The Space of Literature
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The Space of Literature, first published in France in 1955, is central to the development of Blanchot's thought. In it he reflects on literature and the unique demand it makes upon our attention. Thus he explores the process of reading as well as the nature of artistic creativity, all the while considering the relation of the literary work to time, to history, and to death. This book consists not so much in the application of a critical method or the demonstration of a theory of literature as in a patiently deliberate meditation upon the literary experience, informed most notably by studies of Mallarmé, Kafka, Rilke, and Hölderlin. Blanchot's discussions of those writers are among the finest in any language.
what is present is not contemporary; what is present presents nothing, but represents itself and belongs henceforth and always to return. It isn’t, but comes back again. It comes already and forever past, so that my relation to it is not one of cognition, but of recognition, and this recognition ruins in me the power of knowing, the right to grasp. It makes what is ungraspable inescapable; it never lets me cease reaching what I cannot attain. And that which I cannot take, I must take up again,
apart—which in this separation separates him from himself—if he did not abandon himself to the boundlessness of error and to the shifting sands of infinitely repeated beginnings, the word beginning would be lost. But this justification does not occur to the artist; it is not granted in the experience. It is, on the contrary, ruled out. And the artist can very well know it “in general,” just as he believes in art “in general,” but his work does not know it, and his search is ignorant of it. His
depths of the indefinite. “I can no longer continue to write. I am up against the definitive limit, at which I must perhaps remain for years before being able to begin again a new story which again will remain unfinished. This fate pursues me” (November 30, 1914). It seems that in 1915–1916 (however vain it may be to try to date a movement which escapes time), the change in perspective is complete. Kafka renewed relations with his former fiancée. These relations —which will culminate in another
Nietzsche’s words resound like an echo of liberty. One doesn’t kill oneself, but one can. This is a marvelous resource. Without this supply of oxygen close at hand we would smother, we could no longer live. Having death within reach, docile and reliable, makes life possible, for it is exactly what provides air, space, free and joyful movement: it is possibility. Voluntary death appears to pose a moral problem: it accuses and it condemns; it makes a final judgment. Or else it seems a challenge in
translation of L’Espace littéraire, a book from the middle of Blanchot’s career which elaborates many of the issues central to his entire work, should serve to help Americans understand what is at stake in an ongoing assessment of contemporary French thought. It would be wrong, however, to imply that Blanchot’s writing has escaped until now the attention of serious readers in this country. In fact, his work has influenced a good deal of recent American criticism whose object is to question the