blanchot and Derrida


Having considered the literary relation between Blanchots and Derridas
literature, I give the following discussions on the title of this thesis. First of all, the
term literature used in this thesis is the general meaning of this work, like belle
lettres, exemplified by various literary writers, like poetry, drama, novels, prose or
canonical works of literature such as Shakespeares works. I also stress that writing is
an important domain of literature, particularly referring to literary criticism and
reviews. The notion of insistence with reference to the meaning of insistence and
instance will also be discussed based on the definitions from the dictionary, the
reading of Blanchots rcit The Instant of My Death, the French meaning of instance
111

Timothy Clark, Poetics of Singularity: The Counter-Culturalist Turn in Heidegger, Derrida,

Blanchot, and the later Gadamer (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005).
112

Timothy Clark, Literary Force, Institutional Values in Elizabeth Beaumont Bissell (ed.), The

Question of Literature: The Place of the Literary in Contemporary Theory (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2003), pp.91-104.

36

in Jacques Lacans essays, and the meaning of the German word Instndigkeit as read
in Martin Heideggers works. The meanings of these various words assist in the
development of the notion of the Insistence of Literature, with the reading of
Blanchots and Derridas works.
The origin of the title of this work can be traced to the reading of Blanchots rcit
The Instant of My Death.113 The details of this rcit will be discussed in Chapter 2 of
this thesis. The rcit can be read in a number of ways but one of them is to see it as a
rare retelling of Blanchots few pieces of life which is in relation to death. As the last
rcit of Blanchot, The Instant of My Death carries a paramount importance in the
works of Blanchot since this rcit helps to understand Blanchots notions of death,
writing, testimony and writing. The last phrase of this rcit is the instant of my death
henceforth always in abeyance. In French, this phrase is linstant de ma mort
dsormais toujours en instance. The two French words instant and instance in the
phrase share proximity in meaning as they have similar etymology in Latin which is
instare, meaning standing-in. Besides, the phrase implies at least two meanings. The
first one is the instant of Blanchots death is henceforth always in abeyance or in
suspension.114 The other meaning is the rcit The Instant of My Death is henceforth
always in abeyance. The suspension of the instant of Blanchots death and the
suspension of the rcit (as an instance of literary work) come together. Further
meditation on the first meaning gives an analysis of life and death. The elaboration on
the second meaning is the thinking of the relation of retelling, testimony, writing and
genre. If the rcit is an instance of literature, the rcit can be read as a relation between
the suspension of Blanchots death (as sketched in the rcit) and the suspension of
literature. The actual death of Blanchot was in 2003.115 However, Blanchots death is
henceforth always in abeyance, arguably since 1944 (when the incident of the
suspension of death happened).116 Considering the act of writing down the rcit in
around 1994, Blanchots suspended death in 1944 was put down in a rcit after about
113

Maurice Blanchot , The Instant of My Death/Jacques Derrida, Demeure : Fiction and Testimony,

trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 2-11
114

In the rcit, The Instant of My Death, there was a young man who escaped his death sentence in a

firing squad. In a letter written by Blanchot in 1993 to Derrida, Blanchot wrote, July 20. Fifty years ago,
I knew of the happiness of nearly being shot to death. Thus, the parallelism of these two incidents
suggests that the rcit, The Instant of My Death can be read as an autobiographical text of Blanchot such
that the young man escaping from death in the rcit can be regarded as Blanchots suspended death. See
Jacques Derridas narration in his Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, p.52.
115

Blanchot died on 20 February, 2003. See the French newspaper, Le Monde dated 24 February, 2003.

116

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death, p. 5 and p.7.

37

fifty years.117 However, in terms of Blanchots insistence of literature, the notion of


the suspended death can be regarded as the coming of the event, repetitively again and
again since 1944 as the notion is incessantly recurring in Blanchots instances of
literary works. The suspended instant of death can be figured as the motif of the escape
from death or the return to life from death which can be seen in Blanchots recit, Death
Sentence originally published in 1948.118 Blanchot even refers to the biblical phrase
Lazare, veni foras (Lazarus, come forth, from John 11:1-45), signifying that
Lazarus is summoned from death to life by Jesus, in the essay Literature and the Right
to Death originally written in 1947-1948 and in his The Space of Literature originally
published in 1955.119 The scene of Eurydice being in a state of living briefly
in-between death and life after Orpheuss rescuing journey to the hell was commented
by Blanchot in the essay The Gaze of Orpheus originally published in 1953.120
Besides, the notion of dying (mourir), which can be read as the suspension of death,
recurs widely in Blanchots The Step/Not Beyond and The Writing of the Disaster
originally published in 1973 and 1980 respectively.121 Derrida also acknowledges
Blanchots insistence of dying, as he writes in Aporias,
When Blanchot constantly repeatsand it is a long complaint and not a triumph of life
the impossible dying, the impossibility, alas, of dying he says at once the same thing
and something completely different from Heidegger.122

The meaning of the instant of my death henceforth always in abeyance in the


rcit aligns with the meaning of coming of the event, repetitively again and again.
They can also be envisaged when the rcit, being read again and again by an infinite
number of readers, re-enacts the suspension of Blanchots death as a testimony or an
autobiography, which are genres of literature. In addition, the reading of the rcit
re-enacts again and again an instance of literature as well as the suspension of
117

The original French version of The Instant of My Death was published in 1994. See Maurice

Blanchot, Linstant de ma mort (Paris: Fata Morgana, 1994).


118

Maurice Blanchot, Death Sentence, p.20.

119

Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death in The Work of Fire, p.326; Maurice Blanchot,

The Space of Literature, pp.194-196.


120

Maurice Blanchot, Orpheuss Gaze in The Space of Literature, pp.194-199. The original French

version is Maurice Blanchot, Le Regard dOrphe, in Cahiers dArt, Volume 28, No.1, June 1953,
pp.73-75.
121

Maurice Blanchot, The Step/Not Beyond, p.89ff; Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster,

pp.39-40, 65-66.
122

38

Jacques Derrida, Aporias, trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p.77.

literature (as inferred from the recit henceforth always in abeyance). In other words,
the re-enactment of an instance of literature is to hold literature en instance (in
abeyance). The suspension of literature or literature en instance can be understood as
literature being put in the various connotations in the French word instance (i.e.
insistence, instance, agency, judicial, solicitation, testimony) which will be discussed
in the later part of this section.
If literature is to exist as the many instants of writing and/or reading of its
instancesthe events of literary work, the universality of literature insists on the
existence of literature through the infinite exemplary and instances of literature.
Derrida has a discussion in his commentary on Blanchots The Instant of My Death
about the universality of testimony and its singular nature. Derrida writes in Demeure,
The exemplarity of the instant, that which makes it an instance, if you like, is that
it is singular, like any exemplarity, singular and universal, singular and universalizable.
The singular must be universalizable; this is the testimonial condition.

(DFT, p.41)

In Derridas notion, literature attains its singularity and universality when the
exemplary instances of literature in conjunction with the instants (moments) of writing
and reading are held in testimonial suspended conditions (en instance). Blanchots rcit
furnishes the different instants and instances of literature: a deferred writing, an
incessant rewriting (or reading) of the event of his suspended life-death in his many
literary instances (rcits, novels, criture), the instances of suspended autobiographical
and testimonial nature of literature. By means of such notion, I treat The Instant of My
Death as an instance put forward by literature for its existence and nature of
universality and singularity. In thinking about literature and its relation with existence,
Derridas and Heideggers ideas about instance and existence shed some light on such
issue.
Derrida also writes in Demeure,
Insofar as it takes on the responsibility of saying what is true, testimony is thus always
a matter of instant and instance or exemplary instance. In more than one language.123
123

The French for In more than one language. is En plus dune langue (Demeure, p.48). The phrase

plus dune langue enjoyed a special position in Derridas deconstruction, as Derrida wrote, If I had to
risk a single definition of deconstruction, one as brief, elliptical, and economical as a password, I would
say simply and without overstatement: plus dune langue both more than a language and no more of
a language. See Jacques Derrida, Mmoires for Paul de Man, Revised Edition, trans. Cecile Lindsay,

39

In more than one language, not only because I said instant and instance (I could
have said Instndigkeit and engaged in a lengthy reading of Heidegger, this will be for
another time)

(DFT, p. 42)124

The German word Instndigkeit has its origin from Heidegger who uses this word on
several occasions in his works. The word Instndigkeit has been translated differently
by various translators, as standing in, in-standing, in-stance or in-dwelling.125
Besides, another meaning of the word is insistence.126 I treat the word insistence in
the title of this thesis as a condensation of the various meanings of instance, instance,
insistence, Instndigkeit, and en instance. These meanings in relation to literature will
be discussed in the following chapters with reference to Blanchots and Derridas
works. Besides, the word insistence enjoys a possibly serendipitous proximity with
existence or ek-sistence. The title insistence of literature also furnishes literature its
existence/ek-sistence with the assistance of Heideggers terms.
Paradoxically, literatures existence passionately suffers from its insisting
suspensionliteratures ek-sistence. The word ek-sistence, borrowed from Martin
Heidegger, means standing out, or standing outside. Heidegger wrote in Letter
on Humanism, written in 1946,

Jonathan Culler, Eduardo Cadava and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p.15.
As we shall see in the text below, deconstruction is closely related to language, instance, instndigkeit
and especially with Heidegger.
124

The relation between literatures subversion of limits and its responsibility of saying will be

discussed in the analysis of Blanchots The Instant of My Death and Derridas Demeure: Fiction and
Testimony in Chapter 2. Blanchots rcits and Derridas commentary are literary instances of testimony.
125

Instndigkeit is rendered as standing in, see Martin Heidegger, Recollection in Metaphysics in

The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 7;
Instndigkeit as in-standing, see Martin Heidegger, Introduction to What is Metaphysics?, in
Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 284 ; Instndigkeit
as in-stance, see William J. Richardson, Heidegger : through Phenomenology to Thought (New York:
Fordham University Press, 2003), p.509; Instndigkeit as in-dwelling, see Martin Heidegger,
Discourse on Thinking, trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York: Harper & Row, 1966),
pp.81-82, 84-86, 92.
126

The word Instndigkeit is rendered as insistence in the Glossary at the end of Volume 3 of

Heideggers book Nietzsche. See Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, Volumes 3-4, trans. Joan Stambaugh,
David Farrell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), p.282.

40

Ek-sistence, thought in terms of ecstasis, does not coincide with existentia in either
form or content. In terms of content ek-sistence means standing out into the truth of
being. Existentia (existence) means in contrast actualitas, actuality as opposed to mere
possibility as Idea. Ek-sistence identifies the determination of what the human being is
in the destiny.

127

Heidegger further explained the word out in standing out in 1949 and he wrote,
The ecstatic essence of existence is therefore still understood inadequately as long as
one thinks of it as merely a standing out, while interpreting the out as meaning
away from the interior of an immanence of consciousness or spirit. For in this
manner, existence would still be represented in terms of subjectivity and substance;
while, in fact, the out ought to be understood in terms of the outside itself of the
openness of Being itself. The stasis of the ecstatic consists strange as it may sound
in standing in the out and there of unconcealedness, which prevails as the essence
of Being itself.128

Literatures insisting existence, that is standing inside of its domain, is to be


accompanied by the standing outside of itself. In fact, Heidegger has linked ek-sistent
with insistent more than once in the essay On the Essence of Truth,
Dasein not only ek-sists [ek-sistiert] but also at the same time in-sists [in-sistiert]
As ek-sistent, Dasein is insistent. Even in insistent existence [insistenten Existenz] the
mystery holds sway, but as the forgotten and hence essential essence of truth.129
(Heideggers italics; words in brackets are the original German words.)

Heideggers philosophy is not the topic of discussion in this thesis.130 However,


127

Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, in Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 249.


128

Martin Heidegger, Introduction to What is Metaphysics?, in Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, ed.

William McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 284.


129

Martin Heidegger, On the Essence of Truth , in Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, p. 150. The words in

brackets are the original German words taken from the quotations from Richardsons book. See William
J. Richardson, S.J., Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, 4th Edition, (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2003), p. 223.
130

One can read philosophy of Dasein and its relation with human nature in Heideggers Being and

Time and Letter on Humanism. Besides, the reader can also refer to various commentaries on
Heidegger. See Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot: Sources of Derrida's Notion and Practice

41

the notion of Dasein which embodies human nature or subjectivity helps me to read
literature as a form of allegory of human life. Human existence is not only for survival
and enclosed in its domains and limits but is to attain the very outside of the humans.
In this manner, the insistence of literature carries the connotation: that the selfs
insistent existence for its ek-sistence entails literatures insistence on existence and
vice versa: as Heidegger said, [t]he essence of the human being lies in ek-sistence.131
Besides, I also want to emphasise that literature and human beings are insistently in
proximity with each other. 132
Literatures insistent ek-sistence carries a structure of Marranism. Bernard Lewis
describes Marranism as meant by the secret adherence to one faith, combined with the
public avowal of another.133 Marranism is derived from the word Marrano (with
origin in Spanish, meaning pig) which was used to describe the Spanish and
Portuguese Jews with Judaic faith in the 15th and the 16th centuries in Europe who
convert to Christian faith by professing publicly but privately practising Judaism. The
structure of Marranism in literature articulates the transgressive politics in literature in
relation to institution: the public avowal of literatures standing inside itself which
implies the essence of literature, the consensus of literatures institutional character and
the establishment of literary cannon as well as the secret of literature that the event of
literature attempts in transgression to go outside of itself. The figure of Marrano is also
described by Derrida:
Let us figuratively call Marrano anyone who remains faithful to a secret that he has not
chosen, in the very place where he lives, in the very place where he stays without
saying no but without identifying himself as belonging to.134

Literature in terms of a figure of Marrano remains in the places (institution,


university, book trade, library, readers) where it lives and at the same time literature
of literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp.20-63. For the relation of literature and
Heidegger, see Timothy Clark, Martin Heidegger (London: Routledge, 2002).
131

Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism, in Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 263.


132

However, the problem of proximity in relation to being and man has been discussed by Derrida in

his essay The Ends of Man. See Jacques Derrida, The Ends of Man, in Jacques Derrida, Margins of
Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (London: Prentice-Hall, 1982), p.124ff.
133

Bernard Lewis, Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery (New

York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p.36.


134

42

Jacques Derrida, Aporias, trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), p.81.

avows without full avowal by keeping a secret that it tries to get outside of the places
where it remains or dwells (demeure). Derrida further adds, this secret keeps the
Marrano even before the Marrano keeps it. Is it possible that such a secret eludes
history, age and aging?135 Thus, literatures secret of ek-sistence or standing outside
precedes literatures insistence or standing inside. In this way, literature eludes history,
age and aging and carries its ek-sistence in transcending history and temporality.
The above very brief reading of Blanchots The Instant of My Death is revisiting
the notion of literature through the words instance. The word instance deserves
further investigation. The word instance and the word insistence in the title of this
thesis share a proximity as illustrated in the various commentary on the title of Jacques
Lacans essay Linstance de la lettre dans linconscient ou la raison depuis Freud.136
Besides, the meaning of the word insistence can also be traced in Jacques Lacans
essay Seminar on The Purloined Letter.137
There are a number of translations of Lacans essay Linstance de la lettre dans
linconscient ou la raison depuis Freud. The French word instance in the title has
been translated as agency, insistence and instance. When commenting on the word
agency in the title of Lacans work The agency of the letter in the unconscious or
reason since Freud,138 Benvenuto and Kennedy write,
The English translator of Lacan has in our opinion incorrectly translated instance by
agency. It would be more accurate to restore the old English word instance, which
is directly equivalent to the French, (also to the German of Freud, Instanz). Instance in
English means a pressing solicitation, an insistent request, urgency in speech or action,
an urgent entreaty; as well as a trial, and the power of jurisdiction of a court, or the
court itself, an authority which has the power of decision. The instance of the letter,
135

Jacques Derrida, Aporias, p.81.

136

Jacques Lacan, Linstance de la lettre dans linconscient ou la raison depuis Freud in

Jacques Lacan, crits (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1966), pp. 493-528; Jacques Lacan, The Instance of the
Letter in Unconscious, or Reason since Freud, in Jacques Lacan, crits: The First Complete Edition in
English, trans. Bruce Fink, Hlose Fink and Russell Grigg (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006),
pp. 412-421.
137

Jacques Lacan, Seminar on The Purloined Letter, in Jacques Lacan, crits: The First Complete

Edition in English, trans. Bruce Fink, Hlose Fink and Russell Grigg (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.,
2006), pp. 6-48.
138

Jacques Lacan The agency of the letter in the unconscious or reason since Freud, in Jacques Lacan,

Ecrits: a Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977) pp. 146-178.

43

then, has all these meanings. Instance also resonates with its Latin origins instare (to
be above), referring to the dominant and elevated position of the letter, its authority
and its power to effect decisions. The instance of the letter is therefore the authority
of the letter.

139

In fact, Benvenuto and Kennedys comments on the word instance is based on


the interpretation of the word instance in Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe
Lacoue-Labarthes work The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan. They also
emphasise the meaning of an argument or even a trial, (insofar as a trial presupposes
accusation and extension, and consequently, a clash of arguments). Hence by extension,
the meaning established is, in classical language, of a judicial authority. They further
add,
But we must also take account of the possibility of a Witz, of a witticism: agency
[instance] indeed is almost like insistence (short of a syllable, which is that of the
frequentative). Moreover, in its first sense, to insist is to make a stand [faire instance],
to demand insistently. [W]e know that it is indeed a major concept of Lacanian
discourse: the concept by which the specificity of the signifying chain is marked as the
imminence or indefinite deferral of meaning that is the basis of the repetition
compulsion Freuds Wiederholungszwang. In this sense, the agency of the letter
could perhaps also be its insistence something like the suspension of meaning.

140

The above quotation hovers at the meaning of the word instancethe last word of
the French version of The Instant of My Death. Instance embodies multi-connotations:
solicitation, an insistent request, urgency, an urgent entreaty; a trial, the power of
jurisdiction of a court, the court itself, an authority which has the power of decision,
instare (to be above), insistence, imminence or indefinite deferral. I consider that the
various meanings of the word instance can help understand what literature is. I will
try to analyse the rcit of The Instant of My Death through the above connotations of
instance in Chapter 4. In fact, the last word instance in the last clause linstant de
ma mort dsormais toujours en instance gives the insight to the whole text. Literature
can be thought in terms of the instance. In terms of solicitation, literature challenges
the bases of the traditional concept of literature, that is its historical foundation. In
terms of urgency and insistent request, literature has an insistent request or demand,
139

Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy, The Works of Jacques Lacan- An Introduction (London: Free

Association Books, 1986), p.107.


140

Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan, trans.

Franois Raffoul and David Pettigrew (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), pp. 21-22.

44

which in Blanchots term as illustrated in The Space of Literature, is the exigency of


writing and death. Literature can also be related to the senses of law and justice
embodied in the word instance. Both law and literature are writings. The former is
truth-based and normative whereas the latter is fictional and transgressive. The
instances (exemplary) of literature can be fictional scripture for justice which the
writing of law tries to approach.
The title of this thesis emphasises the insistence of literature. What I mean by the
insistence of literature is that literature exerts an insistence, an insisting demand
upon itself as well as its response to the Other and the Outside, in search of literatures
existence (ek-sistence) and its incessant production through writing. Jacques Lacan in
the essay Seminar on The Purloined Letter wrote that,
My research has led me to the realization that repetition automatism
(Wiederholungszwang) has its basis in what I have called the insistence of the
signifying chain. I have isolated this notion as a correlate of the ex-sistence (that is, the
eccentric place) in which we must necessarily locate the subject of the unconscious, if
we have to take Freuds discovery seriously.141

The word insistence carries a sense of repetition which is automatically or


compulsively to repeat. I emphasise this repetition which is important in literature as
the agencies of literature, including the writers, readers, commentators and also
language, repetitively and incessantly produce and realise the existence of literature. In
line with Freuds and Lacans ideas about the challenge of the unconscious and
repetition for the consciousness, I consider that the existence of literature through
repetition does not maintain literature as a stable and fixed self and domain but
de-stabilises and instantiates solicitation to literature itself, for the ex-sistence or
eccentric place of literature, which is nevertheless the magnetic point for literatures
going. Or in Blanchots terms, the ex-sistence or eccentric place of literature is the
outside, the otherness which is the space where literature remains (demeure).
The following is my understanding of the two words instance and insistence
for their use and implication in the title. The word insistence is in proximity of the
word instance. The connotations of the word insistence used in the title shares with
those of the word instance, particularly the French word instance. The meanings of
insistence from the OED is the action of insisting; the fact of being insistent;
emphatic or urgent dwelling upon a statement, demand, and also the quality of being
141

Jacques Lacan, Seminar on The Purloined Letter, p.6.

45

insistent. The meanings of the word instance are more enriched. Basically, it means
an example or a short moment, and urgency; pressure; urging influence. I think the
word instance is more neutral, objective and less pressing. In French, the meaning of
the French word instance is to insistently request, an argument or a trial, judicial
authority, authority (of agency) or in Latin, the word instance is instare which means
to be above. The French word insistance means to make a stand, to demand
insistently, suspension. Thus, the English meaning of the word instance is rather
narrow. This thesiss title The Insistence of Literature carries an undertone of The
Instance of Literature. I consider the English words insistence and instance bear
narrower meanings than the French words insistance and instance. As the title is
put down in English, I decide to choose the English word insistence. I also take into
consideration that the word insistence exerts a kind of insisting and persisting power
on literature while the word instance seems to carry a neutral stand. Moreover, the
word insistence carries a connotation similar to that of the word passion. They both
imply a passionate nature. In terms of the existence of literature, their pathos and
insisting passion are affirmative in the search and approach of the existence of
literature, when considered under the instance of many passionate writers for literature,
including Blanchot and Derrida.
If I put the words insistence and instance in conjunction with literature,
Blanchot and Derrida, this thesis with the title The Insistence of Literature in Blanchot
and Derrida tries to examine the life and works of Blanchot and Derrida, as some of
their works can be read as an example (instance) of literature. Besides, the thesis will
be a discussion on Blanchots and Derridas insistent requests on literature in relation
to their arguments and trial of literature. The thesis is also to suggest that literature is
above all in Blanchots writing and some of Derridas writing as a result of their
insistence on literature or their writing is under the exigency of literature and writing.
Moreover, the thesis will try to examine how Blanchots and Derridas ideas of
literature and writing put literature in suspension or abeyance (en instance) of
literature.
In summary, I would argue that literature has a kind of insistence on its existence
and ek-sistence. The insistence I mean for literature is its insisting nature, for a wide
range of characteristics that can be thought of in terms of the meaning of insistence
and its etymologically related word instance. Literatures insistence entails its
standing inside of its domain, such that it creates its own institution in relation to its
social and academic audience. In other words, the institution of literature assists to
stand inside of itself, the limitation of its realm, the establishment of its norms,
46

category, genre, methods of study, practices in society, book trade, and publishing. At
the same time, literatures insistence of its ek-sistence, that is the standing outside of
itself, which means its de-limitation, stepping beyond its boundary, to approach what is
not literature, to approach the other and the otherness of literature. Literature
insistence on its instances makes its proliferation that expands the realm of its domain
and makes it in close proximity with its outside, its otherness. The instances of
literature include not simply its various exemplary works, but also the various
repetitions of its domain of the inside accompanied by the variation of its former realm.
In addition, the instances of literature include the French connotation of instance, that
is the agency, judiciary and testimonial nature as well as the suspension of the realm of
the inside without stagnancy supplemented with its repetitive questioning. The
instances of literature include how its exemplary instances manifest the universality of
literature.
The insistence of literature manifests its nature of ethics and responsibility by
addressing the other in an incessant way. The address is not for the incorporation of the
other into the realm of literature but to solicit the limits of literature. Literatures
insistence on the solicitation of the limits of literature is this: it addresses the other, so
it questions literatures existence of essence. Literature, in terms of Blanchots and
Derridas notion, has essence only in terms of the essence without essence.
Superficially, literature has its essence and at the same time its essence is questioned,
suspended, in solicitation and under trial.
I also suggest in the following sketch that the insistence of literature can be taken
as relation with the following elements:
The relation of death with literature and language, as in Derridas and
Blanchots analyses on the poetry, especially those of Mallarm, in addition to
the concepts of death of Hegel, Heidegger and Levinas
The ek-sistence of literature: literature insists on its ek-sistence, that is the
standing inside as like institution, and standing outside of itself for the
unknown, outside, unreason, neuter, other
The address to the Other: literature insists on approaching the Other for not
maintaining itself in its institution. Such action implies the ethics of literature
that is not away from subjectivity and Self-same but to respect the Other, no
matter it is the other culture, discipline, death, etc
The insistence of literature from the passions of literature as elaborated by
Derrida in Demeure and Passions, that is a rethinking of literature as the
47

European and Christian cultures since the Ancient Greek and the Roman
Empire, as injustice, debt, neutre and undecidability
The insistence of literature as the instance of literature that displays exemplary,
agency, solicitation, judicial nature
The insistence of literature exemplified by writing as diffrance, neutre,
dsoeuvrement, fragmentary
The insistence of literature as fiction and testimony of witness, no matter
whether it is the witness of the death of author and reader in the anonymity, or
witness of the disaster, trauma and death
The insistence of literature as contestation, the step not beyond, contestation,
and the death drive as in Freuds Beyond the Pleasure Principle
The insistence of literature in the search of the nothingness and the secret
anterior to the being of literature, as explicated in Blanchots writing on the
primal scene

The above insistence(s) of literature are not separated from each other, but form a
web of insistence that is textual and textile-like, though formless and not in a fixed
shape. The insistence of literature is more than its common sense for incessant and
interminable acts of reading, writing, production, institutionalising and invention of
literature. It also maintains its insistence on openness for the otherness, radical
interrogation and the ex-centering of itself.

The Structure of the Thesis


This thesis is an exploration of the insistence of literature from the reading of the
works of Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, especially those related to literature
and writing. I will show the different elements of the nature of insistence of literature,
and how, what and why literature insists upon itself and otherness, from the incessant
writing on literature. This work does not only explicate their notion of literature
through the reading of the texts of Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, and the
ideas of Foucault and Adorno, but also develops a new viewpoint on thinking that the
insistence and ek-sistence of literature is also a way to approach the problem of ethics
and politics of literature as literature is not for-itself, in-itself but outside-itself, for the
other, and in the other. As shown in the following, Blanchot and his works remain the
main subject of this thesis. It seems that Derrida may be in a less obvious position on
the stage of thesis, but I emphasise that in this thesis Derridas works do carry their full
deconstructive importance as the rethinking of the origin, writing, literature, passion
48

and other concepts which voice-over, gloss, explicate and implicate Blanchots works
and notions of literature. Derridas writing acts like a glas [which includes the meaning
of a funeral bell] and a glossary for the reading of Blanchot and the insistence of
literature.
I begin this thesis with an introduction of the life of Maurice Blanchot. A brief
summary of his obscure life has been sketched through the reviews and commentary,
including his encounters and friendship with his clandestine companions, Georges
Bataille and Emmanuel Levinas. I hope this short introduction will make the readers of
this thesis familiar with the obscure life of Blanchot in writing. The interactions of
Blanchot and Derrida, including their writings on each other, especially on the topic of
literature and writing, will then be discussed. The title of the thesis will be explicated
from the meanings of the word insistence and instance, through the notions of these
words as brought out by Lacan, Heidegger and Blanchot.
Chapter One is to emphasise the notion of the Outside or the thought from the
Outside that is important to what I claim as the ek-sistence of literature. The Outside is
an important notion of Blanchot for thinking about literature though it is dispersed in
Blanchot various writings. First, I will give a reading of Blanchots essays on the
notions of literature The Song of Sirens and The Gaze of Orpheus. I also work on
the notion of the Outside in these two and Blanchots other essays. Next, I will discuss
the ideas of Foucault in his The Thought from Outside. Through the words of Foucault
in his short but subtle text, almost half of Blanchots literary works, recits and romans
are analysed in relation to the thought of the Outside. A reading of Blanchots
comment on the works of Foucault in the essay Michel Foucault as I Imagine Him
will then follow. The aim is to see how Blanchot treats the themes of Foucault which
are not specifically attached to the literary field. This chapter will also include an
exploration of the nature of impersonality of Blanchots rcit, The One Who Was
Standing Apart From Me through the two nameless characters I and he; and their
imminent shadowing of each other in their conversation. At the end of the rcit, they
cannot form an ensemble except by becoming the forethought of the notion of the
neutre in Blanchots later writing. Besides, the thought of the Outside elaborated by
Foucault will be invoked to affirm the nature of the outside in the neutre. In fact, the
neutre is the infinite nameless space of literature.
The next three chapters are the search of literature through the journey of death
since the topic of death recurs very often in both Blanchots literary review and his
creative works of rcits and romans. Chapter Two gives a reading of Blanchots last
49

literary rcit, The Instant of My Death to explore the fictional nature in testimony and
autobiography as well as to treat the recurring instants of death and instances of death
in Blanchots works as the insistence and instance of literature. The fictionality, as
articulated by Derrida in Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (as a commentary on
Blanchots The Instant of My Death) neither affirms nor negates the testimonial nature
of this text, showing that literature is a kind of writing haunted by fictionality and
testimony. The issue of passions of literature will be discussed in relation to secret and
remaining (demeure) through Derridas writings on the topic of passions of literature
and Blanchots literary works. The term passions of literature as explicated by
Derrida carries paramount importance for thinking about the history, judicial nature
and undecidable nature of literature. Blanchots instance of literature in The Instant of
My Death and Derridas instance of literary commentary show that they are instances
of literature insisting on the critiques of the ontological and institutional problems of
literature.
Chapter Three articulates Blanchots notions of literature through the reading of
Blanchots important essay on literature Literature and the Right to Death. I will try
to work out Blanchots meditation on the relation of writer, writing, reader, negation,
death, language and literature. After that, I will discuss Blanchots notions of neutre
(i.e. neuter or neutral) as a thinking of literature and writing. The aim of this chapter,
apart from an introduction of Blanchots insisting ideas of literature, is to establish
what literature means to Blanchot and how the above notions form an incessant search
and approach to what I call the infinite being of literature. Another aim is to pave the
way for further discussion on how Blanchots ideas of literature are commented and
influenced by or influence Derrida in later chapters.
Chapter Four is a reading of Blanchots two early rcits The Madness of the Day
and Death Sentence. To establish why the theme of death is paramount to Blanchots
notion of literature is one of the aims. Derridas reading of the rcits supplements this
reading and shows how death and writing indicate the being of literature. Derridas
comments on the rcit are also a critique on the common terms of genre, law, title and
living, as elaborated in his essays, Living On/Border Line, The Law of Genre and
Before the Law. To work on the intersections of Blanchot and Derrida in the rcit is
an attempt to explicate the insistence of literature in Blanchot and Derrida, and the
insistence of literature with its outside: genre, law, title and living.
Chapter Five is a reading of two important works of Blanchot: The Step Not
Beyond and The Writing of Disaster. First, I will question the notion of the Eternal
50

Return of the Same with considerations of Blanchots reading of such notion. The
implication of the concept of Eternal Return is drawn on in order to develop the
notion of insistence of writing. Then, I will try to read these texts of Blanchot in
relation to Freuds psychoanalytical works and Derridas writing on psychoanalysis.
The importance of a psychoanalytical reading of these two pieces of fragmentary
writing of Blanchot will be explained. I will find out the impact of psychoanalysis on
Blanchot though psychoanalysis is not much an explicit phenomenon or subject in
Blanchots writing. The relation of literature, philosophy and psychoanalysis will be
discussed to draw their similarities and differences in relating to the de-centering of the
subject and truth. I will also read Blanchots rcit The Primal Scene (which, of course,
has a Freudian theme) in The Writing of the Disaster to search for the issue of death in
Blanchot. In addition, the nature of death, as a step/beyond and as disaster will be
marked for the thinking of the insistence of literature.
Chapter Six is the conclusion and it will end this thesis with a discussion on
Blanchots notions of literature in relation to his commitment to literature. I will
begin this chapter with the interesting intersection of Adorno, Blanchot and Derrida
through the themes of The Book to Come and fragmentary writing. These themes
instantiate the insistence of literature on its incessant production. I will have a reading
of Theodor W. Adornos essay Commitment which is a contestation of the ideas of
committed literature as highlighted by Jean-Paul Sartre in his book What is
Literature?. Adorno though agrees that there is a social dimension of literature but
disagrees with the idea that literature can have an overt commitment, in stressing a
political position. The problems in the committed literature in Sartres work will be
explored. On the other hand, Adorno disagrees with the autonomous art such as that in
Dada but encourages the autonomous art of Schoenberg, Kafka and Beckett. It is
interesting to draw a comparison of Blanchots and Adornos notions of literature in
terms of commitment and autonomy. Blanchots commitment to literature is to efface
himself which instantiates his commitment to the notion of worklessness and
impersonality of literature. I will also read Blanchots brief commentary on Adornos
Philosophy of New Music and Bertolt Brechts idea of strangeness in order to draw the
similarities and differences between Adornos and Blanchots notions of the political
aspects of literature.

51

Chapter 1: The Outside: Blanchot and Foucault

Blanchot and Foucault


This chapter is to explore Blanchots notion of Outside, by reading his essays,
rcit together with Michel Foucaults essay The Thought from Outside. Before the
discussion, I will introduce the interaction between Blanchot and Foucault. The
thought from the Outside provokes the radical interrogation of the institution and
interiority of literature which is closely related to the insistence and ek-sistence of
literature.
The essay The Thought from Outside was originally published in French in the
issue numbered 229 of the journal Critique in June 1966.142 This issue of Critique is
dedicated to Maurice Blanchot and incorporates essays written by Michel Foucault,
Emmanuel Levinas, Roger Laporte and Paul de Man. Michel Foucaults essay is a
concise discussion on several essays, novels and rcits of Blanchot. Although
Foucaults essay was short (around fifty pages) and his reference to Blanchots work is
brief, the essay is very helpful for the explication of Blanchots ideas of literature and
language. Foucaults thinking of the Outside has a close proximity to Blanchots idea
of literature and language.
Foucault has an immense admiration for Blanchot (une immense admiration
pour Blanchot).143 In an interview between Foucault and Raymond Bellour in June
1967, about one year after the publication of the essay of The Thought from Outside,
Foucault made the following commendation on Blanchot and his notions of literature,

142

Michel Foucault, La pense du dehors in Critique, No. 229 (1966), pp.523-546. This essay was

republished as a book in 1986: Michel Foucault, La pense du dehors (Paris: Fata Margana, 1986). The
English translation of this essay/book by Jeffrey Mehlman and Brian Massumi was collected in a book
comprising of Foucaults essay and Blanchots essay Michel Foucault as I Imagine Him published in
1990: Michel Foucault and Maurice Blanchot, Foucault/Blanchot (New York: Zone books, 1990),
pp. 7-58. This translation also appeared in Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, ed.
James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others (New York: New Press, 1998), pp.147-169.
Throughout this chapter, I will refer to the English translation in 1990 (abbreviated as FB) and
occasionally refer to the French book of 1986, La Pense du Dehors.
143

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essais Biographique (Seyssel: Champ

Vallon, 1998), p. 453.

52

Its true that Blanchot made possible all discourse about literature. First of all, because
he was the first to show that works are connected to each other by that external face of
their language where literature appears. Literature is thus what constitutes the
outside of every work, what furrows all written language and leaves an empty claw
mark on every text. It is not a mode of language, but a groove that runs like a great
impulse through all the literary languages. By bringing light this agency [instance] of
literature as a common place, an empty space where works come to be lodged, I
believe he assigned to contemporary criticism what ought to be its object, what makes
possible its work both of accuracy and invention.144

Foucaults words articulate the importance of Blanchot for literature. He sees in


Blanchot the thought from outside which constitutes what literature is. For literature
is not a classification that includes those works that suit its taste and content but is a
de-classification, de-limitation, exteriorisation and the search for the outside with
literatures constituentlanguage that furrows or digs on the surface of the limit of
literature, leaving grooves that set up its limit with emptiness. The common place
Foucault means in the above quotation is not the daily language for instrumental use
but the literary language in common for writing literary work and criticism that is
always exteriorised. This is the agency of literature or the instance of literature, or
taking an allusion to a great impulse through all the literary languages, the emptiness
of the outside includes the insistence of literature. Blanchot is important for Foucault
as Foucault recognises the transgressive works of Georges Bataille through Blanchot,
for Foucault said in another interview in 1983,
And this is where French writers like Bataille and Blanchot were important for us. I
said earlier that I wondered why I had read Nietzsche. But I know very well. I read
him because of Bataille, and Bataille because of Blanchot.145

However, direct communication between Foucault and Blanchot seems to be absent,


even though the relationship which exists in writing might lead us to question what is
meant by direct communication. . Blanchot writes in his essay on Foucault,

144

Michel Foucault, On the Ways of Writing History, in Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method and

Epistemology, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others (New York: New Press, 1998),
p.287.
145

Michel Foucault, Structuralism and Post-structuralism, in Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method and

Epistemology, p. 439.

53

Let me say first of all that I had no personal relations with Michel Foucault. I never
met him, except one time, in the courtyard of the Sorbonne, during the events of
May 68, perhaps in June or July (but I was later told he wasnt there), he himself
unaware of who was speaking to him (Whatever the detractors of May might say, it
was a splendid moment, when anyone could speak to anyone else, anonymously,
impersonally, welcomed with no other justification than that of being another person.)
Its true that during those extraordinary events I often asked: but why isn't Foucault
here? thus granting him his power of attraction and underscoring the empty place he
should have been occupying. But I received replies that didnt satisfy me: hes
somewhat reserved, or hes abroad But, in fact, there were many foreigners, and
even the far off Japanese were there. Perhaps we may simply have missed each other.
(FB, pp. 63-64)

According to David Macey who writes a biographical work on Foucault,


Foucault was indeed abroad, in Tunisia, though he was briefly in Paris at the end of
May.146 Based on Blanchots autobiographical account and Maceys biographical
account, Foucaults alibis prove it is highly probable that Blanchot and Foucault did
not meet in May 1968 though there is a reasonable doubt in such saying. In fact, it is
also a kind of a fictional aspect in the testimony and (auto)-biography in which one
cannot write with concrete certainty about the events which have happened.
The above long quotation from Blanchot also highlights the notions of anonymity
and impersonality which shows both Blanchot and Foucault share a common view
about language. Foucault writes about anonymity and impersonality in the later part of
The Thought from Outside (FB, pp.51-58). Blanchots words of [Foucaults] power
of attraction and underscoring the empty place he should have been occupying are
also a reference from Foucaults essay The Thought from Outside: The empty
outside of attraction is perhaps identical to the nearby outside of the double (FB, p.48).
This quotation from Foucault is from the part where Foucault explains the double
nameless characters as companions in Blanchots rcit, The One Who Was Standing
Apart From Me.147 Foucault and Blanchot can be read as the double (the nameless I
and the nameless companion He) and their interaction is through their writing and
reading of each other which is another interesting rcit. Blanchot in the above
quotation also laments on whether he has a missed encounter with Foucault and it
seems Blanchot does admire Foucaults work.
146

David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault (London: Hutchinson, 1993), p. xvii.

147

Maurice Blanchot, The One Who Was Standing Apart From Me, trans, Lydia Davis (Barrytown,

N.Y. : Station Hill Press, 1993).

54

Foucault is known to be a reader of Blanchots works and begins to read


Blanchots works from the end of the 40s (Foucault a lu Blanchot ds la fin des
annes quarante).148 He even wanted to write like Maurice Blanchot, as least in his
early days or in the 60s.149 Besides, Foucaults doctoral thesis Histoire de la folie
lge classique was passed to Blanchot, one of the jury for the decision for the
publication of thesis by the Parisian publisher Gallimard.150 Blanchot had a good
comment on Foucaults work but the work was rejected by other members of the jury
for publication by Gallimard.151 Later in 1961, the thesis was published by another
Parisian publisher Plon.152 Blanchot wrote a review on this thesis in the French journal
La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, titled LOubli, la driason in 1961.153
Another interaction between Blanchot and Foucault is in the meaning of a French
word dsoeuvrement which can be translated as worklessness. This word
dsoeuvrement is Blanchots important term for the thinking of literature. It is
difficult to be translated in English for there is no single English word that completely
embodies the meaning of the French word oeuvre. Oeuvre can be rendered as work,
work of art, work of writing, corpus. Dsoeuvrement is a noun derived from a French
word dsoeuvre (or as ds-oeuvre), which means the removal of the work (as
labour, effort or as work of writing), the dissolution of the work, the lack of the work,
out of the work, worklessness, idleness, inertia, and the absence of the work. In the
discussion on Stphane Mallarms prose poem Igitur in Blanchots oeuvre, The Space
of Literature, Blanchot writes,
[The] lightning moment flashes from the work (loeuvre) as the leaping brilliance of
the work itself its total presence all at once This moment is the one at which the
work, in order to give being and existence to the feint that literature exists
declares the exclusion of everything, but in its way, excludes itself, so that the moment
at which every reality dissolves by the force of the poem is also the moment the
148

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essais Biographique (Seyssel: Champ

Vallon, 1998), p.453.


149

David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, p.55.

150

David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, p.107.

151

Maurice Blanchot, Michel Foucault as I Imagine Him in Foucault/Blanchot, p. 64.

152

Michel Foucault, Folie et Draison: Histoire de la Folie lge Classique (Paris: Plon, 1961).

153

David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, p. 116. Maurice Blanchot, LOubli, la driason in La

Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No.106, October, 1961, pp. 676-686. The English translation of this essay
can be found in Blanchots book, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 194-201.

55

poem dissolves and, instantly done, is instantly undone. This is in itself extremely
ambiguous. But the ambiguity touches something more essential. For this moment,
which is like the work of the work (loeuvre de l oeuvre), which outside (dehors) of
any signification, any historical or esthetic affirmation, declares that the work is,
depends on the works undergoing, at this very same moment, the ordeal which always
ruins the work in advance and always restores in it the unending lack of work, the vain
superabundance of inertia (dsoeuvrement).154

Dsoeuvrement is both the affirmation of the work (the work exists) and the
negation of the work (the work lacks and dissolves). It also dissolves the reality that
work describes. Dsoeuvrement is crucial to the existence of literature, that literature
creates the irreality of work (or the irreality that work creates) and its own existence of
being. In the concluding chapter of his doctoral thesis, Folie et draison: Histoire de la
Folie, he writes,
There is no madness except at the final instant of the work of art the work endlessly
drives madness to its limits; where is a work of art, there is no madness; and yet
madness is contemporary with the work of art since it inaugurates the time of its
truth.155

Foucault probably has Blanchots word dsoeuvrement in mind in his doctoral work
as he considers madness as the absence of work of art.156 In another essay,
Madness, the Absence of Work, Foucault writes on the relation of literature and the
absence of the work,
[T]hat strange proximity between madness and literature, which ought not be taken in
the sense of common psychological parentage now fully exposed. Once uncovered as a
language silenced by its superposition upon itself, madness neither manifests nor
narrates the birth of a work [but] it outlines an empty form from where this work
comes, in other words, the place from where it never ceases to be absent157
154

Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, pp.45-46; Stphane Mallarm, Igitur, trans. Robert

Greer Cohn, in Stphane Mallarm, Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. Mary Ann Caw (New York: New
Directions, 1982), pp.91-102.
155

I use the English translation of Folie et Draison: Histoire de la Folie lge Classique: Michel

Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard
(New York: Vintage, 1988), pp.288-289.
156

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, p.287.

