Ending and Unending Agony: On Maurice Blanchot

Ending and Unending Agony: On Maurice Blanchot

Ending and Unending Agony: On Maurice Blanchot

Ending and Unending Agony: On Maurice Blanchot


Published posthumously, Ending and Unending Agony is Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s only book entirely devoted to the French writer and essayist Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003). The place of Blanchot in Lacoue-Labarthe’s thought was both discreet and profound, involving difficult, agonizing questions about the status of literature, with vast political and ethical stakes.

Together with Plato, Holderlin, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Heidegger, Blanchot represents a decisive crossroads for Lacoue-Labarthe’s central concerns. In this book, they converge on the question of literature, and in particular of literature as the question of myth—in this instance, the myth of the writer born of the autobiographical experience of death.

However, the issues at stake in this encounter are not merely autobiographical; they entail a relentless struggle with processes of figuration and mythicization inherited from the age-old concept of mimesis that permeates Western literature and culture. As this volume demonstrates, the originality of Blanchot’s thought lies in its problematic but obstinate deconstruction of precisely such processes.

In addition to offering unique, challenging readings of Blanchot’s writings, setting them among those of Montaigne, Rousseau, Freud, Winnicott, Artaud, Bataille, Lacan, Malraux, Leclaire, Derrida, and others, this book offers fresh insights into two crucial twentieth-century thinkers and a new perspective on contemporary debates in European thought, criticism, and aesthetics.


Aristide Bianchi and Leonid Kharlamov

On February 25, 2003, the day following the announcement of Maurice Blanchot’s death, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe spoke on a radio program over the telephone:

If there ever was a “break [coupure]” in Blanchot’s trajectory—I don’t like the
term, but if there was a transformation, perhaps from the publication of Death
onward (I say “perhaps,” as this is a hypothesis), then it is the moment
Blanchot became posthumous. With the understanding, that is, that death is the
condition of possibility of life, that he was thus already dead, that in a sense he
had an experience without experience—an experience of death that would
forever remain impossible and to which, on several occasions I think, he drew
relatively near. In particular, I have in mind Blanchot’s two great texts written
during those last few years, which in my view are his two great autobiographi
cal texts: “A Primal Scene” and The Instant of My Death. But I’d like to add the
following: in the same way as he had made Orpheus the secret center of The
Space of Literature
, this experience without experience—this unexperienced
experience of that death which is prior to existence and which entails that exis
tence itself is posthumous and that, although Maurice Blanchot has just died, he
was dead even before he was born—is what I think allowed him to construct
what I shall call (and it seems to me we ought, surely, to talk about this) the
modern myth of the writer. Perhaps in spite of himself, doubtless in spite of himself,
Blanchot has become an absolutely mythical figure of the modern writer. And
it seems to me that this erection of the figure of the writer complies not with
what he’s been reproached for—his ruminations over death, his indulgence in
death, etc. (there’s no indulgence in that whatsoever)—but with something like
the idea that the writer is he who writes while knowing he is already dead. It is
the enunciative position of the writer that presupposes his anterior death—and
that, to my mind, is the great modern literary myth.

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