‘Le Dernier homme is a trial of the limits of dissolution of both the character and language,the ability to dwell in the present is a feature of not only the last man but also the story about him. As a narrative, Le Dernier homme is not very eventful. Striking with a low dramatic voltage, lack of chronological order and only scattered pieces of information, this re´cit about the relationships between three nameless characters residing in a non-specified house presents lengthy, carefully constructed passages where nothing happens. With the characters never doing anything except spending extended stretches of time together, they are simply there with each other, in the atmosphere of time and action coming to a standstill. As Hans-Jost Frey observes, on the level of communicating meaning Le Dernier homme does not say anything and does not try to. Instead, its stylistic devices are employed in such a way that they allow it to say nothing; or, as Frey fittingly puts it, “to say what cannot be said without losing it as unsayable by saying it”. It is by trying to say nothing that the language and style of this narrative manage to exert an unprecedented pressure on the partitions between the characters – something Nathalie Sarraute announced as a goal for contemporary fiction several years earlier.
‘With its tired characters and exhausted language, everything in Le Dernier homme is “just there”, plainly and without attributes. The most manifest linguistic and stylistic elements that contribute to the impression of unadorned presence and the absence of reported events are, on the one hand, an excessive use of certain words (especially adverbs presque and peut-eˆ tre; verbs mettre a` nu, blanchir and effacer, and nouns le vide, le silence, l’immobilite´, la le´ge`rete´ and la faiblesse), and, on the other, a very unconventional syntax. Imitating the narrator’s inability to place himself firmly in his rapport to the last man, Blanchot’s sentences often oscillate among “je”, “il” and “nous” in a single long sentence. This tendency, which makes sentences develop only by diverging from the course that was grammatically determined by their beginnings, allows for the adding of often disparate segments to the endlessly ramifying compositions. The following passage, in which the narrator describes the way the last man talks, can serve asan example here:
Ce qu’il disait changeait de sens, se dirigeait non plus vers nous, mais vers lui, vers unautre que lui, un autre espace, l’intimite´ de sa faiblesse, le mur, comme je le disais a` la jeune femme, “il a touche´ le mur”, et le plus frappant e´tait alors la menace que sesparoles, si ordinaires, semblaient repre´senter pour lui, comme si elles avaient risque´ de lemettre a` nu devant le mur, ce qui se traduisait par un effacement qui blanchissait cequ’il disait au fur et a` mesure qu’il se pre´parait a` le dire.
‘Along with exemplifying the syntax of this re´cit, this sentence also explains – and performs – the speech of the last man. Here, the narrator already shows signs of speaking the same way as the last man. The last man’s speech does not only efface whatever it says; nor does it merely postpone denotation by means of constantly modifying the meaning of the sentence. It is rather that when the last man finally gets to speak, his speech, at every moment, shows his reluctance to talk about things. With his slow and heavy rhythm, what becomes more important than words is the very act of speaking. Addressing neither himself nor the narrator, and saying nothing definite, his speech only marks the fact that these two characters are together.
‘Not unlike the sparse speech of the last man, Le Dernier homme, with its static syntax and mono-semantic vocabulary, itself serves as a medium of exhausted talk. What we get in both cases is a slow and careful preparation for talking, but not the message-transmitting speech. By the time this preparation crystallises into a fully formed language, it has already started effacing itself. With nothing hard and stable remaining in the narrative, what is left is an extreme level of linguistic thinness which, as Paul de Man argues is the case with all Blanchot’s stories, is as close as one gets to an entirely “unpunctuated [form of] temporality”. This thinness is not only intricate to create – especially within the genre of narrative literature, with its tendency towards denotative language – but also difficult to undergo for a reader. Many readers undoubtedly struggle with the exhausted language of Le Dernier homme. However, even though the unusually desolate space of this narrative does not immediately make one submit to it, the reader’s uneasiness is not left unaided. From the very start, the reader is constantly reminded of a similar resistance displayed by the narrator when facing the speech of the last man. In fact, the reader experiences discomfort precisely by means of reading about the narrator’s discomfort – that is, by means of being exposed to the effect that the last man’s speech left on the narrator’s own way of telling the story.
