An alien called Blanchot: getting stealth, becoming imperceptible (1)

blanchot 2

Nowadays Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) has been unfortunately forgotten. He was not only an excellent french literary theorist but also an amazing philosopher and writer who deeply and strongly influenced loads of french intellectuals such as Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. Once and again I would like to talk over an intellectual that I do love, who has enabled me to question our relationship with photographs nowadays (see the other article related to Blanchot). 

During this whole life and especially after the world war II Maurice Blanchot was philosophically tormented by several questions related to literature. One of them did catch my attention when I have recently started to read one of his most beautiful books entitled the Infinite Conversation: what does writing mean?

I/- What is ‘ the Outside ‘? What is ‘ the impersonal it ‘?

It means a very long and hard process which changes both writers and their potential writers. During such a process the writer has to face what Blanchot called ‘ the Outside ‘ (‘ le Dehors ‘ in french), the specific space in which rule these unknown and this undescribable forces which destabilise and push every writer to write. However the ‘Outside’ is not  this thing that most of the poets, critics and writers have once called ‘ inspiration’ since literature exists. It is different and much more than that. ‘ The Outside ‘ can be compared to some type of chaos full of unknown, undefined and untamable forces, both very close and very distant from the writer: very close to him, because it haunts him and lives inside him, and the writer has to create something out of it; very distant, because the writer is not able and will not be able to plainly size it then to control it. Blanchot also uses the following expression when he refers to the ‘ Outside ‘ in his workings: ‘ the presence of the absence ‘, which a pure paradoxe but nonetheless a useful one to understand how complicated is the relationship between the writer and this ‘ world ‘, this specific ‘ sphere ‘ called the ‘ Outside ‘ that he tries to write about. 

Writing has also to do with ‘ the neutral ‘ (‘ le neutre ‘ in french) or the ‘ impersonal he ‘, which means in french ‘ le il impersonnel ‘. Maybe it is better to translate it into english like this : the ‘ impersonal it ‘, in order to erase the ‘ self dimension ‘ of such a term, and because the ‘ he ‘ still refers to something human (Blanchot absolutely wished to insist on the non human dimension of the writing process). The ‘ impersonal it ‘ implies two things: firstly the author has to dissolve himself into the writing process. He must forget what he really is and what he is so sure of. He must let himself penetrate by this unknown ‘ Outside ‘ which will disturb his own identity and forces him to constantly redefine himself. Blanchot wonderfully explained in most of his books that if writing does not change the life of the person who yearns to write, then writing is definitely useless and pointless. We must not forget this ‘ impersonal ‘ item which means that an author does not write about his own psychological issues and his private life, even if he of course turns out to be inspired by all of this. Secondly the writer must endeavour to create a unique masterpiece which will affect the whole society and even the whole world in which he lives. Writing must not be an egoistic act (unfortunately nowadays there are many writers who are fond of blurting everything out about their own lives), but rather a cultural, a social, and a political one, in a sense that literature must, after all, concern everyone, must ‘ speak ‘ to everyone, and must talk about current social and political issues and so forth. That is what Kafka (a writer that Blanchot and Deleuze really did appreciate) in most of his books: he neither talked about his own neurosis in his novels, about all the conflicts he had with his father, but rather about why people from one moment like being passive and submissive towards any type of political structures, or structures which are based on power struggles. 

To briefly sum up this part, wanting to be a writer means paying close attention to the ‘ Outside ‘, being able to go beyond ourselves and to affect the cultural, social, and political world which surrounds us. By doing so, a writer inevitably gets stealth, and becomes imperceptible.  

II/- ‘ Getting stealth ‘ with Blanchot, and ‘ becoming imperceptible ‘ with Deleuze

Getting stealth and becoming imperceptible are almost the same philosophical idea which have often been used by the 2 french thinkers in order to explain what is the main mission of the author (Blanchot) and of the artist (Deleuze). It refers to a process, linked to the previous one that I explained, which involves 3 steps: 

1) Playing with the literary/artistic codes, conventions and clichés, torturing them, breaking them, even destroying them, in other words destabilising the foundations of a specific artistic /literary system…

2) But that does not imply destroying everything, rather spotting the breaches of a given literary/system and trying to insert, to create new artistic/literary rules, structures, patterns and so forth. In other words, making compromises with the official and dominant institutions and groups which rule the literary and artistic spheres. 

3) Unabling the literary/artistic system which tries to desperately recognise and to definitely define up-and coming artists and writers who strive to create something new and original. Hence the terms ‘ stealth ‘ and ‘ imperceptible ‘, which imply that an author and an artist must be able to not be spotted, or noticeable, by any type of system which can keep them from writing a new book or creating a new piece of art.

But getting stealth is not an easy mission and can be hard and dangerous to complete. Like I explained in my article related to Mallarmé, the true poet or writer is the one who strives to make the common language viber and stammer as much as possible. Even if such a mission turns out to be noble, it can push someone outside the real world.  It can push him or her to fall into the abyss of the madness. And it can socially and completely destroy him. Let me take 3 examples, 3 amazing humain beings whom Blanchot did appreciate: Mallarmé (1), Nietzsche (2), and Foucault (3). Even if Nietzsche and Foucault were philosophers and not really ‘writers’ (according to some scholars), they did strive to create another way of thinking by having created too another way of writing philosophy. In other words they have got some styles!

1) 3 times a week or so Mallarmé wanted to commit suicide: after having left the highschool in which he worked as an english teacher, on his way back to his home he stopped standing up on rails and waiting for a train to crush him before being aware all of a sudden that he had a family to take care of.

2) Ten years before dying Nietzsche became purely psychotic not only because he had got the syphilis from a prostitute with whom he had slept when he was younger (at this time if you could not be quickly healed, such a disease could easily destroy your nervous system and cause you serious neurological troubles), but mostly because he had spent too much time with himself rumminating again and again the same thoughts.

3) When Foucault was 20 years-old or so he tried to commit suicide two times. Then he went consulting a psychologist many times a week. From that moment he got interested in psychology and started to study it. A few months later he graduated in philosophy and got good grades by having written an amazing and huge thesis called ‘ Madness and Civilisation. A history of insanity in the Age of Reason. ‘ No wonder then that he wrote about such a topic…

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