Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (i)

Beginning at the beginning: "The Essential Solitude". The opening words of the book (all quotations are from the translation by Ann Smock):
It seems that we learn something about art when we experience what the word solitude is meant to designate.
It seems. From the start, Blanchot is not simply telling us something. How do we experience what the word designates? We don’t experience the word—what it designates—that is a thing, which we experience. But, anyway, back to solitude. He is referring neither to that melancholy solitude that is "a hurt" nor that solitude required by the writer in order to concentrate. It is something else.

a. Solitude of the Work
"He who writes the work is set aside; he who has written it is dismissed."
What does this mean? That he who writes is not to be found in the text that is written? An alternative "I" ("writer", or "author") emerges, not the physical writer, but an entity outside the body. The writing is independent of the writer, regardless of what of the writer (in the sense of biographical material?) goes into it? Is that it? If writing is an utterance, that utterance exists on its own?

The literary work simply is:
Whoever wants to make it express more finds nothing, finds that it expresses nothing. He whose life depends upon the work, either because he is a writer or because he is a reader, belongs to the solitude of that which expresses nothing except the word being: the word which language shelters by hiding it, or causes to appear when language itself disappears into the silent void of the work.
Well, ok. This is the kind of language that I find very difficult to parse. What is he saying? What might this "more" be, that is sought by some, who instead find nothing? Social concerns? Biographical data? Sentiment? A political program or philosophical system? A coherent fictional world? Possibly? So the reader who tries to make such claims on the literary work, if he or she reads the work in its solitude, will find that those claims cannot be filled? It "expresses nothing except the word being"? This last sentence seems like a restating of: the work is.

Language shelters the word being, by hiding it? What does this mean? Language, being a social mode of communication, points outside the work, and thus shelters being, hides it. Truth or renown might "demonstrate" the existence of a text, but this does not concern the text.

Why does the reader’s life "depend upon the work"? Because the work provides something the reader needs? Why does the reader need this? Does Blanchot mean "the reader" as a person who approaches the work—who exists independent of the work—and thus "needs", as he or she might need food--what the work might have to offer? Or, does he mean that the reader does not exist until such time as the reading is taking place, until such time as he or she experiences the work? Does the writer's life "depend upon the work" in a similar fashion? If there is no work, the writer ceases to be?
The work is solitary: this does not mean that it remains uncommunicable, that it has no reader. But whoever reads it enters into the affirmation of the work’s solitude, just as he who writes it belongs to the risk of this solitude.
What is this risk? The writer risks letting the work dismiss him? (But what is this dismissal?) The writer risks…risks unknowing, uncertainty…risks the existence of the work in its solitude, risks allowing the reader to create the work in the writer’s absence? It feels as if I’m writing in circles. What do I mean in the words I write trying to understand Blanchot?

I mean: something is created, some lonesome thing, in the work itself, which speaks to the reader (to a potential reader). Is this the writer? No, this is the work. The reader approaches the literary work with apprehension: will the work speak? Will I hear it? Doing so, the reader affirms the work’s solitude.

There is that moment, when reading, when pleasure occurs—at times, something like the Nabokovian tingle, perhaps—and this moment happens in communion with the text. This communion is a solitude. You can say to another—here, read this—but the other must find that communion again, alone.

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