‘As a structurally inherent part of the re´cit, the reader resembles the narrator. Since the narrative structure of Le Dernier homme comprises the homological relation between “le dernier homme” as a book and as a character of this book (the book says what it says in the same way as the last man speaks), the reader enters into another functional homology – one between the last man and the narrator. The reader, while reading about the narrator’s difficulty to adapt to the last man’s speech, doubles the narrator’s attempt to come to terms with exhaustion and emptiness because s/he has to withstand the narrator’s language that itself already resembles the one of the last man. The reader and the narrator thus form yet another functional homology of this narrative. Although thereader cannot be forced as far as to comply with the narrator’s self-expropriation, the weariness that Le Dernier homme exerts via the reader’s enacting of the narrator’s enacting of the last man’s speech demands an exhausted reader. The reader who complies with this demand, then, carries out the very fatigue that defines the last man.’ — Daniel Just
Espace Maurice Blanchot
‘The Space of Literature’ @ goodreads
Contradictory Passion: Inspiration in Blanchot’s “The Space of Literature”
‘Everything and Nothing’: Blanchot in the Space of Shakespeare”
Introduction: Blanchot’s Spaces
Analysis of the Space of Literature by Maurice Blanchot
Blanchot on the analogy between writing and suicide
I’m too dead to tell you: withdrawing rooms and other breathing spaces.
BLANCHOT AND THE RESONANT SPACES OF LITERATURE, SOUND, ART AND THOUGHT
Reading The Space of Literature (iii)
Nothing doing: Maurice Blanchot and the irreal
Introduction: Against Praise of Maurice Blanchot
(Re)Writing, (Re)Reading: Maurice Blanchot and The Space of Literature
The Negative Eschatology of Maurice Blanchot
Read the entirety for free online
Download ‘The Last Man’ here
Derrida on Blanchot
Levinas on Maurice Blanchot
Blanchot’s Nietzschean Inspiration
Christopher Fynsk. The Relation Between Bataille and Blanchot, Speech and The Alterity.
beirut 12 / 11: maurice blanchot and georges bataille
By Richard Marshall
Maurice Blanchot: As the German expression has it, the last judgement is the youngest day, and it is a day surpassing all days. Not that judgement is reserved for the end of time. On the contrary, justice won’t wait; it is to be done at every instant, to be realized all the time, and studied also (it is to be learned). Every just act (are there any?) makes of its day the last day or – as Kafka said – the very last: a day no longer situated in the ordinary succession of days but one that makes of the most commonplace ordinary, the extraordinary. He who has been the contemporary of the camps is forever a survivor: death will not make him die.
Georges Bataille: To others, the universe seems decent because decent people have gelded eyes. That is why they fear lewdness. They are never frightened by the crowing of a rooster or when strolling under a starry heaven. In general, people savor the “pleasures of the flesh” only on condition that they be insipid.
But as of then, no doubt existed for me: I did not care for what is known as “pleasures of the flesh” because they really are insipid; I cared only for what is classified as “dirty.” On the other hand, I was not even satisfied with the usual debauchery, because the only thing it dirties is debauchery itself, while, in some way or other, anything sublime and perfectly pure is left intact by it. My kind of debauchery soils not only my body and my thoughts, but also anything I may conceive in its course, that is to say, the vast starry universe, which merely serves as a backdrop.
MB: Intellectual despair results in neither weakness nor dreams, but in violence. It is only a matter of knowing how to give vent to one’s rage; whether one only wants to wander like madmen around prisons, or whether one wants to overturn them.
GB: I think that knowledge enslaves us, that at the base of all knowledge there is a servility, the acceptation of a way of life wherein each moment has meaning only in relation to another or others that will follow it.
MB: To see was terrifying, and to stop seeing tore me apart from my forehead to my throat.
GB: The fact is, that what de Sade was trying to bring to the surface of the conscious mind was precisely the thing that revolted that mind . . . From the very first he set before the consciousness things which it could not tolerate. The road to the kingdom of childhood, governed by ingenuousness and innocence, is thus regained in the horror of atonement. The purity of love is regained in its intimate truth which, as I said, is that of death. Death and the instant of divine intoxication merge when they both oppose those intentions of Good which are based on rational calculation. And death indicates the instant which, in so far as it is instantaneous, renounces the calculated quest for survival. The instant of the new individual being depended on the death of other beings. Had they not died there would have been no room for new ones. Reproduction and death condition the immortal renewal of life; they condition the instant which is always new. That is why we can only have a tragic view of the enchantment of life, but that is also why tragedy is the symbol of enchantment.
