Respecting Scandal: Literary Criticism (1945–1948)

The articles collected and published with some delay in 1949 in The Work of Fire and Lautréamont and Sade had mostly been written between summer 1945 and the end of 1947, that is, in less than two and a half years. Arguments had been whittled down, had lost their journalistic irregularity. Research was beginning. A singular mode of judgment was taking shape: an authority.

The places he was publishing, and the subjects on which he was publishing, can serve to indicate Blanchot’s position in the field of criticism after the Liberation. For him as for Bataille, the success of existentialism (even in its theoretical bases) had an element of mythmaking about it, and betrayed true existence, which they felt was much better expressed by surrealism. Blanchot set out his approach to the stakes of surrealism in three pieces, each published a year after the next, and only one of which would be collected in The Work of Fire, which does not really convey how constant this strategic and speculative preoccupation was. “The deciding role [surrealism] has played in French literature is readily—even more readily than before the war—acknowledged”: the impersonal nature of this phrase, one of the earliest in “Reflections on Surrealism,” fools no one. While Blanchot holds on to the notion of what he names “the failure of surrealism,” he now sees this as the most truthful of failures, one that asks real questions of the writer. “In every person who writes there is a surrealist calling that is admitted, that miscarries, seems sometimes usurped, but that, even if it is false, expresses a sincere effort and need.”1 The “greatest creative ambition” (301) has to be attributed to surrealism. What’s more, the alterations made to the article written in 1945 by the time it was published in 1949 leave little room for doubt: They all attenuate or remove reservations initially expressed (for example the judgments that in surrealism there was a “naturalism” or a “naivety” disappear).2 But Blanchot’s admiration goes above all to a surrealism overspilling its boundaries: that of the poets who were more or less the movement’s dissidents; that of Bataille or Artaud. While the article on the marvelous begins by citing Breton, it closes with a reference to Acéphale, “the sovereign exaltation of a severed head” (given that the marvelous is ultimately defined as a “freedom of the head”), and with a long citation of Artaud where the writer avows that he has disappeared, melted into his style, into the “bizarre truth” of his work, into a participation in the inexpressible.3

This rehabilitation of surrealism accompanies a theory of literature that in this period is being set out in ever more brilliant and developed ways, leading to the adoption of new and newly firm political, aesthetic, philosophical, and critical positions.

To speak of Blanchot’s absence from the political at the end of the 1940s would be to admit that one’s concept of the political is very weak and unimaginative. Writing articles in Les Temps Modernes, rehabilitating surrealism, praising René Char’s poetry are all important indications of this. To define surrealism and above all Char’s surrealism as an art of refusal is to recognize in it the workings of an infinite political demand.4 Blanchot defends the surrealists’ drawing of a parallel between political revolution and linguistic liberation. Breton’s commitment as a communist is no “vagary” on his part: “the phase was neither fortuitous nor arbitrary, and it remains very significant as an example of the profound commitments that literature cannot prevent itself from forming as soon as it becomes aware of its greatest freedom” (91). Surrealism expects that communism would only prepare the way for a free society: “mankind, having nothing more to do, because everything has been done, discovers the meaning and value of this nothing, the proper object of poetry and freedom both” (96). The writer cannot be content with the Marxist notion of “total man,” for, beyond any completion in classless society, he will always have to work with directionless negativity. Holding surrealism up as an example is not only a critical statement, but also a speculative one. When coupled with the feeling of independence that would be provided by any immediate and supposedly painless commitment, the fact of subordinating the political to the sovereignty of literature explains Blanchot’s paradoxical, provisional withdrawal.

In this way, in parallel to the manifesto in Les Temps Modernes and more than two years before “Literature and the Right to Death,” which is often read as an anti-Sartrean text, Blanchot was constructing his own kind of links between literature and politics. The “uncommitment” (dégagement) he speaks of is not directly in opposition to Sartrean commitment. Rather, it is its Aufhebung:

the most uncommitted literature is at the same time the most committed, because it knows that to claim to be free in a society that is not free is to accept responsibility for the constraints of that society and especially to accept the mystifications of the word “freedom” by which society hides its intentions. (97)

“Uncommitment” is the mark of a sovereign commitment. “In sum, literature must have an efficacy and meaning that are extraliterary, that is, it must not renounce its literary means, and literature must be free, that is, committed” (97).5

