‘The first thing to say is that ‘criticism’ isn’t the right word for The Space of Literature, and, despite the many philosophical terms, allusions and adoptions, most notably from Heidegger, ‘philosophy’ isn’t either. What sets Blanchot apart from any definable genre is that his writing exposes itself to its own analysis, or, rather, the analysis exposes itself to writing lacking such a possessive pronoun.
‘The opening chapter asserts the ‘solitude’ of the written work: To write is to break the bond that unites the word with myself. The work is even separate from the book, which we might see as a vessel borne on the surface of a submarine current: Writing is the interminable, the incessant. This means that the space of the title is not a privileged realm for a few “great writers”; it does not have borders or features with rules to be learned but is at a remove from such power. Mallarmé felt the very disquieting symptoms caused by the sole act of writing.
‘Blanchot cites Kafka’s comment that he has entered literature when he replaces ‘I’ with ‘He’, but adds that this metamorphosis is more profound: In doing this, the writer belongs to a language which no one speaks, which is addressed to no one, which has no center, and which reveals nothing. Mastery over words puts the writer in contact with a fundamental passivity that cannot be grasped: To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking. Instead, in a stirring paradox, mastery consists in the power to stop writing, to interrupt what is being written. This a curious formulation. When we admire the tone of a particular writer, he says, it is not the writer’s voice we admire but the intimacy of the silence he imposes on the word. He compares this to classicism in which the calm of the regular form guarantees a language free from idiosyncrasy, where impersonal generality speaks and secures the writer a relation with truth. But such calm requires the stability of an aristocratic society in which a part of society concentrates the whole within itself by isolating itself well above what sustains it. We might say that genre fiction is an aristocratic form.
‘The imposition of silence is necessary because writing is an exposure to an outside – what might have been called the divine, the sublime or the infinite, and which Blanchot refers to the other night or the other of all worlds. And it is in incantatory prose and such hyperbolic phrases, otherwise unthinkable in literary criticism, that exposes us to how strange literature is in itself. Once you become accustomed to what at first appears as anachronistic and even absurd (certainly to English eyes – I remember a friend giggling as he read the opening pages), you might also recognise such excess defines us as human: in excess of body, in excess of world, akin to the internal perspective of language that Noam Chomsky has described and the excess of consciousness Mallarmé called this drop of nothingness. And if we are drawn to poetry and to the poets Blanchot writes about, it is their strange excess that sets their work apart and deserves to be addressed without being neutralised within the stability of a regular form. This is also why The Space of Literature appeared so vital to me upon re-reading; it does not stand aside from its subject.
‘The risk taken by such prose is in stark contrast to scholarly method that corrals prose into pens of reason isolated from the distress of the infinite. While it resists the temptations of fascination, which is necessary for its purpose, it does not assume the guarantees it expects. As Blanchot writes in a later book:
Reason … does not begin in the light of an evidency by which it would seize itself, but rather in an obscurity that itself is not manifest and whose discovery, seizure, and affirmation alone put thought to work, causing it to find and to extend its own light.
‘Blanchot turns the light off to reveal such obscurity. In a disconcerting move, reaffirming the unaccountability of literary space, he rejects the familiar priority of real-world over literature in which artistic activity is often portrayed as unrealistic, escapist and even in denial of the world, gaining acceptance only if it submits to the superiority of the physical world. For Blanchot, while the artist often seems a weak being who cringes within the closed sphere of his work where…he can take revenge for his failures in society, it is instead the artist who is exposed to the greatest threat: the loss of self and world in the space of literature:
It is then that Rimbaud flees into the desert from the responsibilities of the poetic decision. He buries his imagination and his glory. He says “adieu” to “the impossible” in the same way that Leonardo da Vinci does and almost in the same terms. He does not come back to the world; he takes refuge in it; and bit by bit his days, devoted henceforth to the aridity of gold, make a shelter for him of protective forgetfulness.