MB: When Kafka allows a friend to understand that he writes because otherwise he would go mad, he knows that writing is madness already, his madness, a kind of vigilence, unrelated to any wakefulness save sleep’s: insomnia. Madness against madness, then. But he believes that he masters the one by abandoning himself to it; the other frightens him, and is his fear; it tears through him, wounds and exalts him. It is as if he had to undergo all the force of an uninterruptable continuity, a tension at the edge of the insupportable which he speaks of with fear and not without a feeling of glory. For glory is the disaster.
GB: Extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror.
MB: And there is no question that we are preoccupied by dying. But why? It is because when we die, we leave behind not only the world but also death. That is the paradox of the last hour. Death works with us in the world; it is a power that humanizes nature, that raises existence to being, and it is within each one of us as our most human quality; it is death only in the world – man only knows death because he is man, and he is only man because he is death in the process of becoming. But to die is to shatter the world; it is the loss of person, the annihilation of the being; and so it is also the loss of death, the loss of what in it and for me made it death. As long as I live, I am a mortal man, but when I die, by ceasing to be man I also cease to be mortal, I am no longer capable of dying, and my impending death horrifies me because I see it as it is: no longer death, but the impossibility of dying.
GB: There is always some limit which the individual accepts. He identifies this limit with himself. Horror seizes him at the thought that this limit may cease to be. But we are wrong to take this limit and the individual’s acceptance of it seriously. The limit is only there to be overreached. Fear and horror are not the real and final reaction; on the contrary, they are a temptation to overstep the bounds.
MB: The disaster… is what escapes the very possibility of experience—it is the limit of writing. This must be repeated: the disaster de-scribes.
GB: I remember that one day, when we were in a car tooling along at top speed,we crashed into a cyclist, an apparently very young and very pretty girl. Her head was almost totally ripped off by the wheels. For a long time, we were parked a few yards beyond without getting out, fully absorbed in the sight of the corpse. The horror and despair at so much bloody flesh, nauseating in part, and in part very beautiful, was fairly equivalent to our usual impression upon seeing one another.
MB: “A child is being killed.” This silent passive, this dead eternity to which a temporal form of life must be given in order that we might separate ourselves from it by a murder–this companion, but of no one, whom we seek to particularise as an absence, that we might live upon his banishment, desire with the desire he has not, and speak through and against the world he does not utter–nothing (neither knowledge nor un-knowledge) can designate him, even if the simplest of sentences seems, in four or five words, to divulge him (a child is being killed.)
GB: Realism gives me the impression of a mistake. Violence alone escapes the feeling of poverty of those realistic experiences. Only death and desire have the force that oppresses, that takes one’s breath away. Only the extremism of desire and death enable one to attain the truth.
MB: Whoever digs at verse must renounce all idols; he has to break with everything. He cannot have truth for his horizon, or the future as his element, for he has no right to hope. He has, on the contrary, to despair. Whoever delves into verse dies; he encounters his death as an abyss. We can never put enough distance between ourselves and what we love. To think that God is, is still to think of him as present; this is a thought according to our measure, destined only to console us. It is much more fitting to think that God is not, just as we must love him purely enough that we could be indifferent to the fact that he should not be. It is for this reason that the atheist is closer to God than the believer.
GB: Laughing at the universe liberated my life. I escape its weight by laughing. I refuse any intellectual translations of this laughter, since my slavery would commence from that point on. …out of despair I decided to follow this horror through. Literature is either the essential or nothing. I believe that the Evil—an acute form of Evil—which it expresses, has a sovereign value for us. But this concept does not exclude morality: on the contrary, it demands a ‘hypermorality.’ Literature is communication. Communication requires loyalty. A rigorous morality results from complicity in the knowledge of Evil, which is the basis of intense communication.
MB: I cannot forgive — forgiveness comes from others — but I cannot be forgiven either, if forgiveness is what calls the “I” into question and demands that I give myself, that I subject myself to the lack of subjectivity. And if forgiveness comes from others, it only comes; there is never any certitude that it can arrive, because in it there is nothing of the (sacramental) power to determine. It can only delay in the element of indecision. In The Trial, one might think that the death scene constitutes the pardon, the end of the interminable; but there is no end, since Kafka specifies that shame survives, which is to say, the infinite itself, a mockery of life as life’s beyond.
GB: Eroticism is the brink of the abyss. I’m leaning out over deranged horror (at this point my eyes roll back in my head). The abyss is the foundation of the possible. We’re brought to the edge of the same abyss by uncontrolled laughter or ecstasy. From this comes a “questioning” of everything possible. This is the stage of rupture, of letting go of things, of looking forward to death.
