Aesthetics of Negativity: Blanchot, Adorno, and Autonomy

By William S. Allen | Go to book overview

3
Dead Transcendence
Blanchot, Paulhan, Kafka

Blanchot’s first critical collection, Faux pas, was published in 1943 and largely consists of articles written over the previous two years. The climate of French philosophy at this time was heavily influenced by Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietz sche, Husserl, and Heidegger, but what is interesting is the manner in which Blanchot’s writings develop within the purview of these influences without directly following any of them. Significantly, this independence arises because Blanchot approaches philosophy by way of literature rather than treating philosophical problems directly, and so issues that he may find in the works of these philosophers are refracted through the lens of literature, which in turn casts a strange light back upon those philosophical problems. To pinpoint this idiosyncratic transformation I will focus on the issue of transcendence, which was much discussed at the time when Faux pas was being written and which draws out the relation between philosophy and nonphilosophy. What is compelling about Blanchot’s response to this problem is the way that he transforms it by reading it in terms of literature, but doing so does not reduce its philosophical or metaphysical complexity; instead, literature seems to make the issue of transcendence more profound by problematizing the nature of the limit that is seemingly being overstepped.

Blanchot’s earliest thoughts on this issue are to be found in three major essays from the years 1941–45, and at each stage in this development his writings draw out different aspects of the relation of language to its limits that demonstrate the peculiarity of this relation. But what repeatedly

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