Last Steps: Maurice Blanchot’s Exilic Writing by Christopher Fynsk (review)
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Last Steps: Maurice Blanchot’s Exilic Writing. By Christopher Fynsk. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. viii + 301 pp.

The reception of Maurice Blanchot has been relatively marginal in relationship to the now canonical thinkers associated with ‘theory’ on whom he was so influential (Derrida and Foucault in particular). Christopher Fynsk seems to suggest that Blanchot’s work actually goes further than those thinkers towards the unfulfilled promise of ‘theory’ to undermine the authoritative closure of philosophy and other totalizing discourses. His thought has remained ‘recalcitrant’ (p. 6). Leaving this complex history of reception aside, Fynsk pursues a series of close readings centred on the fragmentary writing of The Step Not Beyond (1992). Judaism’s influence is highlighted as an opening of relationality with the Other that retains a singularity: it insists on hospitality towards the Other but without diluting or domesticating otherness. This ethico-political imperative towards the Other informs the analyses throughout this fragmentary volume. Refusal, as a notion repeatedly found throughout Blanchot’s fragmentary writing, is insisted on here as a search for a nonpower. Its origins are with powerless and unrepresented voices. In searching for a nonpower that refuses mastery, Blanchot’s exilic writing is repeatedly characterized in terms of the coexistence of incompatibles, refusal and affirmation, [End Page 415] literary and political responsibility. Fynsk resists digressing into broader comparative discussions with other thinkers. The isolation and intricacy of the highly complex readings pursued can thus at times be frustratingly opaque in an insistence on irreducible ambiguity. That ambiguity is necessary, though, for any faithful rendering of Blanchot, for whom the totalizing and unifying tendencies of reading needed to be resisted and rethought in an affirmation of the multiplicity and irreducibility of fragmentary writing. Thankfully, the ‘Final Note’ offers an admirably broader, but no less sophisticated, overview of some of the close readings that preceded it. Fynsk tells us that the double imperative guiding the act of writing, ‘whereby we urge an attempt to name the possible from response to the impossible and seek social justice from the nonground of another community, may appear to hold political response forever hostage to an impossible engagement of the impossible’ (p. 233). The affirmation of the rupture initiated by the events of May 1968, for example, is accompanied by a resistance to representation. By speaking for subjects of an event, one runs the risk of not only objectifying them, but of re-enclosing a mode of dialectical representation from which Blanchot was trying to break. Moreover, the conception of refusal comes from beyond established categories of political subjectivity. Fynsk reminds us that, for Blanchot, any struggle for human equality must entail an exposure to what is beyond the human, but equally that the abject and fearful are already within us. The double imperatives of affirmation/refusal and literature/politics are thus regularly ‘displaced, without being eliminated’ (p. 234), by the Other from within and without. Fynsk’s elaboration of the political implications of Blanchot’s writing thus gives a more tangible grasp of the patient, subtle, and highly original readings pursued throughout the volume.

Eugene Brennan
University of London Institute in Paris
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