Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Maurice Blanchot by Jean-Luc Nancy

What follows is Jean-Luc Nancy's tribute to Maurice Blanchot on the 100th anniversary of his birth. My thanks go to Charlotte Mandell for providing the translation and to Espace Maurice Blanchot for its permission to post it.

The Infinite Conversation: This title - one of the most striking of all his works - we could take as an emblem of Maurice Blanchot's thinking. Not so much thinking, really, as a stance or gesture: a confidence. Above all, Blanchot has confidence in the possibility of the conversation. What is undertaken in the conversation (with another, with oneself, with the very pursuit of conversation) is the ever-renewed relationship of speech to the infinity of meaning that shapes its truth.

Writing (literature) names this relationship. It does not transcribe a testimony, it does not invent a fiction, it does not deliver a message: it traces the infinite journey of meaning as it absents itself. This absenting is not negative; it shapes the chance and challenge of meaning itself. "To write" means continuously to approach the limit of speech, the limit that speech alone designates, whose designation makes us (speakers) unlimited.

Blanchot was able in this way to recognize the event of modernity: the evaporation of worlds-beyond and, with them, of any secure division between "literature" and experience or truth. He reopens in writing the task of giving a voice to the part of the self that remains silent.

To give such a voice is "to keep watch over absent meaning." Attentive, careful, affectionate vigilance. It wants to take care of these reserves of absence through which truth is given: the experience within us of the infinite outside us.

This experience is possible and necessary when sacred scriptures with their hermeneutics of existence are shut. Literature - or writing - begins with the closing of those books. But literature does not constitute a profane theology. It challenges any theology as well as any atheism: any establishment of a Meaning. "Absence" here is nothing but a movement: an absenting. It's the constant passage to the infinity of all speech. "The prodigious absent, absent from me and from everything, absent also for me" that Thomas the Obscure speaks of is not a being or an authority but the continuous shift of myself outside myself, by means of which there comes, although always pending, the "pure feeling of his existence."

This existence is not life as unmediated fondness for, and perpetuation of, self, nor is it its death. But the "dying" of which Blanchot speaks - and which is not at all to be confused with the cessation of living, but which on the contrary is the living or "sur-viving" named by Derrida so close to Blanchot - shapes the movement of the incessant approach to absenting as true meaning, annulling in it any trace of nihilism.

That is the movement that by being written can "give to nothing, in its form of nothing, the form of something."

Jean-Luc Nancy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg and author, most recently, of Listening, also translated by Charlotte Mandell.

1 comment:

  1. I am writing a thesis on representations of death in certain dreamscapes, using Blanchot as the theoretical focus or back-bone. Considering that Blanchot's work is concerned, self-reflexively, with paradox, he is extremely difficult to write about. I thoroughly enjoyed this short piece of writing, which, I feel, is clearly put and includes the most important thing to remember when encountering Blanchot: the infinite conversation of literature.

    "Whenever thought is caught in a circle, this is because it has touched upon something original, its point of departure beyond which it cannot move except to return" (Blanchot, “Death as Possibility” 93).

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