157

Michel Foucault, Madness, the Absence of Work, trans. Peter Stastny and Deniz engel, in Arnold

56

The beginning of the work is in a place that is always empty and contains the ceaseless
absence of work. Such an empty place is thus of dsoeuvrement. Blanchot writes, as
a response to Foucaults ideas of madness and the absence of the work,
Madness is the absence of work, while the artist is one who is preeminently destined
to a work but also one whose concern for the work engages him in the experience of
that which in advance always ruins the work and always draws it into the empty depth
of worklessness (dsoeuvrement), where nothing is ever made of being. (IC, p.200)

Blanchot and Foucault both share the similar idea that the work (of literature) is
premised on an origin that is the place of incessant absence and emptiness. In addition,
they both write on similar literary writers. In Foucaults case, those writers give light to
his meditation on madness. In Blanchots case, they provoke Blanchots thought on
literatures existence. Foucaults writing on literature seems to stem from his thesis
about madness when he gets a chance to read poets and literary writers who have
suffered from madness or mental illness, including the German poet, Friedrich
Hlderlin (1770-1843), the French poets, Grard de Nerval (1808-1855) and Antonin
Artaud (1896-1948). After the publication of his thesis in 1961, he continues to write
on the works of many contemporary French writers including Raymond Roussel
(1877-1933), Georges Bataille (1897-1962) and Pierre Klossowski (1905-2001).158
However, his work on literature does not last very long. In the mid or late 60s after his
work, The Order of Things (the original was published in 1966), as David Macey wrote,
Foucault was by now writing much less on literary issue and concentrating more and
more on historical and philosophical topics; and David Macey considers The
Thought from Outside as [o]ne of the finest expressions of his [Foucaults] interest in
the literary was also, paradoxically, one of the last. 159

I. Davidson (ed.), Foucault and His Interlocutors (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p.103.
158

On Raymond Roussel, see Michel Foucault, Death and Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel

(London: Athlone Press, 1987). On Georges Bataille, see Michel Foucaults A Preface to Transgression
and on Pierre Klossowski, see Michel Foucaults The Prose of Actaeon, both in Michel Foucault,
Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others (New York:
New Press, 1998), pp. 69-88 and pp. 123-136 respectively.
159

David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, p. 181. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An

Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1994) and the original French version
is Michel Foucault, Les Mots et les Choses: Une Archologie de Sciences Humaines (Paris: Gallimard,
1966).

57

The Thought from Outside


In an essay A Preface to Transgression in 1963 as homage to Georges Bataille
after his death in 1962, Foucault analysed the relation of limits and transgression,
The play of limits and transgression seems to be regulated by a simple obstinacy:
transgression incessantly crosses and recrosses a line which closes up behind it in a
wave of extremely short duration, and it is made to return once more right to the
horizon of the uncrossable, But this relationship is considerably more complex: these
elements are situated in an uncertain context, in certainties which are immediately
upset so that thought is ineffectual as soon as it attempts to seize them.160

The above words about limits and transgressions can be considered as a prototype for
the thought of the outside. The limits are amorphous limits which are under the
incessant forces of transgression. The certainties of the inside set up by the limits
are not fixed and stable. As a result, the outside is not a fixed realm as defined by the
fixed limits and the fixed inside. In other words, the outside cannot be defined,
except just as the outside of the inside. If we think about the outside as a sea, the limit
is the coastline which is never fixed under the waves. One cannot measure or fix the
coastline since it is impossible to measure the time-varied perimeter formed by the
numberless wet particles of the sand and stones of a coastline. Besides, how can one
account for the underground intrusion of the sea water onto the land below the horizon
of the sea?
I now turn to Foucaults essay The Thought from Outside. This essay begins and
ends with a lie, or if not, a paradox. Foucault writes at the beginning, In ancient times,
the simple assertion was enough to shake the foundations of Greek truth: I lie. I
speak, on the other hand, puts the whole of modern fiction to the test (FB, p.9).
Modern fiction or literary writing is premised on the foundation I speak while at the
same time I lie. Writing pronounces what it wants to say and speak. Literary
fictions do have a lying or fictional character.
A Cretan (people of Crete) named Epimenides said, All Cretan are liars. This
statement is true if Epimenides is not a Cretan. If not, this statement is false. This is the

160

Michel Foucault, A Preface to Transgression, in Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method and

Epistemology, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others (New York: New Press, 1998),
p.73.

58

Epimenides paradox about the liars.161 If the speaker of the statement is not involved
in the content of the statement, this statement will be truth. Thinking in terms of fiction
and its author, an author does not pronounce his fictional work as truth for it is
fictional, but the author is telling the truth that his work is fictional. The author can be
on some occasions in a fiction (e.g. with the author as a character in the fiction) or in a
narrative or testimonial account, the fiction will then be telling the truth, which in fact
is fictional truth. It is no wonder that Blanchot wrote an essay in 1947 called The
Novel is a Work of Bad Faith which articulated the truth and bad faith among novels,
writers and readers.162 Bad faith is a phrase from Jean-Paul Sartre who writes, the
one who practises bad faith is hiding a displeasing truth or presenting as truth a
pleasing untruth and the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and
the same person.163 Bad faith is a lie that is made to oneself. Literature has such kind
of bad faith for its lie and truth. Blanchot writes,
Literature cannot rid of this lie [the bad faith in and of literature], nor can it conceal it
or elude it. It keeps literature in a permanent state of doubt about its own value, to such
an extent that this doubt is incorporated into everything it does, is the principle
governing its works and the measure of their authenticity.164

The doubt of literature about its own value because of its own bad faith or its lie to
itself can be considered as what Blanchot said in Literature and the Right to Death,
Let us suppose that literature begins at the moment when literature becomes a
question this question is addressed to language, behind the person who is writing
and the person who is reading, by language which has become literatureLiterature
professes to be important while at the same time considering itself an object of doubt.
It confirms itself as it disparages itself. (WF, pp. 300-301)

161

See Michael Clark, Paradoxes from a to z (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 99-106, for a

philosophical analysis of the logic behind Epimenidess paradox.


162

Maurice Blanchot, The Novel is a Work of Bad Faith in Maurice Blanchot, The Blanchot Reader,

ed. Michael Holland (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 61-73. The original essay is Le Roman, oeuvre de
mauvaise foi in Les Temps Modernes, No.19 (April 1947), pp. 1304-1317.
163

Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean-Paul Sartre:Basic Writings, ed. Stephen Priest (London: Routledge, 2001),

p.208.
164

Maurice Blanchot, The Novel is a Work of Bad Faith, trans. Michael Holland, in Maurice Blanchot,

The Blanchot Reader, ed. Michael Holland (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p.71.

59

The self-doubt of literature poses a question to literature, that is what literature is and
how to ask this question through language. Foucault, in terms of the outside or exterior,
writes,
Literature is not language approaching itself until it reaches the point of its fiery
(brulante) manifestation; it is rather language getting as far away from itself as
possible. And if, in this setting outside of itself, it unveils its own being, the sudden
clarity reveals not a folding back (un repli) but a gap (un cart), not a turning back of
signs (un retour des signes) upon themselves but a dispersion. (FB, p.12)

The fiery manifestation of literature probably reminds one of the titles of Blanchots
book, The Work of Fire (La Part du Feu). A piece of literary work is a part or a share of
literature which illuminates and lights up as well as being burned out and destroyed,
leaving behind its traces in literature.165 Foucault means language should get as away
from itself as possible such from [their] conditions and wandering around are the
signs that are dispersed. Words or language that goes to the outside and never is
enclosed as inside itself. Such a journey of transgression is to go for the being of
literature. The unveiling of the being of literature reveals a gap or a limit that
language must transgress to the outside, through the dispersion of signs. It is not the
dispersion of the signified or the meanings, but the dispersion of signs. The language
of literary language is the dispersion, dissemination and pluralisation of signs as it
reflects what Blanchot means by the second slope of literature in Literature and the
Right to Death,
Literature has certainly triumphed over the meaning of words, but what it has found in
words considered apart from their meaning is meaning that has become a thing: and
thus it is meaning detached from its conditions, separated from its moments wandering
like an empty powerIn this endeavor, literature does not confine itself to
rediscovering in the interior what it tried to leave behind on the threshold. Because,
what it finds, as the interior, is the outside (WF, p.331)

The meanings of words detached from signs (signs upon their dispersions) renew and
rediscover themselves in the constellation of dispersion, whether that creates new
meanings which later reenter the same dispersion or creates new signs within the
infinite outside.
165

I refer to the meaning of the French words part and feu. I am also indebted to the comments made

by Charlotte Mandell, the translator of Blanchots The Work of Fire. See Maurice Blanchot, The Work of
Fire, p. xi.

60

Foucault comments on the paradox of the lying and speaking of language and
relates the outside to the world of modern literature. He draws on the common feature
of self-reference in modern literature which seems to emphasise the interior but
points out that this interiorisation of self-reference is actually a passage to the
outside:
It is a widely held belief that modern literature is characterized by a doubling back that
enables it to designate itself; this self-reference supposedly allows both to interiorize
to the extreme (to state nothing but itself) and to manifest itself in the shimmering sign
of its distant existence, In fact the event that gave rise to what we call literature in
the strict sense is only superficially an interiorization; it is far more a question of a
passage to the outside: language escapes the mode of being of discourse in other
words the dynasty of representation and literary speech develops from itself, forming
a network in which each point is distinct, distant from even its closest neighbors, and
has a position in relation to each other point in a space that simultaneously holds and
separates them all. (FB, pp. 11-12)

The network which is made up of points can be reasoned as a constellation of


wandering signs in proximity and distance. The constellation holds and separates the
signs and creates a space that is the neutral space (espace neutre) (FB, p.12).
Foucault relates the neutral space (which characterizes the contemporary Western
fiction) to the contestation (a word from Blanchot) between the unquestionable
certainty of I think and the existence of the I and with the effacement, dispersion of
the I in I speak. In other words, the neutre space of literature is a challenge to the
Cartesian philosophy of I think, therefore I am by means of the exteriorisation of
language.
In terms of such a challenge to the I or subjectivity, Foucault poses the thought
from the outside which is the thought outside subjectivity as contrast with the
interiority of our philosophical reflection and the positivity of our knowledge (FB,
pp.15-16). Foucault explains the thought from outside as the experience of the
outside through the literary works of various writers.166 However, Foucault especially
emphasises Blanchots works as most representative of the thought from outside.
166

This includes Marquis de Sade and Friedrich Hlderlin, writers of the 18th century; Friedrich

Nietzsche and Stphane Mallarm, writers of the 19th century; and Georges Bataille and Pierre
Klossowski, writers of the 20th century. They are briefly mentioned in Section 2 of The Thought from
Outside (FB, pp.16-18).

61

Foucault continues to analyse how the experience of the outside can be mediated
though the various writings of Blanchot, including his literary and critical works.

The Song of the Sirens


The essay The Thought from the Outside is made up of eight sections. One of
the sections is called Eurydice and the Sirens, which is a discussion on two essays by
Blanchot, The Song of the Sirens and Orpheuss Gaze.167 Blanchots essay The
Song of the Sirens is a commentary on a scene of Odysseus or Ulysses encountering
the Sirens in Book 12 of Homers The Odyssey.168 The Sirens are described as
beautiful creatures and they sing sweet songs. The listeners, mostly sailors, who have
heard the songs will be lured to approach the Sirens and they will die and never come
back. As warned by the gods, Odysseus in a journey near the island of the Sirens
orders his sailors to plug soft beeswax into their ears in order not to hear the song of
the Sirens. To ensure the ship to pass the island of the Sirens safely, Odysseus also
orders his sailors to tie him tightly to the mask such that he can hear the song but not
lured to create any disturbance for the sailors.
Blanchot considers the song of the Sirens as a song still to come (BC, p.3).
According to Blanchot, the song can be comprehended as an inhuman song which is
foreign in every possible way to man, awakening in him that extreme delight in
falling that he cannot satisfy in the normal conditions of life; or as an enchantment
that reproduce[s] the habitual song of men. He points out that the song in this respect
will give rise to the listeners a suspicion of the inhumanity of every human song since
the Sirens are animals or beasts (btes) feminine-like but singing habitual songs of
men. In other words, the song of the Sirens points to the outside of humans, whether it
is an inhuman song or the inhumanity of human songs that come from the monstrosity
which is neither feminine nor masculine.
Blanchots essay The Song of the Sirens first appeared in 1954 and later
collected as the first section of his book Le Livre Venir (The Book to Come) in

167

Maurice Blanchot, The Song of the Sirens in Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, trans.

Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 3-24; Maurice Blanchot, Orpheuss
Gaze, in Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1982), pp. 171-176.
168

62

Homer, The Odyssey, trans. E.V. Rieu (London: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 180, 183-185.

1959.169 This section is titled The Song of the Sirens again and has two parts:
Encountering the Imaginary and The Experience of Proust. The essay in 1954
became the first part of Encountering the Imaginary in 1959. Odysseuss encounter
with the song of the Sirens is thus the encounter of the Imaginary though Blanchot puts
it in terms of the real and the unreal,
There was something wonderful in this real [reel] song, this common, secret song,
simple and everyday, that they [the listeners] had to recognize right away, sung in an
unreal [irrellement] way by foreign [trangres], even imaginary [imaginaires]
powers, song of the abyss that, once heard, would open an abyss in each word [parole]
and would beckon those who heard it to vanish into it. (BC, pp. 3-4)

Substituting the song by language, especially the literary language like that in Homers
The Odyssey, there is something unreal in the real language or the language of the
real which is spoken or uttered by some imaginary powers of the foreign. This
implies the experience of the outside from language and that in each word, there is an
abyss which drowns the speaker, listener, or reader in disappearance. The abyss of each
word awaken[s] the readers extreme delight [plaisir] in falling that he cannot satisfy
in the normal conditions of life. (BC, p.3)
Blanchot implies that there is a second encounter between Odysseus and the
Sirens. The first encounter is their encounter which includes the song of the Sirens, and
the second encounter is the encounter being narrated as a rcit of The Odyssey. In
view of such re-coming or becoming, Blanchot suggests ode becomes episode (BC, p.
5). Ode in Greek means a song and it means a lyric poem, usually of some length
while episode means an event or incident within a longer narrative or a
digression.170 What Blanchot means by ode becomes episode is that the epic poem
of The Odyssey that has a number of episodes, in which one of them is about the song
of the Sirens, becomes a digression and a dramatic narrative narrating an event. From
this narrative of an event, Blanchot brings out the secret law of the narrative (rcit)
(BC, p.5). Blanchot defines the rcit,

169

Maurice Blanchot, Le Chants des Sirnes in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No. 19, July 1954,

pp.95-104. Maurice Blanchot, Le Livre Venir (Paris: Gallimard, 1959). The information of the editions
is taken from the bibliographical section of Texts by Blanchot in Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme
Contemporary (London: Routledge, 1997), p.288.
170

J.A. Cuddon, Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (London: Penguin, 1992), p. 650 &

298.

63

It is true that the narrative [rcit], in general, is the narrative [rcit] of an exceptional
event [vnement] that escapes the forms of daily time and the world of ordinary truth,
perhaps of all truth Yet the nature of narrative [rcit] is in no way foretold, when
one sees in it the true account [la relation vraie] of an exceptional event, which took
place and which one could try to report. Narrative is not the relating [la relation] of an
event but this event itself, the approach of the event, the place where it is called on to
unfold [se produire], an event still to come [vnement encore venire], by the
magnetic power [la puissance attirante] of which the narrative itself can hope to come
true [se raliser]. (BC, p.6)

In the discussion on the rcit, Blanchot alludes to the event of the encounter between
Odysseus and the Sirens as the rcit. The rcit is this event, the approach of this event,
and an event still to come. Foucault shares with what Blanchot thinks about the song of
the Sirens as he believes that it is the promise of a songthat is the future song to come.
Foucault writes,
What the Sirens promise to sing to Ulysses is his own past exploits, transformed into a
poem for the future the song is but the attraction of a song; but what it promises the
hero is nothing other than a duplicate [le double] of what he has lived through, known,
and suffered, precisely what he himself is. (FB, p. 42)

In other words, the future song is a narrative of what has happened to Ulysses or
Odysseus, it is a duplicate or a double. Blanchot makes a twist in the double,
What would happen if, instead of being two distinct people conveniently sharing their
roles, Ulysses and Homer were one and the same person? To hear the Song of the
Sirens, he had to stop being Ulysses and become Homer, but it is only in Homers
narrative that the actual meeting occurs in which Ulysses becomes the one who enters
into the relationship with the power of the elements and the voice of the abyss. (BC,
p.7)

Only through Homers rcit giving the narrative of the event of the encounter can
Ulysses approach the event and be able to hear the future song of the Sirens. For the
readers of Homers rcit, the future song is the rcit of the event. The merging or
exchange of Homer and Ulysses in a way echoes with the liar paradox mentioned
above. In this rcit, Homer and Ulysses are uttering the statement, I lie, I speak. They
both are lying and telling the truth.

64

The Gaze of Orpheus


In the section Eurydice and the Sirens of the essay The Thought from Outside,
Foucault also gives a reading of Blanchots essay Orpheuss Gaze. Blanchots essay
is a reading of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. As from Ovids Metamorphoses
(Book X), Orpheuss songs are able to seduce the gods and women; and he can head to
the god of the dead in the Underworld to beg for the permission to summon back the
ghost of his dead bride, Eurydice, to live.171 Because of Orpheuss songs and music,
the god of death allows the ghost of Eurydice who follows Orpheus on the dark roads
to earth to live again on the condition that Orpheus cannot turn back to look at the face
of Eurydice. Orpheus fails to do that and turns back just at the margin of the exit to the
earth. Instantly, his bride returns to the Underworld and disappears in darkness and
shade. In Ovids word, she has the double death.172 Orpheus is disappointed and he
cannot use his music and songs to go back to the underworld again. He even loses his
strength to sing again and is later punished by the gods and dies as a body in pieces.
Blanchots reading of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice does not confer to the lament
on the failure of Orpheus to lose Eurydice again. Blanchot thinks that Orpheus aims at
seeing Eurydice in invisibility in his search,
[He] does not want Eurydice in her daytime truth and her everyday appeal, but wants
her in her nocturnal obscurity, in her distance, with her closed body and sealed face
wants to see her not when she is visible, but when she is invisible, and not as the
intimacy of a familiar life, but as the foreignness of what excludes all intimacy, and
wants, not to make her live, but to have living in her the plenitude of her death. That
alone is what Orpheus came to seek in the Underworld. (SL, p.172)

Blanchot links death with the disappearance of Eurydice. This death is not the ordinary
death that Blanchot depicts as of the tranquil worldly death which is rest, silence, and
end, but is the other death which is death without end, the ordeal of the ends
absence. Eurydice dies twice; one is the ordinary death and the other is the endless
death. These make up the double death. Orpheus wants to see her when she is
invisible and sees her in the foreign space that she lives again in the plentitude of her
death. Orpheus also dies twice: the first time is that he is never a poet again for he
loses his ability to sing when he returns to the earth, and the second time is his real
death that is the dispersed death or the death in pieces. The gaze of Orpheus returns
Eurydice to the incessant dying, away from the daylight.
171

Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 225-228.

172

Ovid, Metamorphoses, p. 226.

65

From the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Blanchot evokes the notion of
worklessness (dsoeuvrement),
He loses Eurydice because he desires her beyond the measured limits of the song, and
he loses himself, but this desire, and Eurydice lost, and Orpheus dispersed are
necessary to the song, just as the ordeal of eternal inertia [lpreuve du dsoeuvrement
ternel] is necessary to the work [loeuvre]. (SL, p.173)

The desire to see her, to lose her and to disperse himself are all important in the song.
The song Orpheus sings on the road to the Underworld establishes the relation between
himself and Eurydice. The song is also an ordeal or trial or test (lpreuve) for him to
see Eurydice again but in vain; he sees her in invisibility or as Blanchot would say, the
apparition of Eurydice has disappeared.173 In terms of the work, the apparition of
the work has disappeared is also necessary for the work. In Blanchots words, the
trial (ordeal or test) of the eternal [worklessness] (or inertia, in Ann Smocks
translation) is necessary to the work. The worklessness is dsoeuvrement in French
which means un-working and implies a dissolving, or making the work disappear. The
work of Ovid who retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has the ordeal of the
eternal disappearance of Orpheus and Eurydice.
In the section Eurydice and the Sirens, Foucault combines the myth of the
Sirens and Orpheus as implied in Blanchots reading and makes a twist in his
interpretation of death. Foucault opines that Orpheus will not look at Eurydice and will
bring Eurydice back to the daylight if Orpheus can be tied like Odyssey in the ship
across the islands of the Sirens (FB, p.43). However, it is against what Blanchot
considers as the importance of seeing the disappearing face in the shade, for it signifies
the disappearance of the work of Orpheus which is the song he sings in his visit to the
Underworld. The work or the song includes the figure of the dead Eurydice. Besides,
the song is directed to the god of the dead or one can say that the work is singing the
rcit of the dead to death. Orpheuss failure ruins his work and ruins his life. In other
words, the gaze of Orpheus returns the work to its origin: the dissolution and
disappearance of the work, the absence of the work, the dsoeuvrement. Besides, the
gaze also brings the death of the poet, the death of the author. The author of the song
and poems becomes a figure in Ovids work. Orpheuss turning returns him to a trope
173

I allude to what Blanchot says about the other night, But when everything has disappeared in the

night, everything has disappeared. This is the other night. Night is this apparition everything has
disappeared, in Maurice Blanchot, The Outside, the Night, in The Space of Literature, p.163.

66

or a figure in Ovids writing. Orpheus detour from the place of the dead ends in his
gaze such that he lives in the endless death in pieces, with his dead head singing
incessantly the name of the eternally dying Eurydice. The poets work is in death (with
Eurydice and in the passage to death) and ends in death. This is probably what is in
Blanchots mind as he writes in the essay Literature and the Right to Death.
In the essay Orpheuss Gaze, another point Blanchot highlights is inspiration.
Blanchot writes, To look at Eurydice, without regard for the song, in the impatience
and imprudence of desire which forgets the law: that is inspiration (SL, p.173). The
look at Eurydice is derived from the desire to see her and the enchantment and
fascination for her. This desire is of course impatient and imprudent, for without this
look and just one step forward and beyond, Eurydice would be brought back to the
broad daylight under the light of illumination and de-concealment. Blanchots
comment on the impatience is that it is also a kind of true patience as he writes,
true patience does not exclude impatience. It is intimacy with impatience impatience
suffered and endured endlessly (SL, p.173). It is a kind of impatience without
impatience since Orpheuss impatience affirms the patient suffering and endurance of
Eurydices endless dying. Orpheuss imprudence can be described as negligence, in
terms of Foucaults word,
Negligence is the necessary correlate of attraction. The relations between them are
complex. To be susceptible to attraction a person must be negligent essentially
negligent with total disregard for what one is doingand with the attitude that ones
past and kin and whole other life is non-existent, thus relegating them to the outside
(FB, p.28)

Orpheus is so attracted to Eurydice that he is negligent or imprudent in turning back to


look at her. He forgets the promise and the law of contract. Besides, as Blanchot says,
by turning toward Eurydice, Orpheus ruins the work, which is immediately undone
(SL, p.172). The song he sings for the attraction of the gods in the Underworld is
ruined and undone. The imprudent desire of the author of the song ruins his song, i.e.
his work. In terms of writing, the prudent making of the written work is destined for its
ruin and dsoeuvrement. The desire of Orpheus is for Eurydice. The gaze of Orpheus is
in fact the desire of Orpheus expressed for the recognition of Eurydices presence.174
Without turning towards Eurydice, Orpheus does not get the recognition which in turn,
174

The word recognition is alluded to Kojves analysis of the Master-Slave relationship. See

Alexandre Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on The Phenomenology of Spirit, ed.
Allan Bloom, trans. James H. Nicholas, Jr. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), p. 58.

67

evokes the desire of turning for the gaze, for the look. What Orpheus gives is a gaze in
the darkness and what he receives is a word farewell as Eurydice breathed a faint
farewell upon her return to the Underworld.175 The impatient and imprudent desire
begets a word or language from the impossible the world of the dead. Or this word is
the Last Word not from the alive but from the endless dying.176 The breathed word is
also inspiration for the word inspire as its Latin origin inspirare means breathe or
blow into (from in-, into and spirare, breathe).177 This inspiration is a farewell
to the broad daylight, away from the light of illumination and the certitude. In the
endless dying, Eurydice is at the point of extreme uncertainty. (SL, p.172)
Inspiration is the gaze of Orpheus, which ruins the work (song of Orpheus), the
author (Orpheus dismembered), and the goal of Orpheus (the life of Eurydice).
Blanchot considers the inspiration as a relation with the work or the work of writing
which always affirms the above ruin and dsoeuvrement. Without the gaze of Orpheus,
the work (the song of Orpheus) could have arrived at its goal the certainty of the life
of Eurydice. Allegorically, this means that the work of writing can always achieve its
goal of writing, but is bound by the law subsisting under its goal. The inspiration in
terms of its literal meaning is that a writer is having some divine words or intelligence
inspired to write or produce a work with fascinating ideas, truth, techniques, fame,
success and so on. Blanchots inspiration is the dislodgement of the writer from his
work, the suspension of the work with the above entities, making them an uncertainty
while at the same time putting a kind of (un-)certainty into the work which is the
search for its origin, the origin of writing the point of extreme uncertainty, just as
Blanchot describes,
[Orpheuss] gaze is thus the extreme moment of liberty, the moment when he frees
himself from himself and , still more important, frees the work from his concern
[souci], frees the sacred contained in the work, gives the sacred to itself, to the
freedom of its essence, to its essence which it is own freedom. (This is why inspiration
is the gift by excellence.)

(SL, p.175)

175

Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp.226.

176

Last Word is an allusion to the title of Blanchots rcit, The Last Word which is originally written in

French in 1935. See Maurice Blanchot, The Last Word, trans. Paul Auster, in Maurice Blanchot, The
Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction & Literary Essays, ed. George Quasha (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station
Hill, 1999), pp. 35-50.
177

68

From Oxford English Dictionary.

The work is thus without concern or care [sans souci], just like the palace sharing this
name (in German, Schloss Sanssouci) in Potsdam near Berlin. Without concern, in the
idleness of the writer, from the sudden inspiration, the work is written and returns to its
origin which is the space opened by the movement of writing (SL, p.176). In other
words, in that work, and in other works (with concern or without concern about that
work), it returns to the space of worklessness and dsoeuvrement. The work is a
sacrifice, which together with its writer, is consecrated to the sacred that is the origin
of the work while the gift from the sacred is the inspiration, the impatient and
imprudent gaze of the impossible, which will be put down in writing. This is why
Blanchot stresses that Orpheuss gaze is
Orpheuss ultimate gift to the work. It is a gift whereby he refuses, whereby he
sacrifices the work, bearing himself toward the origin according to the desires
measureless movement and whereby unknowingly he still moves toward the work,
toward the origin of the work. (SL, p.174)

At the end of the essay of Orpheuss gaze, Blanchot titled a small section with
Leap and begins this section with Writing begins with Orpheuss gaze and ends it
with To write, one has to write already. In this contradiction are situated the essence of
writing, the snag in the experience, and inspirations leap (SL, p. 176). Blanchot
considers Orpheuss gaze as a decisive instant of writing. Writing is inspired in a
future anterior manner, for writing is related to its origin through the inspiration. This
moment is a leap for the writer which is like Orpheus has to possess the power of art
already such that he is inspired to approach the space opened by the movement of
writing (SL, p.176). The contradiction in the essence of writing links to its author
which Timothy Clark has described as the contradictoriness of [writings] passion
which is linked to the dilemma of possession and dispossession to dispossess the
writing such that it goes elsewhere to its origin and at the same time tries to possess it
for his craft, techniques and waiting for the inspired instant.178
Foucault writes, These two figures [Eurydice and the Sirens] are profoundly
interwoven in Blanchots works (FB, p. 44). He carries on with the interpretation of
Blanchots creative writing, the rcit of Death Sentence through the literary notions in
the The Song of the Sirens and Orpheuss Gaze. In the first part of Death Sentence,
when the male protagonist who is also the narrator looks at his dead girlfriend J.,
Blanchot describes,

178

Timothy Clark, The Theory of Inspiration (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), p. 256.

69

I called to her by her first name; and immediately I can say there wasnt a seconds
interval a sort of breath came out of her compressed mouth, a sigh which little by
little became a light, weak cry; almost at the same time Im sure of this her arms
moved, tried to rise. At that moment, her eyelids were still completely shut. But a
second afterwards, perhaps two, they opened abruptly and they opened to reveal
something terrible which I will not talk about, the most terrible look which a living
being can receive (DS, p.20)

Foucault says, Some of [Blanchots] narratives [rcits], for example Larrt de mort
[Death Sentence], are dedicated to the gaze of Orpheus (FB, p. 44). Foucault considers
that the death-and-life scene as mentioned above is a re-writing of the gaze of Orpheus
looking only at the nothingness. Foucault also quotes the phrase from Death
Sentence, the most terrible gaze a living thing can encounter in the essay The
Thought from Outside (FB, p. 44). This look or gaze is the first gaze that the dying
being (J.) offers when she comes back to life. With a slight variation from the myth of
the gaze of Orpheus who does not receive the gaze from Eurydice, the male narrator
receives this most terrible gaze from J. If Eurydice does offer a gaze in her
disappearance in the shade, her gaze will be an invisible dying gaze. In Death Sentence,
the most terrible gaze from the temporary re-living J. is a visible dying gaze. [H]e is
able to contemplate it face to face; he sees with his own eyes the open gaze of death,
as Foucault writes in the essay about the face to face encounter with death, the subject
of the sentence is the male narrator of the rcit. This gaze is a gaze as from the stop or
arrest of death, or the suspension of death. It is a resonance of the last few words the
instant of my death henceforth always in abeyance in Blanchots another rcit, The
Instant of My Death (IMD, p.11). Or one can say that in terms of Foucaults words, it
is Blanchot who is able to contemplate it face to face; he sees with his own eyes the
open gaze of death. As it will be shown in later chapters, Blanchots rcit, The Instant
of My Death (1994) can be read autobiographically for his missed encounter with
death when he faced his death sentence in the firing squad in WWII in 1944. Blanchot
writes about his face to face encounter with death and the open [or visible] gaze of
death with the myth of Orpheus in Death Sentence (1948) with his notion of writing
through the essay Orpheuss Gaze (1953). My point is that in the literary writing of
Blanchot, one can find his insistence on literature a complicated weaving of
autobiography, death, the gaze of death and writing. This gaze of death is probably an
approach to the domain of the Outside which Foucault has contemplated through the
Sirens, Eurydice and Orpheus.

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Blanchot/Foucaults Outside
Gilles Deleuze in an interview makes a comment on Foucaults indebtedness to
Blanchot: firstly, by saying what one cant see, ones taking language to its ultimate
limit, raising it to the power of unspeakable; secondly, theres the primacy of the
third person, the he or neuter, the impersonal one, relative to the first two persons
and the last one is the theme of the Outside: the relation, and indeed nonrelation, to
an Outside thats further from us than any external world, and thereby closer than any
inner world.179 In terms of Deleuzes comments, Foucaults The Thought from
Outside is a conglomeration of Blanchots notions of language, impersonality and the
Outside. In fact, language with its partners, literature and writing, is able to speak to
the unspeakable Outside which is impossible to know by reason, but can get a distant
intimacy of the Outside. So, what is Blanchots notion of the Outside? And what is the
difference between Blanchots and Foucaults thought from the Outside? In Foucaults
The Thought from Outside, Foucault makes incessant references to the writings of
Blanchot though it is understood that Foucaults essay is a contribution to a journal
with a special issue on Maurice Blanchot. Apart from the explicit reference to
Blanchots rcits and romans in Foucaults essay, one can discern his reference to
Blanchots important work on the thought on literature, The Space of Literature as one
of the essays Orpheuss Gaze is referred by Foucault in his The Thought from
Outside. What is most important is that Foucaults thought of the Outside can be traced
back to Blanchots comments on the Outside in The Space of Literature. Having given
a discussion on the thought of the Outside in previous sections, I will now discuss
Blanchots comments on the Outside, firstly from his book The Space of Literature and
then in The Infinite Conversation. After that, I will explore the difference between
Blanchot and Foucault on the thought of the Outside, and their thought after their
meditation on the Outside. Blanchot has not made any specific systematic comments
on the thought of the Outside while Foucaults writing about the Outside seems to be
suspended after the publication of The Thought from Outside. Foucault had stopped
writing on the Outside and even on literature since the publication of The Order of
Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge by the end of the 60s.180
179

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1995), p.97.


180

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage

Books, 1994) and its French original published in 1966; Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of
Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Panthenon Books,
1972) and the original French version is Michel Foucault, LArchologie du Savoir (Paris: Gallimard,
1969).

71

I refer to Kevin Harts summary of Blanchots Outside in his essay Blanchots


Trial of Experience,
In LEspace littraire we are told that the Outside is the realm of the most dangerous
indecision, toward the confusion from which nothing emerges; it is bereft of
intimacy and of repose; it prevents, precedes, and dissolves the possibility of any
personal relation; and is menacing, vague and vacant, nil and limitless, a sordid
absence, a suffocating condensation where being ceaseless perpetuates itself as
nothingness.181

In fact, Blanchot articulates the Outside from the relation derived from writing,
solitude, literature and experience; and the quotations above are taken from Blanchots
essays Literature and the Original Experience, Kafka and the Works Demand and
Essential Solitude. Blanchots thought of the Outside is of impersonal nature which
is stripped of subjectivity and is a void space without fixed boundary for fixation or
cohesion. The Outside, from Blanchots perspective, is a space which is originated
from the experience of literature and art. The impersonality of writing, as from the
writers inevitable encounter of his essential solitude, is an important aspect of the
Outside.
In Blanchots essay The Essential Solitude, Blanchot describes the experience
that the writer is deserted by his work though the writer pays his effort on his work of
writing for the writer belongs to the work, but what belongs to him is only a book, a
mute collection of sterile words, the most insignificant thing in the world (SL,
p.23).182 Besides, [t]he writer never knows whether the work is done. What he has
finished in one book, he starts over or destroys in another That the work is infinite,
for him, that the artist, though unable to finish it, can nevertheless make it the
delimited site of an endless task (SL, p.22). In fact, writing is the interminable, the
incessant(SL, p.26). The writing a writer produces in fact denies him since he is under
the force of the the interminable, the incessant. The voice or the words are not the
writers as [w]hat speaks in him is the fact that, in one way or another, he is no longer
himself, he isnt anyone anymore. The third person substituting for the I: such is the
solitude that comes to the writer on account of the work (SL, p. 28). This impersonal
181

Kevin Hart, Blanchots Trial of Experience in Oxford Literary Review, 22 (2000), pp. 115-116.

In footnote 25 of this essay, Hart provides the reference of the quotations from Blanchots The Space of
Literature, p. 238, 75, 31, 242-243.
182

Maurice Blanchot, The Essential Solitude, in Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans.

Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), pp.19-34.

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third person is the language which substitutes for the voice of the writer. Blanchot
suggests this kind of impersonality in language is a relation with the Outside:
Where I am alone, I am not there; no one is there, but the impersonal is: the outside, as
that which prevents, precedes, and dissolves the possibility of any personal relation
[the impersonal] transforms everything which has access to it, even light, into
anonymous, impersonal being, the Nontrue, the Non real yet always there It is
intimacy with the outside which has no location and affords no rest. Coming here
makes the one who comes belong to dispersal, to the fissure where the exterior is the
intrusion that stifles, but is also nakedness, the chill of the enclosure that leave one
utterly exposed. Here the only space is its vertiginous separation. (SL, p.31)

The Outside as sketched in the above quotation is the relation of the work and the
writer in essential solitude, that is the impersonal in the writer as coming from
language. This Outside is a place without place (no location) and cannot be
articulated with concepts of truth and reality. Writing strips out the personality and the
proper nature of the writer (remembering that Derrida defines deconstruction as an
attack on the proper) and creates a void space that prevents, precedes, and dissolves
the possibility of any personal relation. Any person, character or writer mediated
through the writing undergoes dispersal and fissure and becomes an impersonal person
within the writing, or executing the writing to approach or to be intimate with the
Outside that is the space (lespace) of vertiginous separation (le vertige de
lespacement).183 Le vertige in French means, apart from the fear of height, a state of
vertigo, a kind of impression of all turning around of oneself or a feeling of distraction
that loses ones self-control.184 This kind of separation (espacement) in terms of
distancing or spacing depicts well the kind of solitude that is essential to the writer and
the experience of writing: which the writer loses his self-control of his work and his
words, with all matters at hand in terms of words turning around which creates a kind
of distraction or dis-attraction of oneself, thing-self, word-self and work-self. In other
words or in other works, writing and its solitude is a worklessness (dsoeuvrement).
Blanchot alludes to this kind of experience in his rcit, The One Who Was Standing
Apart from Me which will be discussed in the later section of this chapter.
According to Blanchot, the Outside is also linked to the art, including literature
and the experience of literature. In his comments on the relation between Kafka and
183

Maurice Blanchot, LEspace Littrarie (Paris: Gallimard, Collection folio/essays, 1955), p. 28.

184

Le Nouveau Petit Robert: Dictionnaire Alphabtique et Analogique de la Langue Franaise (Paris :

Dictionnaires le Robert, 2004).

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the demand of writing, Blanchot writes,


For art is linked, precisely as Kafka is, to what is outside the world, and it expresses
the profundity of this outside bereft of intimacy and of repose this outside which
appears when even with ourselves, even with our death, we no longer have relations of
possibility. Art is the consciousness of this misfortune. It describes the situation of
one who has lost himself, who no longer say me, who in the same movement has
lost the world, the truth of the world, and belongs to exile, to the time of distress when,
as Hlderlin says, the gods are no longer and are not yet. (SL, p.75)

Kafka and Hlderlin are two major characters in the milieu of the writing of
Blanchot, especially in The Space of Literature. Blanchot even collected ten pieces of
writing on Kafka in his book De Kafka Kafka.185 Kafka is important to Blanchots
notion of writing and literature because Kafka contributes most of his life to literature
and writing. Besides, Kafka charts out his experience of writing in his diaries and
letters to his friends which are particularly interesting and concomitant with Blanchots
notions of literature and writing. Kafka even outweighs his life for the primacy of
writing, as he wrote in the entry of 3 January 1912 in his diary,
It is easy to recognize a concentration in me of all my forces on writing. When it
became clear in my organism that writing was the most productive direction for my
being to take, everything rushed in that direction and left empty all those abilities
which were directed towards the joys of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection,
and above all music. I atrophied in all these directions. This was necessary because the
totality of my strengths was so slight that only collectively could they even half-way
serve the purpose of my writing.186

Kafka sacrifices his life for the work of writing. Such kind of impersonal nature for the
sake of writing is what Blanchot confers to the solitude of one who has lost himself.
Besides, in Kafkas stories, readers can discover a kind of uneasiness, unhappiness,
misfortune, foreignness or otherness that Blanchot considers as a space bereft of
185

Maurice Blanchot, De Kafka Kafka (Paris, Gallimard, Collection folio/essais, 1981). There are

eleven essays in this book, with ten on Kafka. Most of them were published in La Nouvelle Revue
Franaise and later collected in his books like The Work of Fire. Strangely, the first essay of this book is
La littrature et le droit a la mort (Literature and the Right to Death). Probably, it reflects the
importance of Kafka in Blanchots notion of literature.
186

Franz Kafka, Diaries of Franz Kafka 1910-23, ed. Max Brod (London: Vintage, 1999) p. 163.

Blanchot also quotes this passage in The Space of Literature, p. 65.

74

intimacy and of repose in the space of the Outside, which is manifested in the works
and writing.
Foucault does not make any explicit reference to Kafka in The Thought from
Outside though one must notice that there are many references to Kafka in Blanchots
The Space of Literature. However, in his essay Language to Infinity which was
published in 1961 before The Thought from Outside in 1966, Foucault mentions
Kafkas short story The Burrow.187 Foucault takes the endless murmuring in the
story as a kind of language of literature,
Writing, in our day, has moved infinitely closer to its source, to this disquieting sound
which announces from the depths of language Like Kafkas beast, language now
listens from the bottom of its burrow to this inevitable and growing noise We must
ceaselessly speak, for as long and as loudly as this indefinite and deafening noise
longer and more loudly so that in mixing our voices with it we might succeed if not
in silencing and mastering it in modulating its futility into the endless murmuring
we call literature.188

The short story The Burrow describes an unnamed animal or a beast who
incessantly digs burrows in the earth for rest, storage of food reserve, rooms or
burrows for daily life or escape. It often hears a kind of whistling noise which the beast
tries to imagine or interpret as originating from another unknown beast. The unnamed
beast tries to act, move or dig burrows in order to get an image of the unknown beast
and to escape from it. However, with futile trials, the unnamed beast cannot see the
unknown beast but still can listen to the whistling noise. Kafka writes,
I [the unnamed beast] did listen, at least. I could clearly recognize that the noise came
from some kind of burrowing similar to my own; it was somewhat fainter, of course,
but how much of that might be put sown to the distance one could not tell Had the
whistling grown fainter? No, it had grown louder. I listen at ten places chosen at
random and clearly notice the deception; the whistling is just the same as ever, nothing
has altered.189
187

Franz Kafka, The Burrow, in Franz Kafka, The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka, ed. Nahum

N. Glatzer (London: Vintage, 1999), pp. 325-359.


188

Michel Foucault, Language to Infinity, in Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-memory, Practice:

Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 60.
189

Franz Kafka, The Burrow, in Franz Kafka, The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka,

75

Foucaults comment on this story as shown above is taking the unnamed beasts
burrowing as languages burrowing. The ceaseless burrowing is the we, the writers,
the readers and language which ceaselessly speak through writing, reading and speech
(paroles). It produces sound or noise by the languages movement or action, creating
the voids inside the earth of language. The presence of another unknown beast implies
an otherness in language which also creates voids and noises as the protagonist or, the
unnamed beast. The encountering, mixing, echoing of the noise or voices within
language is what Foucault means by the endless murmuring of literature. The word
murmur is an echo or repetition of its half-word mur with the same sound of the
word yet different. It shows language is as echolalia. Besides, murmuring is on-going
and even endless. It should also be noticed that the beast is unnamed or unknown,
which implies the impersonal nature of language.
Blanchots comment on Kafkas beast in The Burrow can also be found in The
Space of Literature. He writes about the burrowing and the outside,
The more the burrow seems solidly closed to the outside, the greater the danger that
you be closed in with the outside, delivered to the peril without any means of escape.
And when every foreign threat seems shut out of this perfectly closed intimacy, then it
is intimacy that becomes menacing foreignness. (SL, p. 168)

Language creates rooms for its safety, which is away from any threat or instability
from the outside. In fact it creates burrows or voids (of meaning). The more the voids,
the bigger the voids or emptiness within the inside of the earth are, which means the
greater danger for the collapse of the void of language and the greater chance for its
intimacy with the outside. Blanchot further writes that constructing their work [oeuvre]
as a burrow where they [some writers] want to think they are sheltered from the void
and which they only build, precisely, by hollowing and deepening the void, creating a
void all around them (SL, p.170). What Blanchot means in constructing the work as a
burrow is to assure [the writer] of solid defenses against the world above (SL, p.168).
Writing produces another kind of void and emptiness through and inside language
which submerges the writer into a void all around. This is what Blanchot means by
[w]hoever believes he is attracted finds himself profoundly neglected (SL, p.170).
The writers attraction for constructing [his] work as a burrow for a safe place
produces his negligence to make an unsafe void all around himself. In The Thought
from Outside, Foucault brings in the complex relations between attraction and
negligence and the Outside. He writes,
pp. 356-357.

