blanchot - the blanchot reader

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TheBlanchot ReaderMaunce BlanchotEdited byMichael HollandIi]BlACITommll, 5(Winler 1976), pp. 8-43.12 In LillnJtllTf and il, Th1riu. A PmmtaJ Vitw of TftlCfli,IJI.(;,,,lNry CriliciIm, lnnJ.Ca!.herine Poner (Ithaca, Comell Univeni!)' Preu, 1987). Tzvelan Todorov accusesBllncoot of I tolef1lnce lowards toolh,rianism, bolh polilical Ind philO$Ophical, whichsilS ill in someone who was'a spoknmlln for a cenain antiSemililm' be:forc!.he Wllr (p.6). He rqw:atl thi' slricture in 'Crilique el propos de Mlurice Blancool', inCruu-R,/,,,rv6J, ed. Dlvid Kelley Ind ISlIbelle UaSSCf1l (Leeds, Socie!)' for FrenchStudies, 1986), pp. 168-75 (p. 174).13 l'aUl Uvy, Aw T'HlpllkJ grima"J (PllrlS, Nagel, 1948), p. 98 (Ihe piece dales from 15April 1933).14 l' Sw;" ParrOUI, 5l4, 18 OClobe:r 1941, p. 8. This review issianed 'R.' (possibly LucienRcbatct). In 1942, Ihe collabondoni.1 weekly L'Apptl published a piece in the limespiril emilled 'Vidcz Thomas (Kick Thom.. OUIl', in reaclion to the news Ihat BllnchOImight be: gi\'en the directorship of the NouwU, RetllU FraJ1fais, (L'ApptJ, 28 May 1942,p. 4). I am grateful to Keri Benu for showina me Ibis anicle.14:=Q;;...'"/""...... ~III~ >... :=l:l="t t-lIII'i:l ~Q'"'"...r:r-III..,,Between 1941 and 1944 Blanchot wrote about 170 'Chronicles of Intel-lectualLife' in the Journal des Debat5. A selection of these appeared in hisfirst volume of criticism, Faux pas, in 1943. l The first two pieces in PartI, The Silence of Writers and The Search for Tradition, areamong the earliest of these chronicles and, though not included in Fauxpas, they set the tone and establish the field for what is to come. On onelevel they reflect the uncenainties to which events, however much theywere anticipated, exposed the Blanchot whose outer existence had beenreduced to anonymity. With the establishment of the Vichy regime, thepolitical silence resulting from his turn to literature was invaded by a callto the writer to serve the political cause that he had given up for lost.Briefly, Blanchot heeded that call. The allusion, in The Silence ofWriters, to 'various projects being undertaken by young men' (p. 27),recalls his involvement with the Jeune France movement immediatelyfollowing the establishment of the Vichy regime. The history of thisidealistic and short-lived attempt to preserve the cultural values- ofFrance has still to be written.2By the time he had begun to write hiscolumn in the Debars, however, Blanchot had pulled out of what, bothpolitically and personally, could never have been other than an a m b i v a l ~ent undertaking for him.3Politically, hencefonh, he will revert to thesilence of indifference, withdrawing entirely into the world offered himby literature now that Thomas the Obscure has appeared, a 'world' inwhich, as he says in 1993, he worked 'totally without security [d fondsperdu)' .4But this return to the position he adopted prior to the Occupation hasnone of the ambivalence it displayed then. It is now clearer than ever thatliterature offers him a solitary and self-sufficient 'world' in which lan-guage alone has reality. But whereas before the war this had deprived himof the identity and the voice he had acquired as a Nationalist, making ofhim an almost clandestine figure, now the very opposite is the case. Thesilence which closed around him after 1937 is something he forbids thewriter under the Occupation. In the real silence that has descendedpolitically upon France, his silence acquires a voice: the voice of an,primarily, and one which is audible therefore only within the world of art,for the writer and for the reader, where for Blanchot the novelist itremains endlessly broken by silence. But it is now a voice capable ofresounding outside art, in the domain where, beneath the political silencethat the Occupation imposed on France, attempts are being made tosalvage a cultural identity for the nation by enlisting in its cause thesolitude of the artist and the silence of an. This voice, which had alreadybeen heard within Jeune France, as Pierre Schaeffer ruefully recalls,!' hereinaugurates the Debars series of 'Chronicles of Intellectual Life' with arigorous and sometimes caustic critique of the cultural politics of the newregime. In tenns that could leave no one in any doubt about where hestood politically (even if the place he occupied, namely literature, offeredno firm footing). Blanchot denounces both the orthodoxies