- The Force and the Weakness of the LawGrace and Disgrace in the Writing of Maurice Blanchot
As has often been noted, the Law is omnipresent in Maurice Blanchot’s work and is not merely one topic among others. Rather, it is at the heart of the question of writing and, to be more precise, it is related to what makes writing a topic (a topos), related to the topicity of writing, to what takes place or is taken out of place with writing. In fact, writing is essentially related to Law inasmuch as writing makes use of language—language being a system of meaning that defines a certain order of things: an order or a law. In this sense, writing enacts the Law; it has to do with what Derrida calls the “force of law” (1994), with its force or with its violence: namely, with its transcendence, which remains unexplainable and therefore unquestionable. Through writing, the Law can be inscribed, testified, made public, incorporated, and transmitted. [End Page 201] But, viewed from another side, writing is not the mere application or inscription of a language. As Derrida would say, writing is not secondary to meaning (it is not an image of meaning) but conditions meaning (1967). Writing is therefore the external border of meaning, its limit, and so constitutes an attraction whose pull moves beyond (or beneath) the Law, beyond the limit that embodies the Law. In accord with this view, Blanchot will even speak of writing as a “limit-experience,” and he states that under certain circumstances “writing is the greatest violence for it transgresses the Law, every law and also its own law” (2003, xii). Between writing and Law, therefore, lies a game of violence.
Keeping in mind these two sides of writing, we can easily understand why Law would coincide with the topic of writing. Law seems to depend on writing, but writing encompasses a wider sphere and can lead us beyond Law’s reach. Writing is what ensures Law a configuration to enable conformity with it—and it is what goes beyond Law’s limits, what allows displacement from the very places defined by the Law (Cregg 1994, 74).1 But if writing is indeed twofold, does it possess the virtue of “saving” us from the Law, from its omnipresence? In fact, as I have noted, Law is everywhere in Blanchot’s work, and what this omnipresence reflects is not Blanchot’s obsession with Law as a topic but rather that Law’s omnipresence is part of its essence, its only possible form of presence. If there is Law inasmuch as there is language, Law can only be omnipresent. We are never free from the law. Any act of transgression is already a confirmation of a law. Therefore, doesn’t the second side of writing confirm Law’s omnipresence? Can we conceive of a writing freed from the Law, from the violence implicated in its omnipresence?2 Besides, how can writing’s violence, “the greatest violence,” as Blanchot writes in The Infinite Conversation (1969/2003, VIII/xii), be distinguished from Law’s violence?
I would like to delve into this problem via two distinct paths. First, I will analyze how Blanchot’s writing exposes this aporetical relation between Law and writing. While there seems to be no outcome with regard to the omnipresence of Law, the exposure of this absence of outcome, namely, this aporia, could either reveal Law’s force, its very violence, or contribute to its weakening. [End Page 202] Second, I will bring to light the theological roots of this aporetical relation between Law and writing. In fact, in his call for transgression, Blanchot appears to have sought out a way to deactivate Law’s omnipotence in terms that seem close to St. Paul’s perspectives in the epistle to the Romans about the necessity of overcoming Law’s yoke by grace. I would suggest that although writing cannot constitute (as it does in Paul’s view) a challenge to Law’s omnipotence (or at least not a definitive challenge), writing does question Law’s theological roots and therefore manages, via its alternatives of grace...