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Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation

Lecturer: Mark Hewson

Originally Taught: Winter School 2016

In The Infinite Conversation (1969), Blanchot turns towards the philosophical tradition and its questions, after many years of writing literary criticism.  It is a dense and demanding book, at times closer to philosophical poetry than an argument or a theory.  The course will offer a path into the work by placing it in its cultural and philosophical environment.  Most of the chapters first appeared as essays in French literary journals (especially La Nouvelle Revue Française), where they were followed closely by many of the leading philosophers of the 1960s.  The course will follow Blanchot’s itinerary, reading the essays in the sequence in which they appeared in the journals, and will focus on his relation to the thinkers of the time; we will read texts devoted to Levinas, Foucault, Lefebvre, and the French reception of Nietzsche.  Many of Blanchot’s key themes and motifs - the end of philosophy, the questioning of the dialectic, the thought of difference and plurality – place his writings within the paradigm of 1960s French thought.  In order to explore this comparison, the course will also consider Ferry and Renaut’s French Philosophy of the Sixties, which is polemical and hostile, but still one of the best attempts at an overview of French “post-structuralism”.

The course will also consider some of Blanchot’s political interventions during the period in which he wrote these essays, including his intervention into the debate around French policy in Algeria, and his activity as a pamphleteer and polemicist during the ‘revolution’ of May 1968. 

Course outline

1. The ambiguity of the negative: the essentials of Blanchot’s thought in “Literature and the Right to Death” and The Space of Literature.

“Speaking is not seeing”.

Blanchot’s intervention on the Algerian war: “The Manifesto of the 121”

2. “Forgetting, Unreason” (on Foucault’s Madness and Civilization)

“Knowledge of the Unknown”, “Keeping to Words” (on Levinas, Totality and Infinity).

French thought of the 1960s (Ferry, Renaut) 1.

3. “Everyday speech” (on Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life)

“Literature, one more time”, “Thought and the exigency of discontinuity”,

4. “René Char and the experience of the neuter”, “A rose is a rose”, “Interruption”.

French thought of the 1960s 2 (Ferry, Renaut). Derrida and the critique of the metaphysics of presence.

Political texts: “The apocalypse is disappointing” (in Friendship) on nuclear war: brief texts on the Berlin wall and on space travel.

5. “Nietzsche and the exigency of fragmentary writing” (written ‘in the margin’ of books by Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, according to Blanchot).

Political pamphlets written during and about May 1968.

Texts:

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation

Maurice Blanchot, Friendship

Maurice Blanchot, Political Writings

Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut, French Philosophy of the 1960s.