In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Community and the “Absolutely Feminine”
  • Sheri I. Hoem (bio)

I’ve emphasized the importance of the moment of dissent in the process of constructing knowledge, lying at the heart of the community of thought.

—Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained

Maurice Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community places side by side a “community” of writers who confront the very possibility of community as it comes to be inscribed in politico-philosophical and literary modes. His “little book” [56], as he calls it, takes up these modes of discourse separately, in two parts. The first section of his text, “The Negative Community,” constitutes an analytical defense of Bataille’s theoretical concepts of community as they have been interpreted by Jean-Luc Nancy in The Inoperative Community. Blanchot engages the question of community, communion, and communism not simply to contest or continue Nancy’s text, but to restore Bataille to a brotherhood, or “fraternity” [26] of friends and scholars who have come to think in terms of an “unworking” [23] or “negative” community. The second section of Blanchot’s text, “The Community of Lovers,” performs a critical reading of Marguerite Duras’s fictional work The Malady of Death.

In The Inoperative Community—the pretext, at least in part, for part one of Blanchot’s little book—Nancy credits Bataille as having “gone farthest into the crucial experience of the modern destiny of community” [16] in that Bataille’s thinking reveals the experience of discerning communism’s failure, followed by a fascination with fascism, and finally a “withdrawal from communitarian enterprises” [16–17] altogether. According to Nancy, at the juncture of the historical and theoretical failings of community, Bataille abandons all forms of community other than “an accursed isolation of lovers and of the artist” [24]. Admitting that he is dealing only with ‘“themes’” rather than with Bataille’s “writing” itself, Nancy nevertheless asserts that Bataille’s thinking on community has always been limited by “the theme of the sovereignty of the subject” [23], even in his community of lovers:

Bataille’s lovers are also, at the limit, a subject and an object—where the subject, moreover, is always the man, and the object always the woman, due no doubt to a very classical manipulation of sexual difference in an appropriation of self by self. (However, on another register and in another reading of Bataille’s text, it is not certain that love and jouissance do not pertain essentially to the woman—and to the woman in man. To discuss this it would be necessary to consider Bataille’s writing . . . something I cannot do here, inasmuch as I am for the moment considering only its “themes.”).


Nancy’s reading of Bataille thus clears a space for Nancy’s own investigation into the possibility of community after or beyond the subject, so to speak. Instead of a subject described as an (undivided) individual, Nancy speaks of a “singular being” who is always already othered. Singular beings as such are “constituted by . . . sharing that makes them [End Page 49] others: other for one another . . . ‘“communicating’ by not ‘communing’” [25]. For Nancy, it is the very experience of the limits of communication that allows each being to discover a certain singularity in common.

Blanchot too reflects on the “theme” of community in Bataille’s works without examining Bataille’s “writing” as such, but he reads Bataille differently. Blanchot demonstrates how Bataille’s thinking gives the effect of “mutation” [4], that Bataille comes to an understanding of self-difference beyond the subject, beyond the limits imposed by Nancy’s reading, beyond the classical construct of subject/object discourse. Blanchot’s “Negative Community” establishes Bataille as one who experienced stages of thought: his thought exhibited its own infidelity.

Blanchot turns to certain of Bataille’s terms, particularly “sacrifice,” “ecstasy,” and “inner experience,” to present an alternative to Nancy’s reading. According to Blanchot, the “inner experience” (l’expérience intérieure) is a concept in Bataille that does the opposite of what one might expect. The “inner experience,” Blanchot explains, is a

movement of contestation that, coming from the subject, devastates it, but has as a deeper origin the relationship with the other which is community itself...