76

To be susceptible to attraction a person must be negligent essentially negligent with


total disregard for what one is doingand with the attitude that ones past and kin and
whole other life is non-existent, thus relegating them to the outside. (FB, p. 28)

Foucaults words echo with what Kafka means to neglect all daily life for writing. This
is probably an undertone of Kafkas words though there is no explicit reference to
Kafka. Besides, the reference to Kafkas The Burrow is also oblique in The Thought
from Outside. Foucault writes, Attractionhas nothing to offer but the infinite void
that opens beneath the feet [les pas] of the person it attracts. This time, it is not the
unnamed beast, who is attracted by the noise outside itself, who creates infinite
burrows, but it is the person or the writer, who is attracted by his writing, creates the
infinite void above which the positivity of his writing and his work cannot sustain.
As I have mentioned above, apart from the address of Kafka in relation to the
Outside by both Blanchot and Foucault, Friedrich Hlderlin is also addressed by both
in this issue. Foucault writes,
In the same period [of Sade,] Hlderlins poetry manifested the shimmering absence of
the gods and pronounced the new law of the obligation to wait, infinitely long no
doubt, for the enigmatic succor of Gods failing. (dfaut de Dieu)

Can it be said

without stretching things that Sade and Hlderlin simultaneously introduced into our
thinking, for the coming century, but in some way cryptically, the experience of the
outside (FB, p.17)

Blanchot also mentions the phrase le dfaut de Dieu in his essay Hlderlins
Itinerary.190 The phrase is from the last line of Hlderlins poem The Poets Vocation:
Until Gods default helps him, as quoted also by Blanchot (SL, p.270).191 How does
Gods default (missing, defect, failing or lack) help men? Blanchot writes at length to
account for Gods default, in fact, it is Gods Departure,

190

Maurice Blanchot, Hlderlins Itinerary, in Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann

Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), pp. 269-276.


191

In French, the phrase Until Gods default helps him is read as Jusqu ce que le dfaut de Dieu

laide. The original in German is read as Listen, so lange, bis Gottes Fehl hilft. See Maurice Blanchot,
LEspace Littraire (Paris: Gallimard, Collection folio/essays, 1955), p. 365; and also the bilingual
(German/English) version in Friedrich Hlderlin, Poems and Fragments, trans. Michael Hamburger
(London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2003), pp.236-237.

77

Hlderlin felt in himself the force of this reversal. The poet is he in whom time turns
back essentially and for whom in this time the god turns and turns away. But Hlderlin
also conceives profoundly that this absence of the gods is not a pure negative form of
relation. This is why it is terrible. It is terrible not only because it deprives us of the
gods benevolent presence, of the inspired words familiarity not only because it
casts us back upon ourselves in the bare distress of an empty time but because it
substitutes for the measured favor of divine forms as represented by the Greeks (gods
of light, gods of the initial navet) a relation which threatens ceaselessly to tear and
disorient us, with that which is higher than the gods, with the sacred itself or with its
perverted essence. This is the mystery of the night of the gods departure. (SL, p. 275)

Hlderlin admires the literature of Classicism and thinks that the Ancient Greek
literature is a kind of sacred speech that is inspired by various gods. He translates
Sophocles plays Oedipus and Antigone. Besides, his poetry contains a lot of
references to Greek gods. However, later Hlderlin writes in the poem The Poets
Vocation about Gods default and in another poem Bread and Wine about the time of
distress after gods departure. This turning or reversal is the disappearance of the gods.
For Blanchot, the reversal is an important time for the beginning of art. Without the
inspiration of gods for the sacred speech of literature and without the light of gods for
the truth, art or literature or poetry begins with itself for the words do not rely on any
aid from gods or men. Words get the aid from themselves and hence make art begin.
Blanchot considers Oedipus (also borrowed from Hlderlin) as a figure for such
double absence of gods and men. Blanchot in the essay Hlderlins Itinerary also
reads of Hlderlins another famous short piece of writing Remarks on Oedipus to
account for Gods default.192 He writes, In such a moment, Hlderlin says, man
forgets himself and forgets God: he turns back like a traitor, although in a holy
manner.193 After Oedipus learns the truth of his murder of his father, he is blind and
is cast out of the city. He is deserted by men and gods. Blanchot writes,
Oedipus is the tragedy of the gods departure. Oedipus is the hero who is constrained
to live apart from the gods and from men. He must endure this double separation He
must maintain there something like an in-between, an empty place opened by the
double aversion, the double infidelity of gods and men. (SL, p.272)

192

Friedrich Hlderlin, Remarks on Oedipus, in Friedrich Hlderlin: Essays and Letters on Theory,

trans. & ed. Thomas Pfau, (Albany: State University of New York, 1988), pp. 101-108.
193

Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, p.272; see another translation of Hlderlins words:

Friedrich Hlderlin, Remarks on Oedipus, p.108.

78

Like Foucault, Blanchot regards art as linked to what is outside the world
under the situation of one who belongs to exile, to the time of distress when, as
Hlderlin says, the gods are no longer and are not yet (SL, p.75). The time of distress
is a quotation from Hlderlins poem Bread and Wine (line 14 of Stanza 7). Blanchot
makes a partial translation of this stanza in The Space of Literature:
In these times, very often it seems to me
Better to sleep than to be so without companions
And to wait so; what is there to do in these times, what to say?
I do not know; what use are poets in time of distress?

(SL, p. 245)194

As described above, the phrase the time of distress is to describe the time after the
gods have left, leaving behind the poet to face the time without the sacred words of
gods as implied in Hlderlins poetry. Blanchot writes, What is this time when poetry
can only say: what use are poets? (SL, p.245).195 He replies by stating that it is the
time that art takes up. He writes,
It seems that art owes the strangest of torments and the very grave passion that animate
it to the disappearance of the historical forms of divine. Art was the language of the
gods. The gods having disappeared, it became the language in which their
disappearance was expressed, then the language in which this disappearance itself
ceased to appear. This forgetfulness now speaks all alone. The deeper the forgetfulness,
the more the deep speaks in this language, and the more the abyss of this deepness
become the hearing of the word. (SL, p.245-246)

Art expresses in language the distress of the disappearance of gods and that their
disappearance cease[s] or seems to appear. In this way, language speaks about the
double absence of the gods who are no longer and who are not yet (SL, p.247). Art in
terms of poetry speaks in this true presence which is the void of the past and the void
of the future, that is the space of the Outside.
194

Blanchots translation of this stanza is in French. The above translation is from Ann Smock, the

translator of The Space of Literature. For another English translation and the original German version,
see the bilingual selection in Friedrich Hlderlin, Poems and Fragments, trans. Michael Hamburger,
(London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2003), pp.326-327. Martin Heideggers essay What are Poets for? also
draws on this line. See Martin Heidegger, What are Poets for?, in Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language,
Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971), pp.89-142.
195

The phrase what use are poets?, apart from a reference from Hlderlin, Blanchot also probably

borrows this phrase from Martin Heideggers essay What are Poets for?.

79

Companion and Celui qui ne macompagnait pas


One of the sections in Foucaults book, The Thought from Outside is titled The
Companion. Foucault discovers that the theme of companion occurs often in
Blanchots rcits and romans and Foucault gives a discussion on the theme of
companion in this section, as well as a reading of Blanchots rcit, Celui qui ne
macompagnait pas.196 There are two characters in this rcit and they appear as
strange companions forming a neutre relation. Foucault is interested in this relation
and he writes on it in the section of Companion. In the following, I will have a brief
discussion on Blanchots rcit with the exploration of the neutre and writing.
This rcit, Celui qui ne macompagnait pas was written in 1953. The English
translation of this rcit is named The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me.197
However, the literal translation of the French title should be The One Who Was not
Accompanying Me which is also repeated within the text (p. 57 in French and p. 29 in
the English translation). Before I analyse this rcit, I would like to point to the
background relating to its production.
Celui qui ne macompagnait pas involves the conversation between two unnamed
persons: I and he. The he is whom the I will call him the one. In the rcit, it seems
their conversation is in a way communicative but at the same time the communication
is inoperative. As usual in Blanchots fictional works, the relation and identity of the
characters are obscure. The I and he seem to be both close and detached, as
exemplified by the first sentence of the rcit I sought, this time, to approach him (TO,
p.1). The sentence implies that the I has already had a relation with the he but probably
at a distance. Besides, the I hesitates in approaching the he. They are having a relation
without a relation and so the I needs to approach his friend or his companion, as
Blanchot writes, I could only turn to my companion, the one who was not
accompanying me (TO, p.29). Their conversation begins with the statement of the I
without quotation marks, The truth was that for a long time now I had felt at the end
of my strength (TO, p.1). The I in fact feels fatigue. Fatigue is a concept of Levinas
for thinking about existence. In Existence and Existents, Levinas writes,

196

Maurice Blanchot, Celui qui maccompagnait pas (Paris: Gallimard, 1953).

197

Maurice Blanchot, The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, N.Y.:

Station Hill Press, 1993).

80

This self-contradictory moment of a present that tarries behind itself could not
be anything but fatigue The delay it [fatigue] involves is nonetheless an
inscription of the existence.198

The Is fatigue inscribes the Is existence by a delay which brings the approach and the
conversation with the he. The rcit which is about the relation between the I and the he
obviously begins with conversation but in fact is executed by writing. To write is also
a means of the I to approach the he as
I noticed that what I was writing concerned him more and more and, though in
an indirect manner, seemed to have no other purpose but to reflect him. (TO,
p.2)

Writing as a form of reflection of a person (the he) acts like a mirror. The
reflection has a double meaning. The first is a conscious thinking of the subject (the I)
about the object (the he). The second implies a reflection by a mirror and the viewer
(the I) sees the mirror-image of the he. It must be noted that the mirror reflects not
simply the he but the other (the mirror-image) of the he, and the reflection in the rcit
is achieved by the writing of the viewer (the I or the narrator). Writing in this sense is a
kind of bend reflection, that is a kind of deflection (TO, p.7). The Is reflection (or
deflection) of the he gives the Is misunderstanding for thinking of the he as a
companion of the I (TO, p.20). However, the he refuses the word companion by
saying I dont think Im behind that word. I think you shouldnt use it (TO, p.21).
Such refusal witnesses the Is saying of the one who was not accompanying me (TO,
p.29). To continue to approach the he, the I then want to have the name of the he with
the intention to lose the name of the I. Naming is a creation of a relation of a person
with a thing or the other person(s). A proper name initiates a relation. However,
Derrida, in his critique of the proper, has commented that the proper name is
arbitrary and ambiguous, incapable of creating the essence of the holder of that proper
name. In the rcit, the I and the he are both un-named. They remain anonymous. The
loss of my own [name] implies the substitution of the name by the other name,
indicating the absence of concreteness of the name or the proper name. The he insists
that there [are] already many words between them and refuses a name between them
(TO, p.21). The Is insistence on a name is remarkably different from the hes favour of
the words. The hes position is that words are the relation between the I and the he,
while the I agrees that there are already many words between them in many writings
198

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne

University Press, 2001), p.24.

81

but still requests for the name of the he (TO, p.21). The I does not specify what many
writings are. The writings may include the writings of other people, or between them.
Writing through words in this sense is impersonal. The he in a sense chooses an
impersonal relation while the name the I requests connotates a personal relation. The I
would like to be feel close to you [the he] but the he refuses by saying that [c]lose to
you, close to what is close to you, not to me (TO, p.23). The he repudiates being
closer to the I and then moves away. For the impersonal he, the I is only a subject with
a close proximity. The I is shocked by the hes reserve to come near and disappearing.
The I watches the disappearance of the he and think that the I himself have the right to
speak in the third person about the disappearance of the he. Having been refused by the
he, the I thus loses his subjectivity and become a third person for witnessing the hes
disappearance. The rcit goes on with the several short dialogues between the I and the
he (the two anonymous persons) which are interwoven with the thought of the I. The
subjectivity of the I in fact gradually dissolves in the rcit and the I become an
impersonal person at the end. The identity of the I and the he gradually become blurred
at the end of the rcit.

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Chapter 2: The Instant of My Death, Demeure and Passions

Fiction and Testimony of Blanchots The Instant of My Death


The issue of death is a common theme in Blanchots fictions. In particular, the
scenes of witnessing death occur in his works like The Instant of My Death, Death
Sentence and Madness of the Day. Comparing The Instant of My Death199 with the
other romans and rcits of Blanchot, The Instant of My Death is infiltrated with
autobiographical undertones. The text has been quite often recognized by many critics
(such as Jacques Derrida, J. Hillis Miller, Herman Rapaport and Leslie Hill) as a rare
autobiographical text of Blanchot, and I have already suggested my agreement with
this view.200 In this section, I will try to explore the autobiographical nature and the
testimony nature of this text.
In The Instant of My Death, Blanchot sketches the death sentence of a young
man in facing a firing squad of German soldiers (Vlassov Army of Russia). The sudden
intrusion of the men of Resistance permits the soldiers to stop the death sentence (IMD,
p.5). The young man is saved from this event, quite improbably. The death sentence of
the young man was also an improbable event as he has just been taken out from the
house (the castle) and then has to face his immediate death before the firing soldiers
without any formal death sentence being passed. Responding to a knock on the door of
a large house (the Chateau, it was called), the young man opens the door and is
immediately addressed by a Nazi lieutenants order outside (IMD, p.3). In the war,
the face to face encounter with a stranger (the Nazi lieutenant) who does not ask for
help brings the face to face encounter with death. The outside is not just outside the
house but most likely the outside of the life. The Nazi lieutenant adopts the ethics of
Fascism, whether it is an authoritative, totalitarian or aberration of social structure or

199

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg, (Stanford: Stanford

University Press, 2000). pp. 2-11. This translation contains the original French text with the English
translation side-by-side. The original text Linstant de ma mort was published in 1994 by the French
publisher Fata Morgana.
200

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death/Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, trans.

Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp.43ff; J. Hillis Miller, On Literature
(London: Routledge, 2002), p.74; Herman Rapaport, Later Derrida: Reading the Recent Work (New
York: Routledge, 2003), p.64ff; Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (London: Routledge,
1997), p. 12.

83

development, to annihilate the subjectivity of the other.201 The ethics of the


lieutenant is so absolute that it dominates the death of the other people and is capable
of demarcating and creating the inside and outside dichotomy.
The Nazi lieutenants order Everyone outside is said in shamefully normal
French (IMD, p.3). This is a reminder of the multiple languages used in the war and
the death camps. If language is basically used for communication, what is the purpose
of using language in times of extremity? Subjected to the foreign domination or
domination of strangers in the camp of war, the prisoners mother tongue will not help.
Ones calling for Help will not be understood or answered. He/she must learn the
language of the domination in the camp, no matter whether it is verbal, postural or
even facial. Such is the point similar to the one Michel Foucault made in The History
of Sexuality, that there is the manipulation of discourses in the field of exercise of
power itself.202 It shows that languages sides with power, not with communication.
Everyone outside leads the prisoners, hostages or civilians to the outside of the
chateau, from the dormitory in the camp to the gas chamber, the firing squad or death.
Besides, the order Fire or Shot sounds like everyone outside life. If language can
be considered as a presentation of an absence, then the language of death is the
presentation of an absence of a total absence. Everyone outside is just one of the
multiple transitions leading to the everyone outside life. Everyone outside sounds
like a metonymic transition from one signifier to another signifier in life and at the end
leads to the ultimate signifier, i.e. everyone outside life. In this way, the imminence of
death is always in life and in language.
Having depicted the crucial scene, I will focus on the autobiographic nature of the
text. Blanchot writes in The Instant of My Death:
I know do I know it that the one at whom the Germans were already aiming,
awaiting but the final order, experienced then a feeling of extraordinary lightness, a
sort of beatitude (nothing happy, however) - sovereign elation? The encounter of death
with death? (IMD, p.5)

201

Bernt Hagtvet and Stein Larsen, Contemporary Approaches to Fascism: A survey of Paradigms in

S. Larsen, B. Hagtvet and J. Myklebust (eds.), Who were the Fascists? (Univeristetforgaget: Bergen,
1980), pp.28-29, extracted into Roger Griffin (ed.) Fascism (Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1995),
pp.281-282
202

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin Books,

1990), p.18.

84

The strange beginning phrase I know do I know it in the above quotation produces
a doubtful sense in the authority of the I. Is the I the narrator himself, or even
Blanchot the author? In Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, Jacques Derrida identifies
the three Is in The Instant of my Death: Blanchot as the author, the I as the narrator
and the young man as the character. Derrida writes,
[T]he play of these three Is, is a passion of literature as passion of death and
compassion among these three instances (author, narrator, character); it is the passion
of literature which perverse limit between Dichtung und Wahrheit suffers, endures,
tolerates and cultivates. It is a fiction of testimony more than a testimony in which
the witness swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
[W]ithout the possibility of this fiction, without the spectral virtuality of this
simulacrum and as a result of this lie or this fragmentation of the true, no truthful
testimony would be possible. Consequently, the possibility of literary fiction haunts
so-called truthful, responsible, serious, real testimony as its proper possibility.203

Derridas notion of the play sheds some interesting points here in the notion of
autobiography in The Instant of My Death. In Structure, Sign and Play, Derrida
writes,
Play is the disruption of presence. The presence of an element is always a signifying
and substitutive reference inscribed in a system of differences and the movement of a
chain. Play is always play of absence and presence, but if it is to be thought radically,
play must be conceived of before the alternative of presence and absence.204

The play of the three Is here neither affirms without ambiguity the merging of the
three Is into Blanchot, nor the totally different three subjects.205 I know do I know
203

Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, p.72.

204

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass, (London: Routledge, 1978), p. 292.

205

Jacques Derrida in commenting on the exemplary nature of literature in the footnote in the essay

Passions: An Oblique Offering writes, For example, suppose I say I, that I write in the first
person or that I write a text, as they say autobiographically. No one will be able seriously to contradict
me if I claim (or hint by ellipsis, without thematizing it) that I am not writing an autobiographical text
but a text on autobiography of which this very text is an example. No one will seriously be able to
contradict me if I say (or hint, etc.) that I am not writing about myself but on I, on any I at all, or on
the I in general, by giving an example: I am only an example, or I am exemplary. The above illustrates
the instability and undecidability of I in any literary text. The essay Passion: An Oblique Offering
is translated by David Wood and is collected in Derridas book On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit

85

it, this questionable self-reflection has already perturbed the stable subjectivity of the
knowing I or the knowing Blanchot. Besides, the phrase can also be regarded as an
interior monologue of the omnipresent narrator I both knowing and questioning his
understanding of the young mans emotion before the shooting. In addition, as an
alternative, the interior monologue brings in the intrusion or even the substitution of
the narrator by Blanchot to narrate the biography of the young man or the
autobiography of Blanchot as the young man. The play here is both Blanchots play
of his presence and absence. Written by Blanchot, the I testifies and questions his
witnessing of the young mans death sentence. Or as written by Blanchot, he himself
testifies and questions his witness of his death sentence. In this case, do I know it
brings in the fourth person (the reader or the police or the history writer) who is
addressed by Blanchot in his testimony. As Saussures idea of language argues that in
language there are only differences without positive terms, the three Is in this way can
also be considered as three adjacent positions situating in a signifying chain with their
individual identity being neither of the other two: Blanchot is neither the I nor the
young man, or vice versa.206 In such case, Blanchot is not testifying to the truth as he
does not know the lightness of the young man upon the arrival of the death, as the
cause of the death of a suicidal person is always a secret, being buried with his death.
The proximity of the three Is does not guarantee the truth of the testimony as a result
of their different subjective positions. Blanchot is testifying to both the play of fiction
and truth (Dichtung und Wahrheit).207 To complicate the matter, the next paragraph in
The Instant of My Death begins with In his place, I will not try to analyze (IMD, p.5).
The separation of he (the young man) and I is obvious. However, in a fiction, this
separation may occur in the creation of interior monologue. Besides, a witness who
testifies merely gives the fact but does not analyze the fact unless the witness is being
invited to analyze. In this case, the I seems to be invited by the readers to be
analyzed. A testimony can be evidence-based or opinion-based. If the analysis of the
evidence is opinion-based, the testimony may easily be a testimony with fictional
elements.

(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p.143.


206

Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Wade Baskin (London: Fontana, 1974),

pp.113-114.
207

Derrida mentioned Dichtung und Wahrheit at the beginning of Demure: Fiction and Testimony. He

also comments on the problematic meaning or translation of the two German nouns. Wahrheit can be
translated as truth or testimony whereas Dichtung means poetry, fiction, literature, literary works or to
poeticize.

86

The next issue is lightness which presumes the release of heaviness or the
weight. Lightness does not eliminate all heaviness, otherwise it is nothingness. The
extraordinary lightness, in Blanchots word, is a sort of beatitude. (IMD, p.5) Does
the word beatitude imply the supreme blessedness in Catholic Church (Blanchot
grew up in a Catholic family)? Or the lightness may be the sovereign elation, a fully
independent great happiness originated from elating from death. The above words are
infiltrated with Biblical and Catholic meanings and can be regarded as the funeral
speech and the work of mourning. They see the funeral speech before ones death. The
time in the testimony is hence de-stabilized which is another dimension of the fiction
of testimony.
What is [t]he encounter of death with death? Is it death meeting the death
sentence, the fulfillment of the death sentence, or aiming at the young man which
attains its aim? Or, does death meet death? Is it the sameness of the absolute other? Is
it also death that meets its death sentence? If it is so, it is not just death which is the
unrepresentable but also the unrepresentable meeting the sentence of the
unrepresentable. Hence, [t]he encounter of death with death? cannot be a testimony
as it is incomprehensible to the addressee of the testimony.

Dates, Autobiography and History


The following analysis will read Blanchots The Instant of My Death as
Blanchots autobiography or testimony of his trauma, so assuming that the three Is are
assumed to be identical as Blanchot. Although Blanchot does not label the text as his
autobiography, the information, dates and incidents mentioned and with the help of the
biographies of Blanchot and Malraux, the possibility of reading the text as Blanchots
autobiography cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, the study on the dates in the text
also implies the fictionality in the supposed truth in his autobiography. I also consider
the dates and incidents mentioned in the text as a prism to reflect the history of
Blanchot, Malraux and Europe in 1944. The notion of lost manuscripts as described in
the text and its relation with genre and writing will also be addressed.
Blanchot writes in The Instant of My Death,
On the facade [of the Chateau] was inscribed, like an indestructible reminder, the date
1807. Was he [the Nazi Lieutenant] cultivated enough to know this was the famous
year of Jena, when Napoleon, on his small gray house, passed under the windows of

87

Hegel, who recognized in him the Spirit of the world,, as he wrote to a friend? Lie
and truth for as Hegel wrote to another fried, the French pillaged and ransacked his
home. But Hegel knew how to distinguish the empirical and the essential. (IMD, p.7)

The year 1807 was the year of publication of G.W. Hegels masterpiece The
Phenomenology of Spirit. However, it was not the year Hegel saw Napoleon. In 1806,
the year when Prussia was defeated at the Battle of Jena, Hegel wrote in a letter to his
friend,
The Emperor- this world soul- I saw riding through the city to review his troops; it is
indeed a wonderful feeling to see such an individual who, here concentrated into a
single point, sitting on a horse, reached out over the world and dominates it.208

The mixing up of the two years in Blanchots description creates doubt in the truth of
the testimony. In fact, The Phenomenology of Spirit was completed and posted to a
publication house by the due date of a contract, i.e. 13th October 1806.209 The work
appeared in early 1807. As the French army disturbed Hegels work of writing in 1806,
Hegel only rushed to complete his work and mailed his only manuscript to the
publisher. He lost his manuscript during the war.
An interesting coincidence can be found in the biography of Blanchot written
by Christophe Bident,
Il [Blanchot] y conservera la la chambre haute, o il devait crire. Il restera toujours
attach cette maison o il est n et a failli, la fin de la deuxime guerre mondiale,
mourir. Visible aujourdhui de la route, la maison et le parc ne doivent pas avoir
beaucoup chang. Ils ne manquent pas de charme, ni de tranquillit. Sur la facade de
cette grande demeure, une date est inscrite avec des fers: 1809.210

Bident in the previous quotation describes the birth place of Blanchot, the large
house (le grande maison, le Chateau) in Quain in France (IMD, p.2-3). I will not try
to comment on whether Blanchot or Bident makes a mistake on the year on the facade
of the large house. If Bident is correct, Blanchot mixes up 1809 with 1807. This is
another instance of the loss of memory in the autobiography of Blanchot in The Instant
208

Peter Singer, Hegel - A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p.2.

209

Peter Singer, Hegel - A Very Short Introduction, p.10.

210

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Parternaire Invisible, Essais Biographique (Seyssel: Champ

Vallon, 1998), p.17

88

of My Death. Blanchot has made a comment on historical narrative,


For some reasons I have always felt ill at ease with any supposedly historical narrative
(rcit) as though that we take to be true were also a deceptive reconstitution reliant on
the arbitrary nature of remembering and forgetting. It was necessary for time to
pass: time in which we also encounter the death that waits for each one of us and
missed us only by a little. I was living far away. The I is already incongruous and
improper.211

The comment is found in an article of his rare autobiography written in a book by his
friend Dionys Mascolo in 1993, just one year before the publication of The Instant of
My Death. The problematic historical narrative in The Instant of My Death can be
stained by Blanchots sense of the arbitrary nature of remembering and forgetting,
which creates a deceptive reconstitution.212 It seems there is no identity accessible,
not even one of the dates or time. However, his comment on the survival after the
missed encounter with death and on the improper I in the previous quotation is
enacted in The Instant of My Death.213 On the other hand, it is possible that Blanchot
does intentionally change the year, for the year 1807 is 100 years earlier than
Blanchots year of birth (Blanchot was born on 22 September 1907 in Quain, a place in
France). The above is just an assumption but my point is to suggest that some kind of
fictionality, or absence of identity is inscribed in ones own autobiography. In another
way, the above can also be considered as a fictional story with the adaptation made in
the authors life history.
The epilogue (as described by Jacques Derrida) at the end of The Instant of
My Death brings in the history or the biographical matters of Andr Malraux.214 In the
text, the young man, after his escape from death, returns to Paris and meets Andr
Malraux who tells the young man that he also has a similar fate in escaping from death
after being arrested by the German soldiers (IMD, p. 11). In a biography of Andr
211

Maurice Blanchot, For Friendship, trans. Leslie Hill, in Oxford Literary Review, Vol.22 (2000),

p.28; Maurice Blanchot, Pour lamiti (Tours: Farrago, 2000), p.15. The French version was first
published as an introduction to the book, Dionys Mascalo, A la recherche dun communisme de pense
(Paris: Editions Fourbis, 1993).
212

I use the term historical narrative in the literal sense as a narrative in historical time. It must be

stressed that Blanchots text is not truly a historical narrative but a rcit in Blanchots term.
213

What I mean by the improper I is the mixing of the identities of the young man, the I (the narrator)

and Blanchot the author in The Instant of My Death.


214

Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, p. 98.

89

Malraux, Curtis Cate mentions that Malraux was arrested on 23 July 1944 and later
was interrogated by the Gestapo. As a result of a mixing of identities with his brother
Roland Malraux in the interrogation dossier, Andr Malraux was spared from being
torture[d] or shot.215 Interestingly, in another biography by Jean Franois Lyotard,
the date of the arrest mentioned was 22 July 1944.216 Again, the difference in the dates
of arrest in the two biographies suggests that historical truth can be fictional.
There is a coincidence in the closeness of the dates of escape from death of
Blanchot and Malraux. As described by Derrida, Blanchot wrote to Derrida a letter
dated 20 July, 1994, Fifty years ago, I knew the happiness of nearly being shot to
death.217 Counting 50 years backward from 1994, Blanchots escape from being shot
to death was on or before 22 July 1944. A rough estimation of the exact date of escape
by Christophe Bident falls within the period from 29 June to 20 July 1944 while
Malrauxs escape is around 22 July 1944 to 27 July 1944, according to Curtis Cates
biography.218 The closeness of the dates can be a result of historical coincidence but
also a manifestation of what Blanchot describes at the beginning of The Instant of My
Death that [t]he allies had succeeded in getting a foothold on French soil. The
Germans, already vanquished, were struggling in vain with useless ferocity (IMD, p.3).
It is logical to say that the return of the Allies to France motivates the Resistance to
fight back against the Germans and could induce the rescue of many people of the
Resistance including Blanchot and Malraux. Speaking in this way in fact adopts the
view point of a history writer who tries to locate the historical causality in relation to
the events of the individuals, the individual histories, the individual biographies or the
individual autobiographies. Blanchots autobiography starts with the history of
conflicts between Germany and France (or the Allies) in 1944, going through the
conflicts between Germany (Prussia) and France in Hegels time, and ends with
Blanchots and Malrauxs conflicts with Germans in 1944. The historical elements in
his short autobiography are strangely heavy, suggesting that his autobiography is not
his personal life story, but can be considered as a writing of the history of Europe. If
The Instant of My Death is a testimony of Blanchots escape from death, the incidents
of Hegel and Malraux are outside the personal testimonial context.

215

Curtis Cate, Andr Malraux: a Biography (New York: Fromm International Publishing, 1997),

pp. 329-331.
216

Jean Franois Lyotard, Sign Malraux, trans. Robert Harvey (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Press, 1999), p.256.


217

Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, p. 52.

218

Curtis Cate, Andr Malraux: a Biography, pp. 329-331.

90

As mentioned earlier, Hegel mailed and lost his only manuscript during the
war. The event of the lost manuscript is repeated in the history of Blanchot and
Malraux. Blanchot lost his thick manuscript after he fled to the forest nearby. In the
epilogue in the ending of The Instant of My Death, Blanchot mentions that Andre
Malraux had also lost a manuscript during the war (IMD, p.11). Malrauxs case is
similar to Blanchots as each lost a manuscript. A striking parallel can be drawn from
their loss. As described by Blanchot, It was only reflections on art, easy to
reconstitute, whereas a manuscript would not be (IMD, p.11). This sentence does
not mention who the speaker is but the author can be interpreted as Malraux.
Jean-Francois Lyotard writes, After 1939, he [Malraux] writes no more novels
(romans).219 The commentator in The New Oxford Companion to Literature in
French writes, [Malrauxs] last novel was Les Noyers de lAltenburg (1943), [and it]
poses the possibility of art as a force against destiny.220 After the war, Malraux
changes his writing to the reflections of art (such as on Picasso, Goya or imaginary
museum). In the same way, as Sarah Kofman comments about Blanchot in her work
Smothered Word,
Beginning in 1947 with The Folly of the Day, Blanchot has eliminated the word
story (rcits) from all his texts and from new editions published after the holocaust.
This is not just for the purpose of questioning the traditional distinction between
literary genres.221

Blanchot drops recits from his writing after the war, and is in search of what writing
and literature are in his literary reviews and fragmentary writing (e.g. The Space of
Literature and Awaiting Oblivion). Both Malraux and Blanchot not only lost their
manuscripts during the war, but also lost the idea of writing as romans or rcits.

Trauma and History in Blanchots The Instant of My Death


The following analysis of The Instant of My Death is based on Cathy Caruths
219

Jean Franois Lyotard, Soundproof Room- Malrauxs anti-aesthetics, trans. Robert Harvey (Stanford:

Stanford University Press) p.56


220

Peter France (ed.), The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French (Oxford: Clarendon Press,

1995), p.492.
221

Sarah Kofman, Smothered Words, trans. Madeleine Dobie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,

1998), pp.14-15. Blanchots work, The Folly of the Day (La folie du jour) is translated as The Madness
of the Day.

91

theories of trauma as sketched out in her works, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma,


Narrative, and History and Trauma: Explorations in Memory.222 She reads Blanchots
text as Blanchots testimony to his trauma (assuming, as said before, that the three Is
are Blanchot) and questions Blanchots individual trauma as an illustration of a
historical trauma. The notion of the fictionality of testimony will also be addressed.
I consider Blanchots The Instant of My Death as a testimony to his trauma of
survival in his meeting with death. The notion of survival over death is repetitively
hinted in his past literary writing before The Instant of My Death.223 In fact, death is
always a repetitive idea in Blanchots writing, as a result of his thinking of literature
through death, his thinking attributed to Heidegger and Levinas and his comments on
the disaster, the Holocaust and death camps. However, his repetitive (whether explicit
or implied) comments on his survival over the mis-encounter with death can be read as
a Freudian compulsion to repeat in writing.224 Cathy Caruth in her work on trauma
argues that [the] insistent reenactment of the past does not simply serve as a testimony
to the eventbut precisely registers the force of an experience that is not yet fully
owned.225 This can be the reason that Blanchot writes I knowdo I know itthat
the one experienced then a feeling of extraordinary lightness sovereign elation?
The encounter of death with death? (IMD, p.9). Blanchots experience is repeatedly
reenacted in his writing of the trauma of his encounter of death with death which
has not been fully understood in his consciousness. All he remembers is the time that
he was arrested by the soldiers aiming at him but he cannot remember for how long
he later fled and stayed in a forest nearby (IMD, p.7). The text is written with many
undecidable words, hesitations, and ambiguities of signification and tone. The word
perhaps appears thrice on five pages of the text. The undecidable time or duration is
222

Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

University, 1996) and Cathy Caruth, Introductions, in Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in
Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1995), pp. 3-12 and pp. 151-157. I am indebted to
Shoshana Felmans commentary on Caruths theory of trauma, in The Juridical Unconsciousness: Trials
and Traumas in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 171-182.
223

For example: [D]eath that waits for each one of us and misses us only by a little. in For Friendship,

p.24. Death, if it arrived at the time we choose, would be an apotheosis of the instant; the instant in it
would be that very flash of brilliance which mystics speak of (SL p.101). A death that is free, useful,
and conscious, that is agreeable to the living, in which the dying person remains true to himself, is a
death which has not met with death. (SL p.103)
224

Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle in On Metapsychology: The Theory of

Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1991), p.289.


225

92

Cathy Caruth (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory, p.151.

manifested in: after how much time, a little later, and In reality, how much time
had elapsed? The oxymoronic consecutive phrases are repeated, such as
Deadimmortal or Neither happiness, nor unhappiness or I am alive. No, you
are dead. The above undecidablity and deferrals in language convey Blanchots
traumatic experience as an enigma of survival. The relation of survival and death is
highlighted in the last sentence of the text: after his traumatic survival, death is always
a suspension in Blanchots after-life, in other words, death is undecidable and deferred,
to come.
One interesting point in the above discussion on the dates and coincidences is
the sense of repetition in history: the repetition of losing manuscripts, and the
repetition of conflicts between Germany and France in The Instant of My Death.
Blanchot repeats Malrauxs similar event of escape from death in his text. Cathy
Caruth also argues that history, like trauma, is never ones own, that history is
precisely the way we are implicated in each others trauma.226 Blanchots text, which
is a testimony to his survival at the expense of the death of innocent people like the
sons of farmers can be considered as a text written about the history of France in the
Second World War implicated from the traumatic survival of war survivors from the
death sentence of the Nazis. The inclusion of Hegels scene in the text further implies
the long history (1806-1944) of Europe or of European writers under the conflicts
between France and Germany.
Shoshana Felman comments that Cathy Caruths analysis of trauma implies a
human and an ethical dimension in which the Other receives priority over the self. The
ethical dimension is tightly related to the question of justice.227 The writing or the
testimony to trauma demands the listening of the reader or audience to an address of
the traumatized people that remains enigmatic yet demands a listening and a
response.228 In this sense, testimony is other-oriented and is a sharing of ones own
secretthe witness of a trauma. In Blanchots case, the trauma is his own survival
and, in Blanchots words, the death outside of him could only henceforth collide with
the death in him. What is communicated in the testimony exemplified by The Instant
of My Death is his own death, or the absolute other. Besides, not only his pseudo-death
is testified but the substitution of his real death by the death of the other (sons of the
farmer), as described by Blanchot as the torment of injustice (IMD, p.7). The
226

Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, p. 24.

227

Shoshana Felman, The Juridical Unconsciousness: Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century

(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 173-174.


228

Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, p.9.

93

testimony to his trauma is to address the other (i.e. the readers) of the absolute other
(the death) and the injustice, which puts the readers in the ethical dimension of the
need to think about death and justice. One complication must not be neglected:
Blanchot eliminates his name or his real identity and he is represented as the I or the
young man in his testimonial narrative. It is not surprising in Blanchots writing that
the authority of the narrator is suppressed with an impersonal voice as the
authoritative voice. The undecidable identity of the I, young man or Blanchot in
the text can be considered as that of a survivor who is unable to establish his identity in
face of his trauma. The missed encounter with the death disrupts his life with the
haunting of the imminence of the suspended death.
Having said the above, with the assumption that Blanchot is the young man and
the I in The Instant of My Death, I would like to negate this assumption by means of
Blanchots notion of the narrative voice and the neutre. Blanchot writes,
The narrative voice that is inside only inasmuch it is outside, at a distance without
there being any distance Although it may well borrow the voice of a judiciously
chosen character, or even create the hybrid function of mediator (the voice that ruins
all mediation), it is always different from what utters it: it is the indifferent-difference
that alters the personal voice.229

The young man, the narrator I and the author Blanchot do not have fixed identities
in The Instant of My Death. The autobiographical details in the text disturb their fixed
identities and the borders of the text. The narrator I is not outside the events of the
young man as the I shares the the feeling of lightness of the young man but does
not know how to translate. The I, however is not inside the events of the young
man as the I always maintains a distance from the young man. The
inside-and-outside border between Blanchot and the I or the young man is
obviously blurred since the shadowing of the identity of Blanchot on the other two is
also explicit. The trauma of the young man can be Blanchots but also cannot be as
Blanchots name is hoisted above the border of the narrative. Blanchots identity can
only be the author, which keeps a distance from the narrative. The specter of Blanchot
ghosts The Instant of My Death. The character the young man is judiciously
chosen; he is Blanchot/not-Blanchot. The I is the hybrid mediator as the young
man and Blanchot. The difference in the identities of the three Is is thus
indifferent. In this sense, the text The Instant of My Death is a testimony of a
229

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 386.

94

narrative voice: an impersonal voice speaking about the trauma of anonymity.


The anonymous trauma is not to annihilate the suffering of those being
traumatized or tortured. The writing of the anonymous trauma is their narrative. It
shows the imminence of the trauma that is always there is underneath the surface
reality (il y a in Levinas term), as being suspended in the existence of human life or
human beings. The anonymous trauma is always held as an instance and in abeyance
(en instance). The ethical dimension of the anonymous trauma is not to proliferate the
trauma so as to make humans forget their existence and the existence of trauma. It is
not to make us forget the individual trauma, the historical trauma and the worldwide
trauma, but to make us face and taste the secret of the anonymous trauma, in which the
instant of trauma or the infinity of the instant of trauma is always held in abeyance in
our lives.

Autobiography and Tropes


Jacques Derrida writes a long commentary on Blanchots The Instant of My
Death. The title of the commentary is Demeure and it begins with Fiction et
temoignage in the content of the French version.230 In the English translation, the
commentary is titled Demeure: Fiction and Testimony and begins with Fiction and
Testimony.231 The proper names of the same text, one with the original in French and
the other in a translation of English, undergo a translation, both literally and
positional-wise. The change of name of Derridas text exemplifies Derridas
destabilization of the proper name. Besides, it displays Paul de Mans trope of reading
upon translation.232
At the beginning of Demeure, Derrida brings out the German words Dichtung
und Wahrheit (DFT, p.15). The translation or even the literal meaning of the two
words is also problematic and problematized by Derrida. According to Concise Oxford
Duden German Dictionary, dichtung means literary work, work of literature, poetic
words, poems and fiction. The above meanings in fact define what literature is, what
literary language is and what the genres of literature are. These topics are taken up in
230

Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Maurice Blanchot (Paris: Galile, 1998).

231

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death/Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, trans.

Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp.13-103.


232

Paul de Man, Autobiography as De-facement, in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York:

Columbia University Press, 1984), pp.67-82.

95

the works of Derrida as found in his book Acts of Literature, typically the chapters
The Law of Genre and Before the Law. Both chapters are framed by the discussion
on Blanchots rcits, The Madness of the Day and Death Sentence. The following
discussion focuses on the intersection of Derridas Demeure, Paul de Mans
Autobiography as De-facement and Blanchots The Instant of My Death.
Derrida admits that he makes a mistake (a faux pas?) in translating dichtung
as fiction in the mourning work on Paul de Mans death, Memoires for Paul de Man
(DFT, p.16). He writes in Memoires for Paul de Man, Funerary speech and writing
would not follow upon death; they work on life in what we calls autobiography. And it
takes place between fiction and truth, Dichtung und Wahrheit.233 Funerary speech is
always other than the deceased as it is always anachronistic, both written before and
spoken after the death. As autobiography is interpreted as funerary speech and writing,
autobiography embodies the haunting nature which shares the meaning of always in
abeyance of the instant of my death (IMD, p.11). With such reasoning, it is no
wonder that Blanchots The Instant of My Death can be regarded as Blanchots
autobiography, modified with the Derridian undecidability of the distinction between
fiction and autobiography (DFT, p.16). In fact, Derrida borrows from Paul de Man,
It appears, then, that the distinction between fiction and autobiography is not an
either/or polarity but that it is undecidable.234 Paul de Man adds,
Autobiography then is not a genre or a mode, but a figure of reading or of
understanding that occurs, to some degree, in all texts. The autobiographical moment
happens as an alignment between the two subjects involved in the process of reading
in which they determined each other by mutual reflexive substitution.235

Blanchots autobiography is not fixed by genre, which is neither fiction nor


testimony, but is the figure of fiction and testimony, spoken by two or three subjects,
the hethe young man, the I and maybe Blanchot himself, exemplified by I
REMEMBER a young man, In his place, I will not try to analyse and I am alive.
No, you are dead. Probably, one can say that the he is the figure of the I or the I is
the figure of Blanchot. Linking it with death, the I may be the figure of Blanchot who
once died remains (demeure) in the world, erasing the genre the genre of rcit;
introducing the neutre the impersonality; speaking in the narrative voice of the he
233

Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul de Man, Revised Edition, trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler,

Eduardo Cadava and Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), p.22.
234

Paul de Man, Autobiography as De-facement, p. 70.

235

Paul de Man, Autobiography as De-facement, p.70.

