David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

The Profoundest Profundities Ever Propounded

Just to contrast with Christine Brooke-Rose’s criticism.

Language can only begin with the void; no fullness, no certainty can ever speak; something essential is lacking in anyone who expresses himself. Negation is tied to language. When I first begin, I do not speak in order to say something, rather a nothing demands to speak, nothing speaks, nothing finds its being in speech and the being of speech is nothing. This formulation explains why literature’s ideal has been the following: to say nothing, to speak in order to say nothing. If one is not to talk about things except to say what makes them nothing, well then, to say nothing is really the only hope of saying everything about them.

Death ends in being: this is man’s hope and his task, because nothingness itself helps to make the world, nothingness is the creator of the world in man as he works and understands. Death ends in being: this is man’s laceration, the source of his unhappy fate, since by man death comes to being and by man meaning rests on nothingness; the only way we can comprehend is by denying ourselves existence, by making death possible, by contaminating what we comprehend with the nothingness of death, so that if we emerge from being, we fall outside the possibility of death, and the way out becomes the disappearance of every way out.

Maurice Blanchot, “Literature and the Right to Death”

It sounds a little better in French, but this hyper-Romanticism is closer to Emerson than to Hegel.

The phrase “so that if we emerge from being ,we fall outside the possibility of death” is repeated twice in the English translation, a typo which has not been corrected in the Station Hill Blanchot Reader. The duplication does not hurt the text.


  1. Everyone’s mileage varies, but for me Blanchot is making a fair amount of sense here, and I find his delivery vehicle compelling. It’s true that the French argument-by-assertion rhetorical strategy is susceptible to corruption and charlatanism. The ones whose ideas resonate with me, though, I often find their performances thrilling. I think the confidence is fun, and ambition is always exciting. I read some Virilio not long ago, and when it was working (which was hardly always), it worked by chucking a world at the reader, as might an aggressive fiction, secure enough in its assertions that it didn’t feel the need to carefully prove them. Is it bad philosophy, bad criticism? Perhaps. I do think it is literature.

  2. David Auerbach

    25 April 2012 at 00:09

    De profundis non disputandum est. There’s definitely a matter of taste involved, which is to say that I suspect if roughly the same things were said by Beckett or Proust, I would be far more amenable to them. The argument for Derrida, Blanchot, and others being literature is not one I can rebut, other than to say that I find them to be bad writers as well as thinkers. But you and anyone else are welcome to disagree, as long as people stop holding them up as super-ethical oracles with some privileged access to truth: Mynheer Peeperkorn types. (Not that you do this, but certain others…)

  3. The trouble with Blanchot, I find, at least from the excerpts I’ve come across, is that some people might come away from reading him with the impression that merely writing in paradox and oxymorons is sufficient for philosophy or literary criticism.

  4. David Auerbach

    28 April 2012 at 22:45

    Paradox and oxymorons are insufficient, but that insufficiency is what allows literature to become sufficient.

  5. But then your use of “bad writer” is equally insufficient.

  6. And that insufficiency is equally sufficient.

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