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Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003)      

In the Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thinkers, (1983) there are entries for Mitterand and Foucault (as well as for Marilyn Monroe), but no entry for Maurice Blanchot, one of France's foremost post-war writers and critics, and a thinker who has exerted a powerful influence on Foucault and many others. From his critical writings we can deduce that this fact would not trouble Blanchot at all; in fact, because he sees riting as autonomous, and the outcome of a profound solitude, a biography, or a curriculum vitae, is of little elevance for assisting a reader in coming to grips with the enigmas of a truly literary work. In fact, Blanchot's silence on matters biographical constitutes an important part of his literary project. For him the literary object is at one and the same time irreducible (to psychological or sociological explanations) and indeterminate (it is never possible to recover all of the meaning and significance of a literary text). Whether this amounts, as Tzvetan Todorov has argued, to a continuation of Romanticism is perhaps one of the key issues pertaining to an understanding of Blanchot's oeuvre.
Despite some stiff competition, Blanchot who was born in 1907 and devotes his life entirely to literature has acquired a reputation for writing some of the most enigmatic prose in modern French. In light of the fact that he has himself indirectly clarified some of the motivations for his literary work in his critical writings,2 the claim is no doubt extreme. On the other hand, as a certain force drives writing towards an unknowable centre of attraction - one that is only dimly perceptible to the one who is writing a degree of obscurity seems to be built into Blanchot's project. While there are good reasons for refusing the epithet of Romanticism in Blanchot's case (Blanchot's refusal of the notion of the author as origin being one of them), there is a much stronger case for saying that Blanchot is a lucid proponent of artistic modernism. This does not imply an acceptance of a particular version of the principle of original creativity. Blanchot has indeed heeded the warning represented by the Hegelian dialectic, where, in the end, everything will be recuperated within the framework of Absolute Knowledge. Eventually, Hegel argues, history will come to an end; the goal of the system will be united in the process of arriving at it. All of Blanchot's oeuvre could be seen as a refusal to accept the basis of Hegel's philosophy of the inevitability of the homogeneity implied in the end of history.
From his critical writings of the 195Os, it is clear that Blanchot is opposed to any easy appropriation of the authentically literary text. This frequently happens, however, with few critics actually reading what they claim to have read. Rather, they prefer to write their commentaries on the basis of readings which set new works in pre-existing categories; when the Critic does happen to see that a work cannot be thus interpreted, it is too late for reading; for the critic is already an author and thus unable to become a reader. True reading, Blanchot implies, is one that respects the literary work's singularity.


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