96

(I) as the real he is always in abeyance. Blanchot is thus a being disfigured of life.
Life is then the figure of death and vice versa, which echoes with the idea that life is
the triumph of death, and the triumph over death, and vice versa as Derrida implies in
his essay Living On.
The figure of Blanchots autobiography can be read as a brief history (the
French history just after WWII), as one turns (i.e. the figure, the trope) over the page
ending with I am alive. No, you are dead of The Instant of My Death and returns to
the conversations between the narrator and Andre Malraux and Jean Paulhan (IMD, p.9
and 11). The former is the French Minister of Culture and the supporter of the purge of
the literary writers of the Collaborationists in WWII. The latter is the Director of the
Resistances publishing operations but voicing against the purge and the blacklisting
of literary writers on the basis of treason.236 The two names happened in the same
short epilogue after the trauma of The Instant of My Death which can be read as the
aftermath of the many instants and instances of deaths, affliction and racial prejudice
in WWII in France. The issues of Resistance and Collaboration in the period of the
Vichy government are difficult to explicate since there is a concealment of the history
of that period (probably, there is a partial release of information recently from the
government). I will not go on to these issues in this thesis. My point here is that
Paulhans ideas against the purge and the blacklisting of literary writers exemplify the
difficulty of reading politics.
Paulhans ideas can be summarized as that the people who accuse the literary
writers who assisted the Vichy government as treason must rethink the word treason
in the history of pre-war France. Paulhan considers that in the pre-war time those
people who betrayed France are those in favour of Russian Communist Party or
members of French Communist Party, for they are against the contemporary
government of France. In this sense, they can be considered as treasonous against the
government of France. A similar situation occurs to those literary writers who are in
favour of the Vichy government during the war. It happens that after the war, those
who are in position to decide and enforce the prosecution and purge are mostly the
members of the French Communist Party who sit in the National Committee of
Writers. Paulhan considers that the best decision place for the judgment of purge
should be in the judicial system and courts of the French government but not the
National Committee of Writers.237
236

Richard Rand, Translators Introduction, in Jean Paulhan, Of Chaff and Wheat: Writers, War, and

Treason, trans. Richard Rand (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004), p. viii & xii.
237

Based on the reading of Jean Paulhans book: Jean Paulhan, Of Chaff and Wheat: Writers, War, and

97

In view of the above summary, there are problems, according to Paulhans


arguments, in the words such as treason or loyalty and patriot when they are
analyzed diachronically and in the context of politics and history. To regard writers as
problematic in their politics based on their politics of writing is dangerous but also
difficult since reading ones writing is a kind of troping, turnings of ones ideas into
something else. Apart from reading as a trope, Paul de Man also argues in
Autobiography as de-facement,
To the extent that language, as trope, is figure (or metaphor, or prosopopeia) it is
indeed not the thing itself but representation, the picture of the thing and, as such, it is
silent, mute as pictures are mute. Language, as trope, is always privative.238

Language as trope, metaphor, or prosopopeia, is a kind of turning and substitution


within a signifying chain, a kind of exchange premised on the current ideology. To read
as trope, or to read through language as trope, is to make the text being read subjected
to the influence of the current ideology. This way of reading is a kind of exchange or
communicational reading for knowledge. Paul de Mans words above mean that when
autobiography is being read for knowledge, it is a kind of specular moment that is
part of all understanding and reveals the tropological structure that underlies all
cognitions, including knowledge of self.239 The specular moment is the moment of
auto-mirror-reflection, presuming the reflexive substitution of the writer and his
autobiographical mirror image. The search for knowledge is premised on the subjects
ability to grasping and appropriation. Under the specular moment, the mirror image
as well as language as trope inherits such grasping and appropriation. However, in
terms of Blanchots, Mallarms and Derridas ideas, language is not merely a kind of
tropical substitution. Language can also be the materiality of itself which is not a
currency for exchange. It is an event for the care or concern of itself. Language in
this way is literary rather than literal. To read autobiography as literary is to treat
autobiography as an insistence of literature. This is a reading that stands inside of
literature, and outside (ek-sistence) of literature as well as a withdrawal (desistence) of
subject the subject-writer of the autobiography and the subject of autobiography. The
withdrawal of the subject-writer in autobiography creates imminence and a spectral
character, as exemplified by Blanchot in The Instant of My Death. Paul de Mans idea
of prosopopeia (in its etymological sense, prosopon poien, means to confer a mask
Treason, trans. Richard Rand (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004).
238

Paul de Man, Autobiography as De-facement, p.80.

239

Paul de Man, Autobiography as De-facement, p.71.

98

or a face (prosopon)) echoes the nature of death or dying in Blanchots rcit.240


Blanchot as the writer of his autobiography confers a mask on himself to act as a
narrator, and a death-mask on himself as the young man in the rcit. Blanchots rcit
can be considered as a de-faced autobiography or in Derridas term, an
auto-bio-thanato-hetero-graphic scene of writing.241 Blanchots rcit is
auto-bio-graphical in view of the three Is presence in the text whereas the rcit is
thanato-biographic as it is related to death and the suspension of death. The rcit is
hetero-graphical (in Greek, this means other-writing); so it can be reasoned differently:
it is a writing about the other as it is written about the young man, the farmers sons,
Hegel, and the history of France and Germany. The rcit can be interpreted as a
relation between death and writing. Or the rcit is about the heterography of the words
instant and instance which use almost the same letters with different meanings but the
same etymology.
Hence, reading The Instant of My Death can also be a reading of the history of
France. That short epilogue with two figures of Resistance (Camus and Paulhan) can
be read as a debate between the Resistance and Collaboration. Camus and Paulhan are
figures of the Resistance, though Paulhan has a different view on the purge of the
writers associated with the Collaboration. He considers that the appropriate judging
place and decision for a writer who is a collaborator should not be the venue of the
committee or community of writers, but should be the courts of law since the latter
decides with evidence and truth. Paulhans view in this issue is also problematic since
the courts of law need evidence to be written, submitted and recorded. The testimony
of the evidence, in line with Derridas view in Demeure, is truth within fictionality. But
besides this, the problem of institution of literature is also present. The committee or
community of writers can function as a salon or venue for sharing, promotion,
education for the sake of literature, literary writing, or literary experience. The
committee of writers can also be a polemic site of different schools, thinking, politics
or ethics of literature. The courts of law at the same time are also a polemic site of
people of different politics and ethics regarding and interpreting the same evidence and
truth that are acceptable to the courts according to the juridical procedures and writing.
Polemics is inseparable from ethics and politics. Literary polemics, if not enflamed
with personal interest and insidious pursuit, is able to convey a proliferation of future
literary theory and writing.242
240

Paul de Man, Autobiography as De-facement, p.76.

241

Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: from Socrates to Freud and beyond, trans. Alan Bass. (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1987), p.336.


242

The idea and the term literary polemics are indebted to Suzanne Guerlac. In her book, she writes,

99

Passions of Literature
Derrida presented an essay in a colloquium Passions de la literature: Avec
Jacques Derrida in 1995. The title of the essay is Demeure: Fiction and Testimony
(Demeure: Fiction et tmoignages).243 In the essay, Derrida highlights the point that
there are at least seven knotted trajectories which semantically traverse[d] the word
passion and which also traverse[d] the text of The Instant of My Death of Maurice
Blanchot (DFT, p.25). He later discusses these seven passionate trajectories of
literature (DFT, p.26). In the following, I will attempt to discuss these seven
trajectories of the passion of literature and approach Blanchots relationship with the
passion of literature through The Instant of My Death.
Derrida comments that Passion implies a history in literature that displayed
itself as such in Christian culture (DFT, p.27). Derrida is referring to Western or
European literature, and specifically its Latin qualities. According to OED, if we take
the term literature, when this is defined as literary production as a whole, the body
of writings has claim to consideration on the grounds of beauty of forms or
emotional effect, that term is a modern creation as the first citations in English may be
around 1722.244 However, those parts in the history of literature in the Roman World
as related to the Christian culture can be exemplified by the confessional writing of St.
Augustine. Blanchots The Instant of My Death can be seen as a confessional writing
as the young mans (or Blanchots?) witness of the substitution of his death by the
young sons of farmers. Derrida adds the history of rights, of the State, the property
then of modern democracy of the Roman Period in this first trajectory which can be
refracted from Blanchots text in such instances as the Chateau, the Nazi invasion of
the French territory and the Nazi domination. Is literature a repetition of previous
genres or form? One thing which can be said is that defining genre in literature implies
grouping literary texts diachronically by leaving out the particularities of each time and
each author. Blanchots text cuts across genres in one way, but negates genres at the
same time: it is a story or a prose essay, or an autobiography, or even history. The
In my conclusion [of her book] I return to Tel Quel and to the question of theory, which I consider as a
displacement of the powers of literature at issue in the literary polemics of the previous generation
[among Bataille, Sartre, Valry, Breton.] See Suzanne Guerlac, Literary Polemics: Bataille, Sartre,
Valry, Breton (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p.6.
243

Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death/Jacques Derrida, Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, trans.

Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp.13-103.


244

J. Hillis Miller, On Literature (Routledge: London, 2002), p.2. This is based on the writings of

Joseph and Thomas Wharton (1722-1800, 1728-90)).

100

positions of the three Is are ghostly identities as the young man is ghosted by I or by
Blanchot. Blanchots passion in The Instant of My Death is the attempt to make his
confession in a Christian literary way not to God, but towards literature and its writing.
The second trajectory of passion, as Derrida writes, implies the experience of
love, of amorous, novelistic, romantic passion, from the confessional testimony
and from truthfulness, from telling the other everything, opening up thus new
problems of responsibility before the law and beyond the rights of a state (DFT, p.27).
I will say Derridas words suggest the freedom of writing in literature and also that
writing about the world is in itself writing in the world. To write is a boundless search
for everything created from love, and from confession to the truth. Blanchots text
shows his love for literature in that he writes, but he also detaches his writing from his
personal history and transgresses by mixing the fictional and autobiographical writing.
The responsibility of writing is not to the author himself but to literature, and before
literature.
The third trajectory of passion, as Derrida writes,
implies finitude (the whole Kantian moment of the determination of experience as
sensibility, space and time, the receptivity of the intuitus derivatives), but also a certain
passivity in the heteronomic relation to the law and to the other, because this
heteronomy is not simply passive and incompatible with freedom and with autonomy,
it is a matter of the passivity of passion before or beyond the opposition between
passivity and activity. One thinks above all of what Levinas and Blanchot say of
archi-passivity, particularly when Blanchot, unlike Levinas, analyses the neuter and a
certain neutrality of the narrative voice, a voice without person, without the
narrative voice from which the I posits and identifies itself. (DFT, p.27)

According to OED, finitude means the condition or state of being finite; or the
condition of being subject to limitations. The finitude of passion is subject to the
specificities of space, time, human conditions, mood and experience. Hence, the
finitude of passion expressed in writing is a representational matrix of the above
elements, which is a kind of writing or literature.245 Besides, the finitude of passion
implies the finitude of life which is subject to its limitation - the coming of death. In a
way, life is a passivity insofar as it faces the coming of death. The passivity has
parallels to Blanchots death of the author after the author has completed his writing.
245

I take writing as literature, based on Blanchot and Derrida.

101

He loses his work; his manuscript for his work is dispossessed of the author. This
dispossession and the movements of his pen on the paper of the mauscipt of his book
create the essential solitude of writing the solitude of the loss of his work, i.e.
worklessness (dsoeuvrement). The solitude, the loss, and the dispossession all point to
passivity in the passion of writing and of literature. Even in novel writing, the narrator
with the personal voice is also lost and handed over to a narrator of impersoanlity
the narrative voice of the neutre as suggested by Blanchot.
Derridas fourth trajectory of passion implies liability, that is imputablility,
culpability, responsibility, a certain Schuldigsein, an originary debt of
being-before-the-law. The debt and responsibility are the keywords of Derrida, which
have amounted to much discussion as in Specters of Marx and in the first part of
Passions. The passionate person holds onto his passion in order to strike for his right to
obtain, to respond, to justify, to get back something that he is unable to get or that he
has lost. Such a situation implies a debt or liability to something or someone who owes
something to that passionate person. The immense passion as a result of the debt and
responsibility, however active itself, is passive in the face of death. The passion of
literature is to defraud, to deceive, to force, in order to pass through the gates of the
essence of literature, to be or to become literature. However, the gate will always be
closed when death comes to the author just like the man before the law in Kafkas
story Before the Law. The gate is shut at the point of the mans death. In terms of
writing or literature, the gate is shut once there is the death of the author in writing.
The fifth trajectory of passion implies an engagement that is assumed in pain
and suffering, experience without mastery and thus without active subjectivity. Here,
passion is being allied to pain, another of the words senses. Blanchot in his rcit
writes, [t]his was war: life for some, for others, the cruelty of assassination. He
mentions the suffering from the deaths of the slaughtered sons of the farmers while he
is pardoned from death. In writing, he goes on to describe the un-translatable feeling
once the shooting is stopped: freed from life? The infinite opening up? Neither
happiness nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of fear and perhaps already the step
beyond. His subjectivity is not active from then on as he cannot tell happiness and
unhappiness. Perhaps he feels a middle feeling in-between happiness and
unhappiness just as Derrida mentions the middle voice which is neither active nor
passive (DFT, p. 27). Emile Benveniste says the verbs suffer, endure and experience
mental disturbance are verbs of the middle voice in the Sanskrit and Greek
languages.246 The verbs of the middle voice as characterized by Benveniste involve
246

Emile Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, trans. Mary Elizabeth Meek (Coral Gables,

102

the subject of the verbs which are at the center as well as the agent of the process; he
achieved something which is being achieved in him.247 The young man in the rcit
suffers and he puts himself into suffering. Such kind of loss of mastery is a kind of
passion he holds and endures. Similarly, literature holds onto a kind of passion which
is not oneself: literature is neither literature nor non-literature. I mean that it hovers
between what literature is and is not. Literature involves language of communication
but does not stop at that. It involves the communication of polysemy, feeling, passion
and other non-language matters with the Derridean diffrance (DFT, p.27). In
Margins of Philosophy, Derrida comments on the similarity of diffrance and middle
voice in which diffrance is:
neither simply active nor simply passive, announcing or rather recalling something
like the middle voice, saying an operation that is not an operation, an operation that
cannot be conceived either as passion or as the action of a subject on an object, For
the middle voice, a certain nontransitivity, may be what philosophy, at its outset,
distributed into an active and a passive voice, thereby constituting itself by means of
this repression.248

For the writer, the passion of suffering in writing his own works embodies a kind of
middle voice: an operation of writing his work and at the same time, a non-operation
as dsoeuvrement which Blanchot defines in The Essential Solitude. He writes
something and also puts himself in writing and continual writing. In Blanchots case,
he even puts himself into literature or literature puts Blanchot into the incessant and
interminable writing.
However, I would like to point out the difference between the middle voice and
the neuter of the narrative voice. The middle voice, as analyzed by Benveniste, is a
kind of grammar. In Benvenistes argument, the middle voice necessarily involves a
subject. Through the middle voice, the active verbs move into transitive. The
dichotomy of subject and object is emphasized. The neuter of the narrative voice
emphasizes the anonymity and impersonal voice. The dichotomy of subject and object
is lost in the anonymity, which is the identity of the young man, the narrator or the
writer Blanchot is suspended in the rcit.

Florida: University of Miami Press, 1971), p.148.


247

Emile Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics, p.149.

248

Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (London: Prentice-Hall, 1982), p.9.

103

The sixth trajectory of passion implies martyrdom, that isas its name
indicatestestimony. A passion always testifies. A martyr sacrifices his life and gives
his testimony by his passion and passivity. In The Instant of My Death, the death of the
sons of the farmers is a kind of martyrdom for the injustice of the war. The young man
who lives in his pseudo-death is both a martyr and a survivor. The author of the rcit
gives the testimony of that survivor to his pseudo-death and the real death of the others.
Testimony requires passion to tell the secret of the missed encounter with the death.
The passion of literature implies testimony of sacrificial martyrdom. In terms of
Blanchots notions of literature and writer as posed in The Space of Literature, a
literary writer whose work is dissolved and whose identity is made anonymous is a
martyr for the testimony to the insistence of literature. He attests to the insistence in
writing literature, as Kafka would say he has to write by his sacrifice of everything for
the sake of writing and out of that he sacrifices his life by a suspension of his life
during writing.249 At the end, he sacrifices his literary work for no other sake than that
of literature. The writer during his writing is a writer suspended within life-and-death.
He has no other choice but to write. His literary work is a testimony to literature. It is
singular and universal. His literary work is a singular testimony since writing is a
singular event, admixed with various talent, crafts, context, history, imagination,
inspiration and chance. This singular event is what the writer cannot control no matter
what his effort is. Even the writers testimony his literary work is also singular for it
is a unique work with the uniqueness in writing, and also in the many readings of the
readers. In terms of Attridges and Derridas ideas, a literary work is singular in terms
of the invention of the other and from the other. The otherness entails the literary work
its non-essential and chance nature. A literary work as a testimony attests the
existence of the otherness in the in-standing (instance) of literature.
The seventh trajectory of passion implies the endurance of an indeterminate or
undecidable limit where something, some Xfor example, literaturemust bear or
tolerate everything, suffer everything precisely because it is not itself, because it has no
essence but only functions. Literature tolerates everything since it says about
everything but without saying. That is to say, the works of literature begins at the
instant of dsoeuvrement and returns to the origin of absence of the work for its
249

Franz Kafka wrote in his diary entry on 2 January 1912, It is easy to recognize a concentration in

me of all my forces on writing. When it became clear in my organism that writing was the most
productive direction for my being to take, everything rushed in that direction and left empty all those
abilities which were directed towards the joys of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection, and
above all music. See Franz Kafka, The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1910-23, ed. Max Brod (London:
Vintage, 1999), p.163.

104

coming back (re-venir) or becoming again and again. The indeterminate and
undecidable limit is the Outside that literature moves, goes, approaches (a-border) and
aborts itself in the passionate endurance. The suffering is the sacrifice of the relational
entities of literature: the writer, reader, effort of writing and reading, books, essential
solitude and dsoeuvrement. Such is the secret of bad faith as what literature says is
fictional though it says everything without saying.
The Instant of My Death, when thinking in terms of the seven trajectories of
passions of literature above, combines the history of literature (such as the genre
category, Hegel, Malraux), the telling about everything, the finitude of life and
neutre, a liability of writing and telling, the engagement of writing with its effort,
pain, suffering and passivity, testimony to injustice and martyrdom, and the
literatures tolerance of everything in the undecidable limit. Such a short rcit of
Blanchot reflects his thinking and passions in literature, his incessant writing, and his
sacrifice in his whole life for writing about the notion of literature. I suggest that
Blanchots insistence in literature as derived from his passions of literature is the
insistence of literature and the passions of literature as exemplified by the instance of
Blanchots writing.
The seven trajectories of passions of literature as described by Derrida are
also knotted. (at least seven knotted trajectories (DFT p.25)) They are tied to each
other and cannot be separated individually. When one speaks about martyrdom in the
passions of literature, one speaks at the same time about the debt and the judicial
nature of literature as well. Therefore, literature does not have an essence. In Derridas
words, literature speaks in more than one language (plus dun langage) since it speaks
a number of those passions of literature and in addition to the otherness of literature. At
the same time, literature speaks in no more than one language since literature speaks in
and through language.

Derridas Passions: Impossibility, Non-savoir and Secret


Derrida in his later writing holds passions for a number of things that are
important for his discussion on deconstruction and the thinking of the name, ethics and
responsibility. John D. Caputo points out in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida,
Deconstruction is a passion for transgression, a passion for trespassing the horizons of
possibility, which is what Derrida calls, following Blanchot, the passion of the pas, the

105

pas of passion What we will not have understood is that deconstruction stirs with a
passion for the impossible, passion du lieu, a passion for an impossible place, a
passion to go precisely where you cannot go

250

It must not be neglected that Derridas passions incorporate Blanchots idea of the
step not beyond (le pas au-del) which Derrida has a lengthy discussion in an essay
Pas. The passion of the pas is premised on the double meanings of the French word
pas: step and not. Such passion as a thinking on literature can be construed as
meaning that literature acts as stepping further towards its outside as well as being the
negation of such step. This is not a Hegelian dialectical meaning that uses the idea of
the thesis-antithesis-synthesis to create a totality. Instead, it is incessant, a (not-)step
towards the infinite, the outside, the unknown and the Other. In addition, Derridas
passions for transgression and impossibility can also be related to what Blanchot has
discussed in The Infinite Conversation. Blanchot writes, impossibility is relation with
the Outside; and since this relation without relation is the passion that does not allow
itself to be mastered through patience, impossibility is the passion of the Outside itself
(IC, p.46). Derridas discussion on the passion of the place can be found in his book
On the Name where he writes, Passion of, for, the place, again. I shall say in French: il
y a lieu de (which means il faut, it is necessary, there is ground for) rendering
oneself there where it is impossible to go.251 Even the place is also a non-place for
one to go and where it is impossible to go.252 Hence, one can write in this way that il y
a lieu du pas (there is the place of the step/not). The place(s) in Blanchots rcits
include hotel rooms in Death Sentence and Awaiting Oblivion, the dark sea in Thomas
the Obscure, the dark cell in The Idyll, the last tower in The Last Word. These places
are obscure and dark places (endroit), without any clear indication, description or
location. These are anonymous and amorphous dark places as disseminated in
Blanchots rcits. But the spaces can also be any places as in literary works. Even if
they are named or clearly specified, the places in literature are still fictional places that
are impossible to go to. They are as beautiful or as ugly as the mirror images of any
places in the world in a mirror. The proximity of writing in Derrida and Blanchot thus
can be seen in their similar passions for the above elements.
250

John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion,

(Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), p.xix.


251

Jacques Derrida, Sauf le nom, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr., in Jacques Derrida, On the Name, ed.

Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p.59.


252

For Derridas discussion on non-place (non-lieu), see Jacques Derrida, Fors: The Anglish Words of

Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok in Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Wolf Mans Magic Word:
a Cryptonymy, trans. Nicholas Rand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. xxi.

106

Apart from transgression, the impossible, the pas and the impossible place,
Caputo also includes the passion of non-knowing (la passion du non-savoir) as
described in Derridas Cinders.253 Derrida has a discussion on the term non-knowing
(non-savoir) in his essay on Georges Bataille, The unknowledge (non-savoir)
exceeding science itself, the unknowledge that will know where and how to exceed
science itself, will not have scientific qualification (WaD, p.268). The word
non-savoir, usually translated as unknowledge, non-knowledge or un-knowing, is an
important term of Bataille who discusses it widely in his essays and books.254 This
term is related to the mysticism, Nietzsche and inner experience. The word
non-savoir is also used by Blanchot, and his discussion can be traced back to an essay
published in 1943 titled Inner Experience (LExprience Intrieure), which is an
essay on Batailles book Inner Experience (LExprience Intrieure). Blanchot
considers that non-savoir begins then by being the absence of knowing [par tre
absence de savoir]; it is knowing [le savoir] in front of which reason has placed in a
sign of negation and he adds,
[U]nknowing [non-savoir] concerns the very fact of being, excludes it from what is
intellectually possible and humanly tolerable; it introduces the one who experiences it
to a situation past which no more existence is possible; it is no longer a mode of
understanding [comprhension] but the mode of existing of man, insofar as existing is
impossible.255

On the next page, Blanchot writes,


We enter with a leap into a situation that is no longer defined by useful operations or
by knowing [savoir] (even in the sense by the privation of knowledge) but that opens
up onto a loss of knowledge [une perte de connaissance], to the possibility of losing
oneself without possible contact with knowledge [connaissance]
253

256

John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, p.xxiv; Jacques Derrida, Cinders, trans.

Ned Lukacher (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), p.75.


254

Georges Bataille, The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, ed. Stuart Kendall, trans. Michelle

Kendall and Stuart Kendall (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001). An extraction of
Batailles writing on unkowledge can be found in the book: Georges Bataille, Georges Bataille:
Essential Writings, ed. Michael Richardson (London: Sage, 1998), pp. 170-187.
255

Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001),

p.38.
256

Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas, p.39.

107

The switching of words from savoir to connaissance implies the domain of knowledge
in terms of positivism or even a simple (re)cognition of a human or a face (in line with
Levinass ethics as the face) is not applicable to non-savoir. Blanchot did not use the
terms savoir and non-savoir in the essay Knowledge of the Unknown
(Connaissance de linconnu) written in December 1961, which was later collected in
the book The Infinite Conversation. He used the terms connaissance, non-connu,
and inconnu instead. Perhaps such usage of words is a referential respect to Levinas
who does not use the word non-savoir, and on a few occasions, uses the term
connaissance in his Totality and Infinity.257 Blanchot, however, keeps the term
connaissance in section 1 of another essay The Limit-Experience in The Infinite
Conversation. This essay was published a few months (in October, 1962) just after the
death of Bataille (who died on 8 July 1962). He writes,
[L]et me insist again: it is only beyond an achieved knowledgethat non-knowledge
(non-savoir) offers itself as the fundamental exigency to which one must respond; no
longer this non-knowledge (non-savoir) that is still only a mode of comprehension
(knowledge [la connaissance] put in brackets by knowledge [la connaissance] itself),
but the mode of relating or of holding oneself in a relation (be it by way of existence)
where relation is impossible. (IC, p.208)

258

When examining Blanchots essay Inner Experience in 1943 and his another essay
The Limit-Experience in 1961, one can find the repetitive usage of similar phrases:
ecstatic loss of knowledge (la perte de connaissance extatique), inner
experience and contestation.259 Blanchot writes in the essay Inner Experience,
[t]he ecstatic loss of knowledge is properly inner experience (FP, p.39). In the
essay The Limit-Experience, he writes, the ecstatic loss of knowledge is nothing
but the grasping the seizure of contestation at the height of rupture and dispossession
(IC, p.207). It is logical that the terms ecstatic loss of knowledge, inner
experience, contestation and non-savoir return and repeat again since the essay in
1961 is an essay for Bataille. Another reason is that Blanchot still values greatly
Batailles ideas which Blanchot shares a great proximity with at least since 1943. It is
257

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity:An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh:

Duquesne University Press, 1969), p. 201 and 204. The translator translates the French word
connaissance as knowledge.
258

Maurice Blanchot, LExprience-limite in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No. 118, October (1992),

pp. 572-592.
259

For the reference for the term inner experience, see FP, p.37 & 39, and IC, pp. 205-206; for the

word contestation, see FP, pp. 38-40, and IC, p.207.

108

also possible that the repetition of terminology and ideas is an instance of Blanchots
insistence on literary writing. Besides, the repetition of these terms ecstatic loss of
knowledge, inner experience, contestation and non-savoir entails an insistence
on the nature of ek-sistence for the thinking of literature as an experience outside
knowledge, in the state of ecstasy (loss of subjectivity: in Greek, ekstasis means
standing outside oneself), for the inner experiment/experience (exprience) of the
outside and as well as an experience of incessant questioning.
The word contestation deserves more examination. Bataille has mentioned in
his book Inner Experience that the word contestation is Blanchots important word.260
This word can be found in Blanchots literary review of Batailles Inner experience.261
Bataille relates contestation and non-knowledge (non-savoir) to the first version of
Blanchots roman, Thomas lObscur published in 1941.262 The French word
contestation is translated as contestation, questioning and struggle in the English
version of Inner Experience. The term contestation, as Blanchot writes in Faux Pas,
stands for a continuous questioning of knowledge and what one knows about the
impossibility of knowledge. Contestation is the questioning for unknowledge
(non-savoir) and the Other.
One also discovers the word passion in both essays. The word passion in
Faux Pas is situated in a minor position, as Blanchot writes, This struggle
(contestation) is carried on by reason. It alone unmakes the stability that is reasons
260

See Kevin Hart and Geoffrey H. Hartmans Introduction in Kevin Hart and Geoffrey H. Hartman

(eds), The Power of Contestation: Perspectives on Maurice Blanchot (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2004), pp. 16-22; Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Boldt
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), p.12n. Inner Experience (LExprience Intrieure)
was originally published in French in 1943. Kevin Hart and Geoffrey H. Hartman did not list in the
Introduction any reference to the word contestation in Blanchots works before 1943.
261

Maurice Blanchot, Faux Pas, p.38 and 40; Faux Pas was originally published in French in 1943. The

original essay titled LExprience Intrieure written by Blanchot is a review of Batailles book Inner
Experience published in 1943.
262

Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, p.102; Maurice Blanchot, Thomas lObscur, Premire Version,

1941 (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), p.33. The quoted text can also be found in the second version
(rcit-version) of Thomas lObscur published in 1950 with only a few editions. See Maurice Blanchot,
Thomas lObscur, Nouvelle Edition (Paris: Gallimard, Collection LImaginaire, 2001), pp.17-18. The
quoted text is important for Bataille, Blanchot and Levinas. Levinass idea of il y a is also referred to in
chapter 2 that includes the quoted text. See Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso
Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001), p.58 footnote.

109

task. It alone is capable of enough continuity, of order, and even of passion to allow no
refuge to remain (FP, p.38). The passion is a fight against reason and anguish
(angoisse) that has no refuge except through incessant contestation that is
accompanied with utmost suffering. Blanchot further qualifies contestation,
And it (la contestation) does not stop; it is always stronger than what it lets itself grasp;
it is a feeling that one feels tragically by not completely feeling it, but never
exhausting it, by being beneath what one should feel, late, perpetually belatedand
thus suffering twicein its suffering. (FP, p.39)

The passion in the contestation carries suffering that is of deferral nature and is
always perpetually belated. The double suffering refers to the suffering that is from
the complete loss of reason and positivity and also from its incessant suffering in this
manner. This passion in relation to the loss of reason and positivity was named in the
essay in 1961 as the passion of negative thought. (IC, p.204)
Derrida also has passions for the secret, though to my knowledge, he did not
explicitly use such a term.263 In his essay titled Passions: An Oblique Offering,
Derrida repetitively begins a number of paragraphs with the phrase There is
something secret (Il y a du secret).264 In this essay, Derrida discusses on the themes of
response and responsibility at the beginning, which is followed by his discussion on
the secret elements in secret. At the end of the essay, Derrida confides a secret to the
readers,
Perhaps all I wanted to do was to confide or confirm my taste (probably unconditional)
for literature, more precisely for literary writing. Not that I like literature in general,
nor that I prefer it to something else, to philosophy, for example Not that I want to
reduce everything to it, especially not philosophy But if, without liking literature in
general and for its own sake, I like something about it, which above all cannot be
reduced to some aesthetic quality, to some source of formal pleasure [jouissance], this
would be in place of the secret. In place of an absolute secret. There would be the
passion.265
263

Derrida said in a dialogue with Maurizio Ferrairis, I have a taste for the secret. See Jacques Derrida

and Maurizio Ferrairis, A Taste for the Secret, trans. Giacomo Donis, eds. Giacomo Donis and David
Webb (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), p.59.
264

Jacques Derrida, Passions: An Oblique Offering, in Jacques Derrida, On the Name, (ed.) Thomas

Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp.24-26.


265

Jacques Derrida, Passions: An Oblique Offering, pp.28-29.

110

There is something secret in literature which is concealed in Derridas passion as well


as revealed in his writing. The absolute secret thing of literature can be related to the
literary or littrature as discussed in Derridas Dissemination. Timothy Clark points
out that littrature, a Derridas neological term, names what is radically literary in
literature rather than a new practice of writing altogether.266 The secret thing in
literature can be termed as the literary. In that sense, the literary is what cannot be
created as part of a knowable genre; and it is the passion that insists. I think that one
could link the idea of passion to the idea of the instance. The passion is the literary, and
the secret, and what insists on, so in that sense, the idea of passion is linked with what
is traumatic.

The Impersonal Passions of Literature


The word passion has an implication that is related to human nature and
personal interests, for it means suffering, amorous feeling and pain that cannot be
comprehended without the human nature. Perhaps it can be said that human nature
overflows the meaning of the word passion. One can also say that the passion of
someone enable one to do something. For a writer, his passion may explain his
insistence on writing such a theme, such a novel, or such a book, etc.
In 1995, Derrida delivered a paper titled Demeure. Fiction et tmoignage in a
colloquium with the title Passions of Literature: With Jacques Derrida (Passions de la
littrature: Avec Jacques Derrida).267 In the paper, he emphasizes that there are at
least seven knotted trajectories that travers[ed] the word passion and the text The
Instant of My Death (DFT, p.25). That is, in Derridas terms, the passionate
trajectories of literature (DFT, p.26). Literature seems to be a (human) subject that
carries passion and the trajectories of the lines of forces of passion traversed.
However, there is incompatibility in speaking of passion in a non-human subject such
as literature. In the following discussion, I will demonstrate that there is impersonality
in literature as reflected from the nature of secret and passion which Derrida discusses
in his works Passions: An Oblique Offering and Demeure: Fiction and Testimony.

266

Timothy Clark, Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot: sources of Derridas notion and practice of

literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.110. See also the Introduction of this book,
pp.1-19.
267

Jacques Derrida, Demeure. Fiction et tmoignage in Michel Lisse (ed.), Passions de la littrature:

Avec Jacques Derrida (Paris: Galile, 1996), pp. 13-73.

111

Derrida in the essay Passions: An Oblique Offering articulates the relation


between the subtitle of the essay An Oblique Offering and the responsibility to
respond to a polite request for writing an essay under the institutional ritual for a book
titled Derrida: A Critical Reader.268 Derrida points out that the essay title Oblique
Offering is originally set by the editor of the Critical Reader before Derrida had
written anything for this essay. This essay is one that is, according to the publishing
institutional ritual, a polite response to the twelve literary critics who have already
written twelve critical essays on Derrida and deconstruction in that book of Critical
Reader. Derrida ridicules the situation as that of Christs Passion in the Last Supper
with twelve disciples and such is one of the reasons for the association of the word
passion in the title and the discussion in the essay.269 The essay, as an instance, can
be thought or read as a dramatic performance of Derrida and various literary critics in
the scene of literature in terms of critical writing, the sacrificial offering of Derrida in
response to the offering of the twelve critics in that book, the passion of Derrida in
sacrificial response, the rituals of the institution of literature, and literature as a mimic
or metaphor of Christs Passion in the act of the Last Supper.
J. Hillis Miller opines that Derrida means that the unfathomable secret in each
literary work has the strange performative effect of arousing our passion whereas the
unfathomable secret as meant by Derrida is le tout autre, the wholly other, that is, an
otherness that in no way can be known or assimilated into some version of the
same.270 The dramatic performance as Derrida writes in the essay auto-performs a
scenario which can be considered as a parallel to Blanchots instance in The Instant of
My Death. Derrida is the author who acts as a narrator to describe an aged young
man in the name of Derrida who acts as standing in front of a wall of oblique
offering to write an essay in response to a command of an institutional ritual. I suggest
that the scenario in such an association is to demonstrate the repetitive instance of the
problematic positions of the three Is advocated by Derrida. My reading is a trial to
read Derridas essay Passions: An Oblique Offering allegorically or other-wise so
as to show the otherness hinted by Derridas terminology of unfathomable secret.
Besides, such reading is a reading based on a metaphor which is still in the domain of
sameness or similarity. However, reading can be one that is outside the control and
268

Jacques Derrida, Passions: An Oblique Offering, in David Wood (ed.), Derrida: A Critical Reader

(Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), pp. 5-35. This essay was later collected in a book: Jacques Derrida, On the
Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 3-31.
269

Jacques Derrida, Passions: An Oblique Offering, pp.18-19. See also John D. Caputos discussion

on this point in his book: John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, p.104.
270

J. Hillis Miller, Speech Acts in Literature (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p.159.

112

intention of the author. For instance, the essay Passion: An Oblique Offering can be
read as a future anterior instance or prolepsis since the reading of Blanchots The
Instant of My Death in 1994 in conjunction with Derridas commentary in Demeure:
Fiction and Testimony in 1995 can be a metaphorical reading of Derridas essay in
1992. In addition, Derridas essay in 1992, as a literary criticism discussing the
responsibility and response in terms of an autobiographical event of writing an essay
for a Critical Reader, provides an exemplary scheme of reading for Blanchots
fictional autobiographical event in The Instant of My Death in 1994. Such reading is
also to demonstrate Paul de Mans idea of reading as a trope which means that each
reading can be a turning and metaphor of what is to be read since Paul de Man writes,
Criticism is a metaphor for the act of reading, and this act is itself inexhaustible.271
The act of reading as illustrated above can also be a reading of other texts such as
literary criticism, other novels, biography and autobiography. It also shows that
literature has repetitive insistence on reading the texts metaphorically or allegorically.
Derridas essays Passion: An Oblique Offering and Demeure: Fiction and
Testimony show Derridas insistence on the notions of the passions in literature since
some of the knotted trajectories in the latter essay are re-worked from the discussion
on the passions of literature in the former essay.272
On the issue of responsibility and personal interests in the essay Passion: An
Oblique Offering, Derrida construes the responsibility to respond as a respect that
is the non-pathological in Kants sense. He writes,
It is well known that sacrifice and the sacrificial offering are at the heart of Kantian
morality, under their own name (Opferung, Autofopferung). (Cf., for example, Kants
Critique of Practical Reason, L. I, ch.III.

The object of sacrifice there is always of

the order of the sensuous motives [mobile sensible], of the secretly pathological
interest which must, says Kant, be humbled before the moral law; this concept of
sacrificial offering, thus of sacrifice in general, requires the whole apparatus of the
critical distinctions of Kantianism: sensible/intelligible, passivity/spontaneity,
intuitus derivativus / intuitus originarius, etc.; the same goes for the concept of
passion; what I am looking for here, passion that would be non-pathological in

271

Paul de Man, The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derridas Reading of Rousseau, in Paul de Man,

Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd Edition (London:
Routledge, 1986), p.107.
272

Compare Jacques Derrida, Passions: An Oblique Offering, pp.28-31 with Jacques Derrida,

Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, pp.25-29.

113

Kants sense.)

273

The word pathological has the Greek etymological stem pathos that means suffering
and the word passion also shares such meaning. The word passion has another
meaning of that relating to strong emotion and feeling. One of the meanings of the
word pathological in OED is that relating to the feelings or emotions. Kant uses this
term to relate sacrifice and sacrificial offering to feelings and emotion. Hence, the
two words pathological and passion have meanings that are related to private
feeling or human feeling. Derrida, following Kants analysis, considers that passion
and sacrifice, when considered under morality as a response towards responsibility,
should be non-pathological which implies a nature that is without private feeling
and interests. In this sense, passion interpreted as without personal feeling and interests
can be linked to literature and its morality or its responsibility.
The idea of non-pathological that draws an idea of non-personal interests shares
with what Levinas said about the idea of non-narcissistic interiority. Levinas defines
it in the reading of the relation of the world and man who is made upon Gods
inspiration (Genesis 2:7 breathed into his nostrils the breath of life),
It is not through substantiality through an in-itself and a for-itself that man and his
interiority are defined, but through the for the other: for that which is above self, for
the worlds (but also, by interpreting world broadly, for spiritual collectivities, people
and structures). In spite of his humility as a creature, man is in the process of
damaging them (or protecting them). For all that, by existing, he is. This is a
fundamental non-narcissism.274

Levinas describes the idea of a non-narcissistic interiority in an ethical one. Such


ethical relation is stemmed from the ideas of non-pathological and non-narcissistic
interiority which can be extended to the thinking of literature in relation to humans.
Literature in its ordinary sense is the work of humans. Literature, though related
to the passion, feeling, and emotion of humans, is in fact an object produced by
humans. However, literature, as a human object carries numerous human feelings,
human actions, personal interests, and matters of societies and politics, can be an
inspiration for the people to be ethical, moral, responsible, and political. For a radical
273

Jacques Derrida, Passions: An Oblique Offering, p.16.

274

Emmanuel Levinas, Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures, trans. Gary D. Mole

(London: Athlone Press, 1994), p.161.

114

construction of the ethics and politic of literature, literature can also be apprehended as
from literature itself. Such saying is not to negate the various ethics and politics (like
post-colonialism, feminism and anti-racism) as demonstrated in various novels, poems
and critical works. The ethics and politics as initiated by various stakeholders of
literature, namely writers, readers, commentators, editors, translators, publishers,
educational institutions, business, censoring organizations and governments are always
ethical and political towards the conflicts, polemics and political sites among various
personal interests and feelings. Literature can easily be susceptible to the aberrations of
different personal nature and personal interests. Mis-appropriation of literature can
make literature propagandas and instruments for the absolute and totalitarian
governments or opium serving for the heresy and domination of the minority. Literature,
when it is radically thought as being and becoming itself including its nature of insistence
and ek-sistence, can have a kind of non-pathological passion that is able to make
possible the transgression of the limits set up by tradition, canonization, domination,
totalitarianism, and censorship to approach the outside. The non-pathological
passion with its insistence and ek-sistence can be comprehended as the ethics and
politics of literature to escape the aberration, domination and flaws of human nature.
When mankind so far cannot solve the aberration, domination and flaws of human
nature that are still active in the human society, ethics and politics that are
non-pathological or in other words, ethics and politics that are impersonal and
anonymous can be another way to dis-tance (-loigner) or dis-stance such human
domination and violence. Blanchots notion of relation without relation, neutre
(neither subject nor object), Levinass concepts of response to the Other and
non-narcissistic interiority, Derridas thinking of non-pathological passion and
democracy to come and Kants non-pathological respect are different thoughts
that literature can insist on and ecstatic-ize itself. Such kind of insistence and
ek-sistence can be the unfathomable secret as impersonality, other-wise and the
literary nature of literature.

115

Chapter 3: Death and Neutre- Blanchot on Literature

Literature and the Right to Death


The essay Literature and the Right to Death is Blanchots clear manifestation of
his idea of literature.275 It is based on a reading of Hegels The Phenomenology of
Spirit and Mallarms ideas of poetry and literature.276 Leslie Hill articulates the view
that Blanchots essay Literature and the Right to Death collected in La Part du Feu
(The Work of Fire) published in 1949 is made up of two separate articles published in
the French journal Critique, with the first one published in November 1947, with the
title Le Rgne animal de lEspirit (The Animal Kingdom of the Spirit) while the
second one published in January 1948 with the title La Littrature et le droit la
mort (Literature and the Right to Death).277 In the reading of Hegels The
Phenomenology of Spirit, Blanchot is indebted to Jean Hyppolites French translation
of Hegels work.278 Hegels work was published in 1807, but Hyppolites translations
appeared in 1939 and 1941. Besides, Hyppolites critical work on Hegel, Genesis and
Structure of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit is also important for Blanchots reading
of the work of writing.279 Jean Hyppolites original commentary in French was
published in 1946, just two years before the publication of Blanchots essay Literature
and the Right to Death.280

275

Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right of Death in Maurice Blanchot, The Work of Fire, trans.

Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 300-344. It is noted that the essay
was in fact translated by Lydia Davis in 1981 while all other essays in The Work of Fire are translated by
Charlotte Mandell. See Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays, Ed. P.
Adams Sitney, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press, 1981), pp. 99-104.
276

I will use two English translations of Hegels work to match with Blanchots translation of Hegels

words in Blanchots essay: (a) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A.
V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), and (b) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The
Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie (London: Allen & Unwin, 1961).
277

Leslie Hill, Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (London: Routledge, 1997), p.103 and 286.

278

Blanchot makes a clear reference to Jean Hyppolites translation of Hegels work, Phnomnologie

de lespirit, 2 Vol., trans. Jean Hyppolite, (Paris: Aubier, 1939 & 1941) in the footnote in WF, p. 302.
279

Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Samuel Cherniak

and John Heckman (Evanston: Northern University Press, 1974).


280

Jean Hyppolite, Genses et Structure de la Phnomnologie de lespirit (Paris: Aubier, Editions

Montaigne, 1946).

116

In addition, Alexandre Kojves lectures (in 1933-1939) in Paris on Hegels


masterpiece are also another important source for Blanchots idea of literature through
Hegels notion of negativity. In fact, the lectures were later collected, edited and
published in 1947.281 Blanchot made a footnote in Literature and the Right to the
Death that highlights his notion of negation is indebted from Kojves reading (WF,
p.314).
In Literature and the Right to Death, Blanchots thinking on the relationship
between writing and the writer is borrowed from Hegels idea of action and negativity.
The section where Blanchot shows an interest in Hegels The Phenomenology of Spirit
is the animal kingdom of the mind as shown in the footnote of the essay (WF,
p.302).282 Section C of Chapter V of Hegels The Phenomenology of Spirit is titled
Individuality which takes itself to be real in and for itself.283 However, the appendix
in Kojves book showing The Structure of the Phenomenology of Spirit gives a
more relevant Section title in terms of literature and writing: The Man of Letters with
more interesting subtitles such as The idea which the Man of Letters has of himself,
Innate Nature: talent, Activity: the creation of a work of literature or The existential
experience of the Man of Letters.284 Hegels text does not make a clear reference to
the Work of The Man of Letters in this section. The reason why Kojve makes such
transference to the literary man can be partially implied in the following fact. Kojve
has mentioned that,
There is a whole category of men who do not actively participate in the historical
construction and who are content to live in the constructed edifice and to talk about it.
These men, who live somehow above the battle, who are content to talk about things
281

Alexandre Kojve, Introduction la lecture de Hegel : leons sur la Phnomnologie de l'Esprit

professes de 1933 1939 l'cole des Hautes tudes / Alexandre Kojve; runies et publies par
Raymond Queneau. (Paris: Gallimard, 1947); The English version is a partial translation: Alexandre
Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. James H.
Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980).
282

Different translators give different translation of the title of the chapters, sections, sub-sections. A.V.