In later life, Rimbaud is said to have denounced his past work, refusing any further mention of it, which, for Blanchot, “shows the terror which he still felt and the force of the upheaval which he could not undergo to the limit. He is reproached with having sold out and deserted, but the reproach is easy for those who have not run the risk”. The bottomless abyss belongs to art.
‘So much for escapism.
‘Re-reading The Space of Literature has reminded me why so much fiction leaves me confused by indifference and why criticism and reviewing often seems beside the point. While a novel’s subject matter might be powerful and important, its story compelling, the prose style especially seductive and its sentences beautifully formed, such wealth often seems beside the point. The same goes for its social and political relevance, for a survey of its formal structures and for revelations provided by psychological analysis. They might seem very insightful and pressing, but essentially beside the point, which is itself unlocatable. But what other reasons can there be for reading a novel?
‘Blanchot recognises how such a question is ironed out in book culture, with the general reader who makes a livelihood in a world where the clear daytime truth is a necessity [and] believes that the work holds the moment of truth within it constantly translating the work into ordinary language, effective formulae, useful values while, on the other hand, the dilettante and the critic devote themselves to the ‘beauties’ of the work, to its aesthetic value. Everyone, it seems, is happy. And with the advent of the internet, these groups have become indistinguishable. Witness the routine use of the word ‘experimental’ to champion, mitigate or patronise anything that doesn’t quite meet either process, without any question of what ‘experimental’ might mean in in the first place.
‘To give an idea, Blanchot returns instead to the experience of writing before any of these ideas come into play. If the writer is devoted to the work, they are drawn by it toward the point where it undergoes impossibility. That is, when writing empties itself of the world and appears to writer as empty, without value. It is an experience Blanchot calls the very experience of night:
In the night, everything has disappeared. This is the first night. Here absence approaches – silence, repose, night. Here … the sleeper does not know he sleeps, and he who dies goes to meet real dying. Here language completes and fulfills itself in the silent profundity which vouches for it as its meaning.
‘This is not a negative however, as it is where craft and determination gets the writer through the night in order to produce books. We can recognise how night maintains itself in the popularity of, for example, Horror or Gothic fantasy, in which we are exposed to the darkness in human life and to the black-hole of a non-human world. Except, we all know it is only the thrill of a fairground ghost train. It is in this context that Blanchot divides night in two: When everything has disappeared in the night, ‘everything has disappeared’ appears. This is the other night.
We enter into the night and we rest there, sleeping and dying. But the other night does not welcome, does not open. In it one is still outside. It does not close either; it is not the great Castle, near but unapproachable, impenetrable because the door is guarded. Night is inaccessible because to have access to it is to accede to the outside, to remain outside the night and to lose forever the possibility of emerging from it.
‘Blanchot’s essay on Beckett’s trilogy is the most famous expression of this condition. Not even the best creative writing course can help. This might be why indifference stands before me and devouring novel after novel. Many might be impressively wrested from night but they are also recognisably resistant to the other; even the latest ‘experimental’ hit reaches for the same gifts of silent profundity. Despite this, I am still drawn to novels, many of which are not in the least avant garde, as my enthusiasm for In a Hotel Garden demonstrates. So what is going on there; have I fallen for sentimentality? My response would be that this also shows how novels might dwell in what Blanchot calls the torn intimacy of an alliance between the activity of book making and the passivity of writing, as the characters seek to bring to life what haunts them and yet do so only in the dissimulation of speech and stories. And not only the characters.
‘It is for this reason I am drawn to what is often called metafiction and invariably disparaged as writing about writing, which might still be a turning away from the world, yet only in search of an origin, for what haunts writing. Blanchot offers a genealogy of what has passed in literature:
The work was once the language of the gods, their absence’s speech; subsequently it was the just, the balanced language of men, and then the language of men in their diversity. Then again it was the language of disinherited men, of those who do not speak. And then it was the language of what does not speak in men, of the secret, of despair or ravishment.
