Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (iii)

I realize that if I were to continue to post about The Space of Literature at the same pace as reflected by the first couple of entries in the series, I'd have more than 100 posts about the book by the time I finished reading it. I don't see that happening. (It's also possible that the fine folks at the University of Nebraska Press may object to the preponderance of quotations in such a large number of posts, at some point, in theory.)

For here, just a couple of notes about what I appreciate about Blanchot's method (having not yet made it any further into the book). He makes what seem like statements, but which are elusive. He's working on something, with us. Just as the book opens with "It seems. . .", then subsequent sections begin again: "In order to examine more closely what such statements beckon us toward, perhaps we should try to see where they originate." And: "Perhaps this ordeal points us toward what we are seeking." And: "We must start questioning again." If on some level I fall back on wanting to be told something, told how to read something--if I want to be spoonfed meaning--Blanchot refuses to do that work for me, refuses to be that authority.

These elusive statements, which at times seem like they're about to resolve into a meaning that can be nailed down, but which don't--in a sense, they remind me of those ideas that I myself have had difficulty articulating. It's tempting--coming from a utilitarian perspective--to see this elusiveness--in Blanchot and in certain other writers--as willful opacity. But I don't think it is. Something is being explored that is difficult to explain, that cannot be confined or reduced, and language is unequal to the task. This very unequalness being part of the thing being explored.


Lars said...

On my old copy of The Space of Literature, bought back in the 90s, I wrote 'Blanchot's point is not difficult to grasp. Willful obscurity. Tendency to obfuscate and cover his traces. Repeats central concerns like a litany. No acknowledgment the origins of his ideas. This book becomes sheer esoterica.' At the same time, I was completely fascinated, coming to Blanchot originally through an enigmatic quotation in a bad biography of Foucault (Miller)!

Hard to reconcile! In the end, I think in order to grasp the central ideas of the books an acquaintance with Heidegger is necessary (the later Heidegger: see Timothy Clark's book on him), as is a rough awareness of Hegel. I don't know if this book (or The Infinite Conversation) can be understood even in a general sense without some background in philosophy.

This also goes for the collections of essays (The Work of Fire, The Book to Come, Friendship): although they seem much more approachable, it is again a particular philosophical position that they reflect.

The Timothy Clark book is very approachable, however, and is aimed at readers interested in literature/ literary criticism. Blanchot is not a Heideggerian, not really, though often draws on Heideggerian terminology. Crucial to understand his relationship with Heidegger is his long term friendship with Levinas. This is explored in Haase and Large's book on Blanchot in the same series as the Clark book.

Richard said...

Thanks, Lars. (I think; I've been afraid that something like what you're recommending would be necessary, though I've received conflicting reports...)

Diana Manister said...

Monash University presented a colloquium a few years back titled Blanchot, The Obscure.

All papers presented at the colloquium are available in PDF to read, print or download. Select one or all from Issue Ten on the linked page. I printed the entire set in under an hour.

From the Colloquy Editorial:

"There is an element of obscurity in the title of this special issue of Col-loquy: .Blanchot, the Obscure.. That element is due to the comma between the proper name and the adjective. Thus, .the Obscure. cannot be a straightforward epithet of the person or the work of the French author and critic Maurice Blanchot. Rather, the comma is meant to indicate a type of relationality that pertains between Blanchot and the obscure . moreover, an undecidable relationality. Thus, in this relation neither the name .Blanchot. nor the adjective .obscure. are to be approached with a pre-established security about their origin and destination. The comma indicates the fragile moment of hesitation before this conjunction of name and attribute."

Titles of articles and authors are:

Blanchot and Leiris
Christophe Bident

Forgetting to Remember: From Benjamin to Blanchot
Amresh Sinha

"Counter-time": A Non-dialectical Temporality in the Works of Maurice Blanchot
Zoltán Popovics

Dying is not Death: The Difference between Blanchot's Fiction and Hegel's Concept
James Phillips

Bare Exteriority: Philosophy of the Image and the Image of Philosophy in Martin Heidegger and Maurice Blanchot
Emanuel Alloa

Timelessness and Negativity in Awaiting Oblivion: Hegel and Blanchot in Dialogue
Rhonda Khatab

The Measure of the Outside
Anthony Abiragi

Writing the Disaster: Testimony and The Instant of My Death
Jennifer Yusin

Man is the Indestructible: Blanchot's Obscure Humanism
John Dalton

Nathalie's Rotunda: Breaching the Threshold of Maurice Blanchot's L'Arrêt de mort
Hél ène Frichot

Sacred Atheism: Pre-Empting Death by Prolonging Death Sentence
Louise Gray

Woman as the Face of God: Blanchot, Lacan and the Feminine Impossible
Peter Gunn

Two Essays by Blanchot on Hölderlin
Mark Hewson

The Subject of Narration: Blanchot and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw
Caroline Sheaffer-Jones

Ill Seen Ill Said: Interpreting the World
Evin O'Riordain

The Blanchot/Beckett Correspondence: Situating the Writer/Writing at the Limen of Naught
Curt G. Willits

In Other Words: Writing Maurice Blanchot Writing
Nikolai Duffy

"An Outstretched Hand…": From Fragment to Fragmentary
Leslie Hill

Thanks again for the great blog!

Diana Manister