Maurice Blanchot

By Ullrich Haase; William Large | Go to book overview

2

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

It is not enough simply to say that literature resists comprehension, we have to explain why. We have already alluded to the importance of Blanchot's essay 'Literature and the Right to Death' as the key to understanding his anti-theory of literature (p. 11). What is at the heart of this essay, and is continually repeated throughout Blanchot's work, is the link between language and negativity, where negativity describes the power of language to negate the reality of things through the insubstantiality of the word. The context of this idea is not other literary theorists but philosophy, and in this particular case the idea of negativity as it is presented in the work of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831); or, to be more precise, the philosophy of Hegel as it is presented by the Russian émigré philosopher Alexander Kojève (1902-68), whose lectures on Hegel not only decisively influenced Blanchot's ideas on literature, but a whole generation of French intellectuals. We shall also see that for Blanchot this Hegelian conception of language is strongly mediated by the remarks on language and poetry by the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98).

In this chapter we shall first look at a model of the common conception of language, which we will then compare to literature. We shall be able to see that for Blanchot the language of literature in his earlier writings is interpreted in terms of the materiality of words (their sound, shape and rhythm) which then becomes developed through the

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Maurice Blanchot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Editor's Preface vii
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Why Blanchot? 1
  • Key Ideas 9
  • 1 - What is Literature? 11
  • 2 - Language and Literature 25
  • 3 - Death and Philosophy 37
  • 4 - Death 51
  • 5 - Literature and Ethics 67
  • 6 - Blanchot as Nationalist 85
  • 7 - Ethics and Politics 97
  • 8 - The Literary Community 111
  • After Blanchot 129
  • Further Reading 135
  • Internet Resources 142
  • Index 143
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