"Ce Tourment Qui Est Un Rire": Maurice Blanchot with Samuel Beckett

By Jenkins, Linda Jones | The Romanic Review, January 1997 | Go to article overview

"Ce Tourment Qui Est Un Rire": Maurice Blanchot with Samuel Beckett


Jenkins, Linda Jones, The Romanic Review


"Le signe de son importance, c'est que l'ecrivain

n'ait rien a dire. Cela aussi est risible. . . .

il n'est pas si courant qu'un homme n'ait

rien a dire." Faux pas

". . . il semble impossible de parler pour ne rien dire,

on croit y arriver, mais on oublie toujours

quelque chose. . . ." L'Innommable

By placing Beckett with Blanchot in the tide of this article, I am seeking,

not to reveal the sober, reflective side of Beckett's comedy through a

Blanchotian reading, but rather to reveal a certain laughter, if not comedy,

that underlies Blanchot's own work. I am suggesting an interpretation which

departs from the way in which Blanchot is usually read and attempts to show

something about the way in which Blanchot "reads" the act of writing.

The tack I am taking here as a reader of Blanchot is a potentially

embarrassing one; nothing makes the literary critic more uneasy than the risk of

exposure as a superficial reader of such a serious writer. My intention,

however, is to show that Blanchot, as a writer, shares the embarrassment of

this reading. Meaning, in Blanchot's novels as in Beckett's, is not in

"arrival" or closure in the text, but a tenacious refusal of the text to fall

silent. Their narrators, while they can never say exactly what they mean,

cannot seem to cease speaking--a situation which itself borders on a broad,

obvious type of comedy.(1) But the narrator's physical situation is only an

exterior, visual enactment of the text's own ironic power. Clarification of

terms here may be helpful: a somewhat schematic, yet necessary distinction may

be made between what is recognized as the grotesque--a physical, farcical type

of comedy, present in many of Beckett's plays and novels--and the ironic, which

depends for its comic effect less on the pratfall and more on the intellect.

Reading Blanchot with Beckett leads us to question such distinctions as

"physical/intellectual," or "outside/inside," when considering irony. Indeed,

there is already a tradition of breaking down such distinctions. Paul de Man,

reading Baudelaire's "De l'essence du rire," points out that ". . . it is the

simplest situation of all that best reveals the predominant traits of an ironic

consciousness: the spectacle of a man tripping and falling into the street."

Normally, writes Baudelaire, the man who falls would not be amused; the

laughter would be much more likely to come from outside of the experience, from

a spectator. There is, however, an exception:

Ce n'est point l'homme qui tombe qui rit de sa propre chute, A moins

qu'il ne soit un philosophe, un homme qui ait acquis, par habitude, la

force de se dedoubler rapidement et d'assister comme spectateur

desinteresse aux phenomenes de son moi.(2)

Low, physical comedy may coincide with irony when the subject is doubled,

and reflects on his own comic situation. Blanchot's narrators, while never as

physically comic as some of Beckett's, do consistently consider their

situations from the outside and from the inside. In Blanchot's work, these two

positions are constantly reversed: writers or narrators, for example, often

become their own readers; and neither "writer" nor "reader" ever pretends to

penetrate to any depth in the text, but instead returns, from depth to the

surface, from end or closure to beginning, from inside to the "outside." I am

thinking here of two of Blanchot's narrators we will be considering, in Au

Moment voulu and in Celui qui ne m'accompagnait pas, as well as of Foucault's

famous essay on Blanchot, "La Pens& du dehors." Foucault speaks of this

"outside" as constitutive of Blanchot's work, of his language, in which there

is no longer a subject communicating meaningful discourse, but the absence of

any speaking subject, "l'epanchement indefine du langage.

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"Ce Tourment Qui Est Un Rire": Maurice Blanchot with Samuel Beckett
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