Millers translation of Hegels The Phenomenology of Spirit gives the title of Chapter V, Section C,
Sub-section a as The spiritual animal kingdom and deceit, or the matter in hand itself.
283

The title of Chapter V is from A.V. Millers translation of Hegels The Phenomenology of Spirit,

p.xxxiv.
284

Alexandre Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on The Phenomenology of Spirit,

trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), p.274. This page is in the Appendix
with the title The Structure of the Phenomenology of Spirit.

117

that they do not create by their Action, are Intellectuals who produce intellectuals
ideologies, which they take for philosophy (as pass of as such). Hegel describes and
criticizes these ideologies in Chapter V.

285

[Kojves italics.]

Hegels Chapter V is what Kojve relates to the Man of the Letters and Hegel
claims in this chapter that the action of the work can achieve self-consciousness from
consciousness.286 The relation of speech, thought and the Being are discussed in
Kojves book, For real Being existing as Nature is what produces Man who reveals
Nature (and himself) by speaking of it.287 The importance of speech (as in
philosophical discourse) is that man can reveal what Nature is and at the end through
the Being to attain the Truth which as Kojve reasoned, Truth (= revealed reality)
is the coincidence of thought or descriptive knowledge with the concrete real.288
Hegels implication of the Man of Letters can be reasoned as Hegel has close
friendship with the Man of Letters such as Friedrich Hlderlin and Friedrich
Schelling in youth.289 Blanchot makes a reference to Kojves book in his essay in
terms of work and negation (WF, p. 314). Besides, Blanchot quotes the term man
of letters as he writes about Hegel, this man (called Hegel) described all the ways in
which someone who has chosen to be a man of letters condemns himself to the animal
kingdom of the mind (WF, p.302). Here is a point in which Blanchot seems to
combine the two readings of Hegel together in his essay: Kojves reading and
285

Alexandre Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, p.33.

286

To illustrate the concepts of consciousness and self-consciousness, I quote from A Hegel Dictionary,

[C]onsciousness successively takes three forms: sensory certainty, perception and understanding
A form of consciousness is not yet self-consciousness, but it is aware of itself, as well as its objects: its
awareness of a discrepancy between itself and its object brings about the advance to new form, whose
object is the previous form of consciousnessThe advance to self-consciousness occurs when
consciousness as understanding deploys conceptions that involve a distinction which is no distinction
(such as the opposite poles of a magnet or of electricity): it sees both that the inner essence of things,
conceptualized in terms of a vanishing distinction, is its own product, and that the concept of such a
distinction is applicable to its own relation to its object., from Michael James Inwood, A Hegel
Dictionary (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), p.62.
287

Michael James Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, p.173.

288

Michael James Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, p.177. The meaning of Being according to Kojve is

To say that Being is dialectical is first to say (on the ontological level) that it is a Totality and implies
Identity and Negativity. Next, it is to say (on the metaphysical level) that Being realizes itself only as
natural World, but also a historical (or human) World, these two Worlds exhausting totality of the
objective-real (there is no divine World). See Michael James Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, p. 259.
289

Peter Singer, Hegel: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p.7.

118

Hyppolites reading.
Hyppolites commentary on Hegel seems to be treated by Blanchot as a constant
reference in his essay to illustrate the basic relation of the writer, the action of writing
and its product the written work. Hyppolite writes,
It is only through what we do (what in the work becomes a being-for-others) that we
learn what we are; only originary nature (talents and abilities) is transformed from
potentiality to reality.

290

Blanchot agrees with the reasoning of Hegel and Hyppolite as he writes in terms of the
work of writing,
The writer only finds himself, only realizes himself, through his work; before his work
exists, not only does he not know who he is, but he is nothing. He exists only as a
function of the work (WF, p.303)

Blanchot considers that the action of the writer in producing a written work as a
way to give him the identity of a writer but also a way to negate that identity, as
Blanchot writes, He exists only as a function of the work. The action of writing
subordinates the writer as a component in the work of art (i.e. literature). Through his
effort of writing, the writer unknowingly surrenders his life to the written work: his life
at this moment creates the written work. Blanchot claims,
[He] is the author of it [the book, the written work] or rather that, because of it, he
is an author: it is the source of his existence, he has made it and it makes him, it is
himself and he is completely what it is. (WF, p.305)

His action of writing enables his work to be not only for himself but also for others
the readers. Blanchot argues that
the writer himself agrees to do away with himself; the only one who matters in the
work is the person who reads it. The reader makes the work, as he reads it, he creates it;
he is the real author ... (WF, p.306)

In this aspect, it parallels to what Roland Barthes later (in 1968) means by The Death

290

Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 395.

119

of the Author.291 Although the reader basically reads the written work, he is in fact
also writing on the work. The reason is that the reader brings his own experience,
cultures and effort of reading in the interpretation of the work being read and obtain
the multiplicity of the meaning. Blanchot envisages that the many readers who read the
work can be considered as a public domain but in such way, the public makes the many
readers anonymous and reading is even dissolved in the realm of writing as Blanchot
writes,
it is the public that is writing, and for this reason the public can no longer be a reader;
reading only appears to exist, actually it is nothing. (WF, p.307)

Blanchot also comments on the kind of writing in which a writer may concern
himself with art as pure technique (WF, p.307). He argues that the experiment of
writing in searching for new techniques will not affirm the work though the work is the
particular creative effort of the writer. However, Blanchot claims,
[T]he work is also made outside of him, and all the rigor he put into the consciousness
of his deliberate actions, his careful rhetoric, is soon absorbed into the workings of a
vital contingency which he cannot control or even observe. Yet his experiment is not
worthless: in writing, he has put himself to the test as a nothingness at work, and after
having written, he puts his work to the test as something in the act of disappearing.
(WF, p.307)

The effort and writing techniques of the writer do not guarantee that the work can
fulfill the goals of the writer. As Hyppolite glosses Hegels ideas and gives a clear
explanation of the contingency of the work of action,
Deposited in the alien milieu of reality, the work is shown to be contingent That my
goal corresponds exactly to my nature is contingent (I might have been mistaken about
myself and have sought to realize something inappropriate to what I am.) That the
means chosen were those appropriate to the goal is equally contingent. (A given artist
may have a noble goal but be unable to discover the technique that would suit his
purpose.)

291

292

Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author in Roland Barthes, Image Music Text, trans. Stephen

Heath (London: Fontana Press, 1977), p.148; The original French version is Roland Barthes, La mort
de lauteur in Mantia V, 1968, pp. 12-17.
292

Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, p.308.

120

As a result of the contingency and the possibility of the success or failure in achieving
the writers goals, the contingency nullifies the writers effort and the nothingness
resulted is the working of the work. The contingency of writing is just like what the
French poet, Stphane Mallarm said in his poem, A Throw of Dice (Un coup de ds),
that All Thought emits a Throw of the Dice and A Throw of the Dice Will Never
Abolish Chance.293 The writer cannot control his work for it is only a formation out
of contingency. No matter how much he is inspired or pays effort in his writing, all his
work done becomes an object, that is his written work. Such kind of contingency for
producing a written work is the nothingness at work. In the next stage, his written
work will disappear as the work will go elsewhere, either lost in time or history, or
being re-written by the readers. Hyppolite, in thinking about the relation of action,
works and negation as derived from Hegel, argues that,
In the limited and ephemeral character of its work consciousness has discovered the
contingency of its own action Works appear in reality as actions. They are negated
by other work; they vanish. But what subsists and becomes of actual reality is
precisely this negation of negation, this infinite movement which transcends each
particular deed by integrating it into a universal essence.294

What is meant by negated by other work is that the work is only a particular
kind of work and surely is not the other work; this is the simplest kind of negation by
other work. Another meaning is that the product or the object of the work is
transformed by the actions of the other (human) works. Taking Blanchots example of
stove in the essay Literature and the Right to Death, the stove is made of iron and
stone (WF, p.313). The reality of the iron and stone has been transformed or
negated by the work for making a stove. The stove is then negated since the
warming action in the stove has already transformed and negated the cold stove.
The above quoted words from Hyppolite focus on human works in general. In terms of
the written work formed by the work of writing, Blanchot says, For him [the writer]
the work has disappeared, it has become a work belonging to other people. A work
derives its value from other books (WF, p.306). The written work undergoes negation
by other human works such as reading or re-writing through reading, interpretation or
commentary. As such, the original nature of the written work or the work of writing
has been transformed and negated. The term negation of negation in the above
quotation comes firstly from action which is a kind of negation (because it is a
293

Stphane Mallarm, A Throw of Dice, in Collected poems, trans. Henry Weinfield (Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1994), pp. 124-145.


294

Jean Hyppolite, Genesis and Structure of Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit, p.309.

121

transformation of what was there before). Secondly, the product of the work is then
negated by other works. In terms of Hegels ideas, Hyppolite stresses that the
negation of negation will continue as an infinite movement and give transcendence
to particular deed or particular work. Blanchot shares this kind of view and writes,
the writers real goal is no longer the ephemeral work but something beyond that work:
the truth of the work, where the individual who writes a force of creative negation
seems to join with the work in motion through which this force of negation and
surpassing asserts itself. This new notion, which Hegel calls the Thing itself, plays a
vital role in the literary undertaking. (WF, p.308)
le but propre de lcrivain nest plus loeuvre phmre, mais par del loeuvre, la
vrit de cette oeuvre, o semblent sunir lindividu qui crit, puissance de ngation
cratrice, et loeuvre en mouvement avec laquelle saffime cette puissance de ngation
et de dpassement. Cette notion nouvelle, que Hegel appelle la Chose mme, joue un
rle captial dans lentreprise littraire.295

Writing is a kind of creative action, and hence a kind of creative negation, for
every action in Hegels term is a negation (WF, p.308). Blanchot probably has in mind
what Kojve said, one can truly create only by negating the given real since to
produce something that did not yet exist; now, this is precisely what is called
creating.296 The word creative has a double meaning: there is a sense of creating
something new and also a sense of the creative work in the work of the writer. The
creative negation needs both the writer and the writing action but it is also a force
that demands the writer to write and create. Such a sense implies Blanchots term, the
work in motion (loeuvre en mouvement) or the work in movement for writing is
incessantly produced under the force of negation. In other words, such is what
Hyppolite called the infinite movement which transcends each particular deed by
integrating it into a universal essence. Borrowing Blanchots words, this phrase can be
rewritten as: the infinite moment surpasses each particular work of writing by
integrating it into a universal essence of writing and literature. This is what Blanchot
quotes from Hegels term the Thing itself, which is a translation of the German term
die Sache selbst. This term also means in German the subject matter or the primary
concern.297 I will say that Blanchots primary concern is the essence of writing and
295

Maurice Blanchot, La Part de Feu (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), p.300.

296

Alexandre Kojve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, pp. 222-223.

297

In A.V. Millers translation, the German phrase die Sache selbst is translated into Matter in Hand

and Subject matter. For Hegels meaning and use of this term, see Michael James Inwood, A Hegel

122

literature. Blanchot expands the meaning of Hegels term die Sache selbst by putting
it in the context of literary undertaking and writes,
It [The Thing itself] is the art which is above the work, the ideal that the work seeks to
represent, the World as it is sketched out in the work, the values at stake in the creative
effort, the authenticity of this effort; it is everything which, above the work that is
constantly being dissolved in things, maintains the model, the essence, and the
spiritual truth of that work just as the writers freedom wanted to manifest it and can
recognize it as its own. (WF, p. 308)

The above is Blanchots meditation on the relation of the writer, the work of writing
and the written work that is derived from Hegels philosophy of negation under the
commentary of Kojve and Hyppolite. It forms the first half of Literature and the
Right to Death.
The primary concern of Blanchot in the second half of the essay Literature and
the Right to Death is the relation between death and literature (or language or writing).
Blanchot writes about the relation between language (or speech) and death,
In speech what dies is what gives life to speech; speech is the life of that death, it is
the life that endures death and maintains itself in it. What a wonderful power. (WF, p.
327)

The quotation the life that endures death and maintains itself in it is quoted from the
preface of Hegels The Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel writes,
But the life of the spirit is not a life that shuns death and bewares destruction, keeping
clean of it; it is a life that bears death and maintains itself in it. Spirit gains its truth
only through finding itself within absolute rupture. Spirit is not as a positive which
turns away from the negative, as when we say of something that it is nothing or false,
and having thus finished with it we turn to something else; rather, spirit is that power
only in so far as it looks the negative in the face and dwells in it. This dwelling is the

Dictionary, pp.289-290. Inwards considers that the term die Sache selbst in Hegels Phenomenology of
Spirit means the work that an individual produces in accordance with his nature and his aims, and in
which he locates his own worth or import. But the Sache selbst, viz. the import of his work, needs not
coincide with, and does not depend primarily on, the agents aim or intention. Its fate depends on what
others do and show they view. Ibid., p.290.

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magic force which converts negative into being.298

Hegel writes this phrase when he discusses the relation between negativity and
life, The negativity of life is death which annihilates life but it should be stressed that
life maintains death inside it. Peter Brger writes correctly about the articulation of the
relation between language and death in Blanchots terms,
The sentence [the life that endures death and maintains itself in it] can be translated
in two ways, depending upon whether death refers to the object or to the subject of
speaking. The existence of death includes works, it brings death to that which is
concrete and preserves itself in death as meaning. At the same time, the existence of
words is the death of the one who pronounces them, he disappears in them; from that
point on, words are that in which life is preserved.299

The object of speaking, whether it is a speech or a piece of written work, brings


death to what is being spoken or written such as a cat or a woman (as exemplified in
Blanchots essay). The cat in the topic is not literally dead but is an absence or a death
in speech such that the dead cat as an imagery can be transformed into numerous
meanings. The death of the subject of speaking (or writing) shows a kind of death of
the author and highlights the impersonality of speaking, as Blanchot writes,
Literature says, I no longer represent, I am; I do not signify, I present. But this wish
to be a thing, this refusal to mean anything, this destiny which literature becomes as
it becomes language of no one, the writing of no writer, the light of a consciousness
deprived of itself, this insane effort to bury itself in itself, to hide itself behind the fact
that it is visible all this is what literature now manifests, what literature now shows.
(WF, pp. 328-329)

298

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Yirmiyahu

Yovel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), pp.128-129. It is also being referred to other
translations: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 19; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B.
Baillie (London: Allen & Unwin, 1961), p.93; I use the Yirmiyahu Yovels translation here for it aligns
closer to Lydia Daviss English translation of the phrase the life that endures death and maintains itself
in it in Literature and the Right to Death. (WF, p.327)
299

Peter Brger, The Thinking of the Master: Bataille between Hegel and Surrealism, trans. Richard

Block (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2002), p.50.

124

Now, literature manifests but it never asserts; if it asserts, it asserts the question
which Blanchot puts forward at the beginning of his essay: Literature begins at the
moment when literature becomes a questionthis question is addressed to language,
by language which has become literature (WF, p.300). So what is this question?
Blanchot writes,
Literature contemplates itself in revolution, it finds its justification in revolution, and if
it has been called the Reign of Terror, this is because its ideal is indeed that moment in
history, that moment when life endures death and maintains itself in it in order to
gain from death the possibility of speaking and the truth of speech. This is the
question that seeks to pose itself in literature, the question that is its essence.
Literature is bound to language. Language is reassuring and disquieting at the same
time. (WF, p.322)

Death and negativity in language are very important for Blanchots notion of
literature as Hegels sentence has been quoted four times in Blanchots essay (WF,
p.322, 327, 336, 343). Blanchot also quotes Hegels words about death and
revolution in his essay, [Death in the Reign of Terror] is thus the coldest and meanest
of all deaths, with no more significance than cutting off a head of cabbage or
swallowing a mouthful of water? (WF, p.320)300 Hegel describes the meaninglessness
of life and death in the French Revolution and its subsequent Reign of Terror. Blanchot
considers that dying in the Reign of Terror and revolution is unimportant and death
has no depth (WF, p.320). Such kind of death reflects the nature of death of the writer,
for the writer just dies as banality and he gets his absolute freedom from death for his
written work is the product of his death (or his negation). His written work also dies
(or is negated) again and falls into the essence (the Thing itself) of literature or
writing. Blanchot agrees that I am the revolution, only freedom allows me to write,
and he is thinking about the French writer, Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) as the writer
par excellence who writes in the time of banal dying and revolution (WF, p.321).
Blanchots admiration on the work of Sade can be traced in his essay Sades Reason
published in 1947.301 He considers Sade as a representative of the negation of writing:
300

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 360.


301

Blanchots reference to Sade can be found in his essay on Sade, A la rencontre de Sade in the

journal Les Temps Modernes (1947), slightly before the publication of the first part of Literature and the
Right to Death in Critique in November 1947. That essay on Sade, with its title changed as Sades
Reason, was later republished in Blanchots book Lautramont et Sade (Paris: Minuit, 1949). The same
year sees his publication of La Part de Feu. The English translation of Blanchots book is: Lautramont

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even when being forever locked up, Sade writes a vast body of work; but what is
fascinating to Blanchot is that Sades work exists for no one. (WF, p. 321)302 Sades
writing does not affirm his identity as a writer since his life is always under the threat
of death and he produces his writing without purpose but just to write and produce
writing. His writing is not for himself or others since his writing may wither away and
go elsewhere in time of death and revolution. Revolution is a metaphor for writing
since all rules and laws can be transgressed in the time of revolution, as exemplified by
Sades writing on the topics of violence, sex and death.303 In addition, writing is like a
revolution as it always gives what is new: a new kind of writing, a new written work to
be read anew.
Blanchot also contemplates about the intricate relation of language and death. A
noun like This woman as Blanchot mentioned in the essay is the absence and death
of that woman (WF, p.322). According to Blanchot, the existence of that woman is
negated in the word for she is transformed into a language, a speech or a word. All her
unique character, features and personal traits are suspended and generalized in a word.
The word This woman functions like a tool or a handle and conveniently brings the
womans existence (without her own being) into speech and language, but the most
important aspect is to entail the re-birth of a new woman through the proliferation and
multiplication of language. This is the moment where literature begins.
The above example shows that language contains death. Blanchot further
elaborates his thinking of death in language and considers that language negates the
speaker: when I speak, death speaks in me (WF, p. 323). What a speaker proclaims is
like putting a death sentence on the things and words he says. The speech conveys
other things. The otherness of the words said, that is the non-identity and non-fixity,
subverts the ipseity of the speaker. The speakers existence and presence are denied
and negated only by his withdrawal from existence. Blanchot lively expresses this
withdrawal from existence, Language can begin only with the void; no fullness, no
certainty can ever speak; something essential is lacking in anyone who expresses
himself (WF, p.324). In these words, Blanchot proclaims the notions of the death of
the author, the anonymous impersonality of language and the ambiguity of language.
and Sade, trans. Stuart Kendall and Michelle Kendall (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
302

Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sadome when he was locked up in the prison of the Bastille in

1784-1785, and the text seems to have been left there and found later.
303

Maurice Blanchot said, if Sade was indeed able to see himself as sharing in affinity with the

Revolution, it was only insofar as the Revolution represented for some time between the move from one
set of laws to another, the possibility of a lawless regime. , in his Lautramont and Sade , p.15.

126

Such kind of ambiguity of language is the bad faith of language (WF, p.308).304 The
speaker has a faith in his speech for telling things but at the end this faith is a faith
confident of mystification and deceit since language speaks truly in terms of
ambiguity and otherness. Languages majesty is established in the mud of bad faith.
From the void of language, Blanchot posits the differentiation between
common language and literary language (WF, p.325). Common language as
characterized by Blanchot is the word that appears as the negation of the practical
reference of the referent (e.g. the cat). The cat in reality disappears and reappears as
the existence of a cat in its ideas and its meaning with all the certainty, that can
guarantee a cat as a token with stable currency in everyday communication. In
contrast, literary language enjoys the non-certainty which Blanchot describes as made
of contractions, not very stable or secure position. Literary language consists of
double absence: the absence of the object (the cat) and the absence of the word, since
the meaning of the word is in its entirety the infinite movement of comprehension.
Such infinite movement of comprehension results in the void which [all words] can
neither fill nor represent. For literary language, all remains is no longer the terms [or
words] but the movement of the terms, an endless sliding of turn of phrase (WF, p.
326). Thus, literary language can be considered as words and meanings which are
always vibrating, oscillating, and haunting each other and results in a nothingness in
each word digging infinitely inside the earth of language. Blanchot probably invokes
Franz Kafkas parable The Burrow in describing the word in literary language
which acts like the unknown animal endlessly digging tunnels inside the earth to
create burrows or rooms to rest his food reserve (meanings), but always listening
vigilantly to the beast not far away that is also digging inside the earth which would
arrest and seize his reserve.305 Inside the earth of literary language, the nothingness
in each word is digging endlessly to create its new tunnels, rooms or burrows for the
reserve of the (new) meaning of the word. Under the threat of the arrest of meaning by
another alien word (like the beast), the nothingness in a word, as Blanchot says, digs
tirelessly, doing its utmost to find a way out, in order to break the fixed enclosure of
meaning in a word. Digging is the search for new meanings (burrows) and at the same
304

Bad faith (mauvaise foi) is Jean-Paul Sartres term in his book Being and Nothingness. Sartre

writes, the one who practises bad faith is hiding a displeased truth or presenting as truth a pleasing
untruth.in bad faith, it is from myself that I am hiding the truth. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and
Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Washington
Square Press), p. 89.
305

Franz Kafka, The Burrow, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir, in Franz Kafka, The Complete Short

Stories of Franz Kafka, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (London: Vintage, 1999), pp. 325-359.

127

times creates a void and nothingness (the tunnels, the burrows) which erode the
stable certainty of a word with infinite disquiet, formless, and nameless vigilance. All
meanings (burrows) are connected but endlessly form a void inside each word.
From the void in every word and in the meanings in each word, Blanchot further
discusses the two slopes of literature in Literature and the Right to Death. The first
slope of literature is like the connected void of meanings in each word which begins to
destroy the mechanism of naming. It strips away the thing which a word denotes
through the power of negation. In literature, the thing-less word proliferates with all
kinds of meanings and creates the imaginary whole or the non-realism of literature,
which is a kind of totality on the basis of which each term [word] would be nothing
(WF, p.330). This first slope of literature is the world of meaningful prose. It
assimilates with the way everyone speaks, and many people write the way we speak
(WF, p.332). It would not stop here, otherwise it becomes common language and not
literary language. Literature from the first slope is not satisfied with this temporary
stage which express[es] things in a language that designates things according to what
they mean, but will protest for it lacks meaning (WF, p.332). It needs more meaning
than the designated meanings. It will undergo the endless movement of
comprehension so as to get the totality of meanings in the domain of literary language.
However, at the end it succeeds with failure: the failure from the vast void in the
totality of meanings formed by the connected voids (from each meaning).
If the first slope of literature is premised upon the negation of things, the second
slope of literature is the negation of language, as Blanchot describes,
Literature is a concern for the reality of things, for their unknown, free, and silent
existence; literature is their innocence and their forbidden presence, it is the being
which protests against revelation, it is the defiance of what does not want to take place
outside In this way, it allies itself with the reality of language, it makes language
into matter without contour, content without form, a force that is capricious and
impersonal and says nothing, reveals nothing, simply announcesthrough its refusal to
say anythingthat it comes from night and will return to night. (WF, p.330)

Literature in this slope is then a return to the unknown, free and silence existence of
things and of language. Things remain in their home places which are their existence
and avoid revelation. In terms of Heideggers words, things are concealed in their
being but not unconcealing. In the same way, language with its void formed by
meaning does not make it a stable thing or matter, but a formless and anonymous thing
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without contour, without saying anything. The words of language remain again in
their places and have already been transformed since their meanings are exhausted.
The meaningless words do not annul themselves but exist as they are in the domain of
their being and existence. So, what happens next? Blanchot said,
Literature has certainly triumphed over the meaning of words, but what it has found in
words considered apart from their meaning is meaning that has become thing: and thus
it is meaning detached from its conditions, separated form its moments, wandering like
an empty power, appears to be the proper determination of indeterminate and
meaningless existence. (WF, p.331)

Or simply, literaturehas found in words [the] meaning that has become thing.
This way of saying is a kind of return and recurrence between thing and language:
things become language and language becomes things. Literary language with its only
meaning is that it becomes a thing and a being that is the proper determination of
indeterminate and meaningless existence. To illustrate this obscure saying in the
second slope of language, Blanchot uses the examples of the poems of Stphane
Mallarm, Francis Ponge and the Songs of Comte de Lautrmont (WF,
pp. 333-336).306 Blanchot says vividly about a tree in Ponges poem, Francis Ponges
tree is a tree that has observed Francis Ponge and that describes itself as it imagines
Ponge might describe it (WF, p.334). The tree is describing itself through a poet and
through the language of a poet; and makes the language return to the existence of itself
(the tree). Or in terms of vision, the tree forms its image on the retina of the eyes of the
observer and the retinal image gives the tree its own reality. Language is just the eyes
of the observer or the poem of the poet. However, the image is not an image. It is an
indeterminate image under the literary language of the poem.
Blanchot does not mean or classify that prose is in the first slope of literature
whereas poem is in the second slope of literature. Just like prose poem or even
Flauberts novels, literature has already insidiously caused you to pass from one slope
to the other and changed you into something you were not before (WF, p.333).
Blanchot describes Flauberts novels as the most transparent kind of prose but his
work really has only one subject which is the horror of existence deprived of the
world (WF, pp.333-334). The realistic world as described in literature loses all its
meaning, realities and the world. The language in use gives the horror of existence
which is the thing the literary language returns.
306

Stphane Mallarm (1824-1898) and Comte de Lautrmont (1846-1870) are the 19th century French

writers while Francis Ponge (1899-1988) is a 20th century French poet.

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Blanchot brings in Emmanuel Levinass notion of there is in the discussion on


the second slope of literature. There is is an English translation of the French term il y
a. Levinas describes,
This impersonal, anonymous, yet inextinguishable consummation of being, which
murmurs in the depths of nothingness itself we shall designate by the term there is.
The there is, inasmuch as it resists a personal form, is being in general.307

Il y a can be described as there is something in the world before things exist, while at
the same time it conveys an emptiness in the world. There is no subjectivity in it since
one cannot describe it by an I, we, you, he, she or they. Only the anonymous
and impersonal it is there. Levinas uses night and insomnia as examples.308 Il y a
is a situation where things exist in a night of all blackness. In the description of the
thinking of il y a (there is) in Existence and Existents, Levinas makes a reference to a
section in the literary text of Blanchot, Thomas the Obscure (Thomas lObscure),
which manifests the description of il y a:
Thomas lObscure, by Maurice Blanchot, opens with the description of the there is
(Cf., in particular Chapter II, pages 13-16). The presence of absence, the night, the
dissolution of the subject in the night, the horror of being, the return of being to the
heart of every negative movement, the reality of irreality are there admirably
expressed.309

It is a description of the state before existence, in which everything, including the


subject, disappears. That is anonymous and in the depths of nothingness. Blanchot
in his Thomas the Obscure describes the protagonist Thomas who walks down to a
sort of vault at night and hence he is in the darkness of nocturnal darkness (SHBR,
p.59).310 He writes about the consciousness of this darkness,
At that moment, Thomas had the rashness to look around himself. The night was more
307

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne

University Press, 2001), p.52.


308

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, p. 55.

309

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, p. 58.

310

Maurice Blancot, Thomas the Obscure, in Maurice Blanchot, Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction

and Literary Essays, trans. Lydia Davis, Paul Auster and Robert Lamberton, ed. George Quasha
(Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill/Barrytown, Ltd., 1999), pp. 51-128.

130

somber and more painful than he could have expected. The darkness immersed
everything; there was no hope of passing through its shadows, but one penetrated its
reality in a relationship of overwhelming intimacyIt was night itself. Images which
constituted its darkness inundated him. He saw nothing, and, far from being distressed,
he made this absence of vision the culmination of his sightlet the day penetrate its
centre in order to receive the day from it. And so, through this void, it was sight and
that object of sight which mingled together. (SHBR, p.60)

Blanchots description implies the nocturnal darkness around and there is no sight
except the void. The subject is dissolved and immersed in this state. The disappearance
of the subject in the darkness and the nothingness brings out the horror of existence.
In insomnia, the person is in wakefulness but is thirsty of sleep, while all things
around exist as they are. The insomniac can do nothing or work only in vain. He just
awakes in sleep and his subjectivity is not at work. The state of insomnia is also the
state of il y a. Horror is another kind of il y a for the horrified person is stripped of
his subjectivity. Levinas writes,
[H]orror turns the subjectivity of the subject, his participation qua entity, inside out. It
is a participation in the there is, in the there is which returns in the heart of every
negation, in the there is that has no exits. It is, if we may say so, the impossibility of
death, the universality of existence even in annihilation.311

Such horror of il y a as the existence in the impossibility of death parallels to what


Blanchot describes as the horror of existence deprived of the world in Flauberts
novels.
Blanchots writing does not nail down any concepts, which are always wandering
or transformed into something else like an infinite movement. One thing that
Blanchot has nailed down in writing is literature. In the essay Literature and the Right
to Death, literature is analyzed (though Blanchot would not say it is an analysis, but is
writing) mainly through the concepts of Hegels negation and Levinas il y a. Writing,
language and literature are negated not as dialectic (thesis/anti-thesis/
synthesis) but are negated infinitely, such that there is no synthesis. Only nothingness
is attained instead while at the same time literature and language appear as a
thing-nature that is il y a. Under the murmuring of the thing of language, the things and
the world exist as indeterminacy and ambivalence in literature.
311

Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Existents, p. 56.

131

Neutre
According to Christophe Bident who writes a biographical study on Blanchot, the
first article which Blanchot wrote to substantiate the notion of Neutre is Ltranger et
ltranger (Stranger and stranger), published in October 1958 in Nouvelle Nouvelle
Revue Franaise.312 Bident suggests that Blanchots thinking of the neuter (LA
PENSEE DU NEUTRE) can be found in the articles mainly published from 1959 to
1969, which was later collected in Blanchots books LEntretien infini (1969) and
LAmiti (1971) [in English translation: The Infinite Conversation (1993) and
Friendship (1997)].313 LA PENSEE DU NEUTRE is the title of the chapter that Bident
articulates Blanchots notions of the neuter. The chapter title is accompanied by the
subtitle Critique littraire et philosophique (lentretien et le fragment) 1959-1969
(Literary and philosophical critique (the conversation and the fragment) 1959-1969).
The subtitle in fact gives a brief summary of the notions of the neutre which includes
critiques in terms of the literary and philosophical thinking and the forms in terms of
conversation and fragments. The notion of the neuter is important for Blanchot since it
characterizes the transition of Blanchots writing from the rcits (before the late 50s)
to the fragmentary writing after the 60s the two books in fragmentary style: Le Pas
Au-Del (1973) and Lcriture du Dsastre (1980).314

312

I refer to Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essais Biographique (Seyssel:

Champ Vallon, 1998), p. 434, footnote no. 1. The original French is: Le premier article o se trouve
substantive la notion de Neutre est Ltranger et ltranger, publi en octobre 1958 dans la NNRF.
NNRF stands for the French journal La Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Franaise, which is named
differently from the pre-WWII or wartime journal La Nouvelle Revue Franaise. Both were published
by the Parisian publisher Gallimard. La Nouvelle Revue Franaise in the wartime was under the control
of the Nazi government and after the War, the journal was folded shortly for de-nazification. Later, the
journal was re-published again with the new name. Many authors or recent issues of the journal use the
title La Nouvelle Revue Franaise again, though one can still locate the articles by the issue number and
the year of publishing.
313

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, p.434. Maurice Blanchot, LEntretien

Infini (Paris : Gallimard, 1969); Maurice Blanchot, LAmiti (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); Maurice Blanchot,
The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993);
Maurice Blanchot, Friendship, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).
314

Maurice Blanchot, Le Pas Au-Del (Paris: Gallimard, 1973); Maurice Blanchot, Lcriture du

Dsastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not/Beyond (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1992); Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1995).

132

In this section, I will examine Blanchots important notion of the neutre through
the essays in his book The Infinite Conversation. The original French version of The
Infinite Conversation is LEntretien infini which was published in 1969 and a
collection of Blanchots essays published in 1954-1969.315 The majority of the essays
in this book were published in the French literary journal, Le Nouvelle Revue Franais.
At the end of the book, Blanchot mentions that the period he wrote the essays was in
fact from 1953 to 1965 (IC, p.435). Blanchot articulates the notion of the neutre
mainly through the four essays in this book: Ren Char and the Thought of the
Neutral, The Fragment Words, The Narrative Voice (the he, the neutral), and
The Wooden Bridge (repetition, the neutral). The first two essays focus on Ren
Chars poetry while the latter two on Franz Kafkas writing and novel. Apart from
these four essays, the neutre is also mentioned elsewhere in the book. Susan Hanson,
the translator of The Infinite Conversation, renders the translation of the French word
neuter as either neuter or neutral, with the former relating to the effect of language
while the latter to the effect of thought, relation, or experience (IC, p.438). To avoid
the different translations, I will retain the French word neutre in the following
discussion. Blanchot also gives comments on neutre in The Step/Not Beyond and in
The Writing of the Disaster. In the latter part of this section, I will also comment on the
evolution of the notion of neutre in Blanchots later works.
First of all, I will discuss on the notion of neutre in relation to the thinking of the
other. Emmanuel Levinas important philosophical work Totality and Infinity was
published in 1961. Blanchot gave his reading of his friend Levinas work in December,
1961 in Le Nouvelle Revue Franaise, which was later collected in The Infinite
Conversation with the title Knowledge of the Unknown (IC, pp.49-58). Blanchot
starts with the idea that philosophy is essentially the knowledge of the unknown, or
more generally, relation with the unknown (IC, p.50). The unknown drives a
philosopher or a thinker to create a relation with the unknown or the unknowable.
The unknowable escapes the grasp or comprehension of the philosopher who confronts
the unknown as the outside or the other. Blanchot writes, In Emmanuel Levinas
book we are called upon to become responsible for what philosophyis the relation
with autrui (other). Blanchot takes from the teaching of Levinas and adds,
Autrui is entirely Other; the other is what exceeds me absolutely. The relation with the
other that is autrui is a transcendent relation, which means there is an infinite, and, in a
sense, an impassable distance between myself and the other, who belongs to the other
shore, who has no country in common with me, and who cannot in any way assume
315

Maurice Blanchot, LEntretien Infini (Paris: Gallimard, 1969).

133

equal rank in a same concept or a same whole, cannot be counted together with the
individual that I am. (IC, p.53)

This absolute other, which is at its extreme remoteness, presents itself to us face to
face. Our approach to the other is through the face or the visage. However, the visage
is not subjected to our gaze, as Blanchot writes,
the visageis that experience I have when, facing the face that it offers itself
to me without resistance, I see arise out of the depths of theses defenseless
eyes, out of this weakness, this powerlessness, what puts itself radically in my
power and at the same time, refuses it absolutely, turning my highest power
into im-possibility. (IC, p.54)

Hence, the other is outside the power of the I and cannot be grasped. To try to get a
grip of what the other is, Blanchot thinks that the [a]utrui (other) speaks to me. In
this issue, language functions as a relation wherein the other and the sameabsolve
themselves in it [the relation] (IC, p.55). Through language, I call out to him [the
other] and the speech [thereof] is this address. This marks the importance of speech
(paroles) which is the mediation of the extreme remoteness between the I and the
other, between the philosopher and the unknown or between the thinker and the outside.
The speech will not act as a reciprocal substitution or exchange between the I and the
other, as Blanchot emphasizes that Autrui is not on the same plane as myself and
Autrui can never enter with the Self [the I] into the identity of any name or any
concept (IC, p.56-57). Blanchot comments further,
Autrui is the Other in the objective case and on the model of the word lui
[him]autrui should never be used in the first person. I can approach autrui,
autrui cannot approach me. Autrui is thus the Other when the other is not a
subjectAutrui is lacking an ego; but this lack, nonetheless does not make
him an object. (IC, p.70)

Summarizing the above, autrui is neither the other identity of the I, nor the
identity of the other person, for autrui cannot be considered in terms of the concept of
identity and proper name. As such, it will not take an attributive property such as a
pronoun. Autrui can take the form of the he or him as the he is neither a subject
nor an object. Besides, autrui is the unknown without a name and is nameless. Speech
is the establishment of the relation between the I and autrui but it is not a kind of
communication as the I cannot communicate with the autrui which is unknown to the
134

I. Speech, or simply language, creates the address of the I to autrui.


The relation between the I and autrui requires speech, or simply language.
Blanchot, in regarding language as a relation between the I and autrui, characterizes
language (in italic form) as Language, the experience of languagewritingis what
leads us to sense a relation entirely other, a relation of the third kind (IC, p.73). The
relation of the third kind is different from what Blanchot means in the relation of the
first kind: the relation with someone that is a mediate relation of dialectical or
objective identification. Similarly, it is different from the relation of the second kind
which is a relation demanding immediate unity (IC, pp.67-68). The relation of the
third kind is the pure interval between man and man and this interval is an interval
that is neither of being nor of non-being, an interval borne by the Difference of
speech a difference preceding everything that is different and everything unique (IC,
p.69). This Difference of speech is the difference that lies inherent between the
speech from which the Other speaks to me and the speech in response when I call upon
the Other, while the Other or the autrui is not a Self but the unidentifiable, the I-less,
the nameless, the presence of the inaccessible (IC, p.70). This relation is called by
Blanchot as neutre,
In this relation, the one is never comprehended by the other, does not form
with him an ensemble, a duality, or a possible unity; the one is foreign to the
other, without this strangeness privileging either one of them. We call this
relation neutral [neutre], indicating already in this manner that it cannot be
recaptured, either when one affirms or when one negates, demanding
language in this way not an indecision between these two modes, but rather a
possibility of saying that would say without saying being and without denying
it either. And herein we characterize, perhaps, one of the essential traits of the
literary act: the very act of writing. (IC, p.73, Blanchots italics.)

If this relation cannot be recaptured and is not an ensemble, a duality, or a


possible unity, it is outside subjectivity and control. In this way, the neutre relation is a
concept of language which the doers and the performers (writers, speakers, listeners or
readers) of language try to comprehend (but not grasp) and approach. Neutre is not a
solid concept but is a neither-nor relation. To fix this concept is to come back to the
uniqueness, subjected and stable milieu which violates the nature of neither unity nor
ensemble but the ambiguity, turning, and poetics of language. The saying without
saying being and without denying it entails languages amorphous and non-isomorphic
nature which conveys what is coming to happen, coming to be there: the act of writing.
135

Such kind of subordination of all, being and non-being under the if-only sovereignty
of language and literature is Blanchot and his works exprience (i.e. experience and
experiment in the sense of the French word).
To explore the sense of neutre in language and literature, Blanchot takes the
example of the poetry of Ren Char and the rcits and the diary (intimate journal) of
Kafka in The Infinite Conversation to enrich the concept of the neutre. In the essay
Ren Char and the Thought of Neutral, Blanchot asks the question How can we live
without the unknown before us? (IC, p.298). This question is actually Blanchots
quotation of the first line of Ren Chars Argument at the beginning of his Le Pome
pulvris.316 Blanchot answers the question and writes, the unknown is always the
thought of neuter (IC, p.299). He adds that [r]esearchpoetry, thoughtrelates to the
unknown as unknown. The search and re-search of the unknown by poetry and
thought are not to reveal what the unknown is but only to reveal a presence of the
unknown and indicates that the unknown is the unknown. This unknown is neither
subject nor object which means that the unknown is apart from objective knowledge
and not from intuition or a mystical fusion. As a result, Blanchot insists that the
unknown as neutral supposes a relation that is foreign to every exigency of identity,
unity, and even presence. The unknowns relation with visibility shows the presence
is not a knowable one because the unknown does not fall before a gaze, yet it is not
hidden from it: neither visible nor invisible, or more precisely, turning itself away from
every visible and every invisible (IC, p.300). The relation with the unknown, as
Blanchot indicates, is in play in poetry itself since poetry is a relation (non-mystical
and non-intuitive) and the most simple speech (IC, p.301). This relation with the
unknown through poetry does not give one a hold of the unknown for [t]he unknown
to which poetry alerts us is much more unforeseeable than the future can be, even the
the future unforetold for, like death, it escapes every hold and only [e]xcept the
hold that is speech. The importance of speaking and writing, as Blanchot believes,
is to speak is to bind oneself, without ties, to the unknown (IC, p.302).
The title Ren Char and the Thought of Neutral implies a relation of Ren
Chars poetry, thought and neutre. The theme of the unknown in this essay suggests
that the thought of the neutre is not the traditional way of a kind of knowing and
316

Ren Char, Fureur et Mystre (Paris: Galimard, La Collection Posie, 1967), p.163. As Yves Berger

mentions in the preface of this book, this collection is a collection of Ren Chars different poetical
works published in 1938-1947. The English translation of Argument can be found in the Selected
Poems of Rene Char, eds. Mary Ann Caws and Tina Jolas (New York: New Directions Books, 1992), p.
38. Ren Char is a French poet (1907-88).

