Sunday, September 23, 2007

Before the work, the writer is nothing yet, but after it, still nothing

Death, famously, is Blanchot's name for the relation of the writer to the work that is experienced as the withering of subjective power. Death, as it cannot be annulled and elevated by the work of Hegelian negation, invades and weakens it from the first and from before the first. Before the work, the writer is nothing yet, but after it, still nothing, since it is not linked together with his labour.
As such, the author is a mere actor, given over to an 'intermittent becoming' that leaves him, with respect to the experience to which he belongs, none the wiser. Certainly, the writer can take on the airs of a creative genius, laying claim to the work of art as it reflects the triumph of his sovereign will, but this is bad faith itself with respect to the work and its origin. For the author never quite coincides with himself; there is always a double who shadows his labour. A second Orpheus has disappeared into the underworld; a second Ulysses lies drowned in his wrecked ship on the seabed.
To exist is to act; to be is to do - but how can you take responsibility for your literary work when it implies your dissolution? What is specific to literary responsibility as it also includes the double who is also you? Invited in 1975 to submit work to the journal Gramma which was concerned with his work, Blanchot declined with these words, 'My absence [from this issue] is a necessary step rather than any decision on my part. I would like nobody to be surprised nor disappointed by it. Publishing is always more difficult. Publishing on the basis of the name is impossible' (anecdote via).
Blanchot's absence from the journal parallels the absence he was so scrupulous to maintain, refusing to meet scholars, to attend events celebrating his work, and refusing to be photographed by his publishers, or, except on one occasion, to be interviewed. What effort did it cost him not to see visiting scholars, or to accede to the demands of the great machines of publicity? Perhaps a great deal; perhaps very little. Either way, it is completely continuous with his work. Blanchot's refusal to appear is bound up with the demand of writing, which lets itself be experienced in its retreat.
But if it is as a writer that Blanchot disappeared in the postwar years, following his own political disaster, it is also as a writer that he reappeared, lending his support to the efforts of those determined to resist the claim to Algerian independence. As he says in his only interview, granted to clarify the aims of the so-called 'Manifesto of the 121', he is an essentially apolitical writer. But let us not misunderstand this to suggest political quietude. It was as a writer, too, that Blanchot sought to join his voice to others in the failed collaborative project of the Revue Internationale, which occupied him and others in the early 1960s. And it is as a writer that he takes part in the Events of May 1968, again working collaboratively. Blanchot grants that what he calls 'literary responsibility' is different to 'political responsibility'; but he also says both kinds of responsibility 'engage [...] us absolutely as in a sense does the disparity between them'. This engagement (so different from what Sartre meant by that term) reveals itself in Blanchot's commitment to what he will allow himself to call communism, in both the foreword to The Infinite Conversation (1969), and the anonymous writings he allowed to circulate during the Events... September 22, 2007 in Blanchot TrackBack (0) spurious

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