Saturday, December 19, 2009

Careful, Painstaking, Scrupulous

Speaking of Blanchot, this paragraph, about Derrida, could as well be a good description of Blanchot:
[Derrida] is an extraordinarily precise and faithful reader. In a quite disarming way, Derrida's readings [...] can often appear to be just describing what is happening in that text. [...] It is a [...] class-room cliché to say that Derrida is 'difficult'. But we could also see this the other way round. Always remarkably careful, painstaking and scrupulous in his readings, he offers superb expositions and elucidations of philosophical and other texts that are themselves 'difficult'. Would anyone want to pretend that reading Plato or Shakespeare or Freud is 'easy'? Derrida helps us read and make sense of the great, and less great, texts of western history.
This is from an excerpt from Nicholas Royle's Jacques Derrida posted recently by Rhys Tranter at A Piece of Monologue (thus some of the excisions are Rhys', some mine). I was taken by this, not because I have much investment in Derrida, who in fact I've never read, but because it strikes me as helpful in thinking about Blanchot, as I suggest above, and who is said anyway to have been a major influence on Derrida.

I've written several times about the difficulty I've had with reading Blanchot, for make no mistake, Blanchot is difficult, reading him requires patience, "a patience one can gain only through reading Blanchot again and again". Indeed, so far, much of my blogging about Blanchot's criticism has been writing about this difficulty rather than engaging and responding to the actual essays themselves. Sometimes, I am sure, it comes off as so much whining. And my attempts at a more careful writing in response to his essays, as with my posts on The Space of Literature, have been difficult to sustain. But why bother reading if it's so difficult? I, for one, persist in part because of the openings that I find myself wandering into after I've worked my way through the apparent opacity. And there are those moments of great lucidity. But what's so difficult, after all? Well, describing an experience, any experience, is difficult. Why do we feel tempted to write about how we identify with characters, about the ideas, as abstracted from the experience, about various things external to the text? It's not that those things are irrelevant, but is it not in part because we find it hard to articulate what the reading experience is like? I've also argued that, in English, we perhaps lack certain necessary expressions, for all our emphasis on utility and pragmatism, we too often lack precision. A reader like Blanchot, and perhaps like Derrida, is willing to patiently go where the text takes him, and then as a writer to faithfully explore what has happened in the reading. This is almost the opposite of "getting to the point", as if a literary experience could be simply reduced to a single point.

No comments: