Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (ii)

Notes on "The Essential Solitude" - continued (all quotations are from the translation by Ann Smock).

b) The Work, the Book
The writer writes a book, but the book is not yet the work. There is a work only when, through it, and with the violence of a beginning which is proper to it, the word being is pronounced. This event occurs when the work becomes the intimacy between someone who writes it and someone who reads it. One might, then, wonder: if solitude is the writer's risk, does it not express the fact that he is turned, oriented toward the open violence of the work, of which he never grasps anything but the substitute--the approach and the illusion in the form of the book?
The book is just a thing, but the work is where the solitude is, where being is.

I have to admit it: the word being trips me up--inevitably makes me think of Heidegger, not any actual experience I've had with Heidegger, of which there are none, but those few times when I've leafed through Being and Time and been unable to understand the first thing, where it seems that the word being itself disables me. There is something disarmingly simple about it. Being. Yet I cannot access it. (I should take philosophy courses.) But I gather, from limited biographical data, that Heidegger was important to Blanchot. Does this mean I need to read Heidegger first?

But this distinction between "the work" and "the book": I discern a kernel of comprehension amid the fog surrounding this in my mind. I use the word "fog", not to dismiss Blanchot, but to point to my own inarticulateness. I want to hang this on something, but there are no hooks.

Can I see this distinction? The writer risks this solitude in creating his work, but in the event, a book is produced, which "is almost vain"--one can think of the publishing contracts, the editing, the interviews, the book tours--all of the extra-literary effluvia that have nothing to do with the work itself. But is this what Blanchot refers to? The book is a product which can be shown to "the world"--but the work can only be found by the reader, in that isolation.

c. Noli me Legere ("do not read me")
The same situation can also be described this way: the writer never reads his work. It is, for him, illegible, a secret. He cannot linger in its presence. It is a secret because he is separated from it.
Wow. It strikes me that this is precisely what I was trying to say, some months back, when I spoke about Proust being unable to read Proust, Beckett being unable to read Beckett. Interesting. I didn't elaborate--I hid behind the dismissive "this is a ridiculous question" frame--but I was trying to say something about this "secret" aspect. In Search of Lost Time is not made for he who was Marcel Proust.

Is there a way in which I can comprehend Blanchot better if I think of him as a reader, like myself, struggling to articulate the inarticulable? Struggling to ask the unaskable about literature?

Is it the struggle I experience with reading Blanchot--is it this struggle that renders other passages more lucid? Passages like this one?:
The writer's solitude, that condition which is the risk he runs, seems to come from his belonging, in the work, to what always precedes the work. Through him, the work comes into being; it constitutes the resolute solidity of a beginning. But he himself belongs to a time ruled by the indecisiveness inherent in beginning over again. The obsession which ties him to a privileged them, which obliges him to say over and over again what he had already said [...] illustrates the necessity, which apparently determines his efforts, that he always come back to the same point, pass again over the same paths, persevere in starting over what for him never starts, and that he belong to the shadow of events, not their reality, to the image, not the object, to what allows words themselves to become images, appearances--not signs, values, the power of truth.
For Blanchot, it seems, the artist is one who returns to certain themes, because the work is never complete. The artifact that is made is only a single manifestation of that work. Is this right?

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2 Comments:

Blogger NigelBeale said...

"The same situation can also be described this way: the writer never reads his work. It is, for him, illegible, a secret. He cannot linger in its presence. It is a secret because he is separated from it."

This statement seems to contradict itself. I take it that he means the writer's work is illegible to himself because there is no distance from it. It is him. It requires another to create it. A reader to add the secret ingredient. But then he says the writer is separated from it...?

In the sense perhaps that it is now language written on a page...

well it makes you think if nothing else.

May 28, 2008 1:40 PM  
Blogger Stephen Mitchelmore said...

"I take it that he means the writer's work is illegible to himself because there is no distance from it. It is him."

Well, no, not that.

"It requires another to create it."

Or that.

I don't see any contradiction because a secret depends on separation.

"well it makes you think if nothing else."

Yes. But if you need literary criticism to make you vomit, try "Cultural Amnesia".

May 28, 2008 4:27 PM  

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