MB: The central point of the work of art is the work as origin, the point which cannot be reached, yet the only one which is worth reaching. The authentic answer is always the question’s vitality. It can close in around the question, but it does so in order to preserve the question by keeping it open. The disaster… is what escapes the very possibility of experience—it is the limit of writing. This must be repeated: the disaster de-scribes.
GB: To put it more precisely, since language is by definition the expression of civilised man, violence is silent. Civilisation and language grew as though violence was something outside. But silence cannot do away with things that language cannot state. Violence is as stubbornly there just as much as death, and if language cheats to conceal universal annihilation, the placid work of time, language alone suffers, language is the poorer, not time and not violence.
Maurice Blanchot The Last Man (1957)
‘We can dream about the last writer, with whom would disappear, without anyone noticing it, the little mystery of writing. A dense, dream-like exploration of the extreme limits of this mystery, written some ten years prior to the Death of the Author, (though unpublished in English until thirty years later) Maurice Blanchot’s The Last Man (Le Dernier Homme, 1957) could be considered a narrative follow-up to The Space of Literature (L’Espace littéraire, 1955) or a fictional companion to the critical essays composing The Book to Come (Le Livre à venir, 1959). One can imagine an infinite conversation between these works: drifting wearily across abyssal alterities—the echo, in advance, of what has not been said and will never be said. But this sumptuous récit alone demands the reader’s full attention—marvelously, Blanchot writes what cannot be written without losing it as un-writable by writing it (Hans-Yost Frey, YFS, 1998). Narrating at the threshold of this impossible writing, The Last Man weaves a blurring of several prosopopetic characters towards a radical revision of the subject and the text. The prose itself never crystallizes into an unambiguous statement—Blanchot’s trangressive philosophy peculiar in the tantalizingly pleasurable suspension of the never-fulfilled promise of understanding. Reading happens in this continual absence of comprehension: instead, dense knots of delightfully paradoxical propositions and stupefying catachreses drive the reader on in the unconditional acceptance of the text that pierces, like a look that is too direct, the indeterminate prose, and makes all relations, and especially our relationship to time, absolutely precarious.’ — /ubu editions
p.s. Hey. ** Misanthrope, No, never. When I was young, I learned handwriting analysis, and I used to study people that way or read people’s handwriting when asked, with strangely often correct readings, but no face stuff, and I don’t enjoy looking at my own face casually, so I definitely don’t analyse it. I probably did when I was on acid ages back ‘cos that’s something one tends to want to do while fried. You? Oops, hope your pains are a quickie. Aging does have unpleasant surprises in store for one’s body, but you’re not very old (yet). Again, thanking the Lord above or whoever for our non-summer over here, although we’re supposed to finally get one murderous day this Friday. ** David Ehrenstein, Good old F’OH. ** JoeM, October seems theoretically possibly doable and … well, maybe not safe but kind of maybe safe-ish? Who knows. We could be locked back inside over here by then. Pretty good safety system they’re working with, it sounds. All bases covered pretty much. I had my first temperature check the other day, bizarrely in order to be able to enter Hard Cafe Cafe of all places. It seems you’ve sorted the secret of being named as you wish. ** _Black_Acrylic, Might even have had some knowledge of it maybe, who knows? Well, I suppose someone knows. Oh, man, that does sound like a real dilemma: the possible move. I’m way, way outside the situation and know little, but it does make me a little sad thinking of you not in Dundee. I kind of think of you and the DCA being wedded at the hip. But you like your parents, so there’s that. And location moves can be excellent beginnings, as I well know. But, yeah, that’s tough one. You wouldn’t have to move until year’s end in any case, right? ** Steve Erickson, Obviously I trust you will ace your test, but ultra-best luck just in case you need it. I don’t know of Kurt Walker’s ‘s01e03’, but I’ll find it since it’s so easily found. Thanks. Curious about the Seimetz. Such a fucking drag that it has the Shane Carruth shit smeared all over it. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Thank you, and, hm, probably not on the app? Fuck knows though. Ha ha. Never saw ‘Antiviral’. I think I saw it offered on one of the ‘illegal’ sites though, and, if so, zoom. ** Okay. It’s been a good, oh, 7 or 8 months since I turned the blog over to my personal literary god Maurice Blanchot, so it seemed high time. ‘The Last Man’ is my second favorite of his novels, and it a fucking sublime and amazing novel if you ask me, which of course you didn’t, but, if you were me, which you’re not, I would definitely read today’s spotlit novel if you haven’t. See you tomorrow.