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Maurice Blanchot (1907 - 2003)

Lifespan: 1907 - 2003

Related: experimental literature - 1900s literature - nouveau roman - Georges Bataille (friend of) - French literature

Lautreamont and Sade (1949) - Maurice Blanchot [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Titles: Thomas the Obscure (1941) - Maurice Blanchot

'I wanted to meet Blanchot very much. I felt a very close connection to him, and he wrote me very flattering, very humble letters, in terms of the leeway I had with translating his work. -These are your works, these translations are yours to make,- and so on. Part of that was just French formality and politeness. But part of it, in his case, was really genuine. So I felt this connection with him, but he really never saw anyone anymore, not even people who had known him for decades. But I thought he might make an exception just because I'd been translating his work. So I wrote him a note when I was going to Paris, saying I would be there on such-and-such a day and was staying at this hotel, and wanted to call him. --Lydia Davis, Blanchot's translator quoted in Dennis Cooper's blog [Oct 2006]


Maurice Blanchot (September 22, 1907-February 20, 2003) was a French philosopher, literary theorist and writer of fiction. His influence on later post-structuralist theorists such as Jacques Derrida is difficult to overestimate. It would be wrong to speak of Blanchot's work in terms of a coherent, all-encompassing 'theory', since it is a work founded on paradox and impossibility. If there is a thread running through all his writing, it is the constant engagement with the 'question of literature', a simultaneous enactment and interrogation of the profoundly strange experience of writing. For Blanchot, 'literature begins at the moment when literature becomes a question' (Literature and the Right to Death).

Blanchot draws on the work of the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé in formulating his conception of literary language as anti-realist and distinct from everyday experience. Literary language, as double negation, demands that we experience the absence masked by the word as absence; it exposes us to the exteriority of language, an experience akin to the impossibility of death. Blanchot engages with Heidegger on the question of the philosopher's death, showing how literature and death are both experienced as anonymous passivity.

Blanchot's work was also strongly influenced by his friends Georges Bataille and Emmanuel Levinas. Blanchot's later work in particular is influenced by Levinasian ethics and the question of responsibility to the Other.

His best-known fictional work is Thomas the Obscure, an unsettlingly abstract novel about the experience of reading.

Blanchot died on February 20, 2003 in Yvelines. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Blanchot [Dec 2004]

Friendship with Georges Bataille

Bataille's friendship with Maurice Blanchot has acquired legendary status and has become a touchstone for French post-Heideggerian discussions of friendship and community (see, e.g., Nancy); one might also recall here, in order to suggest among other things his remarkable intellectual range, Bataille's intimacy at one point or another in his life with Roger Caillois, René Char, Pierre Klossowski, Alexandre Kojève, Jacques Lacan, Michel Leiris, André Masson, and Pablo Picasso. --Marc Redfield, http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/georges_bataille.html [Dec 2004]

Lautreamont and Sade (1949) - Maurice Blanchot

Product Description:
In "Lautréamont and Sade", originally published in 1949, Maurice Blanchot forcefully distinguishes his critical project from the major intellectual currents of his day, surrealism and existentialism. Today, Lautréamont and Sade, these unique figures in the histories of literature and thought, are as crucially relevant to theorists of language, reason, and cruelty as they were in post-war Paris.

"Sade’s Reason," in part a review of Pierre Klossowski’s "Sade, My Neighbor," was first published in "Les Temps modernes". Blanchot offers Sade’s reason, a corrosive rational unreasoning, apathetic before the cruelty of the passions, as a response to Sartre’s Hegelian politics of commitment.

"The Experience of Lautréamont," Blanchot’s longest sustained essay, pursues the dark logic of "Maldoror" through the circular gravitation of its themes, the grinding of its images, its repetitive and transformative use of language, and the obsessive metamorphosis of its motifs. Blanchot’s Lautréamont emerges through this search for experience in the relentless unfolding of language. This treatment of the experience of Lautréamont unmistakably alludes to Georges Bataille’s "inner experience."

Republishing the work in 1963, Blanchot prefaced it with an essay distinguishing his critical practice from that of Heidegger. --via Amazon.com

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