politiques, 1953-1993», par Maurice Blanchot, Gallimard, «les Cahiers
de la NRF», édition établie par Eric Hoppenot, 272 p., 16,50 euros. Le Nouvel Observateur du 10 juillet 2008. Original French text here. Via This Space.
We do not know enough, in our low culture of forgetting, to what extent Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) was, from the shadows, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. We find traces of his austere and corrosive influence everywhere– at the NRF, the Editions de Minuit, in spellbound philosophers (Foucault, Derrida), in the very perception of literature as subversive force that Mallarmé called “restrained action.” Remember: this was still the era of the “great silence”, of writers that we never saw in the media circus (no television, no radio, no photographs no interviews, no PR firms), nothing but books. These masters of the background included Breton, Char, Gracq, Beckett, Cioran, Michaux, Debord.
Vice loves to celebrate virtue: all these monks of the greatest asceticism had, therefore, little by little, an excellent reputation.
Blanchot wrote a lot, producing novels obsessed with death, memorable works of criticism (Lautrémont and Sade, The Book to Come). Think he stayed out of politics? You’re wrong. Of course, we’re not talking about Sartrian engagement, but not too far off– from 1958 on, Blanchot was on the extreme left. That before the war he was on the extreme right, writing for journals like L’Insurgé, was a troublesome revelation, quickly forgiven by the intellectual clergy. For that matter, more cautious than Heidegger, Blanchot frequently referred to his friendship with Levinas, so we cannot accuse him of antisemitism. On the other hand, he had a deep hatred for De Gaulle, who he systematically rejected to the abyss. De Gaulle was a fascist, a living corpse, a false Messiah, an impostor, against whom one must mount an ongoing resistance (but I hear again George Bataille, with whom we associate continually and unduly with Blanchot, saying in his sweet voice, “For a Catholic general, de Gaulle isn’t so bad.”). Here, a grand gesture: the famous “Manifesto of the 121″ against the war in Algeria and calling for civil disobedience [insoumission, or "refusal to fight"]: “The word disobedience means: we must refuse the Algerian war because we must refuse the oppression and the absurdity that this war represents.”
For a young draftee of the era, a prisoner in a military hospital, the word “disobedience” was a rare ray of hope. That it was De Gaulle who put an end to the Algerian war counted for nothing in Blanchot’s eyes. “He is not a man of action; he’s not interested in action.” On a personal note, I’ll never forget that it was Malraux who got me out of a situation which, with the hunger strike [that Sollers made in 1960 to protest the war], was becoming more and more delicate.
No matter: Blanchot was pursued by justice for endangering the security of the State, and his legal interrogations are a treat, just as his letter to Sartre in 1960, in which he proposes creating a new international journal. This project would come to nothing, but Blanchot hits where it hurts: “We are all aware that we are approaching an extreme movement in time, that I would called a change of era.” He was right: 1968 drew near. And then Blanchot unleashed in himself an absolute revolutionary, a radical communist with the completely original idea of wanting to found an “anonymous, undisclosable community,” a “communism of writing” using the kind of feverishly adventurous and comical tactics of the Comité Etudiants-Ecrivains (I see again Marguerite Duras, the local prophetess, pulling from her bag, from time to time, Blanchot’s handwritten instructions). His lyricism grew: we were living through a “prodigious,” “excessive, “irrepressible” event, the beginning of a new era when the puppet De Gaulle would disappear forever (which did happen, though not in the sense anticipated, judging from the current president of France). “The Sorbonne occupied, the poor building where a dilapidated knowledge held forth millennially, became, all of a sudden, in an extraordinarily strange manner, a sign exalted by the forbidden: that of a new knowledge to reconquer or reinvent, a knowledge without law, and as such, a non-knowledge: a henceforth incessant language.”
A beautiful, frenetic nihilism took free reign: “No more books, never again books, for as long as we will be in accord with this shake-up and rupture,” because “a book, even an open one, must be closed, the most refined form of repression,” etc. We know that the slogan “no more books” has, since then, been massively overturned by the industry of the spectacle and anything goes marketing. Blanchot speaks of “Comrade Castro”, but does not seem to perceive the existence of Solzhenitsyn. He was no Stalinist, of course; he set himself the task of reading Marx, but he did it late, and the Technique [ED: this is something Soviet??] came to power. It is especially pleasing to see the author of a serious book on Sade and Lautréamont suddenly enthuse over Gagarin. He thinks that the end of History is near, that “nothing will ever be like before.” “The Revolution is behind us, but what is before us is terrible, and as yet has no name.” It goes without saying that this romantic visions will be cruelly refuted by the facts.
Nothing is as it was before, true, but it is not clear that we should rejoice about it. Blanchot cites Levinas: “Technology is dangerous, but less dangerous than the local guardian spirits.” We are astonished to find here the condemnation of “paganism,” an old, typically religious, cliché. While we’re at it, let us not that Freud is a glaring missing element in this apocalyptic vision. Blanchot goes so far as to write: “The Gaullist system has entered the active phase of psychosis.” We see Lacan smiling in his corner. Even better: “Today: as during the years 1940 to 1944, the refusal to collaborate with the institutions of cultural power under the Gaullist regime is the duty of every opposing writer and artist as the absolute decision.” I admit that before this court, convened in the rue Saint-Benoît, at the home of Marguerite Duras, my silent reaction could have won me the accusation of anti-thermadorian moderation [modérantisme]. I did think that between 1940 and 1944 it was Pétain and not De Gaulle who was in power.
When everything is collapsing, what can you hold on to? In an amazing text, published in 1993 in The Rules of the Game, Blanchot, perhaps himself in a psychotic state, gave one answer. “The Inquisition,” he said, “destroyed the Catholic religion, at the same time as Giordano Bruno was killed. The fatwa against Rushdie for his book destroyed the Islamic religion. All that remains is the Bible, and Judaism, as the respect for others through writing itself.” (Here a small, worried smile from Spinoza.) Blanchot continued his ritual call for death, then all of a sudden announced: “I invite Rushdie to come stay with me in the South. I invite to my home the descendant or successor of Khomeini. I will mediate between you two, and the Koran as well. Come.”
You rub your eyes, you reread the phrases. But yes, without a doubt, they are there.