Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy
Gerald L. Bruns
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As a novelist, essayist, critic, and theorist, Maurice Blanchot has earned tributes from authors as diverse as Jacques Derrida, Giles Deleuze, and Emmanuel Levinas. But their praise has told us little about what Blanchot's work actually says and why it has been so influential. In the first comprehensive study of this important French writer to appear in English, Gerald Bruns ties Blanchot's writings to each other and to the works of his contemporaries, including the poet Paul Celan.
Blanchot belongs to the generation of French intellectuals who came of age during the 1930s, survived the Occupation, and flourished during the quarter century or so after World War II. He was one of the first French intellectuals to take a systematic interest in questions of language and meaning. His focus in the mid-1930s on extreme situations―death, madness, imprisonment, exile, revolution, catastrophe―anticipated the later interest of the existentialists. Like Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Adorno, Blanchot was a self-conscious writer of fragments, and he has given us one the most developed investigations that we have on the fragment as a kind of writing.
In a series of close readings, Bruns addresses the philosophical and political questions that have surrounded Blanchot and his writings for decades. He describes what is creative in Blanchot's readings of Heidegger's controversial works and examines Blanchot's conception of poetry as an inquiry into the limits of philosophy, rationality, and power.
bring it into synchrony with-or to remove it from of horror ofwhat is written. “To write,” says Sartre, is “both to disclose the world and to offer it as a task to the generosity of the reader. It is to have recourse to the consciousness of others in order to make one’s self be recognized as essential to the totality of being” (QL76MiL65). It’s time to get on the right side; the side of prose and engagement with the world. Otherwise, why write? In “La rCalitC et son ombre” (1948), Emmanuel
Blanchot’s self-portraitbut because it registers, not for the first time, Blanchot’s lifelong fascination with the complicity (if not identity) of speech and violence. Faux pas was published during the Occupation; presumably it was not extracted from him. But it is not difficult to see that all that Blanchot henceforth has to say about language and writing presupposes the structure of Occupation- including the dialectical opposition of Collaboration and Resistance-from which discourse (any
heterogeneous elements is taken from an essay called “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” (1936), and that among the “madmen, leaders, and poets” who “refuse the rule” of homogeneity are Mussolini and Hitler. T h e “fascist leaders,” Bataille writes, “are incontestably part of heterogeneous existence. Opposed to democratic politicians, who represent in different countries the platitude inherent to homogeneous society, Mussolini and Hitler immediately stand out as something other [tout
looked very much like fascism could be enlisted against the rationalization of the world. Certainly this was the source of fascism’s appeal to someone like Blanchot. T h e account of Blanchot’s thinking that I try to give in this book is not meant to override the question of his early fascism (or his quasi- or protofascism), which Jeffrey Mehlman and Steven Ungar have tried to document. O n the contrary, this question is one that should be kept open, if only because of the way Blanchot’s case
Samuel Beckett’s Unnamable who is porous, all ears and mouth, an inside turned inside out, an inside without an outside to protect him from the words that pour through him anarchically, no one knows from where, without beginning or end. Words are the presence of exteriority, the infinite, the elsewhere, the otherwise or nonidentical as such. So the otherness of the other person is only brought home to me in the word that breaks in on me: “this presence, far from signifying pure and simple