The Space of Literature: A Translation of "l'Espace Littéraire"
by Blanchot, Maurice (2015)
Maurice Blanchot, the eminent literary and cultural critic, has had a vast influence on contemporary French writers--among them Jean Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida. From the 1930s through the present day, his writings have been shaping the international literary consciousness. The Space of Literature, first published in France in 1955, is central to the development of Blanchot's thought. In it he reflects on literature and the unique demand it makes upon our attention. Thus he explores the process of reading as well as the nature of artistic creativity, all the while considering the relation of the literary work to time, to history, and to death. This book consists not so much in the application of a critical method or the demonstration of a theory of literature as in a patiently deliberate meditation upon the literary experience, informed most notably by studies of Mallarmé, Kafka, Rilke, and Hölderlin. Blanchot's discussions of those writers are among the finest in any language.
The infinite nature of the work, seen thus, is just the mind's infiniteness. The mind wants to fulfill itself in a single work, instead of realizing itself in an infinity of works and in history's ongoing movement. But Valéry was by no means a hero. He found it good to talk about everything, to write on everything: thus the scattered totality of the world distracted him from the unique and rigorous totality of the work, from which he amiably let himself be diverted. The etc. hid behind the diversity of thoughts and subjects. However, the work -- the work of art, the literary work -- is neither finished nor unfinished: it is. What it says is exclusively this: that it is -- and nothing more. Beyond that it is nothing. Whoever wants to make it express more finds nothing, finds that it expresses nothing. He whose life depends upon the work, either because he is a writer or because he is a reader, belongs to the solitude of that which expresses nothing except the word being: the word which language shelters by hiding it, or causes to appear when language itself disappears into the silent void of the work. The solitude of the work has as its primary framework the absence of any defining criteria. This absence makes it impossible ever to declare the work finished or unfinished. The work is without any proof, just as it is without any use. It can't be verified. Truth can appropriate it, renown draws attention to it, but the existence it thus acquires doesn't concern it. This demonstrability renders it neither certain nor real -- does not make it manifest. The work is solitary: this does not mean that it remains uncommunicable, that it has no reader. But whoever reads it enters into the affirmation of the work's solitude, just as he who writes it belongs to the risk of this solitude. (p.21)
KeywordsBlanchot, Literature, Reading, History, Death, French, Critical Method, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida
ThemesThe Space of Literature , Blanchot Citations
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