What, he asks, does such a list tell us? Only this: that art is constantly invisible to us. What is invisible demands to be seen, and if this suggests a demand separate from literary criticism, it is entirely in keeping with our times, in which origins are strictly taboo. What is left now for the work to say? What has always eluded its language? Blanchot asks. Seventy years after its publication, the answer and challenge proposed by The Space of Literature remains: Itself.’ — Stephen Mitchelmore
Typescript of The Space of Literature
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
Buy ‘The Space of Literature’
Christopher Fynsk. Blanchot, Language, Negation, Dialectics and Signification. 2012
Partially Removing the Remove of Literature. Kristen Mueller. & So.
“A book, even a fragmentary one, has a center which attracts it. This center is not fixed, but is displaced by the pressure of the book and circumstances of its composition. Yet it is also a fixed center which, if it is genuine, displaces itself, while remaining the same and becoming always more central, more hidden, more uncertain and more imperious. He who writes the book writes it out of desire for this center and out of ignorance. The feeling of having touched it can very well be only the illusion of having reached it.” -Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature
In Reading the Remove of Literature (Information as Material, 2006), Nick Thurston has erased the text of the English translation of Maurice Blanchot’s L’espace littéraire (The Space of Literature), while at the same time preserving his own marginalia, resetting them in almost the exact typeface of Blanchot’s text.
In Partially Removing the Remove of Literature, Thurston’s marginalia have been partially erased. Only the non-verbal, diagrammatic traces – the underlinings and arrows, circles and asterisks – remain, printed one atop another, collapsing each chapter into the space of a single page. The chapters’ running titles, reprinted at the top of each page, offer the sole clue as to what Blanchot once wrote, and Thurston once read and annotated.
Four letters from Maurice Blanchot to his American translator Paul Auster
Maurice Blanchot The Space of Literature
University of Nebraska Press
‘Maurice Blanchot, the eminent literary and cultural critic, has had a vast influence on contemporary French writers—among them Jean Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida. From the 1930s through the present day, his writings have been shaping the international literary consciousness.
‘The Space of Literature, first published in France in 1955, is central to the development of Blanchot’s thought. In it he reflects on literature and the unique demand it makes upon our attention. Thus he explores the process of reading as well as the nature of artistic creativity, all the while considering the relation of the literary work to time, to history, and to death. This book consists not so much in the application of a critical method or the demonstration of a theory of literature as in a patiently deliberate meditation upon the literary experience, informed most notably by studies of Mallarmé, Kafka, Rilke, and Hölderlin. Blanchot’s discussions of those writers are among the finest in any language.’ — UoNP
Sometimes, when a man is holding a pencil, his hand won’t release it no matter how badly he wants to let it go. Instead, the hand tightens rather than open. The other hand intervenes more successfully, but then the hand which one might call sick makes a slow, tentative movement and tries to catch the departing object. The strange thing is the slowness of this movement. The hand moves in a tempo which is scarcely human: not that of viable action, not that of hope either, but rather the shadow of time, the hand being itself the shadow of a hand slipping ghostlike toward an object that has become its own shadow. This hand experiences, at certain moments, a very great need to seize: it must grasp the pencil, it has to. It receives an order, an imperious command. This phenomenon is known as “tyrannical prehension.”
The writer seems to be the master of his pen; he can become capable of great mastery over words and over what he wants to make them express. But his mastery only succeeds in putting him, keeping him in contact with the fundamental passivity where the word, no longer anything but its appearance — the shadow of a word — never can be mastered or even grasped. It remains the ungraspable which is also unreleasable: the indecisive moment of fascination.
The writer’s mastery is not in the hand that writes, the “sick” hand that never lets the pencil go — that can’t let it go because what it holds it doesn’t really hold; what it holds belongs to the realm of shadows, and it is itself a shade. Mastery always characterizes the other hand, the one that doesn’t write and is capable of intervening at the right moment to seize the pencil and put it aside. Thus mastery consists in the power to stop writing, to interrupt what is being written, thereby restoring to the present instant its rights, its decisive trenchancy.
We must start questioning again. We have said that the writer belongs to the work, but that what belongs to him, what he finishes by himself, is only a book: “by himself” corresponds to the restriction “only.” The writer is never face to face with the work, and when there is a work, he doesn’t know it; or, more precisely, even this ignorance is unknown to him, is only granted him in the impossibility of reading, the ambiguous experience that puts him back to work.