136

reasoning thinking such that the object of thinking can be grasped, known, revealed
and illuminated completely. The unknown challenges this way of thinking and it is not
the unknown which is illuminated by philosophy and light is revealed as the known or
not-yet-known. Besides, it is not the way that the unknown after being comprehended,
grasped or held is entailed its presence. Subjective thinking of the unknown by
attaching mystical or intuitive meaning to it violates the nature of the unknown as the
unknown is not present for analysis or thinking of identity since the unknown is also
the absolute unknown. The thought of the neutre remains outside the thought of
philosophy, reasoning or subjective lingering and is in this way the unknown. Blanchot
uses Ren Chars poetry to illustrate this idea. Although in the essay Ren Char and
the Thought of Neutral, Blanchot does not give an analysis of Ren Chars poetry, one
can find another essay titled Ren Char in The Work of Fire which is a reading of
Ren Chars poetry and shows the relation between poetry and the poet (WF,
pp.98-110). One of the interesting points in this essay is about the notion of presence
and absence in poetical image. Blanchot writes,
The image [in a poem] is first an image, for it is the absence of what it gives
us and it makes us attain it as the presence of an absence, calling, there inside
us, for the most animated movement to possess it (that is the desire of which
Char speaks). But, at the same time, the poetic image, in this very absence of
thing, claims to restore the foundation of its presence to us, not its form (what
one sees) but the underside (what one penetrates), its reality to earth, its
matteremotion. In this new presence, the thing loses its individuality of
object closed by use, it strives to be metamorphosed into a completely other
thing into all things, in such a way that the first image is also led to change
and, carried away in the cycle of metamorphoses, becomes endlessly stronger
and more complex in its ability to transform the world into a whole by the
appropriation of desire. (WF, p.108)

In poetry and language, the absence of the thing is replaced by the poetic image
which brings the presence of the thing. It does not give the presence of the thing at
hand but the presence of the absence of the thing. However, such kind of presence of
absence multiplies and relates the thing with other things (of the same kind or different)
in poetry. It seems to create a class of the thing(s) or all things without individuality.
The play of presence and absence in poetry and language gives language the power to
metamorphose and transform. In this way, poetry pluralizes speech in language as the
infinite plural speech. The unknown can then be approached by this infinite plural
speech which has arisen from poetic images with presence and absence.
137

In the Parentheses at the end of the essay of Ren Char and the Thought of
Neutral, Blanchot thinks about neutre from the point that literature or the literary acts
as the epoch of being. Epoch means bracketing and in phenomenology, bracketing is
the operation that brackets the phenomenon for the studying and thinking about the
phenomenon in itself. Hence, the epoch of being is to bracket being, to suspend being
from other relations, that is without affirmation or negation, neither unity/identity nor
ensemble. This means that the epoch of being is the unknown and is in the thought of
the neutre. Being in the Heiddeggerian sense is in an affirmative phenomenon while in
Blanchots sense, the epoch of being is in the neutre relation which can be freed
from any submission and repression which transgresses the limits of presence and
absence or the limits of affirmation and negation. Through literature and literary act
such as poetry, one can approach the neutre, the unknown and the epoch of being. The
question How do we live without the unknown before us? does require the unknown
before us so that we can live by the epoch of our being and have an infinite plural
speech of our living or being in the world and earth of literature and language.
The Parentheses appears in italics and is different from the normal font of the
main text in Ren Char and the Thought of Neutral. This Parentheses section is in a
conversation or dialogue format illustrating what the neutre is. The speech of the
conversation is impersonal and unnamed. The conversation goes on and on and
appears as fragments which bring out the theme of neutre. It must be stressed that the
whole conversation is in parentheses, that is to say, it is under bracketing and in
suspension. This suspended impersonal conversation functions as murmurs and
speeches about the neuter. It is simply the neutre in parentheses or the mis-en-abyme
of the neutre: putting neutre in abyss and in the unknown infinitely, neither the Most
High (le Trs-Haut) nor abysmal, but always in abeyance (en instance). This
mis-en-abyme character entails the neutre as neither the identity (of the same) nor a
total of an ensemble of the neutre, for the neutre is always the infinite other of the
neutre.
In the essay The Fragment Word (Parole de fragment), Blanchot continues to
explore the poetry of Ren Char through the theme of fragments, fragmentary speech
or fragment word (parole de fragment) (IC, pp. 307-313). He considers fragmentary
speech, shattering, and dislocation (la parole de fragment, clatement, dislocation)
as neither affirming nor negating the unity, but as another way of thinking for the
fragment to exist as itself. He considers the fragment, exemplified by the separate
phrases in Ren Chars poems without either pretext or context, as the
138

juxtaposition and interruption. Such kind of arrangement does not affirm the unity or
integrity but accepts disjunction or divergence as the infinite center from out of which,
through speechleaves each of the terms that come into relation outside one another,
respecting and preserving this exteriority and this distance as the principle of all
signification (IC, p.308). Blanchot italicizes and emphasizes the outside and
exteriority of the terms or the fragments encountering each other which creates a
relation similar to the neutral (neutre) relation of the speech between the I and autrui,
as quoted before, which is demanding language[as] a possibility of saying that
would say without saying being and without denying it either (IC, p.73). The special
kind of saying is through speech with the neutre relation between fragments which
create the demand, urgency and exigency of language. One of the collected poems of
Ren Char which is titled Pulverised Poem (Le Pome pulvris) shows poems which
are reduced into fragments, separate phrases and fragmentary speech create the
disproportionate lines and stanzas, sometimes with repetition of separate phrases
with varied significations.317 Some poems are formed by their own titles accompanied
by their own transgression and de-limitation in both their significations, titles, and
what remains (demeure) is the language itself. This is the neutre or the neutre space of
literature and language. Another title of Ren Chars collected poems is Speech as
archipelago (La Parole en archipel).318 An archipelago means a group of islands or a
sea with a group of islands. This title hovers between these two meanings: the poem(s)
as a group of islands (fragments) or the poem(s) as a sea (amorphous aqueous space)
with a group of islands (fragments). We can imagine that the sea is interrupted by the
islands or the land which appears as islands above the sea level is interrupted by the
amorphous sea. The neutre as a thinking of fragments also creates a constellation of
islands: there is never a totality, the islands (the poetic words) appear and disappear in
the sea in accordance with the unstable, unfixable boundless boundary of the waves.
Islands appear and disappear, or are being pulverized in the sea and congregate
together to form new soils, beaches, rocks and islands. The relation between the
islands is like that of the arbitrary matrices, without rules in a configuration.
The poetic words are placed in the poets configuration without fixed rules to
grasp. The neutre of poetry is the archipelago of fragments, in a formless form, and
only writing and language are to be remained in the poems. The meaning of a group is
317

Ren Char, Le Pome pulvris, in Ren Char, Fureur et Mystre (Paris: Gallimard, Collection

Posie, 1967), pp. 161-197.


318

Ren Char, La Parole en archipel, in Ren Char, Les Matinaux suive de La Parole en archipel

(Paris: Gallimard, Collection Posie, 1987), pp. 85-206; Blanchot mentions Speech as archipelago in
The Infinite Converstaion (p.309).

139

not as good as a representation for it presumes there is a countable and fixed ensemble.
Fragments cannot be thought as a group for fragments is outside the fixed determinants.
A sea with a group of islands does not give a fixed number of islands for the number is
varied according to the horizon of the sea and the ebb-and-tide. Speaking
astronomically, the ebb-and-tide is subjected to the force of the outside: the
gravitational force of the sun and the moon. It manifests the outside and the exteriority
of the fragments, poems, literature and language.
Now, we turn to another genre of literary act novel writing to approach what
the neuter is. In terms of novel writing, Blanchots reading of Kafkas works brings in
the notion of the neutre of the narrative voice in the essay The Narrative Voice (the
he, the neutral) (IC, pp. 379-387). At the beginning of this essay, Blanchot compares
the novels of Flaubert, Thomas Mann and Kafka in terms of the personal voice in
narration. At the end, Blanchot chooses Kafka as the best example of the neutre of the
narrative voice. Blanchot writes,
What Kafka teaches usis the storytelling brings the neutral into play.
Narration that is governed by the neutral is kept in the custody of the
third-person he, a he that in neither a third person nor the simple cloak of
impersonality. The narrative he [il] in which the neutral speaks is not
content to take the place usually occupied by the subject, whether this latter is
a stated or an implied I or the event that occurs in its impersonal
signification. (IC, p.384)

Blanchots notion of the narrative voice he is the anonymous he (il) without


subjectivity, neither the first person I nor the third person he. One can say that this
voice is impersonal by eliminating the nature of being, subjectivity, personal traits and
is also striped of all nature of transitive action and all objective possibility. He does
not have any transitive object to manipulate or he is the most objective spectator giving
a narration. He is the non-being who speaks in the neutral. In this sense, Blanchot
means what is spoken or being recounted is not being recounted by anyone. This he
is in a relation of self-nonidentification which means that, according to Blanchot, in
the events that involve or occur to the characters in the narration or the narrator he
can only regain control and meaning (se ressaisir) through the narrator he or the
characters relinquishing their power to say I (IC, p.385). In this sense, the
characters or the narrator he does not hold fixed subjectivity to entail the narrative
stable and fixed signification. As a result, what the narrative gives is a sort of
self-forgetting, the forgetting that introduces them [the events] into the present without
140

memory that is the present of narrating speech. This way of saying the events not from
memory implies the events are just to happen in the narrative and in the narrative
present, with its signification infinitely variable (as there is no centre, no subject and
fixed anchor for the meaning in the narrative). In turn, what remains in the narrative is
the language or the literary act speech and writing. The he carries the form of the
unknown and the other [autrui] understood of neutral [neutre] which one can
approach through speech and language.
Blanchot clearly states that the narrative voice is the neutre (IC, p.385). At the
end of his essay, he summarizes that the narrative voice bear[ing] the neutral speaks
at a distance, preserving this distance without mediation and without community, and
even in sustaining the infinite distancing of distance, and the neutral speech does not
reveal, it does not conceal, and [t]he exigency of the neutral tends to suspend the
attributive structure of language: the relation to being (IC, p.386). The narrative voice
with an unmediated or infinite distance to the narrative remains a voice neither inside
nor outside the narrative. It is like there is (il y a) in Levinas sense. It lies there,
neither inside nor outside. Of course, it is inside the narrative because the narrative
voice is lying there through language. This inside is not in the attributive nature of the
narrative. It does not belong to the narrative. Taking Blanchots title of one of the rcits
to explicate, the narrative voice is the one who is standing apart from me (narrative), or
the one who is not accompanying with me (celui qui ne maccompagnait pas). The
distance without distance always keeps the narrative voice at a distance from the
narrative, in an impersonal and anonymous manner. As a result, the narrative voice
reveals and conceals the narrative in an impersonal anonymous manner which implies
the revelation and concealment both succeed and fail. Every signification in the
narrative carries both affirmation and negation (+/-) and the narrative is made up of
such concatenations of affirmations and negations of significations which neither
affirm nor negate the revelation and concealment of the events.
(+/-),(+/-),(+/-),(+/-),

(+/-) [(+/-) [(+/-) [.[ (+/-)].]]]


undetermined sequence of {+ - + - + - + - .}
~ (+/-)
negation of (affirmation or negation)
neither affirm nor negate

This is just like a double negative which does not give a pure negative or pure
affirmative but an intermediate in between the above duality. The affirmation and
negation of the significations in concatenations bracket every signification with an
141

operation of both affirmation and negation and form infinite operations of affirmation
and negation in concatenations of the signification or events. In such way, one has an
approximate or negative operation of affirmation or negation. In other words, what
remains in the narrative is a nature of neither affirmation nor negation; and the events
recounted in the narrative are just lying there to happen, away from any affirmation or
negation of reference, presence, revelation or concealment but are under suspension.
The above scheme is with defects and is only a way of approaching the narrative
voice in neutre, for language is more than just significations. Besides, the neutre is a
name indicating the nameless nature of neutre. The neutre cannot be represented and
hence it is beyond being. It must be stressed in language, speech or writing, there are
numerous stakeholders in play, including signs, words, sound, rhythm, silence, space
(between letters, words, paragraphs), structures, forms, grammar and punctuation
marks. All carry their parts in the narrative. Although the above are in the narrative, it
does not mean the narrative voice is always inside the narrative. As there is a space,
margin or boundary of the narrative subtending the outside, the transgression of the
margin will make the narrative voice neither inside nor outside. It means the narrative
voice transgresses the usual way of thinking of the inside and the outside. The imagery
of the haunting of ghosts can be one of the figures of the narrative voice. It haunts the
characters, the events, the narration and the narrative without any nature of personality.
Blanchot writes about the relation to being in the exigency of the neutral
(neutre) by the end of this essay,
[E]very language begins by declaring and in declaring affirms. But it may be that
recounting (writing) draws language into a possibility of saying that would say being
without saying it, and yet without denying it either.319

This short quotation is similar to what he writes in the essay The Relation of the Third
Kind Man without horizon in The Infinite Conversation about the relation of the one
and the other (autrui) through Language, the experience of language writing:
We call this relation neutral [neutre], indicating already in this manner that it cannot
be recaptured, either when one affirms or when one negates, demanding language in
this way not an indecision between these two modes, but rather a possibility of saying
that would say without saying being and without denying it either. And herein we
319

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, pp. 386-387. The quotation in original French is from

the essay La Voix narrative, in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No.142, April 1964, p.684.

142

characterize, perhaps, one of the essential traits of the literary act: the very act of
writing.320

The first quotation is related to what Blanchot calls the exigency of neutre while the
second quotation is related to the exigency of literature the very act of writing.
Hence, both quotations imply that neutre is inherent in language. Writing is a
possibility of posing being in language without its presence or absence. Being through
language is neutre, a category outside the two genders, outside the position and
negation, or simply is the unknown and the outside.
The above quotations exemplify a repetition in writing: draws language into a
possibility of saying that would say without saying being and without denying it
either. Both quotations appear in The Infinite Conversation; but their original versions
appear in a gap of five years time difference. The issue of repetition is another nature
of the neutre as illustrated in Blanchots another essay titled The Wooden Bridge
(repetition, the neutral) in The Infinite Conversation (IC, pp. 388-396). In this essay,
Blanchot argues about the commentary on literary work and its relation with repetition
and neutre. He takes the example of Marthe Roberts book The Old and the New: from
Don Quixote to Kafka, in which one of the commentaries is on Franz Kafkas novel
The Castle.321 In Blanchots idea, a commentary is a kind of repetition of the text
being analyzed and commented on. Different commentators give their different
commentaries and they all repeat and write about the original text with their repetition
accompanied with different interpretations. In such way, the original text is like an
incomplete text and each commentary adds a supplement to the original text.
Numerous commentaries entail the original text with new authors, or to be put it in
another way, each author of those commentaries is a new author of a new original text.
In other words, the original text or the commentaries are produced by anonymous
authors. This is the anonymous nature of the neutre in writing.
320

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.73. The quotation in original French is from the

essay Le Rapport du Troisme Genre (home sans horizon), in Maurice Blanchot, LEntretien Infini
(Paris: Gallimard, 1969), p.104. This essay is a rewriting (with extensive additions) of Blanchots essay
LIndestructible, published in La Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No.112, April 1962, pp.671-680. The
quotation is from the additions made during the editing and compilation of LEntretien Infini, probably
in 1969.
321

Marthe Robert, The Old and the New: from Don Quixote to Kafka, trans. Carol Cosman (Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1977); Marthe Robert, LAncient et le nouveau: de Don Quichotte Franz
Kafka (Paris: Gasset, 1963); Franz Kafka, The Castle, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (London: Vintage,
1999).

143

Chapter 4: The Madness of the Day and Law of Genre

Blanchots The Madness of the Day


The Madness of the Day is a short rcit, with about sixteen pages in the English
translation and twenty-two pages with its original in French.322 It was first published
with the title Un rcit? in 1949 in a French journal, Empdocle: Revue Littraire
Mensuelle.323 In 1973, it was published again with a new title La folie du jour.324 The
rcit describes the short anecdotes of an unnamed man. The place and time of the rcit,
as well as the characters are all unnamed. One reading is to read the rcit as retelling
Blanchots personal life before and after the Second World War. Although there is no
explicit evidence in the rcit to read it as an autobiography of Blanchot, there are
oblique traces for such reading of this rcit. In the rcit, the man suffers from a disease,
as Blanchot writes, I [the man] was not able to walk, breathe or eat. My breath was
made of stone, my body of water, and yet I was dying of thirst. One day, they thrust me
into the ground; the doctors covered me with mud. According to Christophe Bident,
Blanchot in 1922 suffered the surgical interventions in the duodenum[and] with a
medical fault, [also] affecting the blood (Blanchot subit une intervention chirurgicale
au duodenum. Une erreur mdicale, affectant le sang).325 Even worse, Blanchot
throughout his life suffers from the aftereffects of various diseases including
persisting asthma, chronic influenza, pleurisy, tuberculosis, sensation of vertigo and
suffocation, nervous affection (La maladie affectera Maurice Blanchot sa vie Durant.
Asthme tenace, grippes chroniques, pleuresie, tuberculose, sensations de vertiges et
dtouffements, affections nerveuses...).326 Another incident mentioned in the rcit is
that Blanchot knows someone who works in the libraries, by speculation, one of them
is probably Georges Bataille (MD, p.9). Blanchot mentions an incident probably
related to him during the Second World War,

322

Maurice Blanchot, The Madness of the Day, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, N.Y.: Station-Hill Press,

1981).
323

Maurice Blanchot, Un rcit? in Empdocle: Revue Littraire Mensuelle, No. 2, May (1949),

pp.13-22.
324

Maurice Blanchot, La Folie du Jour (Paris : Gallimard, 1973).

325

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essai Biographique (Seyssel : Champ

Vallon, 1998), p. 25.


326

Christophe Bident, Maurice Blanchot: Partenaire Invisible, Essai Biographique, p. 26.

144

Shortly afterwards, the madness of the world broke out. I was made to stand against
the wall like many others. Why? For no reason. The guns did not go off. I said to
myself, God, what are you doing? At that point I stopped being insane. The world
hesitated, then regained its equilibrium. (MD, p.6)

He probably faced a firing squad but survived it during the war. The description of the
rcit follows his survival since Blanchot writes, I came out of the muddy pit with the
strength of maturity(Yet I knew who I was I lived on, did not fall into nothingness.)
(MD, p.8). In another rcit, The Instant of My Death, Blanchot also describes his
escape from the firing squad without any reason except chance in 1944 (IMD, pp. 2-9).
The experience of the missed encounters with death through lifelong illness, bad health
and a death sentence in the firing squad seems to make Blanchot uncannily familiar
with the apparition of death within the life and the apparition of life within death. Such
experience reappears in his works which are often about death. If we read The
Madness of the Day without any reference to Blanchots life and death(s), the rcit can
still be read as writing about the madness of the world in broad daylight with the
aftereffects of illness and imminence of death.
The rcit also tells about vision, madness, surveillance and law. There is an
incident relating to the loss of vision in the rcit: I nearly lost my sight, because
someone crushed glass in my eyesI could not look, but I could not help looking. To
see was terrifying, and to stop seeing tore me apart from my forehead to my throat.
(MD, p.11) The unnamed man ha[s] read many books (MD, p.9). The loss of sight
will forbid him for reading more and probably implies that he could not help looking.
When the patient gets the problem in his eyes, to see is painful and terrifying but it
may refer to the situation that seeing what happens in the world under the daylight is
also terrifying even when one does not get hurt in his eyes. There are many terrifying
things in this world, especially during and after the wartime, such as seeing oneself in
an execution but being saved without any rational reason. Blanchot writes,
At times I said to myself, This is death. In spite of everything, its really worth it, its
impressive. But often I lay dying without saying anything. In the end, I grew
convinced that I was face to face with the madness of the day. That was truth: the light
was going mad, the brightness had lost all reason: it assailed me irrationally, without
control, without purpose. (MD, p.11)

The loss of sight is death since one cannot see what happens or everything that
happens. The loss of sight also stops speech and it seems to be related to death.
145

Without sight, one is like a dead person who cannot speak, see or feel what happens.
Besides, he is face to face with the madness of the day in the end. But what is the
end in his situation? Is that the long period of pseudo-dying without sight, or the
living man who is more or less like a dead without eyesight and staying in bed? Or the
end means at the end he only understands the madness of the day, that is he knows
the truth that there is madness and lost of all reason even in the presence of light
and brightness. Even under this madness of the day, the man still wills to get back
his eyesight to see, as Blanchot describes, I wanted to see something in full
daylightand if seeing would infect me with madness, I madly wanted that madness
(MD, p.12). There is madness in a rational man who wants to see the madness of the
world. Perhaps one needs to live on with madness in the madness of the day. Perhaps,
for the unmanned man, if there is madness in seeing or seeing is madness, he is willing
to get back his eyesight to see for the purpose to read or write (MD, p.12).
The unnamed man like[s] the doctors quite well but dislikes the authority
behind them. The authority of doctors makes the patients speak their own stories and
as the man says, [t]he whole of me passed in full view before them. It is a theme
similar to what Michel Foucault would say more than ten years after the publication of
this rcit, about the madness, clinic and surveillance.327 The patient is under
surveillance and has to tell his stories about the illness, or even his family history. In
the name of science or medical examination, the doctors will appropriate the stories to
fit in or extend the knowledge that now exists. The stories of each patient is stripped of
his own characteristics which are treated as case studies or samples while the body of
the patient undergoes dissections through various medical examination methods for the
sake to reveal the truth inside the body. However, their method is a dissecting method
which means the body is examined in pieces, in terms of knowledge like
ophthalmology, or hematology. Blanchot writes,
They [the doctors] would challenge my story: Talk, and my story would put itself at
their service. In haste, I would rid myself of myself. I distribute my blood, my
327

Michel Foucault, Folie et Deraison: Histoire de la Folie l'ge Classique (Paris: Plon, 1961);

Michel Foucault, Naissance de la Clinique:Une Archologie du Regard Medical (Paris: PUF, 1963);
Michel Foucault, Surveiller et Punir, Naissance de la Prison (Paris: Gallimard, February 1975). For the
English translations, see Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of
Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Vintage, 1988); Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An
Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Vintage, 1994); Michel
Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage,
1995).

146

innermost being among them, lent them the universe, gave them the light. (MD, p.14)

The authority of the doctors subjects the patient to an object of examination, to strip
him of his identity except as a patient and an object under examination, for the
examination gives light, truth, reason, science to the doctors. Blanchot also speaks of
this authority as law, as he writes, Behind their backs I saw the silhouette of the law
(MD, p.14). This law, in French grammar, is personified as a feminine She. In
relation to the patient in the rcit, the feminine law is a law especially for the unnamed
man, since the law absurdly credit[s] him with all powers; she declare[s] herself
perpetually on her knees before me (MD, p.15). In spite of this privilege, the man is
not allowed to ask anything and is authorized to do anything even when she set[s]
[him] above the authorities. Sentence here does not quite make sense. It seems that the
man is given the privilege above the law but indeed he cannot do anything under the
law.
The description here seems to echo with Kafkas parable Before the Law.328 [A]
man from the country wants to get the admittance to the Law but [b]efore the Law
stands a gatekeeper who does not let him in. The man waits until he gets permission
to enter and is interviewed by the gatekeeper with many questions indifferently
about his home and many other things. The gatekeeper uses the mans answers to
remind the man whether he has omitted anything. At the end, the man is near his
lifes end, thinking that the Law should surely be accessible at all times and to
everyone, and he asks the gatekeeper why for years no one other than him tries to get
in this gate. The gate keeper replies, No one else could ever be admitted here, since
this gate was made only for you I am now going to shut it. There are similarities and
differences between Blanchots telling of the Law in the rcit and Kafkas parable. Is
the gatekeeper masculine while the Law is feminine? One similarity between
Blanchots telling of the Law in the rcit and Kafkas parable is that the law is
especially for the unnamed man and the country man respectively. In Kafkas parable,
the country man is kept outside the law. In Blanchots rcit, the unnamed man seems to
be above the law but still powerless as the law did not let [him] ask anything.
Similarly, the country man does not ask but is asked or interviewed by the gatekeeper.
Both the unnamed man and the country man think that the law is accessible to
everyone but the law and the gate of the law are only especially made for the unnamed
man and the country man. Shall we say that the law which is accessible to everyone is
only special to each one that he is being interrogated about his history or stories? The
328

Franz Kafka, Before the Law, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir, in Franz Kafka, The Complete Short

Stories of Franz Kafka, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (London: Vintage, 1999), pp. 3-4.

147

law wants to know but is helpless to answer. What the law is or what is behind the law
is unanswerable. No question is allowed. The law needs every special case (the stories
and history) to enrich her volumes of law and power of law.
Interestingly, the common feminine figure of law in its usual representation is a
woman or goddess with one hand holding a balance to see justice done and the other
holding a book of law, but she is also a blind woman. Probably, her eyesight is good
but she masks her eyes in order to see justice be done to everyone without any
prejudice. However, if she is really a blind woman, she may simulate her good
eyesight by masking with a bandage. In this case, the law is premised on simulated
truth, a falsehood fashioned as truth and justice. If she cannot see, she can only listen
to the stories of any people in contact with the law.
Near the end of the rcit, the unnamed man finishes his story. However, he is still
asked by the questioner, Tell us just exactly what happened (MD, p.18). Even after
he retells the story, the man is still being asked, That was the beginningNow get
down to the facts. The man replies, How so? The story was over! This continuous
demand for stories is to subject the man under surveillance or examination to reveal
more and for the omissions, if any. That is [t]he whole of [the man] passed in full
view before them (MD, p.14). The law requires more stories to be told or to be
recounted in order to get all subjects under its scrutiny in daylight, and get them
revealed in its full transparency. This is the madness of the law, the daylight and the
day. So the madness of the day is the demand for no shadow and no sense of
difference.

Rcit
The rcit, The Madness of the Day can be read as a discussion on or questioning
of the term rcit, which appears a few times in this rcit. Blanchots meaning is
different from the general meaning of the term rcit in French which generally means
story or narrative. According to Grard Genette, a rcit or narrative can be defined in
three distinct notions: (1) narrative refer[s] to the narrative statement, the oral or
written discourse that undertakes to tell of an event or a series of events; (2) narrative
refer[s] to the succession of events, real or fictitious, that are the subjects of the
discourse, and to their several relations of linking, opposition, repetition, etc. and (3)
narrative refer[s] once more to an event that consists of someone recounting

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something: the act of narrating taken in itself.329 In short, Genette denotes the three
meaning successively as story, narrative and narrating.330 These meanings are
established from the viewpoint of the analysis of narrative or narratology.
However, Blanchot defines a rcit as a relation to the event. In The Book to Come,
he writes,
[T]he narrative (rcit), in general, is the narrative of an exceptional event that escapes
the forms of daily time and the world of ordinary truth, perhaps of all truth. That is
why, with so much insistence, it rejects all that could link it to the frivolity of a fiction
(the novel, on the contrary, which says nothing but what is credible and familiar, wants
very much to pass as fiction) Yet the nature of narrative is in no way foretold, when
one sees in it the true account of an exceptional event, which took place and which one
could try to report. Narrative is not the relating of an event but this event itself, the
approach of this event, the place where it is called on to unfold, an event still to come,
by the magnetic power of which the narrative itself can hope to come true (se realiser).
(BC, p.6)

Rcit, in Blanchots terms, does not imply a simple narrative which tells a story or
narrates an event which happens daily. The event a rcit narrates should be exceptional,
outside daily, time and the world of all truths. Event (vnement in French) implies
something that may or may not happen. If rcit is the recounting of an event that may
or may not happen, it is obviously outside time, for the things being recounted should
have happened in the past but at the same time yet they do not happen and are about to
happen. The rcit involves past, present and future at the same time; it is the event
itself, which is to come, to unfold and to come true. Blanchot considers that a
rcit relates only itself, and at the same time as this relation occurs, it produces
what it recounts (BC, p.7). Simply, the rcit produces an account of itself, or the rcit
produces the event and the event is the rcit. Blanchots notion of the rcit is in a way
an enclosed entity and it does not have a real reality in the world. The rcit gives a
fictionality or imaginary event in terms of language. Literature, under the
consideration of rcit, develops its own space and movement which is the movement
toward a point one that is not only unknown, ignored and foreign (BC, p.7).
However, in another way, a rcit is a rcit itself. That is to say, a rcit is a recounting
of itself. It is possible that a rcit contains a rcit which contains a rcit incessantly.
329

Grard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell

University Press, 1983), pp.25-26.


330

Grard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, p. 27.

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Here, the boundary of a rcit is problematic and I will defer the discussion on the
boundary of rcit to the next section with a reading of Derridas essays.
Blanchot does not hold onto the notions of rcit in his later writing. He gradually
effaces the term rcit in his writing. One will notice that his later writing in The
Step/Not Beyond and The Writing of the Disaster are fragmentary writing without any
designation as rcit. Blanchot has re-edited his previous texts, like the republication of
the rcit, Un rcit? with its title replaced by The Madness of the Day (La folie du
jour) and with the genre designation rcit deleted (the genre designation in French
books is on the front cover under the title of the book). Besides, when Blanchot came
to the re-publication of another book, Le Ressassement ternel (The Vicious Circles)
which was originally published in 1951, he added an essay titled Aprs Coup (After
the Fact) in the new edition in 1983.331 In After the Fact, Blanchot writes,
That is why, in my opinion and in a way different from the one that led Adorno to
decide with absolute correctness I will say there can be no fiction-story [rcit-fiction]
about Auschwitz The need to bear witness is the obligation of a testimony that can
only be given and given only in the singularity of each individual by the
impossible witnesses the witnesses of the impossible; some have survived, the
attestation that the good that is life (not narcissistic life, but life for others) has
undergone the decisive blow that leaves nothing intact. From this it would seem that
all narration, even all poetry, has lost the foundation on which another language could
be raised through the extinction of the happiness of speaking that lurks in even the
most mediocre silence. (SHBR, p. 494)

Theodor W. Adorno writes, To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.332 The


alteration to the notion of writing after Auschwitz is shared by Adorno and Blanchot. If
the event of a narrative is the testimony about the event of Auschwitz, can the narrative
be called a rcit? In Blanchots opinion, the testimony about the event of Auschwitz is
not a rcit because the event of Auschwitz is an absolute event beyond the exceptional.
The incidents in Auschwitz at that time were in the forms of daily time and the world
331

Maurice Blanchot, Le Ressassement ternel (Paris: Minuit, 1951); Maurice Blanchot, Aprs Coup

precede par Le Ressassement ternel (Paris: Minuit, 1983); Maurice Blanchot, The Vicious Circles,
followed by After the Fact, trans. Paul Auster (New York: Station-Hill Press, 1985). The essay After
the Fact is also collected in Maurice Blanchot, The Station Hill Blanchot Reader (Barrytown, N.Y.: The
Station Hill Barrytown, Ltd.), pp. 487-495.
332

Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge: Massachusetts: The MIT

Press, 1983), p.34.

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of ordinary truth (BC, p.6). Auschwitz is an absolute event because it cannot be


reasoned with any sense of rationality in view of the irrationality, atrocity, affliction,
inhumanity and the absurd daily routine. It is a truth that is so absolute that it is
impossible to be imagined, comprehended and fully understood.333 Blanchot thinks
that the witness of the trauma of death camps or Auschwitz is the witness of the
impossible. It is the witness of the past, but it is possible that the past is de-stabilized
under the trauma, torture of the death camps; and becomes the impossible past without
the possibility of future anteriority to narrate. The traumatic past is neither erased nor
forgettable. It lives on in the present and the future. The trauma in Auschwitz cannot be
understood as it is the wrong beyond or wrong step beyond (pas au-del) any morality,
knowledge, belief or truth. The testimony about the event of Auschwitz, as Blanchot
describes, is the impossible witnesses or the witnesses of the impossible.
In view of a book on the testimony to the Holocaust by Robert Antelmes The
Human Race, Blanchot writes in The Infinite Conversation and comments on the
relation of rcit, testimony and the Holocaust,
[Antelmes book (The Human Race)] is not, as I have said, simply a witnesss
testimony (un tmoignage) to the reality of a camp or a historical reporting (une
relation historique), nor is it an autobiographical narrative (un rcit autobiographique).
It is clear that for Robert Antelme, and very surely for others, it is a question not of
telling ones story (se raconter), of testifying (tmoigner), but essentially of speaking
(parler). (IC, p.134)

In the essay on Antelmes book The Human Race, Blanchot does not describe it as a
rcit, at least with his definition.334 He uses the book or testimony as a description
although Antelmes LEspce Humaine (The Human Race) is designated as rcit on
the cover page, probably meaning narrative in that case. In a testimony to the
333

For the usage of the phrase fully understood, I refer to Blanchots footnote 9 of the essay The

Indestructible in Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p..448. Blanchots footnote is a


quotation from Gershom Scholem from an unknown source. The quotation is The abyss opened
between us by these events cannot be measured. For, in truth, it is impossible to realize completely
what happened. Its incomprehensible nature has to do with the very essence of a phenomenon: it is
impossible to fully understand it, that is to say, integrate it into our consciousness.
334

Maurice Blanchot, War and Literature in Maurice Blanchot, Friendship, pp.109-110; Maurice

Blanchot, Humankind in Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Converstaion, pp. 130-135; Maurice Blanchot,
Dans la nuit surveille in Robert Antelme, Textes indits Sur LEspce Humaine, Essais et tmoignages
(Paris: Gallimard, 1996), pp.71-72.

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Holocaust, the narrative thereof loses its foundation because there lurks silence in the
speaking and the unstable comprehension, turning and translation in the language of
testimony.
Blanchot has written a rcit about foretelling the Holocaust. There are two short
rcits, The Idyll and The Last Word, in Blanchots book Le Ressassement ternel. The
Idyll was written in 1935, which was a story foretelling the life in death camps.
Blanchot writes in After the Fact (Aprs Coup) and describes The Idyll as a story
from before Auschwitz (rcit davant Auschwitz) (SHBR, p.494). He adds later in
the essay,
A Story from before Auschwitz. No matter when it is written, every story from now on
will be from before Auschwitz. (SHBR, p.495)
Rcit davant Auschwitz. A quelque date quil puisse tre crit, tout rcit sera
dsormais davant Auschwitz.

335

As Blanchot describes The Idyll as a rcit, I interpret that this rcit is the version of
1935. After the event of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, Blanchot deletes the term rcit
from the genre designation from all his books. This action is also discerned by Sarah
Kofman who writes on Blanchots The Idyll and Antelmes The Human Race in her
work Smothered Words (Paroles suffoques),
Beginning in 1947 with The Folly of the Day [i.e. The Madness of the Day], Blanchot
has eliminated the word story [rcit] from all his texts and from new editions
published after the holocaust. This is not just for the purpose of questioning the
traditional distinction between literary genres.336

The title Smothered Words can be interpreted as suffocated words or words spoken
under suffocation, which can be thought of as silenced words of the testimony to the
Holocaust. This silence inherent in the words of testimony shares with the similarity of
the situation that words must be kept silent under the terror of irrational torture and
335

Maurice Blanchot, Aprs coup ; prcd par Le Ressassement ternel (Paris: Editions de Minuit,

1983), p.99.
336

Sarah Kofman, Smothered Words, trans. Madeleine Dobie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,

1998), pp. 14-15; Sarah Kofman, Paroles Suffoques (Paris: Galile, 1987), pp. 21-22. Sarah Kofman
(1934-1995) is a French philosopher who suffers from childhood trauma as her father was deported to
and died in Auschwitz.

152

deaths in the Holocaust but that are yearned or aired out in order to get back the
breaths under the suffocation of absurd inhumanity. If a rcit in its usual usage means a
narrative or narration, the narrative of the testimony about the event of Auschwitz is
made up of smothered words that must be spoken but at the same time there is
interminable lurked silence; or they are the speech without speech, the silence without
silence.

Structure of Un rcit?
The issue of rcit is problematized in the narrative structure of The Madness of
the Day and in conjunction with the ending of the rcit where Blanchot writes, A story?
No. No stories, never again. (Un rcit? Non, pas de rcits, plus jamais) (MD, p.18).
Perhaps, it is better to resort to the old version (1949) of The Madness of the Day
which is titled Un recit? which carries the questioning attitude in the title right from
the beginning.337 The difference between these two versions is manifested in the title
being replaced. Derrida points out that there is an abyss-structure [i.e., in an inserted
miniature representing the whole] in the old version (1949) of the rcit, Un recit?.338
The structure of the Un recit? as derived from Derrida can be shown as follows:
Title on the Cover:
Title on the first page:
The First sentence:

The text

...

The last sentence:

A Story? (Un rcit ?)


A Story (Un rcit)
I am not learned; I am not ignorant. I have known joys.

I have been asked: Tell us just exactly what happened.


A Story? (Un rcit ?) I began :
I am not learned; I am not ignorant. I have known joys.

The story was over.

A Story? No. No more stories, Never Again.


(Un rcit? Non, pas de rcits, plus jamais.)

Formally, such abyss-structure is termed mise-en-abime which is a device or


structure by which the work turns back on itself, and appears to be a kind of reflexion
337

Maurice Blanchot, Un rcit? in Empdocle: Revue Littraire Mensuelle, No. 2, May (1949),

pp.13-22.
338

Jacques Derrida, Living On/Border Lines, in Geoffrey H. Hartman, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller,

Harold Bloom and Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and Criticism (New York: Continuum, 1999), p.92.

153

or is any aspect enclosed within a work that shows a similarity with the work that
contains it.339 The above structure shows the narrative (rcit) of the unnamed man is
put in another narrative that recounts the same event. In other words, it is a structure of
repetition of rcits, or a rcit being put within a rcit. Such repetition of an identical
rcit is like the madness of the law, the daylight which demands stories or rcits to be
given incessantly. Besides, it is also a questioning of what a recit is since
mise-en-abime carries a self-reflexive questioning function. In terms of the above
structure, this structure questions the whole narrative of the rcit, including its frame,
boundary and the topic of rcit.
According to Derridas analysis of this rcit in Living On, the repetition of the
first sentence in the story deprives the [rcit] of any beginning and of any decidable
edge or border (DC, pp.92-93). The whole rcit can be read as a single rcit from top
to end till the last sentence. The rcit may be read as a small rcit followed by another
rcit. Or it can be read as a single rcit containing another rcit which, in Derridas
words, fold[s] back incessantly to the beginning after the sentence I have been asked:
Tell us just exactly what happened (DC, p.96). Perhaps it can be read as a rcit and
followed by the last sentence Un rcit? Non, pas de rcits, plus jamais which can be
treated as a commentary of the above rcit. In this case, the last sentence stands
outside the above rcit and can be considered as interruption of the above rcit, no
matter it is a single rcit, a rcit containing two small rcits, or a rcit containing the
same rcit in a nested loop. There are no fixed boundaries of the rcit Un recit? and
the single rcit can be read as pluralized rcits.
Based on the above different readings, the rcit Un recit? can be read as a
questioning of what a rcit is. On this question, Derrida writes,
I suggest, for example, that we replace what might be called the question of narrative
[rcit] (What is a narrative?) with the demand of narrative. (DC, p.87)
[J]e suggre par exemple de remplacer ce quon pourrait appeler la question du rcit
(Quest-ce quun rcit ?) par la demande de rcit.)

340

The title of the rcit Un recit? implies a questioning of rcit and what a rcit is.
Derrida adds to this question another dimension which is the demand of rcit. This
339

Lucien Dllenbach, The Mirror in the Text, trans. Jeremy Whiteley and Emma Hughes (Oxford:

Polity Press, 1989), p.8.


340

Jacques Derrida, Survivre, in Jacques Derrida, Parages (Paris: Galile, 2003), p. 121.

154

demand is inherent in the content of Un recit? as the repetition or folding of the rcits
is under the solicitation or insistence of the figure of the law or the medical specialists.
Apart from the above figures, there is a figure of rcit in the story by means of
language written as Un recit?. The demand of rcit is also by rcit. Rcit demands
rcits. Story demands stories. Literature demands literature. In Blanchots words,
literature begins as a question of what literature is. We remember that Blanchot writes
in Literature and the Right to Death, that literature begins at the moment when
literature becomes a question and this questions is addressed to language by
language which has become literature (WF, pp. 300-301). Blanchots words here echo
with the title of the rcit Un recit? since the question mark here implies the
questioning of itself just before the main text begins.
It is discerned in Derridas comments on the word demand which carries the
meanings of the word demand and demande in both English and French. It means
more than to a mere request: inquisitorial insistence, an order, a petition (exigence,
insistance inquisitoriale, mise en demeure, requte).341 The demand of rcit is thus,
the request of rcit, the urgency or urgent demand of rcit, the inquisitorial insistence
of rcit, the order or obligation of rcit. The word exigence is a term which Blanchot
often used to refer to the exigence of the work (lexigence de loeuvre) in his work
The Space of Literature. Derridas term la demande de rcit parallels to Blanchots
lexigence de loeuvre. According to Gerald Bruns who writes a book on the relation
of Blanchot and philosophy, Exigence is an excessive demand, a demand outside all
reason that deprives ones existence of its justification (my right to be). Blanchot might
mean: the demand of the impossible.342 The demand of rcit is thus an excess
demand of the rcit for more rcit and the questioning of rcit. Besides, the demand
for the rcits in the events illustrated in the rcit Un recit? can also be interpreted as a
demand outside all reason that deprives ones existence of its justification. Bruns
interpretation of the demand of the impossible highlights the situation that rcit is
still demanded even though there is no more rcit after the repetition of rcits or the
impossible demand of rcit since a rcit, like a work (loeuvre), that is still demanded
even though the work is always dissolved, lack of the work, or dsoeuvre according
to Blanchots notion of dsoeuvrement (SL, p.46).
The demand of the rcit is also the inquisitorial insistence of rcit which
embodies two connotations. One is the inquisition of the Law which is shown by the
341

Jacques Derrida, Living On/Border Lines, p.87; Jacques Derrida, Parages, p.121

342

Gerald L. Bruns, Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

University Press, 1997), p.120.

155

content of the rcit Un recit?. The other is the insistence on the rcit which is
insisting on rcit itself, for what the rcit is and for more rcits. There is an insistence
in the question of the rcit, which is an instance of literature. From this trajectory, the
rcit titled Un recit? or the rcit titled The Madness of the Day can be extended to
the insistence of literature, that is the insistence of the question of literature itself. As
there is a proximity between insistence and instance in view of the French
connotations as shown in Chapter 1, perhaps it is possible to say that the instance (or
agency) of literature is the insistence of literature, with the instance or agency to
question (demander) literatures insistence (insistance, instance) incessantly, abidingly
(en demeure) or obligatorily.343

Derridas Law of Genre


In Derridas essay, Law of Genre, he posits the law of the law of genre, by
which he means a principle of contamination, of a law of impurity, a parasitical
economy (AL, p.227). The law of genre in the usual sense, is asset of rules or
regulations in defining what the genre is and what the boundaries of different genres
are. Derridas law of the law of genre is a deconstructive reading of the law of
genre since it questions the law of demarcation of genres. He questions about the
definition of genre. The word genre embodies the meanings of gender and genus.
Gender is a set of beliefs, manners and customs in defining the gender difference that
they are influenced by the traditional and current ideology. In biological science, the
different genera are arbitrary rules for classification of species. Whenever new species
appear or are discovered, they break the old rules of classification of the genus and
species. New rules will be set up to account for the new genus. Similarly, the genres of
literature are also a set of beliefs, manners and customs in defining different genres,
such as poem, prose, prose poem, verse, drama, novel, novella, rcit and others. There
are always undecidable boundaries between different genres and there exists
contamination[s] and impurit[ies] in the genres.
Derrida discusses the word rcit in The Law of Genre. In its literal meaning,
rcit carries a repeating nature, that is a re-citation, re-counting, repeating. It narrates
or re-presents something in different time. Hence, the repetition of something (account,
story, narrative, events) in a rcit challenges the proper name of the rcit. A rcit is
ghosted with something, some narrative, some stories, or some other events else. As
343

On the word demeure, I borrow Derridas connotations as discussed in his Demeure: Fiction and

Testimony (p.16). See also Chapter 3 of this work.

156

such, I consider that there is inherent contamination in every rcit or every narrative.
Derrida retakes Blanchots The Madness of the Day as an example in the
examination of genre contaminations. In the essay on Living On, Derrida speaks
about the demand of rcit. In The Law of Genre, Derrida speaks about the law of
rcit, as if the law is the demanding law (AL, p.232). He believes that no one will be
bound by the definition of genre (as denoted by the publishers or authors; or in the
cataloging of libraries) because there are [c]onfusion, irony, the shift in conventions
toward a new definition [of the genre], [and] the search of supplementary effect.
Literary works often have strange, foreign, uncanny and defamiliarizing effects. The
search of supplementary effect acts like the search for new genus and species in the
biological science. It discovers new traits for the challenge of the definition of genre.
Derrida comments on Blanchots effacement of genre definition (rcit) in the
republication of his rcit, such as The Madness of the Day. He considers that the
effacement of rcits, leav[es] a trace that, inscribed and filed away, remains as an
effect of supplementary relief (AL, p. 233). The effacement of the genre definition or
the mark on the covers re-marks, re-inscribes this effacement in the old version of
rcits and the new versions of text. The re-marks and re-inscription function to
question the proper nature of the texts, their genres, boundaries and even ways of
reading. The re-marks and re-inscription of a genre imply that the questioning effect
also takes place when Blanchot , other writers or editors change the titles, contents, or
layout of the texts. Blanchot has changed the title of the Un rcit? to The Madness of
the Day, cut short the first version (1941) of his Thomas the Obscure for republication
in 1948, deleted the last few lines of Death Sentence for re-publication, revised the
short pieces of fragmentary writing published previously in various journals for
expansion and collection in the two books of fragmentary writings (The Step/Not
Beyond and The Writing of the Disaster) and edited other texts as well. Blanchots
revisions of the texts hence can be treated as an example of opening various ways of
reading and writing about the texts. I suggest that writing and literature proliferate
through the infinite ways of approaching, reading and writing. In terms of Derridas
ideas, writing is defined as tracing the trace, re-marking and re-inscribing in the texts.
Literature insists on its infinite being by the proliferation of reading and writing.

