Maurice Blanchot Criticism - Essay

Geoffrey Hartman (essay date 1962)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Maurice Blanchot,” in The Novelist as Philosopher, Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 147-65.

[In the following essay, Hartman discusses Blanchot's fiction and critical writings, providing an overview of his literary associations and theoretical principles.]

The seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the Negative.


Blanchot’s work, says one of his few interpreters, offers no point of approach whatsoever. Today, twenty years after his first novel, he is still the most esoteric writer of contemporary France. There have appeared only three or four essays on...

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Roland A. Champagne (essay date 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Mosaic View: The Poetics of Maurice Blanchot,” in The Literary Review, Vol. 21, 1978, pp. 425-38.

[In the following essay, Champagne discusses the influence of Judaic thought and biblical paradigms on Blanchot's philosophy of language. In particular, Champagne considers the poststructuralist literary theory with which Blanchot associates literary space with the Promised Land, literary text with scripture, and the writer-reader relationship with that of a sacred covenant.]

“For the writer, the genuine responsibility is to support literature as a commitment not yet realized, as a Mosaic view of the Promised Land of reality.”...

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Edouard Morot-Sir (review date Autumn 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of L'Écriture du désastre, in World Literature Today, Vol. 55, No. 4, Autumn, 1981, p. 642.

[In the following review, Morot-Sir outlines Blanchot's literary principles and theoretical perspectives in L'Écriture du désastre.]

Blanchot warns his eventual critics and, by the same token, himself that any commentary is an effort at “producing meaning” and thus of reconstructing a text; it is heavy prattling and gross distortion. Far from being the “ideal reader,” the critic destroys the pure quality of writing and brings writing back to an oral status; he forces it into the artificial world of Letters. Once and for all, Hegel gave the...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

Walter Kendrick (essay date May 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pure Writing for Now People,” in Voice Literary Supplement, No. 7, May, 1982, p. 8.

[In the following essay, Kendrick discusses some of Blanchot's major themes and theoretical preoccupations in his fiction, the English translations of his writings, his association with other writers, and his critical reception in the United States.]

“A story? No. No stories, never again,” says the narrator of The Madness of the Day. Actually, he says it in French: “Un récit? Non, pas de récit, plus jamais.” This edition is bilingual, so you can compare the English with the French, a bold stroke for a translation. In a footnote to his note, “Thomas...

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Leon S. Roudiez (review date Autumn 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of La Communauté inavouable, in World Literature Today, Vol. 58, No. 4, Autumn, 1984, p. 566.

[In the following review, Roudiez discusses Blanchot's intellectual concerns in La Communauté inavouable.]

Georges Bataille had provided an intellectual backdrop for several of Maurice Blanchot’s recent texts; that is again the case for this brief, two-part essay [La Communauté inavouable]. Each part has its own pre-text, an essay by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy (“La communauté désœuvrée”) and a narrative by Marguerite Duras (“La maladie de la mort”). Blanchot’s assumption, not an unusual one, is that human beings are...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Jay Caplan (review date Spring 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Writing of Disaster, in Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, Spring, 1987, pp. 264-5.

[In the following review, Caplan mentions the contributions of The Writing of Disaster to contemporary French thought.]

In the past few years, English translations of many Blanchot texts (both criticism and fictions) have finally become available. Ann Smock’s beautiful and moving translation of L’Ecriture du désastre will contribute, among other things, to the re-evaluation of Maurice Blanchot’s role in the definition of contemporary French thought. Blanchot’s relentless concern with death and...

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Welch D. Everman (essay date Summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Maurice Blanchot, the Story, and the Vicious Circle,” in New Orleans Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 35-40.

[In the following essay, Everman provides an analysis of The Madness of the Day, drawing attention to the paradoxical circularity of its premise and elaborations. According to Everman, “Blanchot's text establishes itself, repeats itself to infinity, and cancels itself at the same time by establishing its own impossibility.”]

The act of writing is interminable, incessant.

—Maurice Blanchot

Like Finnegans Wake, Maurice Blanchot’s brief text...

(The entire section is 4237 words.)

Irving Malin (review date Summer 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Thomas the Obscure, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1989, pp. 241-2.

[In the following review, Malin comments on the elusive text and obscurities in Thomas the Obscure.]

It is impossible to review briefly this subtle, haunting novel [Thomas the Obscure]—or meditation—because we must deal with deliberate evasions, absences, obscurities. The text, in effect, drowns us; it apparently refuses to permit breathing, rational discourse. Although it is divided into twelve short sections, we are unsure about the chronology. Should the sections be read consecutively? Does time advance? Are there two characters (Anne...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Brian Evenson (review date Fall 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Infinite Conversation, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 13, No. 3, Fall, 1993, pp. 241-2.