and theattempts at unonhodoxy that are currently vying, theoretically and prac-tically, for the artist's soul. In the process, however, he is not justdeepening the gulf that opened up for him before the war between theworld of the political and the 'world' ofliterarure. Had that been so, theambivalence of his political silence before the war would have intensified,now that Vichy was proposing precisely the National Revolution he hadonce called for: his only grounds for refusing it would be the unground-iog experience of literature by which he had disabled himself politically.His refusal would not amount to a rejection of the new order. But in facthis defence ofan against the cultural politics of Vichy goes much further,taking him totally outside tbe political frame within which he originallyfell silent. For now. the history and the traditions of French art, in whosename be refuses all enlistment, include the period following the FirstWorld War, which Blanchot twice alludes to in the pieces included here,and which, from the standpoint of Nationalist politics before and after1940, appeared as the products of foreign decadence, and the signs ofFrench decline. It is hardly surprising that Oneu la Rochelle should havefound some of the contributors [0 Thierry-Maulnier's new journal. theRevue Fra"faise des ldeeset des CEuvres (1940) too 'Surrealist,.6 Blanchot'scontribution, on the subject of Laum':amont, places him squarely in theavant-garde tradition which he defended consistently in the Debatsthroughout the Occupation, primarily with reference to his own chosenan form: the novel.As well as three pieces on the novel, written for the Debau in between194.1 and 1943, I have included the brief review of Jean-Paul Sartre'sNausea, The Beginnings of a Novel, which appeared in Aux Ecolltes inJ938, and which marks the only exception to the rule of silence thatBlanchot imposed on himself after 1937. The reasons for this seem clear:in advance of Blanchot, whose Thomas the Obscure was not completeduntil 1940, Sartre has taken the novel into the field of existence itself,revealing the possibility that it alone can make existence livable. Yet fromBlanchot's perspective, both the experience depicted through AntoineRoquentin, and the role given to language in expressing it, provide nomore than a partial and imperfect version of what Sartre claims to beexploring. This is because the contingency and superfluousness experienced by Sartre's hero, and explored in his philosophy, never display thedegree of absoluteness they attain in Blanchot's experience and in hisfiction. In a way it could never be for Sartre. either existentially orideologically, the novel has become for Blanchot not just a 'world' but amode of subjectivity in that 'world'. The experience he explores throughThomas displays a contingency that is more absolute than that to befound in Roquentin or Sartre, in that both the world and the self in theworld have ceased to exist with any certainty for Blanchot, so that all thatis real for him henceforth is the language of literature. With the publica-tion of Thomas the Obscure. followed by Aminadab in 1942/ Blanchot isin a position to assert more confidently the originality of his own novel ofexistence. In the three pieces included here, The Recent Novel, ThePure Novel and Mallarme and the Art of the Novel, he implicitlyrefers to his own work, both to bring out the limitations of prevailingtheories of the novel and to provide a bold and provocative description ofwhat the novel should be. As well as raising the artistic status of the genreto a level hitherto reserved for poetry (that of Mallarme, but also, in asignificantly allusive way, that of HOlderlin), these pieces display a critical complexity and a level of theoretical development which are considerably ahead of their time.With How Is Uterature Possible? the angle of Blanchot's attentionshifts. Published as a small volume in 1942, this essay on Jean Paulhan'sThe Flowers of Tarbes, or Terror in Literature is made up of three of theDebats chronicles, published in October. November and December of1941. It is a sign of how seriously Blanchot took the issue which provideshis title that he should have embarked upon such a protracted examin-ation ofPaulhan's book. The reason is not hard to find: here at last is notjust a theoretical account of literature that Blanchot can accept. at leastpartly (it is. in a way, 'The Beginnings of a Theory' just as Nausea was'The Beginnings of