Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (i-1)

I've written a few times about my uneasiness with certain kinds of texts, certain critical writings, for example those written by Benjamin, Barthes, Blanchot. I am uneasy, yet I insist on approaching these writers anyway. I want to grasp what it is they say, what it is that others appear to find in them. Though I am wary of a tendency on my part to want to reduce what they say, to capture it, to positively re-state it.

In his recent post "against science", Steve Mitchelmore writes of this tendency. He notes that Jonathan Gottschall's attempted "scientific" refutation of Barthes' notion of "the death of the author" "relies on a reduction of a complex essay to a 'statement'". Later in the post, Steve quotes at length from Blanchot's "The Essential Solitude"--at length, he says, because
Blanchot's writing - its unique and relentless patience - is performative rather than didactic. Neither information or wisdom is being imparted but, as Barthes says, it is writing "borne by a pure gesture of inscription" tracing "a field without origin - or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins".
Performative rather than didactic: I quote this in order to help myself keep this in mind. When I've spoken of my difficulty with these texts, I realize that this is the primary difficulty I've had. I want to force the text to teach me something, as an authority. I want it to impart information, for this is the mode of writing I have been accustomed to. But if Blanchot's writing is not giving me information, if it is performative, how do I approach it? I'm a notoriously poor note-taker, but it strikes me that, though with some sorts of text this is ok (the lack of detailed notes), with Blanchot, instead, I must take notes, I must attempt to scrupulously record my questions, my confusions, my reading. I must write alongside of Blanchot's writing.

Which is a long preamble to the point, which is that--in the spirit of the blog as common reader and reading log--this post hopes to inaugurate a series of posts documenting my reading of Blanchot's The Space of Literature. I don't know how this will go. I may write some foolish things. I will likely state and re-state the same things in different ways; I may well lapse into incoherence. I hope to be able to articulate something of what I find in the text. I can't predict how long I will be able to maintain the series. Nor can I say how often posts will appear.


Clavdia said...

This seems like a great project -- I too have been struggling with Blanchot (and with the deluge of other texts one 'should' read along with Blanchot). He seems to be all over the web-space these days.

Diana Manister said...

Richard, can you comment on the differences between Blanchot's notion of the writer's death when his text exists, and Barthes' ideas on the subject?

What role does the reader play in the author's death? Or is the reader always present in the writing, inherent in all of language's dialogic nature?

I'm reading The Space of Literature because of your comments in your blog. Thanks very much; I'm loving it!

Diana Manister

Diana Manister