[In the following review, Evenson describes the contents of The Infinite Conversation.]

Written during the struggle between Hegelianism and anti-Hegelianism in French thought preceding poststructuralism, Blanchot’s Infinite Conversation provides a crucial link for understanding the more immediate roots of poststructuralism. Though Blanchot did much of his major writing in the forties, fifties, and sixties, his work has received little attention in America until recently. He is especially important for those interested in contemporary...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

John Gregg (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Blanchot's Suicidal Artist: Writing and the (Im)Possibility of Death,” in Maurice Blanchot and the Literature of Transgression, Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 35-45.

[In the following essay, Gregg examines Blanchot's preoccupation with death, particularly as associated with suicide, literary creation, and the function of autobiography.]

Language and human beings share the same destiny of incompletion. Death as an approach, a passivity that cannot be rendered present or personal, worklessness and failure: these exigencies that Bataille posits as the basis of both sacrifice and his expérience are also categories that serve to organize...

(The entire section is 6555 words.)

Steve Dickison (review date Fall 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 14, No. 3, Fall, 1994, p. 214.

[In the following review, Dickison comments on the themes of The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me.]

The mark of Lydia Davis’s translation can be cited right away in the American title for this most recent of Maurice Blanchot’s fictions to appear in English. Davis’s elegant variation of Blanchot’s French title (Celui qui ne m’accompagnait pas—a “straight” translation might be “The One (or He) Who Was Not Accompanying Me”) carries in the word apart the echo of Blanchot’s ambivalent terminal...

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Gabriel Josipovici (review date 27 October 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Precise, Lucid, and Quiet,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 27, 1995, p. 26.

[In the following review, Josipovici praises Blanchot's early works of literary criticism but finds shortcomings in the cryptic assertions of The Work of Fire and The Writing of Disaster.]

When, in the early 1970s, I was trying to persuade British publishers to bring out a selection of the essays of Maurice Blanchot, no one was interested. Now at last the bulk of his work is becoming available in English, thanks largely to the Anglo-American academic interest in his friends and contemporaries Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabès and Emmanuel Levinas. But...

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Christopher Fynsk (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Crossing the Threshold: On ‘Literature and the Right to Death,’” in Maurice Blanchot: The Demand of Writing, edited by Carolyn Bailey Gill, Routledge, 1996, pp. 70-90.

[In the following essay, Fynsk examines the ambiguous nature of language, the function of literature, and the negative dialectic of death expressed in “Literature and the Right to Death.”]

Literature begins, Blanchot says, when it becomes a question, when the language of a work becomes literature in a question about language itself.1 This question concerns the source of literature’s ambiguity: its ‘origin’ in an irreducible ‘double meaning’ that is not a movement...

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Wallace Fowlie (review date Spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Blanchot and the New French Criticism,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. CIV, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. xxxvii-xxxix.

[In the following review, Fowlie comments on the literary and historical significance of the essays in The Work of Fire.]

The goals of the new French criticism, in which Maurice Blanchot holds his place beside Derrida, Foucault, Bachelard, Starobinski, and Jean-Pierre Richard, seem very complex. Such criticism may entail more than the analysis of a sonnet or even of a novel: it may be involved with the understanding of the entire experience of an author seen in the light of all his writing, and it may even attempt to illuminate the entire age in...

(The entire section is 836 words.)

Marc Lowenthal (review date Fall 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Most High, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 185-5.

[In the following review, Lowenthal summarizes The Most High comparing its narrator to that of Kafka's The Trial.]

Despite the wealth of translation of Maurice Blanchot’s work available, the arrival of one of his novels in English tends to be not only welcome but needed: the profound depthlessness, the illuminating opacity of his essays and fiction continue to put the very possibility of literature at stake.

Written in the aftermath of World War II, The Most High depicts a society of vague familiarity, one made up of...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Leslie Hill (essay date 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The (Im)Possibility of Literature,” in Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary, Routledge, 1997, pp. 53-69.

[In the following excerpt, Hill provides an overview of the literary techniques and thematic preoccupations of Blanchot's Thomas the Obscure and Aminadab.]


Literature is perhaps essentially (but neither solely nor overtly) power of contestation: contestation of established authority, contestation of that which is (and the fact of being), contestation of language and the forms of literary language, lastly contestation of itself as power.

‘Les Grands...

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Irving Malin (review date Fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Awaiting Oblivion, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 228-9.

[In the following review, Malin comments on the “terrible beauty” of Blanchot's prose in Awaiting Oblivion.]

