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Leslie Hall

After Blanchot: Literature, criticism, philosophy edited by Leslie Hall, Brian Nelson and Dimitris Vardoulakis

September 2006, no. 284

When I introduce undergraduates to the work of Maurice Blanchot, I begin with three simple stories. In the first, a philosopher refuses to allow himself to be photographed. Foucault tells of engaging in vig-orous conversation at a May 1968 demonstration with a man he learned only later was the elusive Blanchot. He was the unrecognised colleague, invisible and self-effacing, but also enormously productive (Leslie Hill tells us that his works, if collected, would run to three dozen volumes). The second story is told in Blanchot’s TheWriting of the Disaster (1980), in which a small boy awakens at night, looks out into the blackness and sees no stars, no presence, ‘nothing beyond’. It is a remembered scene, riveting in its clarity, of originary loss and intimations of mortality. The third story is without doubt the most well known. In 1944, Blanchot faced execution by a Nazi firing squad but somehow, mysteriously, ‘escaped his own death’. This bizarre impossibility, the sense of death’s untimeliness and capricious propinquity, marks all Blanchot’s work, his essays, journalism, fiction and philosophy, and infuses it with a pervasively melancholic tone.

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