157

Chapter 5: The Step/Not Beyond and A Primal Scene?

In this chapter, I will discuss the later writings of Blanchot. After the period of the
discussion on the neutre and the beginning of fragmentary writing as set out in the
essays collected in The Infinite Conversation and Awaiting Oblivion, Blanchot
produces these two fragmentary writing: Le Pas au-del (The Step/Not Beyond) in
1973 and Lcriture du dsastre (The Writing of the Disaster) in 1980.344 These two
works are made up of fragments. The fragments in these two books are not original as
they come from fragments published previously and then are collected, re-fragmented,
dispersed and added with new fragments. In fact, each of these two works contains
essays that have already been published in various journals. According to Leslie Hill,
the book Le Pas au-del includes essays titled Lexigence du retour , Fragmentaires,
Sur Edmond Jabs published in 1970-1973.345 The book Lcriture du dsastre
includes essays titled Discours sur la patience, Fragmentaire, Une scne
primitive, Lcriture du dsastre and some others published in 1975-1980.346 My
point here is to stress the fragmentary character of these essays. Besides, the titles of
each of these two works do not signify a unified summarized theme to represent each
work. And each work carries fragments of heterogeneous themes that have been in a
way rewritten (by added new writing and fragments re-arranged) to be published as a
book, just like The Infinite Conversation. The idea of the fragment is in the mind of
Blanchot when he writes these two books. He explicates and elaborates the idea of
fragments in the form of fragments.

344

Maurice Blanchot, La Pas au-del (Paris: Gallimard, 1973); Maurice Blanchot, The Step/Not Beyond,

trans. Lycette Nelson (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992); Maurice Blanchot, Lcriture
du dsastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1980); Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).
345

Maurice Blanchot, Lexigence du retour, LArc (1970), Vol. 43, pp. 48-53; Maurice Blanchot,

Fragmentaires, LEphmre, 16, January 1971, pp.376-399; Maurice Blanchot, Sur Edmond Jabs,
Les Nouveaux Cahiers, 31, Winter 1972-1973, pp. 51-52.
346

Maurice Blanchot, Discours sur la patience, Le Nouveaux Commerce (1975), Vol. 30-31, pp. 19-44.

Maurice Blanchot, Fragmentaire, in Pierre Alechinsky et al., Celui qui ne peut se servire des mots
(Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1975), pp. 19-31; Maurice Blanchot, Une scne primitive, Premire
livraison, Vol. 4 (1976), p.1; Maurice Blanchot, Une scne primitive, Le Nouveaux Commerce Vol.
39-40 (1978), Vol. 39-40, pp.43-51; Maurice Blanchot, Lcriture du dsastre, La Nouvelle Revue
Franaise, July-August 1980, No.330-331, pp.1-31.

158

Insistence as the Eternal Return


One of the major ideas in The Step/Not Beyond is the exigency of the return
(lexigence du retour) and the discussion on passivity in relation to the French word
pas (meaning both step and not). In The Writing of the Disaster, the major ideas
being discussed are disaster, trauma, death camp and a short rcit titled A Primal
Scene?. I will try to explore these ideas of Blanchot in the following discussion. Apart
from that, I will read Nietzsches idea of eternal recurrence since Blanchots The
Step/Not Beyond embodies a reading of Nietzsches ideas. Besides, the idea of the
exigency of the return carries the ideas of repetition and insistence of writing and death.
Reading Blanchots work with the idea of Freuds psychoanalysis, especially Beyond
the Pleasure Principle can help to illustrate the return of death in Blanchots works and
literature.347 The short rcit A Primal Scene? in The Writing of the Disaster discusses
the death and nothingness as witnessed by an infant (WD, p.72). I suggest that A
Primal Scene? can be read together with Freuds and Lacans ideas of trauma. I will
also try to explore the impact of psychoanalysis on reading Blanchots works.
Blanchots discussion on the notions of the eternal return and the exigency of
the return is explicit in the book The Step/Not Beyond. Before the book in French
appeared in 1973, the discussion on the notions of the eternal return can be found in
some essays collected in The Infinite Conversation.348 Blanchots discussion on the
notion of the eternal return in these works can be comprehended as the critique of the
concepts of identity, sameness, subjectivity and time, in relation to the thinking of
writing. Blanchot writes,
The Eternal Return of the Same: the same, that is to say, myself, in as much as it sums
up the identity, that is, the present self. But the demand of the return, excluding any
present mode from time, would never release a now in which the same would come
back to the same, to myself. (SNB, p.11)

The concept of sameness is problematic, at least, it is a concept giving a kind of


totality. To what extent is the totality understood and to what extent is the sameness
totalized? If it refers to an identity concept, sameness includes all kind of description,
347

Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology: The

Theory of Psychoanalysis (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), pp.269-338.


348

Maurice Blanchot, On a Change of Epoch: The Exigency of Return, in Maurice Blanchot, The

Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992),
pp. 264-281.

159

quantification, quality, physical and chemical nature, or even the concept of others (or
other persons), the interrelation, configuration and constellation with the other. The
description may go on incessantly to include other qualifiers. However, does the
sameness remain the same with respect to time? Whenever something is the same, it is
an eternal thing, an inertia. In other words, something remains the same in the present,
the future and the past. Nature and Science have told us that everything suffers or is
subjected to change. The word change implies its relation with time. If not,
something may remain the same at this very tiny, minute, nano-, femto- or less in an
instant. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that it is impossible to accurately
measure the position and the state of a particle at the same time. A derivation from
such a principle is that it is impossible to have both time and energy accurately
measured, or known. Such saying is that to fix time exactly give other measurement or
description which are highly inaccurate. When the above concepts are applied to a
persons identity, the identity concept is paradoxically not related to sameness. The
saying that my identity is such and such at this tiny moment is impossible. One
cannot totalize the such and such in the description with both correctness and
completeness. The notion of the Other also refutes the identity concept based on the
sameness. If the description of an identity is not towards the other or not
intersubjective, it is a futile concept only for itself. Even if there is an identity at a
certain moment, it is inherently subject to change. The identity is shifted, changed,
alerted, perturbed and varied in the next moment, no matter whether there is a change
in the inter-relation, society, judiciary, politics, economy, or the Nature. Besides, the
identity concept in productive usage must be related to a nature which can be assessed
in terms of return and reference. A writer is considered to be a writer from this
moment and to the next moment. The writer of the next moment is understood as the
same of the previous moment. The identity of the writer must allow returns for
retrieval, reference and certification. The noun writer stands for an identity that can
be treated as a kind of token of exchange and communication. The problem then
returns to the critical thinking of the proper noun. How can one define a writer as a
proper writer? Someone who writes? How about someone who makes inscriptions, or
engravings, or calligraphy, or who draws? A proper writer is just an ambiguous
concept that is understood equivocally in common sensual or legally contractual
relationships. The noun returns but its property does not return with the sameness.
Blanchots description of the Eternal Return of the Same refutes a now that can
come back to the same. The concept of the present is vulnerable under the demand
of the return. Blanchot further considers that the return in time makes the future
always already past and the past always still to come. The instant of the presence
exclud[es] itself and any possibility of identity (SNB, p. 11). Thus, the demand of
160

the return does not liberate a possibility of a stable identity and of the present. Under
such reasoning, one can reject the notion of the Eternal Return of the Same since
Eternal Return and the Same are incompatible with each other. Shall we leave out
the Same and consider just the Eternal Return?
An example of the Eternal Return can be seen in the expression everything
comes again. Blanchot offers two contradictory views on the notion of everything
comes again. On the one hand, everything comes again stands for totality that
must have received from discourse and from practice its meaning and the realization
of meaning (SNB, p.23). The totality requires the present to manifest its totality of
presence. On the other hand, everything comes again means the infinite of the
return which disrupts the present since the present cannot accommodate the infinite
of the return in a tiny instant of the present. In this case, everything comes again
destroys time and reduce[s] it to infinity of rupture or interruption substituting an
infinite absence for present eternity (SNB, p.23).
Blanchot gives rewriting as an example of everything comes again. To write,
he says, is always first to rewrite (SNB, p.32). He further explicates,
The re of the return inscribes like the ex, opening of every exteriority: as if the
return, far from putting an end to it, marked the exile, the beginning in its rebeginning
of the exodus. To come again would be to come to ex-center oneself anew, to wander.
(SNB, p.33)

Rewriting thus can be regarded as the step for every exteriority and to ex-center
oneself anew. By means of the infinity of rupture in everything comes again, one
can notice that rewriting repeats and amounts to the infinity of rupture. Writing or
rewriting ruptures and ex-centers infinitely the writing itself, the writer and
subjectivity. Writing can also be seen as the eternal return of the new ex-center. It
serves its insistence on the ex-centering and de-centering. From Blanchots idea, and
linking the Eternal Return with the notion of writing, I suggest the notion every
writing comes again which I refer to is an example of the insistence of writing or the
insistence of literature. The insistence of literature is the demand of (re)writing and the
demand of the return. The word anew is also important in the rewriting. Blanchot
writes,
Rewriting in repeating what does not take place, will not take place, has not taken
place, inscribes itself in a non-unified system of relations that cross paths without any

161

point of crossing affirming their coincidence, inscribing itself under the demand of the
return by which we are torn from the modes of temporality that are always measured
by a unity of presence. (SNB, p.32)

The instance of Borges short story, or essay, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
suggests that even the same writing when it repeats is anew in its meaning, reading and
reception.349 Thus, rewriting repeats the essay in the past and turns it into the essay
which has not taken place. Rewriting carries the meaning of wandering. Other
meanings of wandering (especially in relation to French word errant or erreur) are
to err and to detour. Rewriting carries similar meanings: it is repetition of trials that can
err, detour and wander.
As I have discussed before, The Step/Not Beyond is an instance of rewriting, by
repeating the same fragments pertaining to the originals essays, shuffling and adding
new fragments. I also find in Le Pas au-del (The Step/Not Beyond) the repetition of
the phrase Libre-moi de la trop longue parole. (Free me from the too long speech.).
This phrase is already a repetition and return, for it appeared in Blanchots essay
Lexigence du retour in 1970 which is the prototype of the book Le Pas au-del (The
Step/Not Beyond) in 1973. The phrase also appears twice: within and at the end of the
book (SNB, p.50, 137). The meaning of the phrase is a lamentation from the
entrapment in speech, writing and language. The entrapment is the instant of
suspension. The long speech from the essay to the book is continuous, repeated,
returned and fragmented. It figures the insistence of the speech and its suspension.
Another reading of the phrase is the impersonal speech (parole) of the writing itself.
The writing laments on the eternal return of the writing and hopes to free [itself] from
the too long speech. The book The Step/Not Beyond includes the essay published in
the past which returns again in a new form in the present as well as other newer
forms when the book will be read and (re)written in the future. The present book The
Step/Not Beyond is at the instant of suspension (en instance). It is a transitional and
suspended moment of a now which is itself not existing. The book is a mirror of the
past (essay) but the mirror is a fissured one, which is fragmented with its fragments
being repeated, truncated and modified. The book [i]n certain way is a
mise-en-abme (an emblem containing a smaller itself) but it is in the abyss and
suspension that it is fragmented and repeated (SNB, p. 15, 21). The book is thus an
instance of writing that is fragmented and repeated. It is also under the demand of the
349

Jorge Luis Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixiote, in Labyrinths: Selected Stories and

Other Writings, eds. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (Harmondsworth : Penguin Books, 1981),
pp.62-71.

162

return that writing, dsoeuvrement and dissolution of the identity (as writer and of
writing) return and insist. Blanchot strangely writes for a perturbation of time and
identity,
Nietzsche (if his name serves to name the law of the Eternal Return) and Hegel (if his
name invites us to think presence as all and the all as presence) allow us to sketch a
mythology: Nietzsche can only come after Hegel, but it is always before and always
after Hegel that he comes and comes again. (SNB, p.23)

From this reasoning, the book The Step Not Beyond can come before the essay
Lexigence du retour. The completeness of the essay maintains itself in its
fragmentary character and is similar to the book form. The essay is an extract from the
book and the book includes not all the fragments of the essay but leaves out a
quotation pertaining to Nietzsche: On ne reste philosophe quautant quon garde le
silence. (Nietzsche).350 The quotation is from the preface of Nietzsches Human, All
Too Human, we only remain philosophers by keeping silent.351 My suggestion for
the reason of such left-out is to emphasize that silence is not only for the philosophers.
For Blanchot, writing and literature begin with silence.

Dying and Writing


Dying (mourir) is an important concept of Blanchot and he says that dying
means losing the time in which one can still come to an end and entering into the
infinite present of a death impossible to die (IC, p.45). Dying in a way can be seen
as living under the threat and dread of the impossible death. The notion of
impossible death is from Levinas that reverses Heideggers notion of the possible
death. Heidegger writes in Being and Time, Death is the possibility of the absolute
impossibility of Da-sein.352 Heidegger further explicates, As possibility, death gives
Da-sein nothing to be actualized and nothing which it itself could be something real.
It is the possibility of the impossibility of every mode of behavior toward, of every
way of existing.353 Death in this sense is treated as always possible since it must and
350

Maurice Blanchot, Lexigence du retour in LArc (1970) Vol. 43, p.53.

351

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (I), trans. Gary Handwerk (Stanford: Stanford

University Press, 1997), p.13.


352

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany:

State University of New York, 1996), p.232.


353

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit, p.242.

163

will come to every Da-sein but at the same time death renders all actions of Da-sein in
the world impossible. In face of the coming of the possible death, Da-sein should act
with concern and attunement in the world and being-with. Simon Critchley
comments on the nature of death in the philosophy of early Heidegger,
[D]eath is something to be achieved, it is fundamental possibility which permits us to
get the totality of existence, and hence authenticity, into our grasp the possibility of
354

impossibility. The human being is death in the process of becoming.

Levinas conceives Heideggers notion of death as he writes, Death in Heidegger is not,


as Jean Wahl says the impossibility of possibility, but the possibility of
impossibility.355 However, Levinas reads the notion of death in another way,
Death becomes the limit of the subjects virility What is important about the
approach of death is that at a certain moment we are no longer able to be able Death
is the impossibility of having a project. The approach of death indicates that we are in
356

relation with something that is absolutely other.

In Totality and Infinity, Levinas makes the notion of death more clearly,
My death comes from an instant upon which I can in no way exercise my power
[Death] is a relation with an instant whose exceptional character is due not to the fact
that it is at the threshold of nothingness or of a rebirth, but to the fact that, in life, it is
the impossibility of every possibility, the stroke of a total passivity alongside of which
the passivity of the sensibility, which moves into activity, is but a distant imitation.357

Thus, death in Levinas is the impossibility of every possibility and is absolutely


other. Death is therefore ungraspable in whatever means. Blanchot aligns with
Levinas in the meaning of death. Blanchots concept of death and dying can be seen in
the following passage:

354

Simon Critchley, Very little Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature (London: Routledge,

1997), p.25.
355

Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University

Press, 1990), p.70n.43.


356

Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other, p.74.

357

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh:

Duquesne University Press, 1969), pp.234-235.

164

The fact that we cannot experience the reality of death to the end makes death unreal.
And this irreality condemns us to fear dying only unreally, not really to die, to remain
as if we are held, forever between life and death, in a state of non-existence and
non-death, from which our whole life perhaps takes its meaning and its reality . We do
not know that we die. We do not know either that others die, for the death of another
remaining foreign to us and always incomplete, since we who know it, we are alive.
We certainly do not think of ourselves as immortal, but we see ourselves, rather, as
condemned, in death itself, to the impossibility of dying, to the impossibility of
accomplishing, grasping the fact of our death by abandoning ourselves to it in a
determined and decisive way. (WF, pp. 254-255)

Blanchots impossibility of dying means that death ruptures, arrests, makes


dying impossible; and dying renders the actions, accomplishments, works and
subjectivity to be impossible as both dissolve in worklessness, ex-centering and
de-centering. Blanchot also relates the terms with worklessness, neuter and
dying,
If the worklessness of the neuter is at work somewhere, you will not find it in the
thing that is dead, but there where without life without death without time without
duration the drop by drop of dying falls (SNB, p. 94)

The terms worklessness, neuter and dying carry a nature of remaining, suspension
and in-between-ness: worklessness as work without work; neuter as neither
affirmative nor negative, neither one nor the other, dying as neither life nor death.
They all display a structure advocated by what Derrida mentions in the essay Pas:
X without X (X sans X).358 To find a relation between writing and dying, Blanchot
acknowledges that writing and the movement of dying both manifest transgression
that transgresses nothing (SNB, p.104). Similarly, transgression that transgresses
nothing is a structure of the neuter. From it, the title of the book and the term the
step not/beyond (le pas au-del) carry the meaning of transgression that
transgresses nothing, that does not belong to duration, that repeats itself endlessly
and that separates us (witnesses to what escape witnessing) from any appropriateness
as from any relation to an I, subject of a Law (SNB, p.105). To summarize the above
terms in proximity, writing is the step not/beyond, that transgresses without
transgression, removes the appropriat[ion] and power of an I who loses
subjectivity under the movement of dying. Writing comes from a writer who is
trapped in the movement of dying and carries a suspended nature of the movement
358

Jacques Derrida, Pas, in Jacques Derrida, Parages (Paris: Galilie, 2003), p.84ff.

165

of dying.
In the quotation just mentioned, the meaning of the phrase to remain as if we are
held, forever between life and death, in a state of non-existence and non-death echoes
with what Blanchot writes in The Instant of My Death: the instant of my death
henceforth always in abeyance and Im alive. No, you are dead (IMD, p.9; p.11).
They share the following meanings: (a) of remaining (demeure) and suspension: to
remain, held, forever between, henceforth always, in abeyance; (b) dying:
between life and death, in a state of non-existence and non-death, the instant of my
death, Im alive. No, you are dead. In Blanchots works, the notion of dying and
remaining comes again in various works. Such insistence of dying and remaining
comes again and eternally returns in the instances of Blanchots works. As seen
from these quotations, the notion of dying comes again and rewrites in Blanchots
The Instant of My Death in 1994. Perhaps, in another way round, dying as the instant
of [Blanchots] death en instance in the firing squad repeats again and again since
1944 in various writing as discussed in the previous chapter. There is an insistence of
dying and suspension in the literary works of Blanchot.

A Primal Scene?
The notion of dying comes again and again in Blanchots writing from the scene
of Blanchots instant of death. The scene can be treated as a primal scene for
Blanchots writing that repeats compulsively. Another famous primal scene written
by Blanchot appears in The Writing of the Disaster. The term primal scene originates
from Freuds analysis of the dreams of wolf man.359 According to Freuds description
of the dream: a boy of three, four, or at most five years old lying in [his] bed at
night looked through the window and saw six or seven white wolves sitting on
the big walnut tree.360 Blanchots rcit titled A Primal Scene? is also a description
of a child seeing through a window. The scene is a rcit which tells that a child
(lenfant) sees when he is seven years old, or eight perhaps.361 [T]he child sees
359

Sigmund Freud, An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, in Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition

of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 17, trans. James Strachey et al.
(London : Vintage, Hogarth Press, 2001), pp.29-47. The section which refers to the primal scene is
titled The Dream and the Primal Scene.
360

Sigmund Freud, An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, p.29.

361

Maurice Blanchot, A Primal Scene?, in Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, p.72. A

number of commentaries have been written on A Primal Scene?, see Hlne Cixous, Readings: The

166

through a window, he sees the garden, the wintry trees, the wall of a house. He
then slowly looks up toward the ordinary sky, with clouds, grey light pallid daylight
without death. Blanchot continues,
What happens then: the sky, the same sky, suddenly open, absolutely black and
absolutely empty, revealing (as though the pane had broken) such an absence that all
has since always and forevermore been lost therein so lost that therein is affirmed
and dissolved the vertiginous knowledge that nothing is what there is, and first of all
nothing beyond. The unexpected aspect of this scene (its interminable feature) is the
feeling of happiness that straightaway submerges the child, the ravaging joy to which
he can bear witness only by tears, an endless flood of tears. He is thought to suffer a
childish sorrow; attempts are made to console him. He says nothing. He will live
henceforth in the secret, He will weep no more. (WD, p.72; Blanchots italic)

The same ordinary sky shrinks its whiteness, invaded by the darkness, and blackens
everything. There is a twist from brightness to all darkness. The twist can be compared
with that when Orpheus leaves the bright world and enters the darkness of the
underground. The extreme darkness in the sky prevents any light from existing and all
things disappear. The absolutely empty sky with an absence that all has since
always and forevermore been lost therein entails the notion of il y a that is prior to the
nothingness and being. The child (lenfant) is an infant, unable to speak (OED: Latin,
infans unable to speak). How can an infant tell such primal scene of nothing
without any speech? What would this experience of the obscure, in which the obscure
offered itself in its obscurity, be?362 How can we live without the unknown before
us?363 Does Blanchot answer these questions by his writing, that is by literature?
Does Blanchot mean that literature whose transgression that transgresses nothing is
like the infant who can see the obscure nothing through the daylight of ordinary sky?
Does the primal scene of the infant who is unable to speak and narrate find its
coming by means of a writer named Blanchot? Such unexpected change can be seen
Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kafka, Kleist, Lispector, and Tsvetayeva, ed, and trans. Verena Andermatt
Conley (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992), pp.19-27; Kevin Hart, The Dark Gaze: Maurice
Blanchot and the Sacred (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp.50-75; Lars Iyer, Blanchot's
Vigilance: Literature, Phenomenology and the Ethical (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005),
pp.117-132.
362

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.51.

363

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.298. The question is a quotation from the first line of

Ren Chars Argument at the beginning of his Le Pome pulvris. See my discussion in the chapter
on neutre (Chapter 3).

167

as a disaster to the child. The child is the witness of such disaster. No one can see this
disaster except the child. Words of consolation do not help him. In fact, he has the
feeling of happiness and ravaging joy which is buried in the witness of tears. The
scene that nothing is, is a secret henceforth pertaining to the child. The secret of
the nothing remains unspeakable but is approachable by literature. Strangely in the
same book, Blanchot includes his commentary on the rcit A Primal Scene? (WD,
pp. 114-116). The commentary is in the form of dialogues between two unnamed
persons. The authors commentary is de-faced and split into two anonymous
commentators. The rcit including the secret of nothing is commented on in the
scene (drama) of conversation of anonymity. I suggest that such self-commentary by
Blanchot is pluralized in literature, through the doubling of commentators, the effacing
of the name of Blanchot into impersonality, the repetition of the A Primal Scene? by
rewriting.364
A reading of Blanchots rcit is to read it as a medical history or a medical case
for the Infantile Neurosis as like Freuds analysis. In this case, the rcit A Primal
Scene? can be read as an illusion, a dream or neurosis arisen from a child suffering
from serious illness. I read it in this way on the basis of the knowledge of Blanchots
poor health since childhood as discussed at the beginning of Chapter 4. The rcit has a
somber tone of relating to diseases and the aftereffect (close to a heartbeat no more,
pallid, to suffer a childish sorrow).365 However, I do not pursue in this manner of
reading. I rather prefer reading the rcit as a primal scene. In such way, the rcit can
be linked to rewriting which will help the discussion on the insistence of literature.
According to Ned Lukacher who wrote a book on Primal Scene relating it to
literature, philosophy and psychoanalysis,

364

A Primal Scene? in the book The Writing of the Disaster is already a repetition or rewriting of the

essay A Primal Scene (Une scne primitive) appeared in 1976. It is noted that a question mark was
added in the title in the book. The commentary on A Primal Scene? appeared first in 1978 which is
also re-written again in the book. There is a doubling of the rcit as well as a doubling of the
commentary. Or we shall say that the rcit has already been written four times before other writers
commentaries.
365

Or if not reading A Primal Scene? autobiographically, is it possible to read the rcit as inspired by

or as a rewriting (intentionally or not) of the Fourth Elegy of Rilkes Duino Elegies, which shows the
usage of similar words like, winterly, child, garden, nothing and dying. See Rainer Maria Rilke,
Duino Elegies, trans. C.F. MacIntyre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), pp. 28-33.

168

The primal scene is constituted in an unlocatable, undecidable zone of temporal


difference, a zone of diffrance which differs from itself, a difference which lacks
identity or self-sameness.366

The primal scene is not a temporally originary zone that is unlocatable, undecidable.
It inherently disrupts temporal linearity, as something that is missing somewhere in
time may appear later in the future which may point to a past or even a future.
Blanchots A Primal Scene? may indicate something that happened in the past. At the
same time, the primal scene is an event of reading/writing in the present, the past or
the future as well as a rcit about the unspeakable child that appears now or
somewhere in time. It is a scene that is deferred in time and is an indeterminate
difference. The difference is undecidable, for Blanchot and the child can be the same
person, or the fictive child is a character in the rcit or the rcit is a recounting of
someones events in childhood. The identity and sameness of the primal scene is
disrupted by its demand of the return. The return does not imply the location of the
primal scene. The rcit acts a gap or an interruption in someones (Blanchots) life that
recurs again that each time as a singular event that happened somewhere in (the past)
time. Similarly, the rcit The Instant of My Death instantiates itself as the primal
scene.
Lukacher relates the primal scene of Freud to Heideggers Being-unto-death.
He also refers to Lacans great achievement to have joined Freud and Heidegger.367
He reads Lacans essay The Function of Speech and Language and makes reference
to Heideggers importance to Lacans thinking of Freuds death drive. Lacan writes,
[T]he death instinct essentially expresses the limit of the subjects historical function.
This limit is death not as the possible end date of the individuals life, nor as the
subjects empirical certainty , but, as Heidegger puts it, as that possibility which is the
subjects ownmost, which is unconditional, unsurpassable, certain, and such
368

indeterminable the subject being understood as defined by his historicity.


366

Ned Lukacher, Primal Scene: Literature, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis (Ithaca: Cornell University

Press, 1986), p.38.


367

Ned Lukacher, Primal Scene: Literature, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, p.39.

368

Jacques Lacan, The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, in Jacques

Lacan, crits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Bruce Fink, Hlose Fink and Russell Grigg
(New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2006), p.262. Heideggers words in Lacans quotation are read as As
the end of Da-sein, death is the ownmost nonrelational, certain, and, as such, indefinite and not to be
bypassed possibility of Da-sein.; See Martin Heidegger, Being and Time: a Translation of Sein und Zeit,

169

Lacan invokes Heideggers notion of possible death to relate it to Freuds death


drive (or instinct). Blanchot does not invoke the term death drive in his work such as
The Step/Not Beyond.369 He shares the meanings of it as explicated in the terms: death,
dying, passivity and repetition in Freuds Beyond the Pleasure Principle.370
Heideggers notion of death is comparatively more impregnated in Blanchots mind,
though Blanchot twists possibility into impossibility. The importance of
psychoanalysis for Blanchots works is much less explicit when compared to that of
the philosophical works. However, Blanchots awareness of the works of
psychoanalysis is far from minimal. Blanchot read and wrote on Lacans essay The
Function of Language in Psychoanalysis in 1956, which is the same year of
publication of Lacans essay.371 Blanchots essay in 1956 is later collected in The
Infinite Conversation with the title The Speech of Analysis. In this essay, the speech
of the psychoanalyst (with the patient) is the topic of discussion. Blanchot considers
that Freuds discovery of the phenomenon of transference enables the doctor
(psychoanalyst) to play the role of another, is other, and is the other [lautre] before an
other [autrui] ([le mdecin] joue par sa seule prsence le role dun autre, il est autre
et lautre avant de devenir autrui). Besides, the language of the psychoanalyst is the
invention of a language that in an evocative and persuasive matter permitted him to
retrace the movement of human experience, its knots, and the movements of a conflict,
insoluble but demanding resolution (IC, p.231). Blanchots concern here points to a
language that is not dialectic but is magic and the movement of another speech
(une autre parole). The another speech is not the common speech in the dialectic but
is a language that brings out the conflicts and knots of human experience that
cannot be spoken through a common speech. Blanchot is to search for another speech
for the enigma, for literature and even the enigmatic question of literature.
Blanchot also notices the importance of the primary event in Freud which is
similar to the term primal scene. Blanchot writes,
[A] primary event (un vnement premaire) that is individual and proper to each
trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), p.239.
369

Blanchot uses the word drive: the drive of the enigma that Freud, in naming Unconscious.

Blanchot links the Unconscious to the traits of the neuter which slips away as much from affirmation
as from negation. See Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.305.
370

Alan Bourassa, Blanchot and Freud: The Step/Not Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Substance,

No.78 (1995), p.114.


371

See Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.454, n.3; Maurice Blanchot, Freud, La

Nouvelle Revue Franaise, No. 45, September 1956, pp. 484-496.

170

history, a scene (une scne) constituting something important and overwhelming, but
also such that the one who experiences it can neither master nor determine it, and
which he has essential relations of insufficiency. (IC, p.231)

Blanchot uses the term primary event but not primal scene probably because he
did not evoke the latter term in his early work. Blanchot reads an early work of
Freud.372 He sees Freuds passion for the origin and reads the origin in another way
that is not a beginning inasmuch each scene is always ready to open onto a prior
scene. Therefore, the primal scene is a repetition of an older scene. The origin is
de-centered. The incessant repetition of the primal scene does not give the supreme
origin that hinges the last resort but shows something that is only a movement of
repetition without any content. The origin is the nothing, as in the absolutely darkness
and absolutely emptiness in Blanchots A Primal Scene?. In reading Freuds early
works, Blanchot discovers that Freuds source of [the work of] neurosis is no longer
in a real scene of seduction (it happened, strangely, that all his patients had a father, an
uncle, or a brother who had seduced them in childhood).373 It is the fictive nature of
Freuds (some of the) cases. What is more interesting to Blanchot is the insufficiency
in the ability of the child. He writes,
For the infant, everything is exterior, a radical exteriority without unity, a dispersion
without anything dispersed. This absence, which is the absence of nothing, is at first
the infants sole experience It is always around lack, and through the exigency of the
lack, that is the unconscious: the negation that is not simply a desire, but a relation
to what is wanting desire. A desire whose essence is eternally to be desire: a desire
for what is impossible to attain, and even to desire. (IC, p.232)

To read Blanchots A Primal Scene? in terms of the notion of the infant, the
above quotation, reveals that what the infant sees in the rcit is already immersed in
the radical exteriority without unity. The sky is not a white sky but is split with the
darkness at its back. Whether it is white or black, the sky is nothing as what it is.
Literature, as read in this perspective, contains nothing and the absence of nothing,
but is dissimulated as the radical exteriority without unity. Another insistence of
literature is manifested in the nothing is what there it is.
372

Blanchot reads Freuds La naissance de la psychanalyse. The translator of The Infinite Conversation

gives more details to the reference: Sigmund Freud, La naissance de la psychanalyse, letters Wilhelm,
notes et plans, 1887-1902 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1979, c.1956). See Maurice Blanchot,
The Infinite Conversation, p.454, n1.
373

See Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.454, n1.

171

Chapter 6: The Insistence of Literature: Commitment and Autonomy

In this final chapter, I come to the issues of ethics and politics as these are derived
from the writings of Blanchot and Derrida. I will explore these issues through the
notions of autonomy and commitment of literature through the comparison of the
points of view of Blanchot and Theodor W. Adorno. Before I go to the discussion on
commitment and autonomy, I will explicate why Adornos works are brought into the
discussion in the reading of Blanchots and Derridas works on literature. First of all, I
will find the place of Adornos works in Derrida and link Adorno with Blanchot and
Derrida on the notion of The Book to Come.
Adorno, Blanchot and Derrida
Theodor W. Adorno is a German philosopher, sociologist, musician and literary
writer. He is a representative of the Frankfurt School in which critical theory (which
influences later cultural studies) is developed.374 Various works have been devoted to
the life and works of Adorno.375 In the following, I will work out the literary relation
between the German philosopher and the two French writers, Derrida and Blanchot.
Derrida does not have much discussion on Adorno in his writing. In 2001,
Derrida was awarded a prize, the Adorno Prize in the city of Frankfurt in Germany.
Derrida gave a speech entitled Fichus for the award and he talked about Adorno then.
The speech was later published in French in 2002.376 The English translation of the
speech is collected in a book called Paper Machine.377 In the speech or the essay

374

For the details of the Frankfurt School and critical theory, see Martin Jay, The Dialectical

Imagination: a History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950 (London:
Heinemann, 1973); Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter
Benjamin and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: Free Press, 1977); David Held, Introduction to Critical
Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas (London: Hutchinson, 1980).
375

Martin Jay, Adorno (Cambridge: Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984); Willem van

Reijen, Adorno: an Introduction, trans. Dieter Eugelbrecht (Philadelphia: Pennbridge Books, 1992);
Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971), pp.3-59.
376

Jacques Derrida, Fichus (Paris: Galile, 2002).

377

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford:

Stanford University Press, 2005), pp.164-181.

172

Fichus, Derrida puts forward a question about dreams and knowledge about
dreaming,
Whats the difference between dreaming and thinking youre dreaming? And first of
all who has the right to ask that question? The dreamer deep in the experience of his
night or the dreamer when he wakes up? And could a dreamer speak of his dream
without waking himself up? Could he name a dream in general? Could he analyze the
dream properly and even use the word dream deliberately without interrupting and
betraying, yes, betraying sleep.378

Derridas replies to these questions are two or three: he thinks that there is a no to
them from any philosopher while the answer is yes from poets, writers, or essayists,
from musicians, painters, playwrights, or scriptwriters. In Derridas words, the
psychoanalysts wouldnt say no, but yes, perhaps sometimes.379 Why are
Derridas answers so aware of division? It is because he wants to show his admiration
for Adornos diversified fields of expertise and his being unhesitating in thinking about
the in-betweenness of the no and yes. Derrida says,
I admire and love in Adorno someone who never stopped hesitating between the
philosophers no and the yes, perhaps, sometimes that does happen of the poet, the
writer or the essayist, the musician, the painter, the playwright, or scriptwriter, or even
the psychoanalyst. Adorno was heir to both. He took account of what the concept,
even the dialectic, could not conceptualize in the singular event, and he did everything
he could to take on the responsibility of this double legacy.380

Adorno, as a philosopher of negative dialectics, would say no to the questions


about thinking the knowledge that one is dreaming. Adorno is a scholar who can write
on various topics, literature, art, music, opera and even social or cultural critique. In
these domains, he affirms that one can have the knowledge of dreaming. I consider that
the dream or dreaming is related to Adornos concept of alienation of the material
world and the instrumental bureaucratic world. Adorno is able to contemplate and
know the dream that people in this instrumental bureaucratic world lives and dreams.
He gives his affirmation in his essays about culture industry and mass deception. One
of them is the essay Commitment which will be discussed later.

378

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Paper Machine, p. 165.

379

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Paper Machine, p. 166.

380

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Paper Machine, p. 166.

173

Derrida mentions in the speech about Adornos book, Minima Moralia.381 There
are a number of short sections that are melancholic meditations on different aspects of
life in Minima Moralia. Adorno gives a description of the method of writing in the
piece Dedication right at the beginning of this book, saying that it begins from
narrower private sphere, that of the intellectual in emigration, to the broader social
and anthropological scope; they concern psychology, aesthetics, science in its relation
to the subject, and with concluding aphorisms thematically also to philosophy. He
wrote this book during WWII, adding that the immediate occasion for writing this
book was Max Horkheimers fiftieth birthday, February 14th, 1945.382 In view of the
devastation of the world and human life during the war, the book has a subtitle
Reflexions from Damaged Life. The separate sections in the book embody the
disconnected and non-binding character of the form and the renunciation of explicit
theoretical cohesion. I consider that Adornos Minima Moralia is to a certain extent
written in a manner that is similar to Blanchots The Writing of the Disaster and The
Step/Not Beyond. The two works of Blanchot are characterised as fragmentary writing
and are made up of fragments. Thus, the forms of Adornos and Blanchots works
mentioned are similar. In Blanchots two pieces of writing, there are fictional pieces
presented like conversations which are interwoven with sections or fragments that
are mediations, thoughts, and critiques in-between. Similarly, in Adornos case, the
sections are written as a dialogue intrieur or conversations with Horkheimer since
Adorno writes, there is not a motif in it that does not belong as much to Horkheimer
as to him who found the time to formulate it.383 Besides, the dialogue intrieur in
Minima Moralia is similar to the non-explicit conversations or dialogues of Bataille
and Levinas as exemplified in Blanchots The Infinite Conversation. Both Adorno and
Blanchots works can be considered as Reflexions from Damaged Life [or Disaster]
after Auschwitz and WWII. In Blanchots case, his writings are the insistent reflexions
of his damaged life in the instant of his death at the firing squad in 1944. Such
damaged life can be interpreted as the notion of dying that permits his insistence on
writing on the notion of death and dying. Despite similarities which have been found,
differences between the works of Adorno and Blanchot must also be noticed. For
instance, there is the presence of the notion of the subject in Adornos Minima
Moralia whereas the notion subject is dissolved in the neutre and fragments in
Blanchots The Writing of the Disaster and The Step/Not Beyond. Adorno may

381

Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflexions from Damaged Life, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott

(London: Verso, 1978).


382

Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p.18.

383

Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p.18.

174

characterize the sections as aphorisms which embody a kind of totality in the sections
themselves while Blanchots sections are fragments eliminating the concept of totality.
Derrida thinks that he shares many similarities with the thinking of Adorno. He
writes,
For decades I have been hearing voices, as they say, in my dreams. They are
sometimes friendly voices, sometimes not. They are voices in me. All of them seem to
be saying to me: why not recognize, clearly and publicly, once and for all, the
affinities between your work and Adornos, in truth your debt to Adorno? Arent you
an heir of the Frankfurt School?

384

To articulate how Derridas thought is similar to Adornos is quite a difficult task, for
they write on various topics and have a huge corpus. Derrida does not make clear the
points of his affinities with Adornos work in the address. My speculation on this issue
is that there are similarities between negative dialectics and deconstruction, which
concern thinking about the other of traditional dominant thought, ideology or the two
dominant poles of binary opposites.
Derrida says, I can and must say yes to my debt to Adorno, and on more than
one count, even if I am not yet capable of responding adequately to it or taking up its
responsibilities.385 Derridas yes or even yes, yes, as mentioned above, is a
repetition of the Yes, yes in his creative essay Pas written on Blanchots works.
Pas is written in a similar style to Adornos Minima Moralia which also has a
number of sections.386 Derrida writes in Pas,
Oui, oui, je reviens toujours (vois ce quil dit du revenir et du tout revient dans Le
Pas au-del) et je voudrais citer plusieurs fois, comme ces rcits lexigent, cela mme
que je ne devrais pas citer, sauf ne jamais le dtourner de son parcours unique.

387

Yes, yes, I always return (see what he [Blanchot] speaks about the return and the
always return [or everything comes again] in The Step/ Not Beyond) and I would
like to quote many times, as those rcits demand it, even the one that I must not quote,
except in never detouring it from its unique journey.

(My translation)

384

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Paper Machine, p. 176.

385

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Paper Machine, p. 176.

386

Jacques Derrida, Pas, in Jacques Derrida, Parages (Paris: Galile, 2003).

387

Jacques Derrida, Pas, in Jacques Derrida, Parages, p. 83.

175

Derrida admits that he always return[s] to and quotes Blanchots rcits because of the
demand of rcits (lexigence du rcits). As discussed in Chapter 4 on the rcit, The
Madness of the Day, the rcit demands more rcits, more re-citation and more
quotations. Blanchot writes in The Step/ Not Beyond,
The revelation of Surlej, revealing that everything comes again, makes the present the
abyss where no presence has ever taken place and where everything comes again
[always return] has always already ruined itself. (SNB, p. 15)

The phrase everything comes again provides the law of returnthe Eternal Return
of the Same that is the idea Friedrich Nietzsche sketches in his work, Thus Spake
Zarathustra (SNB, p.15).388 The revelation of Surlej refers to Nietzsches Ecce
Homo where he tells that the revelation of Surlej makes him write Thus Spake
Zarathustra. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche writes,
Now I shall relate the history of Zarathustra. The fundamental conception of this work,
the idea of eternal recurrence, this highest formula of affirmation that is at all
attainable, belongs in August 1881: it was penned on a sheet with the notation
underneath, 6000 feet beyond man and time. That day I was walking through the
woods along the lake of Silvapana; at a powerful pyramidal rock not far from Surlei
[or Surlej] I stopped. It was then that this idea comes to me.389

The highest formula of affirmation from the idea of eternal recurrence is shared by
both Blanchot and Derrida. In The Infinite Conversation, Blanchot writes on the
Affirmation of Eternal Return. This affirmation is the highest coherence that
nothing other than this coherence is thought and,
this coherence could not but exclude the coherent thought that thinks it; thus always
outside the thought that it affirms and in which it is affirmed: the experience of
thought as coming from Outside and in this way indicating the point of disjunction, of
non-coherence, at which the affirmation of this thought, ever affirming it, already
unseats it. (IC, pp.273-274)

388

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and Nobody, trans. Graham

Parkes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).


389

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J.

Hollingdale; ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p.295.

176

From Blanchots quotation, the Affirmation of Eternal Return affirms the thought of
coherence without coherence that comes from the Outside, as Nietzsche gains a
revelation and inspiration from the mountain of the highest or The Most High (he is
alluding to the title of Blanchots roman, Le Trs-Haut).390 The thought from the
Outside, with the appeal to the Affirmation of Eternal Return, provides Blanchot with
the ideas of disjunction, non-coherence and fragments in writing in The Infinite
Conversation and the writing after.
Coming back to Derridas yes, yes, the section that starts with Yes, yes lists a
number of quotations from Blanchots works in the from x without x or o without o,
such as place without place, distance without distance in The Infinite Conversation;
I without I, destroy without destruction in Discours sur la patience; To live
without living, as dying without death in Une Scne Primitive.391 The x and o
probably allude to the Japanese hand signals of no and yes in which the structure x
without x and o without o can be regarded as neither no nor yes. Derrida explains
that the meaning of o without o is o and yet there is not o (a veut dire o et
pourtant il ny a pas o).392 The not yet nature carries the sense of Come (Viens).
The Yes, yes section starts with a double affirmation and the eternal return that
Everything comes again and goes to the not yet- and Come- affirmation out of the
neither-nor or x without x. It is no wonder that Derridas essay Pas is ended with:
- Viens.

(- Come.)

- Oui, oui.

(- Yes, yes.)

393

After the detour of Pas, Blanchot and Nietzsche, I return to Derridas debt to
Adorno. The nature of yes, yes, not yet and come in Derridas idea of being not
390

Maurice Blanchot, The Most High, trans. Allan Stoekl (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996);

Maurice Blanchot, Le Trs-Haut (Paris: Gallimard, 1948).