The necessity of reading surrealism became clear to Blanchot both in political and personal terms. During this period he frequently cited this phrase from the Surrealist Manifesto: “what is admirable in the fantastic is that there is no longer anything fantastic: there is only the real.” He was busy writing The Most High, and Breton’s formulation reminded him of the movement of his novels, which consists in unfolding the fantastic until the law of uncertainty becomes the revelation of the real itself, until the law of extravagance becomes its truth (its interruption).6 This formulation also defines literature’s exceptionality and completes the rejection of naturalism elaborated as early as the articles in the Journal des Débats. “The proper nature of the fantastic . . . is to pass for reality itself, is to be everything that is real.” In what Blanchot interchangeably names the fantastic or the marvelous he sees “an appearance in fantasy and in play, in truth a man’s most profound experience.” He insists on this in terms recalling those of “inner experience”: ones that are intimate, essential, agonizing, terrorizing. This is the fantastic of Kafka, Michaux, Lautréamont, and Leiris. It provides a model for inner experience, an experience lived, but lived by the invisible partner within us:

Michel Leiris’s récit [Aurora], in showing how the author is expressed and given form within it, gives us an understanding of how Lautréamont is present in Maldoror and tells us what depths we must descend to if we wish to see this invisible face, tells us in what forever-sealed chamber remains (demeure), still alive and with his eyes fixed on us, the adolescent that we have never seen.7

Is literature capable of transmitting this experience? Is it “comical and destitute,” an “unfaithful repository” or a “necessarily faithful translation”? In light of this question, which haunts Faux Pas and The Work of Fire just as it haunted Valéry, who reproached Pascal for “this distress which writes so well,” Blanchot seems to have always been more ready than Bataille to reestablish literature’s equivocal sovereignty.

Whether transitive or intransitive, manifest or latent, intended or reactive, meaningful or nonsensical, active or truthful, modest or ambitious, subjective or willfully realist, autonomous or sovereignly powerless, literary language can change meaning, be interested or disinterested, realize or unrealize (or unrealize the better to realize), make itself present or absent (or make itself absent as a way to make itself otherwise present). It is the site of endless reversals. In Blanchot’s statement that literature can only be ambiguous, equivocal, and that this is its very essence, there is no residue of political or moral complacency, no desire to mask any compromised attitude past or present. While literature is indeed “the life that endures death and maintains itself in it,” according to the Hegelian formulation repeated five times in “Literature and the Right to Death,” it “refers us to the nothingness of death” (344) on which all meaning relies, but it always refers us to it in an unstable way. This is the “point of instability” (343) that literature aims at, the irruption into the heart of language of what Blanchot would later name “dying,” the irruption of the being of language, therefore of being and no longer simply of experience. Literature becomes possible by making death impossible, by preserving it from the possible, by making it harmonize or disharmonize with dying.8 The ambiguity of literature lies in the double hold of death as impossible and of dying (le mourir) as ineffable.

If we try to restore literature to the movement that allows all its ambiguities to be grasped, that movement is here: literature, like ordinary speech, begins with the end, which is the only thing that allows us to understand. If we are to speak, we must see death, we must see it behind us. When we speak, we lean on a tomb, and the void of that tomb is what makes language true, but at the same time the void is reality and death becomes being. (336)

This is the heart of Blanchot’s experience, the experience of his own writing, that of Death Sentence, which he was precisely just finishing when he published these lines.

A clear response, showing how far Hegel’s and Heidegger’s thinking had been taken on board, is given in “Literature and the Right to Death”:

What is written is neither well nor badly written . . . : it is the perfect act through which what was nothing when it was inside emerges into the monumental reality of the outside as something which is necessarily true, since what it translates only exists through it and in it. (305)

