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Last Steps

Maurice Blanchot's Exilic Writing

Christopher Fynsk

Publication Year: 2013

Writing, Maurice Blanchot taught us, is not something that is in one's power. It is, rather, a search for a non-power that refuses mastery, order, and all established authority. For Blanchot, this search was guided by an enigmatic exigency, an arresting rupture, and a promise of justice that required endless contestation of every usurping authority, an endless going out toward the other."The step/not beyond" ("le pas au-delà") names this exilic passage as it took form in his influential later work, but not as a theme or concept, since its "step" requires a transgression of discursive limits and any grasp afforded by the labor of the negative. Thus, to follow "the step/not beyond" is to follow a kind of event in writing, to enter a movement that is never quite captured in any defining or narrating account.Last Steps attempts a practice of reading that honors the exilic exigency even as it risks drawing Blanchot's reflective writings and fragmentary narratives into the articulation of a reading. It brings to the fore Blanchot's exceptional contributions to contemporary thought on the ethico-political relation, language, and the experience of human finitude. It offers the most sustained interpretation of The Step Not Beyond available, with attentive readings of a number of major texts, as well as chapters on Levinas and Blanchot's relation to Judaism. Its trajectory of reading limns the meaning of a question from The Infinite Conversation that implies an opening and a singular affirmation rather than a closure: "How had he come to will the interruption of the discourse?"

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-10

The cover design and the drafted image, The Dust Devil (based on a still from the work of Leslie Thornton), are by Thomas Zummer; for this gift, I want to express my deep gratitude....

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pp. 1-14

“An engaged literature”? One cannot easily assign such a phrase to Maurice Blanchot’s writings. But in 1981, Blanchot offered a rather surprising answer to a questionnaire from Catherine David on the theme.1 “I’m sent back thirty years,” he said, adding that this was a period when almost every...

Part I. Sabbatical Acquiescence

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pp. 15-26

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Toward the Question of Peace

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pp. 17-33

Almost midway through Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas makes passing reference to something he calls a “sabbatical existence.” The phrase does not recur and is not significantly defined. But I think we may understand by it a form of life that would honor in its acts a relation to the infinite...

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“The Indestructible”

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pp. 34-54

In the reading of Levinas that Blanchot pursues in The Infinite Conversation, there is little response to what might be termed the first word of Totality and Infinity. Later, at the very end of The Step Not Beyond, and then in subsequent statements, we will hear an evocation of peace.1 But in the long...

Part II. Refusal/Affirmation

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pp. 55-66

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Beyond Refusal: The Madness of the Day

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pp. 57-75

The affirmation is modulated but not lost as the narrator continues with allusions to an interrupting madness occasioned by the loss of loved ones, and a no less catastrophic interruption of an almost unlimited scale—an unleashing of madness on the level of the world (here we will find reference...

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A Simple Change in the Play of Words: The Infinite Conversation

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pp. 76-108

In the last lines of the narrated conversation (“l’entretien”) that opens The Infinite Conversation, we read of a refusal that is perhaps a willing of effacement, perhaps a step. The fragment in which these lines appear should be cited in its entirety, if only for the sheer poise with which it evokes the enigma...

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Compassion for Suffering Humanity: The Instant of My Death

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pp. 109-121

These last words follow shortly after the description of an experience of deliverance in Blanchot’s last publication, The Instant of My Death—the brief narrative in which Blanchot retells the story of being brought before a firing squad (the scene also figures, as we have seen, in The Madness of the Day)....

Part III. The Exilic Step

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pp. 123-134

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The Step Not Beyond

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pp. 125-223

Perhaps long before the publication of The Step Not Beyond, the anachronous step named in its title will already have been made. In relation, precisely, to what subsequent advent or occurrences, however? Will it have marked every text that follows the recounted event of 1944—every...

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Through the Double Imperative

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pp. 225-234

For one who has accompanied the movements to which the last pages of The Step Not Beyond attest, there can be few grounds for a conclusion: repetition, perhaps, but surely no conclusion. Could one possibly add a final word to the “last words” of this writing or the benediction of the last...

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Appendix. Blanchot in The International Review

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pp. 235-248

The circumstances surrounding the attempted creation and eventual abandonment of The International Review, as it came to be called, are now well established. For a period of several years in the early 1960s, a number of prominent intellectuals from Europe and North America pursued...


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pp. 249-297


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pp. 299-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780823251049
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823251025
Print-ISBN-10: 0823251020

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth