Writers fall into the same trap as do suicide victims except that instead of taking one death for another, “la mort contente” for “le mourir,” they mistake the book for the work, “le livre” for “l’oeuvre.” Both tend to a point by taking the initiative and exercising skill and know-how, but this point escapes any such determinations. The perpetrator of suicide sets out with great determination to conquer and possess death, to make it his or her own, but, suggest Blanchot, it is just the opposite that occurs: “Même là où je décide d’aller à elle [la mort], par sa résolution virile et idéale, n’est-ce pas elle qui me saisit, qui me dessaisit, me livre à l’insatiable?” (EL 118). In a similar way writers, although they may initially feel confident in their ability to have control over raw materials of their craft, undergo the same kind of dispossession. The more they write and the farther they advance into the literary space, the less clear their original project becomes. Writing involves a pact made with the night and cannot be equated with any mundane task to be accomplished in the realm of the day. Writers are, therefore, not related to what they have written in the same way that they are to anything else they have done through an act of power. In the cases of both suicide and writing, what begins as a concerted act of the will is transformed into fascination, indecision and passivity. The English phrase “suicide victim” aptly describes this transformation from active to passive: whoever resolves to kill him-or-herself ultimately becomes one who submits pasively to feath and awaits its approach.

Maurice Blanchot and the literature of transgression by John Gregg, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 36 (preview it with Google books)

I can imagine a perspective from which the comparison between a writer’s activities and a suicide victim may seem outrageous. Blanchot is by no means suggesting that both are identical. He’s simply exploring the complex problem of the suicide gesture in order to shed some lights on the particularities of the creative process that is writing.
John Gregg’s summary is based on the chapter “Death as Possibility” in Maurice Blanchot’s The space of literature (tr. by Ann Smock, University of Nebraska Press, 1989; preview it with Google books). Blanchot’s book was originally published in French as L’Espace littéraire (Gallimard, Paris, 1955).
This quote goes along previous notes I wrote about the paradoxical gesture that is suicide: see Violence and community: notes on school bullying.


Subscribe to our newsletter

This newsletter serves one purpose only: it sends a single email notification whenever a new post is published on aphelis.net, never more than once a day. Upon subscribing, you will receive a confirmation email (if you don’t, check your spam folder). You can unsubscribe at any time.