Maurice Blanchot


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Frenchphilosopher and author, Blanchot is a major figure in 20th-century French intellectual history, but one whose presence is often and perhaps deliberately hard to detect. Consistent with his view that literary and philosophical works are not reducible to either a psychological or sociological explanation, Blanchot was in his last years famously reclusive in his habits. His prose style is similarly enigmatic—in his fiction he habitually erases the markers of place and person readers rely on to coordinate their understanding of the text; and his philosophy, concerned as it is with the unsayable (death, silence, and solitude are among his key preoccupations, the others being friendship, work, and space), constantly strives to say that which, it acknowledges, can only be gestured towards.

Blanchot was born in Quain in the Saône-et-Loire district of Burgundy. He did his undergraduate degree at the University of Strasbourg, studying German and philosophy. There he met Emmamuel Levinas, who would become a lifelong friend. As an undergraduate Blanchot was actively involved with the extreme right-wing group Action Française. He wrote articles for such right-wing publications as Journal de Débats, Réaction, Le Rempart, Combat, and L'Insurgé, perhaps explaining his later reticence with respect to biography. However, following the defeat of France in 1940 he refused to collaborate with the Vichy regime and retreated almost completely from public life, not surfacing again until the May '68. He is widely believed to have authored the famous ‘Manifeste de 121’, a declaration signed by 121 intellectuals (mostly from the left) proclaiming the right of insubordination in protest to the Algerian war.

Gilles Deleuze, Paul De Man, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, among many others, have all paid homage to Blanchot, praising him for articulating the gap—which Blanchot designated as the Outside—between the sayable and the non-sayable and more particularly for attempting to say what it is that belongs only to art. Like his friend Georges Bataille, Blanchot pursued this project via the dual pathways of literature and philosophy. Blanchot's novels, such as Thomas l'Obscur (1941), translated as Thomas the Obscure (1973) and L'Arrêt de mort (1948), translated as The Death Sentence (1978), are every bit as experimental as Bataille's, and only slightly less confronting. His best known philosophical works are: L'Espace littéraire (1955), translated as The Space of Literature (1982), and L'Entretien infini (1969), translated as The Infinite Conversation (1993).

Further Reading:

G. Bruns Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy (2005).U. Haase Maurice Blanchot (2001).K. Hart The Dark Gaze: Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred (2004).L. Hill Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (1997).

Subjects: Literature.

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