Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Apocalypse of Blanchot

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Apocalypse of Blanchot

Article excerpt

The belief that we might be the gleaming signs of the fire's writing, written in everyone, legible only in me, the one who answers.-Blanchot, The Last Man

The other history would be a feigned history, which is not to say that it is a mere nothing, but that it is always calling forth the void of a nonplace, the gap that it is, and that separates it from itself. It is unbelievable because any belief in it would have to overlook it.-Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster

The theme of the apocalypse, that is to say, of the revelation of the meaning of history, has experienced several types of interpretations- religious ones but also literary and philosophical ones.1 However, in each of these areas, the apocalypse itself plays the role of revealing not only that which regards the times during which they were written, but also traditions and fields in question. The Apocalypse of John, for example, can be understood in the context of persecution in which it was written.2 But it also accounts for the Christian view of history as a whole, of the meaning of Christianity. If the twentieth century also has its own Apocalypticians, it is not only due to the end-of-thecentury atmosphere that haunts every century. The theme of the Apocalypse found in Günther Anders, for instance,3 speaks of a context characterized by certain events (the atomic bomb and thus technological development) as well as a certain status of philosophy: the influence of nihilism4 on the question of meaning and thus, of a certain end of history. But the worst of the apocalypses might not be the one that judges us, but rather the apocalypse that justifies our inertia to history. If we have nothing to fear in facing this, it is because we have accepted all evils. We have to agree to no longer respond to this question.

The fact that there may be apocalyptic theses during every era does not mean that their content (what they reveal) should be identical each time. While John's apocalypse is flamboyant and arouses hope or fear (in the announcement of the end of the world, but also and more importantly, in the Final Judgment), Anders's apocalypse is neither desirable nor undesirable. It speaks about a mutation of humanity, which has become immune to judgment, about times that are without end or intensity (as is the case of judgment). For Anders, if we have indeed entered the time of the end, it is not only because the atomic bomb can cause the physical destruction of the world. In fact, the atomic bomb reveals that the world can end without judgment. Moreover, the development of technology is such that we could be automatons and not the ones responsible for the end of the world.5 Consequently, facing the imminence of the end, we are not summoned in person. Anders's grim description is not about those who are potentially to blame, who fear judgment and hope for justice. It shows that the development of technology has immediately rendered evil innocent.6 What is apocalyptic in the contemporary apocalypse is that it reveals none other than its own emptiness, and it sets us back into an inertia (an absence of combat) that is immediately justified.7

In addition to these two extremes, there is another figure of the apocalypse that emerges from this nihilist climate: the apocalypse of Blanchot. In contrast to Anders, for Blanchot, the apocalypse is not only a "phenomenon" determined by the context of the times. For Blanchot, the end is what occurs in every instant. Insofar as life is structurally finite, death is not a future event; rather it prevents life from having frontiers that belong to it. Therefore, for Blanchot, the end is always already there, from the beginning. Now, in virtue of the contamination between life and death, between the beginning and the end, Blanchot leads us to think-and from different angles-that the end of the world has in a certain way already occurred. Death, having already befallen with life, makes us rather survivors for Blanchot. …

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