Sunday Notes (Blanchot, Quignard, Acquisitions)

“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).

Bae Suah – Ordinary

“In a word, she is ordinary. Ordinary not in the sense of average, but in the sense of a nonspecific majority among which it would be meaningless to attempt to make a distinction. One cannot conclude that she is not beautiful: ordinary beauty, that degree of beauty possessed by most young women, is also possessed by her, but she is beautiful not because she is a young woman but because she is ordinary. Possibly because hers is an impersonal ordinariness that no one could hate, too strong to be lorded over by a queen yet not strong enough to be pursued outside of a crowd. If her ordinariness were to have a character, that character would be darkness.” p.23

—Bae Suah, Milena, Milena, Ecstatic (trans. Deborah Smith)

There is a quality to Bae Suah’s flat affectless prose that I find compelling. I remember the same feeling when I read Nowhere to be Found. This is another story of hollow people and oscillating passages that build up to very little. I must read more of her work.