The writer goes back to work. Why doesn’t he cease writing? Why, if he breaks with the work, as Rimbaud did, does this break strike us as a mysterious impossibility? Does he just desire a perfect product, and if he does not cease to work at it, is it simply because perfection is never perfect enough? Does he even write in the expectation of a work? Does he bear it always in mind as that which would put an end to his task, as the goal worthy of so much effort? Not at all. The work is never that in anticipation of which one can write (in prospect of which one would relate to the process of writing as to the exercise of some power).
The fact that the writer’s task ends with his life hides another fact: that, through this task, his life slides into the distress of the infinite.
The Interminable, the Incessant
The solitude which the work visits on the writer reveals itself in this: that writing is now the interminable, the incessant. The writer no longer belongs to the magisterial realm where to express oneself means to express the exactitude and the certainty of things and values according to the sense of their limits. What he is to write delivers the one who has to write to an affirmation over which he has no authority, which is itself without substance, which affirms nothing, and yet is not repose, not the dignity of silence, for it is what still speaks when everything has been said. This affirmation doesn’t precede speech, because it prevents speech from beginning, just as it takes away from language the right and the power to interrupt itself. To write is to break the bond that unites the word with myself. It is to destroy the relation which, determining that I speak toward “you,” gives me room to speak within the understanding which my word receives from you (for my word summons you, and is the summons that begins in me because it finishes in you). To write is to break this bond. To write is, moreover, to withdraw language from the world, to detach it from what makes it a power according to which, when I speak, it is the world that declares itself, the clear light of day that develops through tasks undertaken, through action and time.
Writing is the interminable, the incessant. The writer, it is said, gives up saying “I.” Kafka remarks, with surprise, with enchantment, that he has entered into literature as soon as he can substitute “He” for “I.” This is true, but the transformation is much more profound. The writer belongs to a language which no one speaks, which is addressed to no one, which has no center, and which reveals nothing. He may believe that he affirms himself in this language, but what he affirms is altogether deprived of self. To the extent that, being a writer, he does justice to what requires writing, he can never again express himself, any more than he can appeal to you, or even introduce another’s speech. Where he is, only being speaks — which means that language doesn’t speak any more, but is. It devotes itself to the pure passivity of being.
If to write is to surrender to the interminable, the writer who consents to sustain writing’s essence loses the power to say “I.” And so he loses the power to make others say “I.” Thus he can by no means give life to characters whose liberty would be guaranteed by his creative power. The notion of characters, as the traditional form of the novel, is only one of the compromises by which the writer, drawn out of himself by literature in search of its essence, tries to salvage his relations with the world and himself.
To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence. I make perceptible, by my silent mediation, the uninterrupted affirmation, the giant murmuring upon which language opens and thus becomes image, becomes imaginary, becomes a speaking depth, an indistinct plenitude which is empty. This silence has its source in the effacement toward which the writer is drawn. Or else, it is the resource of his mastery, the right of intervention which the hand that doesn’t write retains — the part of the writer which can always say no and, when necessary, appeal to time, restore the future.
When we admire the tone of a work, when we respond to its tone as to its most authentic aspect, what are we referring to? Not to style, or to the interest and virtues of the language, but to this silence precisely, this vigorous force by which the writer, having been deprived of himself, having renounced himself, has in this effacement nevertheless maintained the authority of a certain power: the power decisively to be still, so that in this silence what speaks without beginning of end might take on form, coherence, and sense.
The tone is not the writer’s voice, but the intimacy of the silence he imposes upon the word. This implies that the silence is still his — what remains of him in the discretion that sets him aside. The tone makes great writers, but perhaps the work is indifferent to what makes them great.
In the effacement toward which he is summoned, the “great writer” still holds back; what speaks is no longer he himself, but neither is it the sheer slipping away of no one’s word. For he maintains the authoritative though silent affirmation of the effaced “I.” He keeps the cutting edge, the violent swiftness of active time, of the instant.
