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Blanchot Dread to Language


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    Fiction & Literary Essays

    Maurice Blanchot

    TRANSLATED BY Lydia Davis Paul Auster and Robert Lamberton

    FOREWORD BY Christopher Fynsk AFTERWORD BY George Quasha & Charles Stein

    EDITED BY George Quasha



  • This edition copyright 1999 by Station Hill Press, Inc./Barrytown, Ltd. Copyright for the original French editions are held by Editions Gallimard, Edi-tions de Minuit and Editions Fata Morgana as listed on the Acknowledgements page. Foreword Copyright 1999 by Christopher Fynsk Mterword Copyright 1999 by George Quasha and Charles Stein T ranshtion copyright is held by the translators in their original publications and 1999

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording. or by any infonnation storage and retrieval system, without pennission in writing from the publisher.

    Published under the Station Hill Arts imprint ofBarrytown, Ltd. in conjunction with Station Hill Press, Inc., Barryrown, New York 12507, as a project of The Institute for Publishing Arts, Inc., a not-for-profit, federally tax exempt, educa-tional organization.

    Online catalogue and purchasing: http://www.stationhill.org E-mail: Publishers@stationhill.org

    Book design and typesetting by Chie Hasegawa with assistance from Susan Quasha Cover design by Susan Quasha

    Grateful acknowledgement is due to the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fed-eral agency in Washington, DC, and to the New York State Council on the Arts for partial financial support of the publishing program of The Institute for Publishing Arts and of the individual books in this collection in their original Station Hill Press publication, as well as support of some of [he translations.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Blanchot, Maurice. [Selections. English. 1998J The Station Hill Blanchot reader: fiction & literary essays / by Maurice

    Blanchot; edited by George Quasha; translated by Lydia Davis, Paul Auster, & Robert Lamberton; Foreword by Christopher Fynsk; publisher's afterword by George Quasha & Charles Stein.

    p. cm. ISBN 1-886449-17-1 I. Quasha, George. II. Davis, Lydia. III. Auster, Paul,

    Lamberton, Robert. V. Tide. PQ2603.L3343A6 1998 843'.912-dc21

    1947-. IV.

    CONTENTS Acknowledgements VI List of Translations by Translator VII PUBLISHER'S PREFA CE IX

    FOREWORD by Christopher Fynsk xv

    FICTION FROM Vicious Circles: Two Fictions & "After the Fact" 3

    The Idyll 5 The Last Word 35

    Thomas the Obscure 51 Death Sentence 129 The Madness of The Day 189 When the Time Comes 201 The One Who Was Standing Apart From Me 261

    LITERARY ESSAYS FROM The Gaze of Orp';>us and Other Literary Essays

    From Dread to Language 343 Literature and the Right to Death 359 The Essential Solitude 401 Two Versions of the Imaginary 417 Reading 429 The Gaze of Orpheus 437 The Song of the Sirens 443 The Power and the Glory 451 The Narrative Voice 459 The Absence of the Book 471

    FROM Vicious Circles: Two Fictions & "After the Fact" After the Fact 487

    Translators' Notes 497 AFTERWORD: Publishing Blanchot in America--A Metapoetic View 509

    by George Quasha and Charles Stein Biographical Notes 528 Other Books in English by Maurice Blanchot 529


    A writer who writes, "I am alone" or, like Rimbaud, "I am really from beyond the grave," can be considered rather comical. It is comical for a man to recognize his solitude by addressing a reader and by using methods that prevent the individual from being alone. The word alone is just as general as the word bread. To pronounce it is to summon to one-self the. presence of everything the word excludes. These aporias in the language are rarely taken seriously. It is enough that the words do their duty and that literature does not cease to appear possible. The writer's "I am alone" has a simple meaning (no one near me) that the use oflan-guage contradicts in appearance only.