391

My translation. See Jacques Derrida, Pas, in Jacques Derrida, Parages, p. 84. It is noted that

Discours sur la patience and Une Scne Primitive (The Primal Scene) are essays published in 1975
and 1978. They are later edited and collected in Blanchots LEcriture du dsaster (The Writing of the
Disaster). See Maurice Blanchot, Discours sur la patience, in Le Nouveau Commerce, No. 30-31,
(1975), pp. 19-44; Maurice Blanchot, Une Scne Primitive, in Le Nouveau Commerce, No. 39-40,
(1978), pp. 43-51; Maurice Blanchot, LEcriture du Dsastre (Paris: Gallimard, 1983), pp.206, 148;
Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1986), pp.136, 95.
392

Jacques Derrida, Pas, in Jacques Derrida, Parages, p.84

393

Jacques Derrida, Pas, in Jacques Derrida, Parages, p.108.

177

yet capable of responding adequately to Adorno, affirms the title of Derridas The
Book to come.394 Derrida in the address on the Adorno Prize declares that he will
come to write a book. He says, If one day I were to write the book I dream of to
interpret the history, the possibility, and the honour of this prize, it would include
seven chapters.395 Why the seven chapters? Derrida does not explain. I suggest that it
is probably referring to the Biblical reference of the seven days of Gods creation of
the world and the always returning nature of the seven days of a week. The seven
chapters of the book are related to the discussion on the comparative history of the
French and German legacies of Hegel and Marx; the political tragedy of the two
countries in relation to the reception and the legacy of Heidegger, Nietzsche and
Freud, Husserl, Benjamin; [t]he interest in psychoanalysis; After Auschwitz;
[a] differential history of the resistances and misunderstandings between German
thinkers, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jrgen Habermas, and the French
philosophers of my generation; the question of literature; and about that [t]he
sovereignty or mastery (Herrschaft) of man over nature is in truth directed against
animals and that one should fight against the ideology concealed in the troubled
interest in animals.396 Derrida gives comparatively more details to each chapter in the
address, except the three chapters on psychoanalysis, After Auschwitz and the
question of literature. The other four chapters are closely related to philosophy which
is Derridas field of study. He speaks less about psychoanalysis in the address
because he considers that psychoanalysis is foreign to German university
philosophers and less about After Auschwitz because of too many of [the debates]
and they are too diverse and complex.397
Derrida gives the following description in the chapter on the question of
literature: the question of literature, at the point where it is indissociable from the
question of language and its institution, would play a crucial role in this [comparative]
history.398 Derrida adds,
What I shared mostly easily with Adorno, even took from him, as did other French
philosophersalthough again in different waysis his interest in literature and in
what, like the other arts, it can critically decenter in the field of university philosophy.
394

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, p. 176. I will give the reference on

The Book to Come in the following discussion.


395

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, p. 177.

396

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, pp. 177-181.

397

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, p. 178.

398

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida,Paper Machine, pp. 179-180.

178

Derrida shares with Adorno the interest of literature and other arts for the critically
decenter[ing] of philosophy. Such a claim manifests itself as Derridas belief in the
importance of literature in the decenter[ing] of philosophy or within deconstruction.
If Derrida and Adorno write incessantly on philosophy, literature will be the
companion of the philosophy which is standing aside in their writing.399 I suggest
that there is an insistence of literature in Adornos and Derridas in their writing on
philosophy.
Derridas book is a Book to Come because he does not complete his book, as he
says, The seven chapters of this history I dream of are already being written, Im
sure.400 Derrida shows his affirmation in the theme of The Book to Come in the
essay Fichus and another essay titled The Book to Come, which is also collected in
his book, Paper Machine.401 The first chapter of Paper Machine is a short discussion
on the title of the book and provides the sources of the essays that are collected in
Paper Machine. Those essays in Paper Machine have already been published in
various newspaper and journals. I suggest that Paper Machine should begin with the
second essay The Book to Come and end with Fichus which tells Derridas Book
to Come. Derridas essay title The Book to Come is a quotation from Blanchots
book The Book to Come. It is also a quotation of Blanchots essay title The Book to
Come in Blanchots book The Book to Come.402 This is an example showing the
always return[ing] nature of Derrida to Blanchots works. Paper Machine, a book
written by Derrida, begins with Blanchot and ends with Adorno, with a linkage of
Derridas writings on the theme of The Book to Come. Paper Machine embodies the
intersections of Adorno, Blanchot and Derrida in the theme of writing and the book.
Blanchots essay The Book to Come (Le Livre Venir) refers to Stphane
Mallarms unfinished project, another Book to Come which is titled Le Livre
(The Book). Mallarm says in the response article, Sur le Thatre et le Livre,
Je crois que Le Littrature, reprise sa source qui est lArt et la Science, nous
fournira un Thatre, dont les reprsentations seront le vrai culte moderne ; un Livre,

399

I borrow the phrase from Blanchots words in Our Clandestine Companion, p. 42.

400

Jacques Derrida, Fichus, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, p. 181.

401

Jacques Derrida, The Book to Come, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby

(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), pp.4-18.


402

Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, in Maurice Blanchot, The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte

Mandell, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 224-244.

179

explication de lhomme, suffisante nos plus beaux rves.

403

I believe that Literature, returned to its source that is Art and Science, furnishes us a
Theatre, of which the representations are the true modern cult; a Book, explanation of
the man, sufficient to our most beautiful dreams. (My translation)

Mallarms words explain that The Book includes the explanation of a theatrical
production of literature, art and science. There are 202 pages of notes in this
unfinished book, describing how about how to produce the performances, including
information such as the number of the Books volumes and pages, its geometrical
dimensions, the quantity of editions, the manner and price of publication, the number
of performances, the number and nature of spectators, the price of tickets, the seating
arrangement, and the staging of the spectacle from the perspective of the performer,
the identity between various aspects of the text and of its performance,
diagrams illustrating the relationship between various textual and performative genres
employed in the Book, and schematic references to the Books thematic content of
poems, or myths.404 The information provided in the Book is related to literature that
includes poetry, theatrical performances, textual reference (perhaps literary reviews),
and the institution of theatre and publication of book with theatrical information and
scripts. Similarly, Derrida writes in his Paper Machine on the institutions of paper,
paper machine (papier-machine) and the book but in a contemporary sense of the
twentieth and twenty-first centuries, such as libraries, bookshops, word processors and
the Internet.
I suggest that the theme of The Book to Come is found coincidently in the
works of Adorno, Derrida and Blanchot. In Blanchots case, it is his writing on the
theme of The Book to Come and on Mallarms The Book to Come. For Derrida,
The Book to Come is his project of writing comparative history between philosophy
(through literature) of France and Germany. Moreover, Derrida has written on
Mallarms The Book to Come in his essay The Double Session.405 Adornos
unfinished project of Aesthetic Theory is his Book to Come.406 The book Aesthetic
403

Stphane Mallarm, Sur le Thatre et le Livre, Oeuvres Compltes, Vol.2, ed. Bertrand Marchal

(Paris: Gallimard, 2003), p.654.


404

Mary Ann Shaw, Performance in the Texts of Mallarm: The Passage from Art to Ritual (University

Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), pp.187-188.


405

Jacques Derrida, The Double Session, in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Alan Bass

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).


406

Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, eds. Gretel Adorn, Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Robert

180

Theory that is available to us now is indeed the less-than-draft of Aesthetic Theory.


The two editors of Aesthetic Theory, Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, write in
Editors Afterword,
Adornos metaphor for works for work of art applies literally to the last philosophical
text on which he worked: The fragment is the intrusion of death into the work. While
destroying it, it removes the stain of semblance. The text of Aesthetic Theory, as it
was in August 1969, which the editors present here as faithfully as possible, is the text
of a work in progress; this is not the form in which Adorno would have published the
book. Several days before his death he wrote in a letter that the final version still
needed a desperate effort but that basically it is now a matter organization and
hardly that of the substance of the book.

407

As the editors point out that Aesthetic Theory (which is a posthumous Book to Come)
lacks in the final revision, shifting of pages, the replacement of the Draft
Introduction and the insertions of the fragments collected as the [the chapter titled]
Paralipomena with its final revisions. Such an unfinished book, if not going
elsewhere within the archives of Adorno, appears in the edited format through the
work of the editors. The edited format is still fragmentary even though some of the
chapters may appear as complete chapters. As there exists fragments in the chapter of
Paralipomena in Aesthetic Theory awaiting for insertion, editing and rewriting, each
chapter becomes an ambiguous, ambivalent and amorphous chapter. It is the death of
Adorno (on August 6, 1969) that interrupts and ruptures the totality of Aesthetic
Theory, making chapters stand as fragments. I also suggest that fragmentary writings
are found coincidently in the works of Adorno, Derrida and Blanchot: Aesthetic
Theory for Adorno, The Step/Not Beyond and The Writing of the Disaster for Blanchot,
and Pas and Glas for Derrida.408
The above discussion shows that the notions of The Book to come and the
fragmentary can be found in the works of Adorno, Blanchot and Derrida. Although
these are just observations about their works, I regard these similarities as an instance
of literature in showing that literature insists on its writing and producing through the
institutions of The Book to Come. Besides, the fragmentary character manifests the
Hullor-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
407

Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, Editors Afterword, in Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory,

p.361.
408

Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey and Richard Rand (Lincoln: University of Nebraska

Press, 1986).

181

de-centering nature of literature and the often incompleteness of the works of literature,
awaiting for one and the other, or the impersonality to insist on writing.

Adornos Commitment
I will discuss Adornos essay Commitment first before I go on to the
comparison between Adornos and Blanchots notions of literature, so that I can
examine the issues of ethics and politics in literature. Adornos essay comments on the
social and political aspects of art and literature. The discussion will try to see how
Adorno thinks about two radically different kinds of art: committed art and
autonomous art. Adorno thinks that art and literature should have a mission in society.
This claim seems not to be practised in Blanchots notion of literature. Blanchots
literature and notions of literature seem to be within the category of autonomous art, as
literature begins by questioning itself. I will try to work out the notions of art and
literature of these two writers and see whether Blanchots literature is autonomous by
reading the problematic issues in Adornos concepts of commitment and autonomy. In
this sense, the ethics and political issues of Blanchots literature are highlighted.
Adornos essay Commitment was written in 1962.409 It was written at the same time
as when the German translation of Sartres What is Literature? appeared.410 At the
beginning of the essay, Adorno urges a debate between committed literature (art) and
autonomous literature (art). He thinks that there are problems in the thinking of the
real interest of committed art and of autonomous art. Adorno thinks that autonomous
art neglects the fetish character of art itself: a work of art is itself a fetish for a cult
and a dream of apoliticism existing away from any real political interests. Besides, he
considers that autonomous art (i.e. art for arts sake) cannot detach itself from reality
since it denies that ineradicable connection with reality which is a priori contained in
409

Adornos Commitment was initially a talk on Radio Bremen in March 28, 1962 with the title

Engagement oder Kunsterische Autonomie. It was then published in Die Neue Rundschau Vol. 73,
No.1 (1962). It was later collected in Adornos book Noten zur Literatur III (Frankfurt au Main:
Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974). This essay is translated in English by Francis McDonagh and given the title
Commitment, firstly published in New Left Review, Vol. 87-88 (1974) pp.75-89. It was later collected
in a book: Ernst Bloch (ed.), Aesthetics and Politics (London: NLB, 1977) pp.177-195 with the editior
of translation Ronald Taylor. Another English translation of Commitment can be found in a book :
Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature Vol. 2, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp.76-94.
410

The information is taken from the editors description in Presentation IV, in Ernst Bloch (ed.),

Aesthetics and Politics (London: NLB, 1977), p.146.

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art's autonomy. For committed art, Adorno points out that its real interest is how
people can be distanced from the cultural commodity and alienated society. In
Adornos sense, committed art should be a critique of the reality of alimentation and
reification through its art, but it turns out that committed art misses this point.
Adornos essay is a critique of committed literature (littrature engage) which is
recommended by Jean-Paul Sartre in What is literature?.411 Sartre writes in the
book, [t]he committed writer knows that words are actions. He knows that to reveal
is to change and that gone can reveal only by planning to change.412 Words are the
means that a writer can change the world. The instrumental use of language and the
transparency of meaning are important for Sartres committed literature. Sartre
considers that poetry cannot have committed action, since he says, [p]oets are men
who refuse to utilize language.413 He adds, [p]rose is, in essence, utilitarian. I would
readily define the prose-writer as a man who makes use of words.414 The readers part
in the actions of committed literature is also considered by Sartre: reading is a pact of
generosity between author and reader. Each one trusts the other, each one counts on
the other, demands of the other as much as he demands of himself. Sartre affirms that
literature has the moral imperative as he says, literature is one thing and morality a
quite different one, at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral
imperative.415 By means of the mutual trust of the writer and the reader, Sartre
believes in human freedom and morality in literature, Sartre conceives writing should
be committed, [w]riting is a certain of wanting freedom; once you have begun, you
are committed, willy-nilly.416 Sartres ideas of committed literature can be
summarized as,
Sartres argument is that all literature implicitly presents a certain world-view, and that
the novelist cannot escape the political and ethical consequences of the kind of world
she or he presents to readers. For this reason, writers should also be committed in a

411

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is literature? and Other Essays (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard

University Press, 1988), pp. 34-41.


412

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is literature? and Other Essays, p.37.

413

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is literature? and Other Essays, p.29.

414

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is literature? and Other Essays, p.34. Sartres politics of prose and poetry

is re-valued in Holliers book: Denis Hollier, The Politics of Prose: Essay on Sartre, trans. Jeffrey
Mehlman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
415

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is literature? and Other Essays, p.67.

416

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is literature? and Other Essays, p.69.

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fully conscious sense, recognizing the influence of their works and using this in a
positive way to work for a better, fairer, and freer world.

417

In order to explicate his claims, Adorno uses Sartres What is Literature? as an


example of committed literature. Sartre mentions Picasso and Valry in What is
Literature? as what Adorno also does in Commitment. Adorno mentions Picasso's
painting Guernica in Commitment in order to show that Sartre is incorrect in
positioning literature as the only art form of commitment and in neglecting painting
and music (AP, p.178).418 That painting was a committed piece commissioned by the
Spanish Popular Front Government for the Spanish pavilion in the World Fair in Paris
in 1937. Picasso has said that that painting is propaganda with deliberate appeals to
people.419 Sartre comments in What is Literature?, that masterpiece, The
Massacre of Guernica, does anyone think that it won over a single heart to the
Spanish cause?.420 Sartre thinks that the painting is not committed art since it cannot
give meaning clearly as he considers Picasso's painting as being haunted with
inexplicable meaning.421 He thinks that literature can give meaning and message
clearly, hence he comments that the word passes through our gaze as the glass across
the sun.422 In fact, Sartre quotes Paul Valrys poem Interior: as [the] glass will
move across the sun (Comme passe le verre au travers du soleil).423 That kind of
meaning which can be as transparent as the glass passing through the sun is a kind of
communicative aspect of language. However, Adorno believes that the communicative
aspect of language is neither the artistic aspect in literature nor the publicist aspect of
art or the message of a work (AP, p.179). Besides, Adorno comments that the
communicative aspect can easily be utilized by a Fascist political party. It is easy to see
that the works of a writer can be demagogically denounced by local guardians of the
authentic message and banished for publication (AP, p.179). For example, Lukacs
writings for all their ostensible compliance with Stalinist etiquette were soon (1949)
417

Peter France (ed.), The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French (Oxford: Clarendon Press,

1995), p.281.
418

For Pablo Picassos painting, The Massacre of Guernica, and its production and meanings, refer to:

Herschel B. Chipp, Picassos Guernica: History, Transformation, Meanings (Berkeley: University of


California Press, 1988).
419

Susan Rubin Suleiman, 'Committed Painting' in A New History of French Literature (ed.) Denis

Hollier (Massachusetts, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994) pp.935-939.


420

Jean Paul Sartre, What is Literature? and Other Essays, p.28.

421

Jean Paul Sartre, What is Literature? and Other Essays, p.28.

422

Jean Paul Sartre, What is Literature? and Other Essays, p.35.

423

Paul Valry, Selected Writings of Paul Valry (New York: New Directions, 1964) pp.67-68.

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violently assailed for revisionism and his books ceased to appear.424 In addition,
the communicative aspect can also be utilized by the fascist political party to direct the
propaganda to the targeted public in producing conformism (AP, p.179).
Sartres philosophy is existentialist in believing the human subject is free to
choose his way and meaning of living in this world. Adorno suspects the possibility of
freedom of choice when a subject lives in an alienated world. Adorno argues that
[w]ithin a predetermined reality, freedom becomes an empty claim and there is only
unfreedom in the whole administered universe (AP, p.180). Hence, in the alienated
world of capitalism and consumption, there is no alternative for a subject. Besides,
Adorno comments that arts function is not to spotlight alternatives but to resist by
its form alone the course of the [alienated] world (AP, p.180). The act of resistance
is Adornos way to leave this administered world but not a free choice of illusory
alternatives. The subjectivism of Sartre's philosophy is also questioned by Adorno
since Sartre, though a Marxist, believes in the power of a subject to choose and
neglects the objectivity and the reality of unfreedom (AP, p.181). Adorno is also a
Marxist and his concept of alienation or objectification is materialistic in basis. Hence,
the effects of the society on the subject or subjects responsibility on the society should
not be neglected. Adorno also comments that Sartres plays cannot promote his
philosophy since it is a flat objectivity and a communication of his own philosophy
(AP, p.182). Adorno disregards shallow perspectives in thinking about the world and
he stresses dialectical thinking. He comments that Sartres method lacks dialectic of
form and expression, probably as a result of Sartres belief in transparent meaning.
Without dialectics, Sartre's plays make the audience passively receive clear meaning
and lack self-reflexivity in the culture industry or the capitalist administered world.
After the critical discussion on Sartres notion of committed art, Adorno continues
his critiques of Brechts plays as committed art against alienation of the society.
Adorno comments on Brecht, that in transforming reality into theatre he fails to depict
the accuracy of the administered reality as he tries to maintain both the didactic and
the aesthetic nature in his plays (AP, p.183). Hence, it reduces the power of his plays
in showing the alienation. Adorno neglects Brechts alienation effect in his theatres.
That break from the theater produces conscious effect on the audience. In Brechts The
Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Brecht sets the German political scene in a grocery market
and dockyard, and makes Hitler a mere gang leader. The comedic play fails as satire,
because, as Adorno comments, the political reality is trivialized (AP, p.185).425
424

Editors Presentation IV in Aesthetics and Politics (London: NLB, 1977), p.142.

425

Bertolt Bercht, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, trans. Ralph Manheim, eds. John Willet and Ralph

185

Adorno rejects any parodying aspect of comedy as a form of expression in theatres or


art as being inadequate to represent events. And the didactic nature, insisted on by
Brecht, becomes a formal device, hence it turns the plays commitment into
autonomous art which amounts, basically, to formalism (AP, p.185). Such a change
further minimises the critical effect of commitment. In the same way, Adornos style of
writing is also a formal device which minimises the effect of his writing. Adornos
style can be seen in the instance of the essay Commitment. The essay is difficult,
partly because of the debates between commitment and autonomy, and partly because
of Adornos style. He does not give clear definitions of what committed art or
autonomous art is. In discussing committed art, he shows the negative aspect of art (art
for arts sake). He often uses negative sense and even double negative in giving his
meaning. I suggest that this method is related to Adornos negative dialectics. The
reader is forced to think between the positive sense and the negative sense in order to
grasp his meaning, and create his own dialectics between the positive sense and the
negative sense (or even the double negative). The reader goes through an alienated
essay which is never in an easy-going or pleasing way as the works in the culture
industry. Such a style of writing is Adornos dialectic form and expression (AP,
p.182); Adornos writing requires expert readers. Readers without sufficient
knowledge of art, philosophy and culture industry cannot read dialectically, and will
drop his works, and return to the mass culture which he dismisses. If Adornos
didactic writing is targeted for a particular group of readers, it is similar to what
Adorno comments on the propagandist writing such as [n]ewspaper and magazines of
radical Right as Adorno writes they know their readers (AP, p.179).
Adorno also comments that Brecht always stresses that the theatre is more
important than any changes in the world it might promote (AP, p.185). Brechts words
in fact are parallel to the idea of art for arts sake which neglects social realities.
Similarly, Adornos writing also neglects the mass culture of the social reality.
Although he resists mass culture, his writing is, arguably, too remote for the public to
have an effect. Besides, Adorno criticizes Brecht does know that the society of his
own age [can] no longer be directly comprehended in terms of people and things, and
he uses a false social model to reconstruct the reality of society and dramatic
implausibility in his Mother Courage (AP, p.187).426 That kind of false social model
is in fact an ideology in giving a false reality or false consciousness to the audience,
hence it helps maintain the alienated world. Adorno regards these as the deceptions of
Manheim (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001).
426

Bertolt Bercht, The Good Person of Szechwan, Mother Courage and Her Children, Fear and Misery

of the Third Reich, trans. John Willet, (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993), pp. 95-182.

186

commitment (AP, p. 187). It seems the false social model gives the problem of
mimesis and representation.

Commitment and Autonomy


Brechts didactic idea is similar to Adornos, as Adorno writes in Commitment,
[Brecht] too wanted to educate the spectators to a new attitude that would be
distanced, thoughtful, and experimental, the reverse to illusory empathy and
identification (AP, p.182). Both want to reveal the illusory identifications which
characterize the alienated society, and urge the spectators or the readers to be
thoughtful and distanced from the society. Adorno comments that Brechts plays are
didactic, saying that the term is applied to works of literature which are designed to
expound a branch of theoretical or practical knowledge, or else to embody, in
imaginative or fictional form, a moral, religious, or philosophical doctrine or
theme.427 In the same way, Adornos writing like Commitment is also didactic as it
urges readers to take a certain kind of theoretical or philosophical knowledge or
actions in reading literature or in living in the alienated society. This point can be
considered as commitment in literature or art. Adorno also warns against the
progression of commitment to propaganda or propagandist art as he writes in
Commitment, [e]ven if politically motivated, commitment in itself remains
politically polyvalent so long as it is not reduced to propaganda, whose pliancy mocks
any commitment by the subject (AP, p.178). The term politically polyvalent (which
is translated in Nicholsens translation as politically ambiguous) can be argued as
poly-power or poly-competency since the Latin root of valency (valentia) means
power or competency.428 Arts commitment is hence politically poly-power,
depending on the subject (artist or reader), as the valency of polyvalent metal ion
which depends on both the intrinsic property of the metal (i.e. art) and also the
environmental (i.e. social) condition in which the metal (i.e. art) is situated. If
committed art is monolithically tuned according to the dominant political party, the
politically poly-power of arts commitment is reduced to propaganda, so that it forfeits
both the intrinsic and fait social properties of art. Adorno in fact tries to warn against
the Fascist nature of the political party. However, political can mean either an attitude
or tendency towards some kind of ideas and practice, or something related to political
427

M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1993) p. 44.

428

Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature Vol. 2 (ed.) Rolf Tiedemann, (trans.) Shierry Weber

Nicholsen, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992) p.77. The Latin root of valency is from The
Oxford English Dictionary.

187

party or political movement. It will complicate the problem of commitment if it means


an attitude towards some ideas and practice. Can propaganda be applied politically in
promoting a writer's or an artists own ideas monolithically? I consider Adornos
notion of subject as one that knows how to distinguish the alienated nature of
capitalism and can see such alienation in the field of culture and art. Hence, committed
artists or writers cannot produce successful monolithic propaganda since readers can
have choices in thinking about the works of art.429
Both Brecht and Sartre are political not in the sense that they are related to a
political party, but in promoting their own ideas of thinking about the world and the
society. Adorno does not oppose their political motives. He disagrees with both
writers methods but most importantly reveals their failure in recognizing that they are
falling in the same trap which they try to attack. Adorno thinks that Sartre is wrong in
believing in meanings which can be transferred from art to society (AP, p.182).
Similarly, Adorno thinks Brecht is wrong in his method in transferring reality to art
since it involves aesthetic reduction and innumerable mediation in translat[ing] the
true hideousness of society into theatrical appearance, by dragging it straight out of its
camouflage (AP, p.183). It is difficult to grasp the mediation between art and society
in giving the message of alienation, but it is equally difficult to grasp Adornos
in-betweenness of arts autonomy and arts commitment. The situation is complicated
as I would consider arts autonomy as a kind of commitment and arts commitment (to
society) as a kind of autonomy.
Adorno seems to refuse arts commitment since he disagrees with Sartres and
Brechts art. In discussing arts commitment in revealing the suffering in Auschwitz
and genocide, he uses his favorite composer Schoenbergs Survivor of Warsaw as an
example.430 He comments that Schoenbergs piece elicits enjoyment out of it - out of
the artistic representation of the sheer physical pain of people (AP, p.189). I believe
that Adorno relates Schoenbergs method to the culture industry which produces
enjoyment without doing justice to victims. However, Adorno does not explicitly give
a solution to that. He considers autonomous art as a solution. Adorno thinks that there
are two kind of arts autonomy: art for arts sake (Dada) and the kind of literature of
Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett and the music of Schenberg.431 He disregards the
429

On this issue, one can compare it with Barthes notion of the death of the author. See Roland Barthes,

The Death of the Author in Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), pp.
142-148.
430

Arnold Schnberg: A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46 (1947).

431

For Adornos view on Kafkas works, see Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry

188

autonomy of art for arts sake since it is arts own fetish without taking the society and
history into account and hence will not change the society. Adorno believes the
autonomy of works [of art] can avoid popularization and adaptation to the market,
maintain the distance from empirical reality and at the same time be partly
mediated by that reality. He further adds that the material content and formal
category of artistic creation in fact originate in the empirical reality from which [they]
break free (AP, p.190). Adorno considers Becketts works, as an example of
autonomous art, refuse to be traded for comfort, give total dislocation, to the point
of worldlessness and remove every commitment to the world. In this way, Adorno
praises Becketts and Kafkas works over other committed works as the inescapability
of their works compels the change of attitude which committed works merely
demands (AP, p.191). Becketts and Kafkas works are described by some people as
literature of the absurd, irrelevant to the real situation of the society. In this way, the
readers will not think of the kind of alienation which Adorno resists but they will enjoy
reading Kafka and Becketts works.

Adorno and Blanchot on Literature


Having considered Adornos thinking on commitment (politics) in art and
literature, I return to Blanchots politics of literature, and compare what Blanchot and
Adorno have written on literature. Blanchot's insistence on writing on literature can be
considered as a commitment to literature to approach the being of that literature
exists, the question of what literature is. I suggest that Blanchots approach to politics
by literature is by the insistence on the nature of ek-sistence and en instance through
his various notions of literature: dsoeuvrement, neutre, fragmentary, otherness, and
the demand of writing. It is not an immediate action of politics but is the contestation
of politics through radical interrogation. In terms of literature as the questioning of
literature itself, it appears that Blanchots literature falls in the domain of autonomous
art. However, in a comparison between Adornos and Blanchots views on the
relationship between art and modern Western culture, Gerald Bruns points out that
Weber (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1983), pp. 243-271; for Adornos view on Samuel
Becketts works, see Theodor W. Adorno, Trying to Understand Endgame in Theodor W. Adorno,
Notes to Literature Vol. 1, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1991) p.241-275. For Adornos comments on Schenbergs music, see Theodor W.
Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music, trans. Anne G. Mitchell and Wesley V. Blomster (London: Sheed
& Ward, 1987), pp.29-133; Theodor W. Adorno, Quasi una fantasia: Essays on Modern Music, trans.
Rodney Livingstone (London: Verso, 1992), pp.225-248.

189

Blanchot never speaks of the autonomy of art. His anarchism extends (both in theory
and in practice) to the work of art itself, which is not a thing that ever comes into
existence as such. The work is always a dsoeuvrement, an unworking of that logic of
labor and discourse. Writing is always a fragmentary event. But we must wait to take
up this matter.432

Adornos notions of the autonomy of art and literature try to weave a kind of
commitment of art and literature to the society for the avoidance of alienation and
corruption by the culture industry. The importance here is to have the autonomy of the
readers and writers, especially if they are educated and subtle enough to differentiate
the alienation and corruption from the benefits and appreciation of artwork and
literature. In other words, Adorno believes in a kind of commitment in work of art and
literature since he considers that artwork cannot be detached from society and reality
of life. In contrast, Blanchots thinking of literature is an ontological questioning of
literature, that is a meditation on literature after bracketing the phenomenon of
literature (including its production, producers and readers, books) from the world,
including society and the reality. Blanchots way of thinking of literature is to such
extent that literature is for literatures sake. But there is a difference between Adorno
and Blanchot in treating literature. They share a similarity in their obscure writing
and the pre-requisite of the readers to be sophisticated in reading serious literary work,
not those kinds of writing for the sake of consumer markets or airport reading. To
some extent, they agree with the autonomy of literature. In Blanchots case, he
believes that literature is autonomous for the becoming of literature while in Adornos
case, he believes in the kind of literature that is autonomous in enlightening the
autonomy of man away from the alienation of the world and society.
Next, I will discuss how Blanchot reads Adornos ideas of art and society. In an
essay Ars Nova collected in The Infinite Conversation, Blanchot gives a reading of

432

Gerald L. Bruns, Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins

University Press, 1997), p.xxiii. Further comparison between Adornos and Blanchots reading on the
story of Odysseus and the Sirens can be found in Vivian Liska, Two Sirens Singing: Literature as
Contestation in Maurice Blanchot and Theodor W. Adorno, in Kevin Hart and Geoffrey H. Hartman
(eds.), The Power of Contestation: Perspectives on Maurice Blanchot (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2004), pp.80-100. For discussion on Blanchots and Sartres committed writing, see
Ian Maclahan, Engaged Writing: Commitment and Responsibility from Heidegger to Derrida in Forum
for Modern Language Studies, 2006, Vol.42, No.2, pp. 109-125.

190

Thomas Manns novel, Doctor Faustus.433 In this novel, the protagonist Adrian
Leverkhn is a musician who learns the twelve-tone method for composing music that
is taught by a character who Mann writes as a figure of Adorno.434 In fact, it is Adorno
who teaches Mann the composition method and assists him in bringing it to the novel.
Blanchot quotes Adorno in the essay and he writes,
Adorno says with regard to this new music let us keep this designation, which is in
fact quite unsatisfactory the following: If atonality may well originate in the
decision to rid music of every convention, it by the same token carries within itself
something barbaric that is capable of perturbing always anew the artistically composed
surface; dissonant harmony sound as though it had not been entirely mastered by
civilizing principle of order: in its breaking up, the work of Webern remains almost
entirely primitive. (IC, p.346)435

After Adornos words, Blanchot refers barbarous to the dissonance of the sounds and
the composition that breaks conventions and rules. This is a kind of violence, or
demand which is what Blanchot posits in his thinking of literature. Blanchot
explicates,
[T]he technique [of twelve-tone method] suspend[s] the already organized meaning
of the musical object; in a word we will come back to this to destroy the illusion
that music, in and by its nature, would have a value of beauty independent of historical
decision and of the musical experience itself. (IC, p.347)

When it is put in the context of literature, it is the opposite of what Sartre affirms: the
transparency of meaning and the instrumental use in language. The suspension of
organized meaning can be read as literatures insistence on suspension as derived
from Blanchots phrase en instance and from Derridas suspension of the
(counter-)institution of literature (AL, p.48). The beauty of literature in this sense is
433

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota Press, 1992), pp.345-350.


434

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus: the Life of the German Composer, Adrian Leverkhn, as Told by a

Friend, trans. John E. Woods (New York: Vintage, 1997), Chapter XXII, pp.198ff.
435

The quotation is an extract from a footnote in Adornos Philosophy of Modern Music, pp.40-41, n.10.

The title of Blanchots essay Ars Nova is possibly taken from the same term in this footnote where
Adorno describes, In the midst of such chaos the style of Florentine Ars Nova the combining of
voices without concern for harmony, accomplished merely through the senses of untrained musician
can easily be confused with many thoughtless products of linear counterpoint.

191

historical and related to experience and experiment (lexprience). Blanchots


emphasis is not on the beauty but the ontology of literature that is described as
[I]ts critical force, its refusal to accept as eternally valid the worn-out forms of culture,
and also above all its violent intention to empty sonorous material of any prior
meaning, and even to keep it empty and open to a meaning yet to come. (IC, p.347)

This sounds as what Blanchot has analysed in Mallarms works: the liberation of
literature from the entrapment of instrumental use of language and the search for the
materiality of language as the absence in the absence of all objects. Blanchot further
comments that such notions are derived from the twelve-tone method as acultural. I
take this word as a critique of culture that is meaning-oriented, meaning-fixing, and
totalizing, including the glorification of subjectivity, tradition, conventions and
nationalism (as read from Malrauxs works on art). Another point Blanchot makes is
the primitive as the method is away from the continuity of a unified work, the
totality and conventions of the musical culture. Such is the point that Blanchot makes
on the notion of the fragmentary work (IC, p.348). He elaborates the notion which
render[s] indeterminate by rejection of traditional conventions, and involve[s]
differentiation and dissociation. He continues,
[It employs] a principle of disenvelopment through which the totality becomes free
of itself by giving itself over to a veritably torturing question that through the obstinate
return of the identical, as Adorno makes clear, seeks to engender an unceasing renewal.
(IC, p.347)

The notion of the obstinate return of the identical anticipates the notion of the
eternal return of the same which Blanchot discusses in The Step/Not Beyond. As
derived from the eternal return, the notion of rewriting and writing as
ex-centering and bringing something anew are highlighted in engender[ing] an
unceasing renewal (SNB, p.32). Blanchot quotes what Walter Benjamin said about the
last works,
For the great masters, the works that are finished weight less heavily on them than
those fragments on which they work all their life. In the fragmentary work they trace
their magical circle. (IC, p.348) 436

436

See Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund

Jephcott, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), p.64.

192

Last works, Blanchot says, are catastrophic (IC, p.348). [C]atastrophic suggests
sudden disaster, disastrous end or ruin (OED). Last works are thus
fragmentary, ruins and disastrous. A last work proclaimed by an author may not be the
last one, as Arthur Rimbauds last works A Season in Hell and Illuminations are
examples which Blanchot discusses in another essay The Final Work.437 There is a
debate on which the last work of Rimbaud is. Even when Rimbaud proclaims in the
last section titled Farewell of the poem A Season in Hell,
I have created all celebrations, all triumphs, all dramas. I tried to invent new flowers,
new stars, new flesh, new tongues. I believe I had acquired supernatural powers. Well!
I have to bury my imagination and my memories! A fine reputation of an artist and
story-teller lost sight of!

438

Rimbauds writings after this poem can also be found and they are collected in
Illuminations.439 Thus, the assumed last work ends with continuous writing. Last
works can be an un-finished work, as Samuel Beckett writes in the beginning of
Endgame, Finished, its finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.440 As
discussed earlier, examples of un-finished last works are Adornos Aesthetic Theory
and Derridas project of the contemporary history of philosophy in France and
Germany, which were both interrupted by the deaths of the authors. The fragmentary
and the incompleteness of the last works, in my opinion, is the inherent nature of the
writing of literature. The demand of the fragmentary is the insistence of literature
which displays unceasing renewal and the indeterminate nature.
The new music, as advocated by Adorno, in Blanchots opinions, is not
constructed around a center, such even that the idea of a center, of unity, is as it were
expelled from the field of the work, which is thereby, at the limit, rendered infinite(IC,
p.349). By means of the dissonant harmony and the fragmentary, the new music
manifests the de-centering of subject and the origin of the artwork. This idea is similar
to what Blanchot says about literature which he describes as dsoeuvrement. In his
reading of Adornos philosophy of modern music in Ars Nova, Blanchot draws many
437

Maurice Blanchot, The Final Work, in Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, pp. 285-292.

438

Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell, in Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected

Letters, trans. Wallace Fowlie (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p.207.
439

Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations, in Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters,

trans. Wallace Fowlie (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 213-257.
440

Samuel Beckett, Endgame: a Play in One Act; followed by, Act without Words: a Mime for One

Player, trans. Samuel Beckett (London: Faber, 1958), p.12.

193

notions that he considers important in the thinking of literature, namely, the


de-centering, the transgression of conventions and meanings. Blanchot considers that
new music is also a critique of culture and humanism that is premised on the idea
that man must naturally recognize himself in his works and the constant movement
of progress (IC, p.349). One can find in this essay the word culture which is rarely
used by Blanchot in his writing. [C]ulture, that links to humanism with its
foundation on man and progress, is opposite to Blanchots notion of impersonality,
interruption and radical interrogation in literature. In Adornos ideas, the illusion of
culture masks the instrumental rationality, alienation and ideology. It is arts
inseparability from society that Adorno thinks about the social relevancy with modern
music and he writes,
The basis of isolation of radical modern music [by its enemy] is not its asocial, but
precisely its social substance. It expresses its concern through its pure quality, doing so
all the more emphatically, the more purely this quality is revealed; it points out the ills
of society, rather than sublimating those ills into a deceptive humanitarianism which
would pretend humanitarianism had already been achieved in the present. The music is
no longer ideology.441

The concern of the pure quality of modern music lacks its content since the pure
quality is the musical language which dissociates itself into fragments.442
However, it helps to rethink the illusion and ills of society that are masked in the
conventional content. Is it also feasible to impose or represent the illusion and ills in
the content in order to provoke readers or audiences reexamination? Adornos
vigilance here can be seen when he points out Sartres comment on Picassos Guernica,
[does it] won a single supporter for the Spanish cause? (AP, p.185). The mediation
between the political reality and the artistic content in the didactic plays of Brecht
suffers from the fact that the political is trivialized (AP, p.185). If Adornos words in
the quotation above are applied to Blanchots notion of literature, I construe that the
pure quality of literature is the fragmentary, impersonality, de-centering, suspension
and open to otherness. Blanchot says, what speaks essentially in things and in words
is Difference; secret because always deferring speaking and because always differing
from that which signifies it (IC, p.309). Thus, there is also diffrance (a term from
Derrida) (un)working in writing and speech that mediates between things and words.
Diffrance is another pure quality of literature.

441

Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music, p.131.

442

Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music, p.118.

194

To make comparison between Adorno and Blanchot, one way is to compare their
writing on Brecht. Blanchot has made comments on Brechts plays in the essay The
Effect of Strangeness.443 Brechts idea of VEffekt, Verfremdungseffekt: the effect of
strangeness, of distancing fascinates Blanchot (IC, p.363). Borrowing from
Mallarms idea of language, he differentiates good strangeness between bad
strangeness:
The first is the distance that the image places between ourselves and the object, freeing
us from the object in its presence , making it available to us in its absence; permitting
us to name it, to make it signify and to modify it: a mighty and a reasonable power, the
great driving force of human progress. But the second strangeness to which all the arts
owe their effects is the reversal of the first one, which moreover, is its origin; it arises
when the image is no longer what allows us to have the object as absent but is rather
what takes hold of us by absence itself: there where the image, always at a distance,
always absolutely close and absolutely inaccessible, steals away from us, opens onto a
neutral space where we can no longer act, and also opens us upon a sort of neutrality
where we cease being ourselves and oscillate strangely between I, He and no one. (IC,
p.366)

This quotation is modified in relation to the theatre and the strangeness from the two
slopes of literature that Blanchot discusses in Literature and the Right to Death (WF,
pp. 330-340). The first strangeness refers to the movement of negation by which things
are separated from themselves and destroyed in order to be known, subjugated, and
communicated (WF, p.330). The second strangeness allied with the reality of
language, it makes language into matter without contour, content without form, a force
that is capricious and impersonal and says nothing, reveals nothing (WF, p.330). It is
from the second strangeness that Adornos and Blanchots differences on Brechts
strangeness (or alienation) can be told. In Blanchots case, his focus is language,
absence and formlessness. He submits to the suspension, neutre, and indeterminate
thought. In a way, it is existentialist thinking, for he relates the second slope of
literature (second strangeness) to Levinas il y a (WF, p.332). For Adorno who is a
philosopher who tarries with the determinate thought, he conceives the second
strangeness as a formal device or formal construction. He tries to fix a meaning
and the degree of practical efficacy to Brechts theatre. Blanchots focus is on
language and writing. The second strangeness is a term that he sees as the suspension

443

Maurice Blanchot, The Effect of Strangeness, in Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation,

pp.360-367.

195

and de-familiarization of the conventional thoughts. Adornos focus is on the effect of


art in dealing with the alienation of society.
With reference to the above differences, Blanchots and Adornos politics are
different in terms of their points of view: the ontological thinking of literature of
Blanchot and the social-Marxist critique of art and literature of Adorno. Besides, they
have different status within institutions which influences their mode of thinking.
Adorno has the determinate thought as he is within the institution or the university of
sociology and philosophy whereas Blanchot is not a member of such institutions.
Blanchots thinking is thus more formless and neutral (neutre). Outside institutions,
Blanchots thinking has more freedom and enjoys the proximity and transgression of
the outside. In comparison, Derrida is in-between these writers. He is a philosopher but
his de-constructive thinking breaks through the conventions of traditional philosophy.
Besides, Derrida is a writer whose writing remains in-between philosophy and (literary)
writing.

196

Conclusion
I come to the conclusion of this thesis from the intersections of Adorno, Derrida
and Blanchot. These three writers continually write on their diversified topics of
interests. Comparing with the other two writers, literature is a less common topic for
Adorno since his thinking is mainly on art, aesthetics, culture, society and philosophy.
Though he published four volumes of Notes to Literature in German, I consider
literature as one kind of art in Adornos thinking. In the case of Derrida, his main
project is on philosophy but he admits that he remains in the border between
philosophy and literature. Derrida says in an interview, No doubt I hesitated between
philosophy and literature, giving up neither, perhaps seeking obscurely a place from
which the history of this frontier could be thought or even displacedin writing itself
and not only by historical and theoretical reflection (AL, p.34). Literature is regarded
by Derrida as
Historical institution with its conventions, rules, etc., but also this institution of fiction
which gives in principle the power to say everything, to break free of the rules, to
displace them, and thereby to institute, to invent and even to suspect the traditional
difference between nature and institution, nature and conventional law, nature and
history. (AL, p.37)

The institution of literature hence breaks the conventions, rules, and law. It also has
the highest form of responsibility in the irresponsibility to say everything. (AL,
p.38) The institution of literature institutes, insists and instantiates the questioning of
literature upon itself, for it breaks the convention, rules of literature or the institution
of literature that was once formed by itself, as Derrida says, Every literary works
betrays the dream of a new institution of literature (AL, pp.73-74). In the case of
Blanchot, he agrees with Mallarms words about literature which Blanchot quotes in
The Book to Come, Yes, Literature does exist, and, if you like exists by itself alone,
apart from everything (BC, p.232). Blanchot believes that literature exists by itself
and it begins with a questioning of itself. I consider that Blanchots writing renders
literatures insistence upon itself for its existence and the Outside.
The notion of The Book to Come as discussed above is to show that writing and
literature are events that are yet to come. The incompleteness of last works are
anterior to The Book to Come. Besides, the fragmentary nature and nothing as
secret in literature provoke the incessant rewriting in order to search for nothing and
make fragments contest against each other. Thus, there is a demand of return to the
197

writing and rewriting. Although writing needs authors and writers, in Blanchots ideas,
writing and literature de-center themselves through the notions of worklessness and
neuter. The ethics of literature is derived from its ek-sistence and responding to the
Other, the Outside and the Unknown. In terms of Derridas notions, literature is both
singular and exemplary universal, having an insistence in the invention of the Other
and testimony which is also the ethical aspect of literature. Literature exists as an
institution and ek-sists as a counter-institution. The conventional point of view is a
humanist approach, i.e. literature is an institution that works with and closely relates to
humans, including their lives, imagination and inspiration. In the viewpoint of dying,
literature is a counter-institution for the insistence on dying, interruption and radical
interrogation.

198

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