Biographies & Memoirs

Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography

Maurice Blanchot: A Critical Biography

Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) was one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His novels, shorter narratives, literary criticism, and fragmentary texts exercised enormous influence over several generations of writers, artists, and philosophers. In works such as Thomas the Obscure, The Instant of my Death, The Writing of the Disaster, The Unavowable Community, Blanchot produced some of the most incisive statements of what it meant to experience the traumas and turmoils of the twentieth century.

As a journalist and political activist, Blanchot had a public side that coexisted uneasily with an inclination to secrecy, a refusal of interviews and photographs, and a reputation for mysteriousness and seclusion. These public and private Blanchots came together in complicated ways at some of the twentieth century's most momentous occasions. He was among the public intellectuals participating in the May '68 revolution in Paris and helped organize opposition to the Algerian war. During World War II, he found himself moments away from being executed by the Nazis. More controversially, he had been active in far-right circles in the '30s.

Now translated into English, Christophe Bident's magisterial, scrupulous, much-praised critical biography provides the first full-length account of Blanchot's itinerary, drawing on unpublished letters and on interviews with the writer's close friends. But the book is both a biography and far more. Beyond filling out a life famous for its obscurity, Bident's book will transform the way readers of Blanchot respond to this major intellectual figure by offering a genealogy of his thought, a distinctive trajectory that is at once imaginative and speculative, at once aligned with literary modernity and a close companion and friend to philosophy.

The book is also a historical work, unpacking the 'transformation of convictions' of an author who moved from the far-right in the 1930s to the far-left in the 1950s and after. Bident's extensive archival research explores the complex ways that Blanchot's work enters into engagement with his contemporaries, making the book also a portrait of the circles in which he moved, which included friends such as Georges Bataille, Marguerite Duras, Emmanuel Levinas, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.

Finally, the book traces the strong links between Blanchot's life and an oeuvre that nonetheless aspires to anonymity. Ultimately, Bident shows how Blanchot's life itself becomes an oeuvre--becomes a literature that bears the traces of that life secretly. In its even-handed appraisal, Bident's sophisticated reading of Blanchot's life together with his work offers a much-needed corrective to the range of cruder accounts, whether from Blanchot's detractors or from his champions, of a life too easily sensationalized.

This definitive biography of a seminal figure of our time will be essential reading for anyone concerned with twentieth-century literature, thought, culture, and politics.


Part I. 1907–1923

Chapter 1. Blanchot of Quain: Genealogy, Birth, Childhood (1907–1918)

Chapter 2. Music and Family Memory: Marguerite Blanchot in Chalon (1920s)

Chapter 3. The Fedora of Death: Illness (1922–1923)

Part II. 1920s–1940

Chapter 4. The Walking Stick with the Silver Pommel: The University of Strasbourg (1920s)

Chapter 5. A Flash in the Darkness: Meeting Emmanuel Levinas (1925–1930)

Chapter 6. There Is: Philosophical Apprenticeship (1927–1930)

Chapter 7. Aligning One’s Convictions: Paris and Far-Right Circles (1930s)

Chapter 8. “Mahatma Gandhi”: A First Text by Blanchot (1931)

Chapter 9. Refusal, I. The Revolution of Spirit: La Revue Française, Réaction, and La Revue du Siècle (1931–1934)

Chapter 10. Journalist, Opponent of Hitler, National-Revolutionary: Le Journal des Débats, Le Rempart, Aux Écoutes, and La Revue du Vingtième Siècle (1931–1935)

Chapter 11. The Escalation of Rhetoric: The Launch of Combat (1936)

Chapter 12. Terrorism as a Method of Public Safety: Combat (July–December 1936)

Chapter 13. Patriotism’s Breaking Point: L’Insurgé (1937)

Chapter 14. These Events Happened to Me in 1937: Death Sentences (1937–1938)

Chapter 15. On the Transformation of Convictions: A Journalist of the Far Right (1930s)

Chapter 16. From Revolution to Literature: Literary Criticism (1930s)

Chapter 17. Murderous Omens of Times to Come—Writing the Récits: “The Last Word” and “The Idyll” (1935–1936)

Chapter 18. Night Freely Recircled, Which Plays Us: Thomas the Obscure (1932–1940)