Thus he preserves himself within the work; where there is no more restraint, he contains himself. But the work also retains, because of this, a content. It is not altogether its own interior.
The writer we call classic — at least in France — sacrifices within himself the idiom which is proper to him, but he does so in order to give voice to the universal. The calm of a regular form, the certainty of a language free from idiosyncrasy, where impersonal generality speaks, secures him a relation with truth — with truth which is beyond the person and purports to be beyond time. Then literature has the glorious solitude of reason, that rarefied life at the heart of the whole which would require resolution and courage if this reason were not in fact the stability of an ordered aristocratic society; that is, the noble satisfaction of a part of society which concentrates the whole within itself by isolating itself well above what sustains it.
When to write is to discover the interminable, the writer who enters this region does not leave himself behind in order to approach the universal. He does not move toward a surer world, a finer or better justified world where everything would be ordered according to the clarity of the impartial light of day. He does not discover the admirable language which speaks honorably for all. What speaks in him is the fact that, in one way or another, he is no longer himself; he isn’t anyone any more. The third person substituting for the “I”: such is the solitude that comes to the writer on account of the work. It does not denote objective disinterestedness, creative detachment. It does not glorify consciousness in someone other than myself or the evolution of a human vitality which, in the imaginary space of the work of art, would retain the freedom to say “I.” The third person is myself become no one, my interlocutor turned alien; it is my no longer being able, where I am, to address myself and the inability of whoever addresses me to say “I”; it is his not being himself.
Recourse to the “Journal”
It is perhaps striking that from the moment the work becomes the search for art, from the moment it becomes literature, the writer increasingly feels the need to maintain a relation to himself. His feeling is one of extreme repugnance at losing his grasp upon himself in the interests of that neutral force, formless and bereft of any destiny, which is behind everything that gets written. This repugnance, or apprehension, is revealed by the concern, characteristic of so many authors, to compose what they call their “journal.” Such a preoccupation is far removed from the complacent attitudes usually described as Romantic. The journal is not essentially confessional; it is not one’s own story. It is a memorial. What must the writer remember? Himself: who he is when he isn’t writing, when he lives daily life, when he is alive and true, not dying and bereft of truth. But the tool he uses in order to recollect himself is, strangely, the very element of forgetfulness: writing. That is why, however, the truth of the journal lies not in the interesting, literary remarks to be found there, but in the insignificant details which attach it to daily reality. The journal represents the series of reference points which a writer establishes in order to keep track of himself when he begins to suspect the dangerous metamorphosis to which he is exposed. It is a route that remains viable; it is something like a watchman’s walkway upon ramparts: parallel to, overlooking, and sometimes skirting around the other path — the one where to stray is the endless task. Here true things are still spoken of. Here, whoever speaks retains his name and speaks in this name, and the dates he notes down belong in a shared time where what happens really happens. The journal — this book which is apparently altogether solitary — is often written out of fear and anguish at the solitude which comes to the writer on account of the work.
The recourse to the journal indicates that he who writes doesn’t want to break with contentment. He doesn’t want to interrupt the propriety of days which really are days and which really follow one upon the other. The journal roots the movement of writing in time, in the humble succession of days whose dates preserve this routine. Perhaps what is written there is already nothing but insincerity; perhaps it is said without regard for truth. But it is said in the security of the event. It belongs to occupations, incidents, the affairs of the world — to our active present. This continuity is nil and insignificant, but at least it is irreversible. It is a pursuit that goes beyond itself toward tomorrow, and proceeds there definitively.
