Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Maurice Blanchot, 1907-2003

French writer, essayist and novelist, Maurice Blanchot died on Thursday February 20 at the age of 95. In a fantasy world his death would have gone almost unnoticed. Only in a fantasy, nonetheless. For Blanchot was the most enigmatic writer of 20th century France. And, in an untypical sense, he was one of its greatest.

After frenetic activity as a rightwing political journalist in his youth, Blanchot leaned toward the novel and nationalist revolution, only to join the French Resistance during WWII. In the ensuing decades, his galvanizing communism led him away from fiction and toward the essay idiom to forge one of the most profound oeuvres in French literature. He published little since the nineteen-eighties. Yet his literary presence draped an unfathomed cape of darkness over the course of what we call here: ‘French poststructural thought’; and there: philosophy tout court.

Next to Jean-Paul Sartre, Blanchot’s incarnation as a writer turned an entire generation of philosophers and intellectuals toward musings on literature. Alain Badiou unequivocally labeled his effect on philosophy as one of literary fetishism. His work shrunk philosophy into the meandering lines of ambiguity in which truth is less determined as a value than as descriptive energy. Its consequence was to make the ‘void’ into an ever-evolving concept, regardless of its perpetual withdrawal.

To be sure, the metaphysical extremism characteristic of Blanchot’s deepest essays is a Western study in philosophical fanaticism. From the care with which his circle kept him screened from media exposure, to his elation for political extremism first of the Right, then of the Left, Blanchot’s truth has lain in the shelter that a shadow affords. But it also made analysis succumb to the confusion of a place from which there is barely a return.

In the heat of the events of May-June 1968 in Paris, the author described his silhouette venturing into the assemblies of a student occupied Sorbonne. At a moments’ resolve, Michel Foucault had hoisted a black flag in celebration of the fall of classical France. A passing non-encounter with Foucault embodied the terms according to which Blanchot struck his key concept of the dehors, the outside, into the nature of friendship itself. Yet only in writing did the silhouette he carry for his readers in real life end up endowed with a body. Writing for him was a spiritual, radical act of creation. As the author’s self vanished in the text, events arose into the obscure presence of the type of act from which consecration is unleashed.

In the 1960s, Blanchot’s written art was primarily one in search of spatial limits. His individualistic and uncompromising undertaking into the drift lines of Holderlin’s poetry and Kafka’s world on a pinhead best embodied the approach and immersion he sought of the infinite. This was no mathematical journey, regardless of how ‘Platonic’ a mathematician is willing to be. Blanchot’s infinite was the lived experience of death in L’Espace literaire (translated by Ann Shmock in 1989 as The Space of Literature). It swung stoically to and fro on a painful line by which the utterly outside was made accessible. That this was no unreachable absolute was underscored by the openness of his prose to any reader. Its experience was nonetheless reserved for the slow tempo of reading, and for readers alone.

To say that you are confronted to your own death in reading Blanchot is merely to proclaim the desirable. A pattern of thought emptied to the extreme of categories and models is a desert landscape where only scorpions thrive. Yet even their contours fail to resist the kind of depletion the mind performs at its limits.

Nor was there perhaps an essayist as sadistic with the “infinite interview” compelled onto a writer in his relationship with the tools of art. Beneath the frustration with the timeless inertia of Blanchot’s death concept, largely emanating from the misleading pressures of daily life, lies a reading experience unrivalled in its proximity to the reader’s own dissolution. In it converge the desires of an atheist meditation.

Brought up in a devout Catholic family, Blanchot’s rejection of God appears to bear out all margins of faith. His literary extremism stretched between a step and a breath. But the political extremism of his youth often moved closer to a strike and a bomb. It is what one gets when depriving analysis from the realities of class and sectorial struggle, technocratic interest, the lies of international finance, emphatic corporatism and religious tows and trends, not to mention consumerist delusions and free market folly.

Strikingly, when some of these points of attack were part of Blanchot’s politics, he remained on the far-right. When his writing conjured them away as profoundly corrupted thought, his projection of egalitarian community grew ever more concrete.

None of this belies the fact that the beauty of Blanchot’s prose was obtained only at the cost of having embraced political extremism. Beauty’s sustenance prevails in writing after writing primarily in the wake of the memory and strength of radical collective invention. For Blanchot truth circulates within a compass, but the geography it measures only ends up in terror when the writer fails art by forcing it to coexist with politics.

This is how and why his question remains ours as well. Is the bridge between poles and extremes the primary access to deepest knowledge? And doesn’t such knowledge compel us as political and moral beings to have to seek social justice and de-concentration of wealth by means that keep adjourning the need to finally utter: let’s get the deed done by any means necessary?

Surely Blanchot’s profoundly unwavering friendship with philosopher Emmanuel Levinas is testimony to the depths to which brotherly love prevails, unmoved by offence and innovated upon the tensions relationships instigate. To Levinas’ ethical disposition, Blanchot offered radical subversion. To Levinas’ Talmudic dissolution of European Christian philosophy, Blanchot, for a time, embraced anti-Semitism as the nihilistic end of Western thought-at least in the representation it expressed up to the Shoah. In the concept each thinker held of ‘ends’ lay renewal in resistance, thought and the written form. And each struggled consciously with the “errors” that extremism seems often to bring out of necessity-to which neither were immune.

Blanchot’s political resistance to modern capitalism took hold at the moment when thought and art reach their breaking point in the rule of mediocrity. The preeminence of death as a motive for truth seemed to consciously reject the idea of any commitment that sought to avoid confrontation as a means to gain knowledge. This tension is what keeps shaping our struggles today.

Devotion and loyalty, intrigue and death, Blanchot’s literature was ultimately a fanatical commitment to breaking down politics as the destiny of humankind as so many splintered groupings. Thrown into collectives and manifolds, the outside is a moment reached only when the individual effects self-dissolution. Yet, no matter how the ontological rigor of his prose may have transformed many of his readers, it has also left us deprived of the tie to political innovation. Or, at least, did his logic entail that such innovation lay outside of what can be imagined within the framework of contemporary democracies.

So is it that in his extremism Blanchot’s politics were beyond all else a devotion to liberty and difference. He rejected the politics of victimization issuing from the privatized, corporate collectivities fostered by management theory in the latter’s lofty attempts at coining the limits of efficient group dynamics. And he showed not only little contempt for all the privatized pseudo-scientific self-help therapies born in its wake.

This is how the knowledge of the outside to where Blanchot has brought us may ultimately be one from which the rule of political moderation over extremism wields a most subtle sword. Far from betraying his faith in extremism, this conclusion only underscores how it is through a lack of compromise in relation to truth that the manipulation the country now faces must be dealt with. Radical collective innovation based on structurally egalitarian models in art as in politics summons the truth like no other stance.

In the end, Blanchot’s lesson is that one has to choose, and that one has no choice but to choose. A new breed of necessity is what others misrepresent as destiny. Few choices lead to effect. The greatness of Blanchot’s work is that effects made choice itself a radical necessity for art. Far from the atheist saint his literary silhouette projects, Blanchot’s memory prevails in its most accomplished form as a philosophical demon altering the terms on which communities may match the expectations and demands of crowds.

NORMAN MADARASZ, a regular contributor to CounterPunch, lives in Brazil. He can be reached at: normanmadarasz2@hotmail.com

 

More articles by:
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail