Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477

The Writing of the Disaster may best be understood within the context of Maurice Blanchot’s ongoing concern to create a fragmentary writing that explores the extremes of human experience. Such a mode of writing, or thinking (and for Blanchot these amount to much the same thing), seeks not to provide answers but to provoke questions about the fundamental problems of life and death, memory and forgetfulness, and culture and anarchy. Whereas earlier in his career as writer and critic, Blanchot had sought, in dialogue with French philosophers Emmanuel Lévinas and Georges Bataille, to explore the Hegelian mode of negation—the moment of antithesis in the dialectic—in The Writing of the Disaster, he seeks to go beyond negation, to explore the realm of the neutre, or the neutral. The concept of the neutral, as developed by Lévinas, denotes a passive position between being and nonbeing, a space that cannot be identified with the activity of the production of meaning or with productivity of any kind. Rather than the finished work or thought, Blanchot promotes the fragment, which is not to be mistaken for the aphorism—the latter being in some sense “finished,” or closed. Fragmentary writing, by its nature, seeks its own erasure; it is self-consuming and eludes the possibility of unity, totality, or continuity.

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The Writing of the Disaster is not simply a meditation upon fragmentary writing but is itself composed in a highly fragmentary, elliptical style. Lacking chapter headings, subdivisions, or any of the usual markers of linear development, The Writing of the Disaster defies conventional summary in the most flagrant terms. However, it is possible to isolate the central thread of the argument while keeping in mind that any such attempt must betray the essence of the work.

For Blanchot, writing is not so much the concrete expression of ideas, of words on a page expressed in a particular style, as it is a mental process, a thinking that is already writing as well as a thinking that is pure anticipation. Authentic writing is writing that is forever seeking its own origins and questioning its own possibility. Following in the steps of German philosopher Martin Heidegger, Blanchot conceives of poetic language as something extremely rare and elusive and yet omnipresent; it is everywhere and nowhere at once and is essentially authorless. People are not the speakers of language; they are the vessels through which language speaks to the world. However, the possibility of affirmation that Heidegger found in a language of negation is no longer a possibility in the modern world. Language has depleted or exhausted its powers of negation. All attempts at unitary meaning are now meaningless or absurd. This is one way of thinking about Blanchot’s use of the term “disaster,” though again it must be noted that the disaster is not, finally, situated within the historical process.

Fragmentary Writing

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602

Fragmentary writing is neither negation nor affirmation but is situated between the two, within the neutral. Fragmentary writing is outside conventionally understood language. It is writing at the margins or rather writing that has abdicated the quest for a center and is thus marginal only with respect to conventional notions of expression. Because fragmentary writing neither affirms nor denies, it is unnecessary and inherently implausible. It is not something that could be said to “occur,’ insofar as occurrence implies an end, a purpose. It is purposeless writing and seeks with infinite patience to dissolve the purposes of the instrumental world. A writing of the fragment must have some affinity with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “eternal return,” for such a...

(The entire section contains 2408 words.)

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