restricted access Maurice Blanchot, 1907–2003
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Maurice Blanchot, 1907–20031
Translated by Leslie Hill

The Infinite Conversation:2 with this title, belonging to one of his most imposing books, it might be possible to attempt to sum up emblematically the thinking of Maurice Blanchot: in truth, less a thinking than a stance or a gesture—that of a certain trust. Above all else, Blanchot trusts in the possibility of conversation [entretien]. What is maintained in the conversation (with another, with oneself, with the proper pursuit of the conversation) is the perpetually renewed relation between speech and the infinity of sense that constitutes its truth. Writing (literature) names this relation. It does not transcribe a testimony, it does not invent a fiction, it does not deliver a message: it traces the infinite journey of sense in so far as it absents itself. This self-absenting of sense is not negative, it is sense's chance and what is at stake in it as such. To 'write' means relentlessly to approach the limit of speech, that limit which speech alone touches and in touching it un-limits us (us speaking beings).

Blanchot was able to recognise in this the event of modernity: the evaporation of all transcendent other worlds and, by that token, of any secure division between 'literature' and experience or truth. He made it possible, within writing, to begin the task of giving a voice to that which of itself remains mute. To give a voice in this way is to 'keep watch over absent sense'.3 This is an attentive, careful, and affectionate kind of vigilance whose concern is for that reserve of absence by which truth is given: the experience inside us of the infinite outside us.

This experience is possible and necessary once the sacred books with their hermeneutics of existence are no longer. Literature—or writing—begins with the closing of such books. But it does not form any profane theology. It rejects all theology just as it does all atheism: all installation of any single Sense. 'Absence' in this case is merely a movement: an absenting. It is the constant passing of all speech into the infinite. 'The prodigious absent, absent from me and from everything, absent also for me. . .' to which Thomas the Obscure refers is not a being nor an instance, but the continual slippage of me beyond [End Page 3] me, by which there comes, even as it still lies in wait, the 'pure feeling of his existence'.

This existence is not life as immediate affection and self-perpetuation, nor is it its death. The 'dying' ['mourir'] of which Blanchot speaks—which is in no way to be confused with the cessation of life, and which is, quite on the contrary, the living, or 'living-on', or 'sur-viving' invoked by Derrida when he was at his closest to Blanchot4—forms the movement of the ceaseless approach to absenting as true sense, destroying in it all trace of nihilism.

Such is the movement that, being written, can 'give to nothing, in its form of nothing, the form of something'.

Jean-Luc Nancy

Jean-Luc Nancy is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the Université Marc Bloch, Strasbourg, and the author of more than fifty books in the area of philosophy, aesthetics, and politics, many of which engage directly and indirectly with the work of Blanchot, including most notably The Inoperative Community (Minnesota UP, 1991), Multiple Arts (Stanford UP, 2006), and Dis-Enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity (Fordham UP, 2007).

Jean-Luc Nancy

Leslie Hill is Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick and the author of Beckett's Fiction: In Different Words (CUP, 1990), Marguerite Duras: Apocalyptic Desires (Routledge, 1993), Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (Routledge, 1997), Bataille, Klossowski, Blanchot: Writing at the Limit (OUP, 2001), and The Cambridge Introduction to Jacques Derrida (CUP, 2007). He is also co-editor (with Brian Nelson and Dimitris Vardoulakis) of After Blanchot: Literature, Philosophy, Criticism (University of Delaware Press, 2005), and is currently completing two books: Radical Indecision: Barthes, Blanchot, Derrida and the Future of Criticism, dealing with the neuter and the undecidable, and A Change of Epoch: Maurice Blanchot, Writing, the Fragmentary, which proposes a...