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MLN 118.4 (2003) 1092-1095
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Eleanor Kaufman. The Delirium of Praise: Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuze, Foucault, and Klossowski. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. xii + 224 pages.
Intellectual encounters between philosophers have long constituted a legitimate object of analysis for theoretical studies. Much less has been said about the more personal modes of discourse that have often characterized exchanges between twentieth century philosophers. In the case of Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuze, Foucault, and Klossowski, the exchanges that occur between them may be characterized as both intellectual and personal. One of the common denominators uniting the five figures in question is the College of Sociology, formed in March of 1937 by Bataille, Michel Leiris, and Roger Caillois. In virtually all of the possible permutations, these five philosophical figures engage in a discourse located in the margins of critical writing, that of the encomium of praise. Although Derrida's Politiques de l'amitié examines the concept of friendship, the primary goal of his work was not to legitimate eulogy between philosophers as a serious mode of discourse. Kaufman draws upon Derrida's seminal text; the object of her analysis, however, diverges from Derrida's concern with the political aspects of friendship. Kaufman sets out to analyze the articulations of the encomium at its points of greatest intensity in order to demonstrate the symbolic value of these exchanges and ultimately, to mount a defense of their form.
Eleanor Kaufman's recent work, The Delirium of Praise: Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuze, Foucault, and Klossowski, foregrounds a form of exchange which is frequently disregarded in critical analysis. Although the intellectual friendships in question occurred during a time when Paris was at the epicenter of European intellectual thought, Kaufman is careful to underscore what she calls "her most extravagant claim" (6): in her words, "they are most interesting precisely at those points where their immediate context fails to adequately account for the full force of their excessiveness" (6). Thus, the laudatory exchanges should be regarded outside of their overdetermined historical context. In the essays, polemical forms of praise occur, such as restraint in juxtaposition with excess, and silence with sycophantic praise. Through these laudatory essays in which thinkers engage in varying degrees of reciprocal praise, a "phantom community of thinkers emerges" (16) in a suspension of time and place. [End Page 1092]
Kaufman interweaves the series of intellectual friendships delineated through the work into an interconnecting network, avoiding a binary analysis by evoking outside figures and cross-linking friendships. She appropriately begins with the celebrated friendship between Bataille and Blanchot, whom Derrida calls the legendary friends of the twentieth century. In her insightful reading, Bataille's excess is juxtaposed with Blanchot's restraint. However, it is Blanchot who articulates the laudatory in written form, while Bataille maintains a discursive silence. A lack of reciprocity characterizes their exchange. Blanchot devotes a collection of essays to Bataille in 1971, entitled "Amitié," in which the central chapter is devoted to Bataille. Kaufman astutely draws a parallel between the legendary friendship of Montaigne and Étienne de la Boétie and that of Bataille and Blanchot. In the Essais, Montaigne's indefatigable praise of Étienne de la Boétie creates a mythical standing for the deceased de la Boétie, in which the ideal of their friendship is unmatched in literature for centuries. A jeu de pensée constituted by a non-dialectical doubling of speech and silence characterizes the interactions between Blanchot and Bataille, in which language transcends the dialectic.
Her interest in the question of friendship leads Kaufman to move beyond discourse that is purely laudatory. As she states, Derrida, Blanchot, and Pierre Macherey associate friendship "with the registers of silence, disproportion, and lack" (49). Derrida stipulates that disproportion, that is, the lack of equal reciprocity, is always a factor in friendship. The important intellectual exchange between Foucault and Blanchot takes place within a framework of silence at the personal level. Kaufman's account of Blanchot and Foucault shows the precariousness of their relation: since they never actually met, their "friendship" was framed by silence and lack. It may be...