    If we dwell on these difficulties, we risk discovering this: that the writer is under suspicion of a halflie. To Pascal, who complains of being abandoned in the world, Paul Valery says, "A distress that writes well is not so complete that it hasn't sarvaged from the shipwreck ... "; but a distress that writes in a mediocre way deserves the same reproach. How can a person be alone ifhe confides to us that he is alone? He summons us in order to slriVe us away; he muses on us in order to persuade us that he is not musing on us; he speaks the language of men at the moment when there is no longer, for him, either language or man. It is easy to believe that this person, who ought to be separated from himself by de-spair, not only retains the thought of some other person but uses this solitude to create an effect that obliterates his solitude. ,

    Is the writer only half sincere? That is really of little importance and it is clear that the reproach is a superficial one. Perhaps Pascal is so un-happy for the very reason that he writes brilliantly. The capacity that he retains of making himself admirable by expressing his misery enters into the horror of his condition as its most painful cause. Some people suffer because they cannot express completely what they feel. They are dis-tressed by the obscurity of their feelings. They think they would be relieved if they could turn the confusion in which they are lost into pre-cise words. But another suffers from being the fortunate interpreter of his misfortune. He suffocates in that intellectual freedom he still has and that allows him to see where he is. He is torn apart by the harmony of his images, by the air of happiness radiating from what he writes. He experi-ences this contradiction as the unavoidably oppressive aspect of the exal-tation that he fmds in that writing, an exaltation that crowns his disgust.


    The writer could, of course, not write. That is true. Why would man at the farthest reach of solitude write, "I am alone," or, like Kierkegaard, "I am all alone here"? Who forces him into this activity, in a situation where, knowing nothing of himself or of anything else but a crushing absence, he becomes completely passive? Fallen into terror and despair, perhaps he will pace around and around like a hunted animal in a room. One can imagine that he lives deprived of the thought that would make him reflect his unhappiness, of the eyes that would let him perceive the face of that unhappiness, of the voice that would permit him to com-plain of it. Mad, wildly insane, he lacks the organs he needs to live with others and himself But these images, however natural they may be, are not convincing. It is to the intelligent witness that the mute animal ap-pears to be a victim of solitude. The person who is alone is not the one who experiences the impression of being alone; this monster of desola-tion needs the presence of another ifhis desolation is to have a meaning, another who, with his reason intact and his senses preserved, renders momentarily possible the distress that had until then been impotent.

    A writer is not free to be alone without expressing the fact that he is alone. Even ifhe has reached the point where everything touching the act of writing has become vanity; he is still tied to arrangements of words; in fact, it is in the use of expression that he coincides most completely with the nothingness without expression that he has become. Precisely that which causes language to be destroyed in him also obliges him to use language. He is like a hemiplegic for whom the same illness consti-tutes both an obligation to walk and a prohibition against walking. He is forced to run ceaselessly in order to prove with each movement that he is deprived of movement. He is all the more paralyzed because of the fact that his limbs obey him. He suffers from the horror that turns his sound legs, his vigorous muscles, and the satisfYing exercise he derives from them into the proof and the cause of the impossibility ofhis progress. In the same way that the distress of any man presupposes at a certain point that to be reasonable would be insane (he would like to lose his reason, but he discovers it in the very loss into which it is sinking), a person who writes is committed to writing by the silence and the priva-tion oflanguage that have stricken him. As long as he is not alone, he either writes or does not write; the hours he passes searching for and weighing words he senses only as something necessary to his calling, his pleasure, or his inspiration; he is deceiving himself when he speaks of an



    irresistible necessity. But ifhe lands at the outer limit of solitude, where the external considerations of art, knowledge, and the public disappear, he no longer has the freedom to be anything other than what his situa-tion and the infinite disgust he feels would want absolutely to prevent him from being. .

    The writer finds himselfin this more and more comical condition-of having nothing to write, of having no means of writing it, and of bemg forced by an extreme necessity to keep writing it. Having nothino-to express should be taken in the simplest sense. Whatever he wants t~ say, it is nothing. The world, things, knowledge, are for him only refer-ence pomts across the void. And he himself is already reduced to noth-mg. Nothing is his material. He rejects the forms in which it offers itself to him as being something. He wants to grasp it not in an allusion but in Its own truth. He seeks it as the no that is not no to this, to that, to everything, but the pure and simple no. What is mo