Sunday, September 23, 2007

One is what one does

Summarising in a late essay some of his famous arguments about writing, Blanchot takes up Hegel's general claim that doing takes precedence over being. Consciousness, for Hegel, is the act of relating to oneself, from which the world outside the 'I' cannot stand apart. Consciousness and world interpenetrate; the talents, strengths and abilities of the individual unfold through his actions. For Hegel, it is through the transformation of the world through negation that we might learn who we are, which means we can only know what we were working on as the exercise comes to an end.
Hegel can write the preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit only once the owl of Minerva has spread her wings, making sense of his project as a whole - and the project that the whole of human history has been. Hegel can only know the project by what has already been done - as a re-ject, as Sinthome once wrote, playing on the etymology of this word. Hegel's philosophy is lived, his thought is experiential and experimental; but still, Hegel himself had faith it might be brought to an end. He writes a preface, which as everyone knows, makes sense after you've read the Phenomenology, and rounds off the book, and with it, the whole of human history.
The Blanchotian writer, however, is engaged by what can never promise to round itself off, nor even, properly speaking, to begin. He experiences language, the claim of language, as it refuses to provide the support from the presentation of particular theses, nor indeed for the subject who would articulate them. Literature, for Blanchot, bears upon a fascination with the literary act itself, insofar as it brings the writer into contact with an experience of language as the outside, as it is turned from its usual role of referring to things in the world, of facilitating communication. True, one can never turn language altogether from this role. But by way of the capacity to refer, by way of communication, Blanchot shows us how a different sense of communication, even a kind of community is shared between the writer and the readers of a book.
What, now, is important, is the way language, in respect of its capacity to refer, is experienced in its retreat. Blanchot argues that the writer senses this retreat in his or her awareness of the fascination of what he calls the work that lies beyond any particular book. The work is Blanchot's name for the experience of the murmuring anonymity of a language that permits of neither subjects nor substantives - of the fact of language, whose impersonal streaming he allows to run close to the surface of his own fiction, and detects in the fiction and poetry of writers he admires.
The literary writer will discover what he has achieved in a finished book even as a re-ject, since he cannot present what he has done thetically, as a theoretical position or argument that can be stated unequivocally. His own work is like a riddle he cannot solve, but to which his life as a writer is bound. Who is he? An answer cannot be found to this question, since if, like Hegel, one believes one is what one does, then the writer can be said to be perpetually in lieu of what he sought to achieve. The work rides ahead of him, without him; but it also stretches back behind him, beyond him such that he was only ever a latecomer to the creative process he set in motion. As unseizable Eurydice, as the Sirens' song, the work never lets itself be grasped as a project that unfolded through the writer's life... September 22, 2007 in Blanchot spurious

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