To Blanchot

Event Scenes

To Blanchot

Only a writer can have friends in this way – sans lips, sans hands, sans eyes, sans everything.

I am in mourning, yes, but I have always mourned Blanchot, have always felt he ended too soon, that I could have said something, anything (more? at all?) to him before it was too late. One always feels this way when reading, especially when completing a book, but the experience is doubled or halved when the text was Blanchot’s. With him, the book was always more than complete, which essentially meant that it never could finish itself. It was complete in that nothing was left to say; he, Blanchot, had already written all that one could ever hope to read on friendship, on death, on the disaster. They were never finished to the extent that he always left me with the hope, an empty hope, but a hope nonetheless, that he had only hinted at the limit. Again, one always feels this way after every book, after great books, but Blanchot’s gift was to take this sense of the limit to its own limit.

Blanchot was able to reach such a limit of the limit because he never wrote. Always the perennial writer, Blanchot never wrote anything. His writing was always that of total effacement. “That is what is polite to say when some writer disappears: that a voice has fallen silent, a way of thinking has disappeared,” he wrote. But Blanchot had no voice. His writing was, of course, unmistakable. His was a note, a tone, a disharmony. Blanchot never was and insofar as he never was, he spoke the words of a god, or the closest to such an experience as one could ever hope to read. His authority derived from the total lack of authorship he insisted upon and because of that his authority was total, absolute.

All his writing, he said, was posthumous, as is all writing. The dead speak with the most radical authority, but they also speak with less than authority and for the same reason: they are dead, on the other side, the most other side. The most radical authority not only because of their perspective on life is derived from already having lived (which would suggest nothing more than maturity, implying another life, a destiny for being). But also and mainly because the dead are not alive and therefore have the authority of those who have no experience of life…cannot understand it…can see it for what it is. And, like other others, this authority lacks any authority because it cannot understand what it feels like to be in that realm of experience. In life, that is how Blanchot wrote, from that most other side.

To read Blanchot was to be displaced. Not placed somewhere else, but only displaced, taken away. This was no escapism but an experience of both a leaving-behind of the average everyday as well as to see both the average everyday and the exceptional anew with old eyes.

Perhaps I have said nothing yet, but I do not know what to say about someone like Blanchot. When I read Writing of the Disaster the only comment that seemed at all worthwhile was, “The Writing of the Disaster is the writing of the disaster.” Or was it “The writing of the disaster is the Writing of the Disaster?” In other words, is the book a demonstration of the disaster or is the disaster embodied in the text? I will never know nor do I believe it to be knowable, to the book’s credit. Anything I write on this book can be found in the book already. Any authority, any originality I could hope to have is always derived from him, from his, which I know he would detest.

It is that detestation that I love. That was Blanchot’s gift, his gift to me who would accept it openly and without guilt. It is a gift I am always tempted to return because I do not want Blanchot’s detestation for the temptation I always feel to acknowledge him, every time I sign anything ñ a check or a text. I should sign everything “James Griffith Maurice Blanchot” as if “Griffith” and “Maurice” were my middle names and Blanchot were my last, my final name. But Blanchot is not my name, not even close to my name, even though it should be. He signed everything he wrote in his own name, even though he desperately wanted to efface it. It is because of his unique signature that he was able to achieve such levels of self-effacement, an erasure of self by the self that never was, adding to the uniqueness that could only be Blanchot’s. I should sign everything of mine over to him, write everything in his impossible name, if only to reach the limit with him once more. Again, Maurice would hate me for this.

And I say Maurice in the name, in his name, of friendship. This friendship in which only I owe to him who never was. This friendship in which he whom I never met and of whose biography I know very little, owes me nothing. Only a writer can have friends in this way – sans lips, sans hands, sans eyes, sans everything.

Now that he is gone I feel the most appropriate kind of grief for Blanchot: a radical nothing. Today was a brilliant, frigid March day in New York, which I feel he would have liked. I have been wearing all black for no other reason than they were the clothes that were clean and at the top of the pile. I bought The Book to Come on a whim and under the (always) mistaken impression it was new. When I got back to work, I typed “Maurice Blanchot” into Google and saw his obituary from March 1 in The Guardian. I was beyond speechlessness. The writing of the disaster. Friendship.

Friendship is not a gift, or a promise; it is not a form of generosity. Rather, this incommensurable relation of one to the other is the outside drawing near in its separateness and inaccessibility. Desire, pure impure desire, is the call to bridge the distance, to die in common through separation. Death suddenly powerless, if friendship is the response that one can hear and make heard only by dying ceaselessly.”

Writing of the Disaster, Maurice Blanchot

James Griffith is a writer and editor living in New York City.