Blanchot is a terrifying writer [in Awaiting Oblivion]. The action takes place in a hotel room; a man and woman make cryptic remarks about such subjects as waiting, writing, time, and death. But the man and woman seem to melt into other ghosts—these may or may not be another man and woman or their secretive doubles. “He” and “she”—and “I,” the author—become ambiguous pronouns so that identities remain obscure....

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Lynne Huffer (essay date 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Blanchot's Mother,”1 in Yale French Studies, No. 93, 1998, pp. 175-95.

[In the following essay, Huffer examines the relationship between gender and nostalgia in the rhetorical strategies of The Space of Literature.]

The death of the other restores men to each other.

—Nancy K. Miller, “The Exquisite Cadavers: Women in Eighteenth-Century Fiction”

I have to admit, the first time I read Maurice Blanchot’s The Space of Literature2 over a decade ago, there was much that I just didn’t get. Strangely, though, the book haunted me—not because I...

(The entire section is 8959 words.)

Steven Jaron (review date Winter 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Pour l'amitié and Les Intellectuels en question, in World Literature Today, Vol. 72, No. 1, Winter, 1998, pp. 101-2.

[In the following review, Jaron discusses the intersections between literature, politics, and morality in Pour l'amitié and Les Intellectuels en question.]

Like Paul Valéry before him, Maurice Blanchot explains of himself that he has very little “historical” memory, which is to say, he knows that he lived during a dark age and in some measure participated in it, but he is unable to reconstitute it in his current writings. The recent release of two short books by him therefore gives us pause for reflection...

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Ian Pindar (review date 1 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Sort of Defeated Tenderness,” in Times Literary Supplement, May 1, 1998, p. 6.

[In the following review, Pindar offers a positive assessment of Awaiting Oblivion and evaluates the critical studies of Blanchot by critics Leslie Hill and Gerald Bruns.]

The lengthy trial and recent conviction of Maurice Papon marked a turning-point in France’s gradual acceptance of the Vichy regime’s complicity in the Holocaust. As one of the lawyers in the case argued, Papon did not have blood on his hands, but blood on his pen. After the verdict was announced, a representative of the Jewish deportees’ families said: “France now knows that the soulless...

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Bridget Conley (review date December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Friendship, in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 113, No. 5, December, 1998, pp. 1180-82.

[In the following review, Conley discusses the main themes of Friendship.]

In an August 1997 review of Maurice Blanchot’s Friendship in Library Journal (122.13, p. 90), Robert T. Ivey expressed his perplexity at the regard with which Blanchot is increasingly held among literary theorists and philosophers. Giving Blanchot’s text a grade of “C,” he wrote that those seeking commentaries on friendship such as Montaigne offered readers will be disappointed by these “rambling, disjointed essays …” I agree. Without reservation. It is true...

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Deborah M. Hess (essay date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction,” in Politics and Literature: The Case of Maurice Blanchot, Peter Lang, 1999, pp. 1-15.

[In the following essay, Hess provides an overview of Blanchot's literary career and political involvements, noting the critical obstacles of Blanchot's writings and political commitments due to his private nature and reticence concerning his own work.]

A great deal has been written on the subject of Maurice Blanchot: on his criticism, on his view of literature, on the difficulty of interpreting his fictional works, on his politics. Because there have been many widely divergent theories advanced, and very little dialogue between the different points of...

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George Quasha and Charles Stein (essay date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Publishing Blanchot in America: A Metapoetic View,” in The Station Hill Blanchot Reader, Station Hill, 1999, pp. 511-27.

[In the following essay, Quasha and Stein consider Blanchot's writings in an American context and discuss the difficulty of translating, reading, and interpreting his texts, particularly in light of their poetic openness and prophetic quality.]

After two decades of publishing the writing of Maurice Blanchot, we find ourselves still standing at the threshold. Slowly—very slowly—we may be learning the meanings of our own commitments. The decision to publish Blanchot has seemed at times fully conscious, perhaps willful, and yet...

(The entire section is 7419 words.)

Leslie Hill (review date 13 August 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cardiac Arrest,” in Times Literary Supplement, August 13, 1999, p. 24.

[In the following review, Hill comments on the historical significance of Blanchot's oeuvre in general, highlighting the implications of the death theme in The Station Hill Blanchot Readerand Friendship.]

Maurice Blanchot, novelist, critic, philosopher, now in his ninety-second year, is at last receiving the sustained critical attention his work deserves. These two volumes of translations explain why. The Station Hill Blanchot Reader brings together in one compendium edition previously out-of-print English versions of the author’s shorter fiction or récits,...

(The entire section is 851 words.)