The journal indicates that already the writer is no longer capable of belonging to time through the ordinary certainty of action, through the shared concerns of common tasks, of an occupation, through the simplicity of intimate speech, the force of unreflecting habit. He is no longer truly historical; but he doesn’t want to waste time either, and since he doesn’t know anymore how to do anything but write, at least he writes in response to his everyday history and in accord with the preoccupations of daily life. It happens that writers who keep a journal are the most literary of all, but perhaps this is precisely because they avoid, thus, the extreme of literature, if literature is ultimately the fascinating realm of time’s absence.
p.s. Hey. ** Armando, Hi. Hm, well, here are my 20 favorite LA home haunts/mazes/haunted attractions of my recent visit that I posted on Facebook: Stoney Pointe Haunt (Santa Clarita), Twisted Minds Productions … Salem: Escape the Coven (San Gabriel), Reign of Terror (Thousand Oaks), Shiver (Valencia), Rotten Apple 907 presents … Death Triangle (Burbank), Club Fear presents … Twisted Manor (Santa Clarita), Gothic Hills Cemetery (Sylmar), Holidayz in Hell (Universal Studios), Agoura Horror Story (Agoura Hills), Pumpkin Jacks Haunted House (Santa Clarita), Pirate’s Cave Haunt (Orange), The 17th Door (Fullerton), Trick or Treat (@ Los Angeles Haunted Hayride), The Fleshyard (Anaheim), Forbidden Woods Cemetery (North Hollywood), The Best Halloween Store Ever! (Interactive Experience) (Thousand Oaks), Wax Works (Knott Scary Farm), Dark Entities (Knott Scary Farm), Dark Ride (Knott Scary Farm), Origins: The Curse of Calico (Knott Scary Farm). Yes, I’ve been to Winchester Mystery House many times. It’s great. Very, very lucky you to have seen ‘A Hidden Life’. Can’t wait. I’m not a fan of Joni Mitchell whatsoever, but it’s good she’s still ticking. Today: Try to finish the first funding application docs for Zac’s and my new film as they’re due on Tuesday, try to stay alert (jet lag), see Gisele. You? ** David Ehrenstein, I heard about ‘The Souvenir’. I can’t remember. I won’t rush if it gets here. ** Sypha, Thanks. Yeah, I thought the Tarantino was kind of loose and fun. I really like his writing generally, but it wasn’t as sharp in the new film, I didn’t think. But, yeah, it was nice. Great use of that Paul Revere and the Raiders track. Oh, interesting. About the Bresson/Waters recommendations. Okay. I think that, with both of them, you should start by seeing one earlier and one later film, since the eras are pretty distinct. With Waters, I would start with ‘Female Trouble’ (early) and ‘Serial Mom’ (later). With Bresson, I would start with ‘Pickpocket’ (early), and, so as not to be so predictable as to recommend ‘The Devil, Probably’, I would say ‘Lancelot du Lac’ (later), which is the first Bresson film I saw and the one that made me fall in love with his work and changed my life. Thank you for asking, James! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey, Ben. Thanks for liking the post and for thanking Anne. ** JM, Cool, glad you dug the post. Oh, yeah, right, duh, the lucy ellmann novel. I was going on 3 hours sleep yesterday, and my brain was toast. I really want to check that out. I’m already planning to pick up a copy when I go to London next week. I really, really like your ideas/plans for the TCSM a lot. It got my sleepy brain sparking. Exciting! Did you already do the performance based on your Amphetamine Sulphate book? Sorry if that’s a dumb question. Again, my brain ain’t what it usually is, whatever it usually is. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Well, rain and bad shoes are pretty sane excuse not to go out strolling. I do know Neurocam, and I’ve watched the doc. on Youtube. It’s been a while, but I remember being fairly riveted? Look forward to your ‘FP’ review. ** KeatonCup, In a cup! Or is a cup! How was ‘Dr. Sleep’? I’m wary. Ooh, unexpected turns, the spice of life if not its substance. Excellent. ** Bill, Hi, B. People seem to be liking ‘The Lighthouse’ a lot, which depresses me since I thought it was artsy fartsy, borrowed, vapid, badly written, hammily performed, and superficially directed bleh, but I seem to be in minority. So who knows? I wanted to see ‘Parasite’ in LA, but missed it. Boy, everyone sure seems to like it a lot. Curious. ** Right. Today I spotlight a great book by my man, my favorite writer and thinker, the one and only Mr. Maurice Blanchot. No pressure though. But do give it a bit of your eyesight and brain power, if you will. See you tomorrow.