Category Archives: Blanchot

Something takes hold

Today it seems almost impossible to write. The words are traitorous. They turn against me, make me cringe. They become the words of others, of strange judges. They use me even as I think I use them.

*

Kafka’s final diary entry: ‘More and more fearful as I write. It is understandable. Every word, twisted in the hands of the spirits – this twist is their characteristic gesture – becomes a spear turned against the speaker. Most especially a remark like this. And so ad infinitum. The only consolation would be: it happens whether you like or no. And what you like is of infinitesimally little help. More than consolation is: you too have weapons.’

What weapons did he mean?

*

In Beckett, too, words turn against the narrator:

‘How they must hate me! Ah a nice state they have me in – but still I’m not their creature (not quite, not yet). It’s a poor trick that consists in ramming a set of words down your gullet on the principle that you can’t bring them up without being branded as belonging to their breed. But I’ll fix their gibberish for them. I never understood a word of it in any case – not a word of the stories it spews, like gobbets in a vomit. My inability to absorb, my genius for forgetting, are more than they reckoned with. Dear incomprehension, it’s thanks to you I’ll be myself in the end.’

What was Beckett’s weapon against the traitorous menace of words, what was his defence against unfreedom? Fail better. Not in order to succeed but to make your failure absolute. Is this really what I want? Haven’t I tried? Where did it lead?

*

Blanchot, like the early Beckett, saw writing as a giving in to an obscure, incessant murmur outside meaning, there being no alternative. The writer for him was ‘always astray’, always in errancy: ‘The writer belongs to a language which no one speaks, which is addressed to no one, which has no centre, and which reveals nothing. He may believe that he affirms himself in this language, but what he affirms is altogether deprived of self.’

*

The words pour through you whether you like it or not. A ceaseless stream. So try to find yourself in them, stem the flow for a moment, just as you’d try to find yourself in a crowd of people all going different ways and saying different things. Let that be a start.

*

Small acts of kindness that make the day real. ‘I love you’, says S. seriously as she chops vegetables. For a second I’m not sure who she means.

Early morning after another bad night’s sleep. A grey screen of condensation on the window. A few drops separate themselves out and leave clear wet lines as they drop. Outside the fog from the sea moves in over the fields, folding over itself. I sip my tea, empty-headed, until the fog thins into a wispy mist and evaporates into the day. S. comes out from the bedroom, stretches, yawns, smiles and touches my arm.

*

The faith involved even in typing a sentence, this sentence. Something takes hold whether you like it or not. Something happens in spite of everything, something you’re responsible for, hold on to that. Though you may never arrive you’re approaching and some truth may be given to you in your approach. Perhaps that’s the ‘weapon’ that’s given to you in writing, the hidden strength you need.

In the turning and returning of words the moment calls me into service to name it. Joy.

 

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A speech of the infinite

‘How can we live without the unknown before us?’ [Rene Char] The pressing form of this questioning, then, comes from the following: (1) to live is necessarily to live ahead of oneself; (2) to live ‘authentically’, ‘poetically’, is to have a relation with the unknown as such, and thus to put at the centre of one’s life this-the-unknown that does not allow one to live ahead of oneself and, moreover, withdraws every centre from life […] Here let us recall René Char’s now long-standing affirmation, which will bring forth everything we have just tried to say: ‘A being of which one is ignorant is a being that is infinite – capable, in intervening, of changing our anguish and our burden into arterial dawn.’ The unknown as unknown is this infinite, and the speech that that speaks it is a speech of the infinite.

– Blanchot, ‘René Char and the Thought of the Neutral’ (in The Infinite Conversation, tr. S. Hanson)

Marvellously desolate

One can reflect on this situation. It can happen that someone is very close to us, not close: the walls have fallen. Sometimes still very close, but without relation: the walls have fallen, those that separate and also those that serve to transmit signals, the language of prisons. Then one must again raise a wall, ask for a little indifference, that calm distance by which lives find equilibrium. A naive desire that takes form after having already been realized. But from such an astonishing approach to an other, one retains the impression that there was a brief moment of luck; a moment bound not to the favor of the look that may have been exchanged, but to something like a movement that may have preceded us both, just before our encounter. At this instant it seems that he was truly our companion in an infinite and infinitely deserted space where, by a marvelous chance, he had suddenly appeared at our side; so it was and so it was going to be, inexplicable, certain, and marvelous. But who was he? Only the desert, perhaps? The desert become our companion? Marvelous, this remains marvelously desolate, and then the companion has once again disappeared – there is nothing but desert. But in its harsh truth and arid presence it is suddenly close to us, familiar, a friend. A proximity that at the same time says to us: “the desert is growing.”

— Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation (tr. Hanson)

A double movement

For my part I can see […] that I must always respond to a double movement, both aspects of which are necessary but nevertheless irreconcilable. One (to express myself in an extremely crude and simplistic fashion) is passion, the realization and the expression of totality, in a dialectical process; the other is essentially non-dialectical, does not concern itself at all with unity and does not tend towards power (towards the possible). This double movement necessitates a double language in response, and, as for any language, a double intensity: the first is a language of confrontation, of opposition, of negation, so as to reduce any opposition and so as to affirm the truth in the end, in its generality, as a silent measure (through which the demand of thought passes). But the other is a language which above all *speaks*, which speaks above all else and outside anything else; it is a language which comes first, is without agreement, without confrontation, and ready to welcome the unknown, the stranger (the poetic demand passes through this language). The first names the possible and wants the possible. The other responds to the impossible. Between these two movements, which are at the same time necessary and incompatible, there is a constant tension often very difficult to sustain and, in truth, it is unsustainable. But one cannot give up, through prejudice, on one or the other, nor on the unmeasurable search that necessity, and the necessity of uniting the incompatible, demands of men.

Blanchot

I went in; I closed the door. I sat down on the bed. Blackest space extended before me. I was not in this blackness, but at the edge of it, and I confess that it is terrifying. It is terrifying because there is something in it which scorns man and which man cannot endure without losing himself. But he must lose himself; and whoever resists will founder, and whoever goes toward it will become this very blackness, this cold and dead and scornful thing in the very heart of which lives the infinite. This blackness stayed next to me, probably because of my fear: this fear was not the fear people know about, it did not break me, it did not pay any attention to me, but wandered around the room the way human things do.

— Blanchot, ‘Death Sentence’

If I read a book that interested me, I read it with vivid pleasure, but my very pleasure was behind a pane of glass and unavailable to me because of that, but also far away and in an eternal past. Yet where unimportant people and things were involved, life regained its ordinary meaning and actuality, so that though I preferred to keep life at a distance, I had to seek it in simple actions and everyday people.

— Blanchot, ‘Death Sentence’

The call of the work

For the man who sets out to write, the work is in no way a shelter in which he lives, in his peaceful and protected self, shielded from the difficulties of life. Perhaps he in fact thinks he is protected from the world, but he is exposed to a danger much greater and more menacing because it finds him powerless: the very danger that comes to him from outside, from the fact that he remains outside. And against this threat he must not defend himself; on the contrary, he must give in to it. The work demands that, demands that the man who writes it sacrifice himself for the work, become other – not other than the living man he was, the writer with his duties, his satisfactions, and his interests, but he must become no one, the empty and animated space where the call of the work resounds.

— Blanchot, The Book to Come (tr. Mandell)