“The aim here is simply to test out to what extent it is possible to follow a text and at the same time to lose track of it, to be simultaneously the person it understands and the person who understands it, the person who, within a world, speaks of that world as though he or she were outside it; all in all, to take advantage of the strangeness of a dual work and an author split into two — into absolute lucidity and impenetrable darkness, into a consciousness that knows all and yet knows not where it is going — in order to feign the illusion of a commentary solely preoccupied with accounting for all and yet entirely aware of being able to explain nothing.”
Maurice Blanchot’s L’Expérience de Lautréamont
Something is compelling about the way French writers approach philosophy, as though it is woven into a literary work waiting to shape the questions that will arise in the mind of an attentive reader. Writers like Quignard, Duras, Ernaux, and Char approach philosophy and literature simultaneously. There are many others, not all French, particularly those writing what we would consider modernist literature.
Leslie Hill uses the Blanchot quote above as the epigram to his Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary. I have been fascinated this weekend by the opening essay in Blanchot’s Faux Pas. I suspect my French isn’t remotely sufficient for Blanchot, so I am reading Charlotte Mandell’s translation. Steve has been studying Blanchot’s work attentively for years, but I’ve found the writing slippery and uncertain on previous attempts. The introductory essay, From Anguish to Language, captivated me with a sense that a door was opening to a new world of thought, or perhaps a reminder of a very ancient one.
For several weeks I have been obsessed with Pascal Quignard’s writing, both his novels and his—what should I call them—perhaps treatises that form his Lost Kingdom series. He is a French writer that ignores the constraints of too-familiar forms of an impoverished medium and sees philosophy and literature as inseparably intertwined. His writing is a wild, unharmonious exploration of ideas that drew me back to Blanchot’s poetics of silence against the violence of language. Quignard is the writer that seems most to have accepted Beckett’s 1961 challenge to find a form that accomodates the mess.
A few additions to my library this week: Jen Craig’s Wall and her older work, Since the Accident, Musil’s Literature and Politics (translated by Genese Grill) and Han Kang’s Greek Lessons (translated by Deborah Smith and Emily Yan Won).
I love this: “to find a form that accommodates the mess.” A wonderful puzzle. Beckett’s writing is perfect at that. And his writing, sentence by sentence, retains a great sense of the messiness of it all. Finnegan’s Wake just popped into my mind as I write this. Still dipping in and out of that at the moment alongside Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, yet another form that seems capable of accommodating the mess.
Hill’s epigram struck me as a wonderful way of capturing how I approach these wonderful, often difficult books that do such a good job of accommodating the mess, or trying to, at least.