Part III. 1940–1949

Chapter 19. The Universe Is to Be Found in Night: Resistance (1940–1944)

Chapter 20. Using Vichy against Vichy: Jeune France (1941–1942)

Chapter 21. Admiration and Agreement: Meeting Georges Bataille (1940–1943)

Chapter 22. In the Name of the Other: Literary Chronicles at the Journal des Débats (1941–1944)

Chapter 23. A True Writer Has Appeared: The Publication and Reception of Thomas the Obscure (1941–1942)

Chapter 24. Lift This Fog Which Is Already of the Dawn: The Publication of Aminadab (1942)

Chapter 25. Writers Who Have Given Too Much to the Present: NRF Circles (1941–1942)

Chapter 26. From Anguish to Language: The Publication of Faux pas (1943)

Chapter 27. The Prisoner of the Eyes That Capture Him: Quain (Summer 1944)

Chapter 28. The Disenchantment of the Community: Editorial Activity after Liberation (1944–1946)

Chapter 29. The Year of Criticism: L’Arche, Les Temps Modernes, and Critique (1946)

Chapter 30. Respecting Scandal: Literary Criticism (1945–1948)

Chapter 31. The Black Stain: Writing The Most High (1946–1947)

Chapter 32. The Passion of Silence: Denise Rollin (1940s)

Chapter 33. The Mediterranean Sojourn: The Writing of the Night (1947)

Chapter 34. Something Inflexible: The Madness of the Day, a New Status for Speech (1947–1949)

Chapter 35. The Turn of the Screw: The Second Version of Thomas the Obscure (1947–1948)

Chapter 36. The Authority of Friendship: The Completion of Death Sentence (1947–1948)

Chapter 37. Quarrels in the Literary World: Publication and Reception (1948–1949)

Part IV. 1949–1959

Chapter 38. Invisible Partner: Èze, Withdrawal (1949–1957)

Chapter 39. The Essential Solitude: Writing the Récits (1949–1953)

Chapter 40. The Radiance of a Blind Power: When the Time Comes (1949–1951)

Chapter 41. Are You Writing, Are You Writing Even Now? The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me (1951–1953)

Chapter 42. The Critical Detour: A Few Articles of Literary Criticism (1950–1951)

Chapter 43. The Author in Reverse: The Birth of The Space of Literature (1951–1953)

Chapter 44. Always Already (The Poetic and Political Interruption of Thought): Toward The Book to Come (1953–1958)

Chapter 45. Of an Amazing Lightness: The Last Man (1953–1957)

Chapter 46. Grace, Strength, Gentleness: Meeting Robert Antelme (1958)

Chapter 47. In the Gaze of Fascination: The Return to Paris (1957–1958)

Chapter 48. Refusal, II. In the Name of the Anonymous: The 14 Juillet Project (1958–1959)

Part V. 1960–1968

Chapter 49. Note That I Say “Right” and Not “Duty”: The Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War (1960)

Chapter 50. Invisible Partners: The Project for the International Review (1960–1965)

Chapter 51. Characters in Thought: How Is Friendship Possible? (1958–1971)

Chapter 52. Act in Such a Way That I Can Speak to You: Awaiting Oblivion (1957–1962)

Chapter 53. The Thought of the Neuter: Literary and Philosophical Criticism—the Entretien and the Fragment (1959–1969)

Chapter 54. A First Homage: The Special Issue of Critique (1966)

Chapter 55. Between Two Forms of the Unavowable: The Beaufret Affair (1967–1968)

Chapter 56. The Far Side of Fear: Political Disillusionment (May 1968)

Part VI. 1969–1997

Chapter 57. Life Outside: The Step Not Beyond, a Journal Written in the Neuter (1969–1973)

Chapter 58. Friendship in Disaster: Distance, Disappearance (1974–1978)

Chapter 59. The Last Book: The Writing of the Disaster (1974–1980)

Chapter 60. Forming the Myth: Readings and Nonreadings (1969–1979)

Chapter 61. Making the Secret Uncomfortable: Blanchot’s Readability and Visibility (1979–1997)

Chapter 62. With This Break in History Stuck in One’s Throat: The Unavowable Community (1982–1983)

Chapter 63. Even a Few Steps Take Time: Literature and Witnessing (1983–1997)

Amor: Blanchot since 2003


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