Blanchot makes it explicit (302) that he is drawing on Hegel’s general phenomenology, rather than on his aesthetic philosophy.9 For instance he sees the writer as nothing more than a product of his work, a being existing only thanks to or in relation to that work. As for Heidegger’s thinking on art, which he had been aware of since the “Origin of the Work of Art” lecture in 1936, it had seduced him so greatly that it is not impossible to think that he attempted to become for René Char what Heidegger was attempting to become for Hölderlin. Blanchot cites Heidegger on multiple occasions, most frequently in his articles on the two poets. These citations are often indirect and very free. He writes about the image in René Char, “in which are united this undamageable nature of solid things and the stream of becoming, the thickness of presence and the scintillation of absence,” carrying life, “and even more than life, that which in our life but unknown to it, keeps courage and silence vigilant: its truth” (109–110). In doing so he sticks close to Heidegger, for whom poetic language “alone brings what is, as something that is, into the Open for the first time. Where there is no language, as in the being of stone, plant, and animal, there is also no openness of what is,” and for whom the work is “the fighting of the battle in which the unconcealedness of beings as a whole, or truth, is won.”10 Numerous pages in “Literature and the Right to Death” are steeped in Heideggerian aesthetics. Blanchot writes that:

Yes, happily language is a thing: it is a written thing, a bit of bark, a sliver of rock, a fragment of clay in which the reality of the earth continues to exist. The word acts not as an ideal force but as an obscure power, as an incantation that coerces things, makes them really present outside of themselves. (327–328)

This passage can be compared with the following one in Heidegger:

When a work is created, brought forth out of this or that work-material—stone, wood, metal, color, language, tone—we say also that it is made, set forth out of it. . . . [This] setting-forth is needed. . . . The work sets itself back into the massiveness and heaviness of stone, into the firmness and pliancy of wood, into the hardness and luster of metal, into the lighting and darkening of color, into the clang of tone, and into the naming powers of the word. That into which the word sets itself back and which it causes to come forth in this setting back of itself we called the earth. . . . The work sets forth the earth. . . . The work lets the earth be an earth.11

Elsewhere, Blanchot writes: “the poetic image, in this very absence of thing, claims to restore the foundation of its presence to us, not its form (what one sees) but the underside (what one penetrates), its reality of earth, its ‘matter-emotion’ ” (108).

The question of faithfulness disappears. Having recourse to Heidegger allows Blanchot to define the sovereignty of literature differently. All authority is henceforth given to the equivocal authenticity of a paradoxical language. Literary experience only has authority if it contests and tears apart its own language; it only has authority in the absence it presents, the death it puts to work, the void it excavates. This movement in which the unified coherence of language is contested attacks the reality of things as they stand, but also its own images, its own “matter-emotion,” its own “rhetoric become matter” (89), its own “physical adherence to something completely strange” (170), its own “hammerlike density” (107). This material movement is based on the kind of resistant hardness that had been experienced by the surrealists, Lautréamont (Blanchot often speaks of Maldoror in terms of an uncracked block), Mallarmé (“calm block here fallen from obscure disaster”), and Rimbaud (“Rimbaud was thirsty for pebbles, rock, and charcoal, that is to say, for what is most drying in the world. And starting from this absolute hardness, he wanted the absolute porosity of sleep, the innocence of caterpillars, moles, limbs, the toad’s idleness, infinite patience capable of an infinite forgetfulness,” 160).12 This hardness is what lends authority to literary language. In this double marriage to the reality of things and the reality of words, literature ultimately makes language into “shapeless matter, formless content, a force that is capricious and impersonal and says nothing, reveals nothing, simply announces—through its refusal to say anything—that it comes from night and will return to night” (330). The neuter can already be heard in this, and literature draws its authority from this movement toward the neuter, which also recalls the movement toward the there is (which Blanchot evokes on the following page, dedicating a note to Levinas’s Existence and Existents which had just been published). Some readers would not be able to bear Blanchot’s approach to this shadow of matter—nor that he should have seen shadow itself as material, shadow often being considered as mere transparency, imminent evanescence. The myth of Orpheus would later come into play around the boundaries of these two conceptions, and would have to bear the weakness of the first, which for its part often screens the danger of the second.

Blanchot thus sees literary language as more metonymic than metaphorical, as infinitely opening the image onto the unimaginable, without assigning it any equivalencies, whether insidious or surprising. After Mallarmé, he denounces

the fault of simple metaphor . . . in its stability, its plastic solidity; it is as weighty and present as what it represents, it is as if placed immutably in front of us, with its meaning that nothing comes to change. (32)

On the contrary, to follow one silence with another is to never step beyond language; it is only ever to be led to “a new language that is never the last” (41), but one that always moves toward the last word, without embodying it.13 This reading of movement, which only suggests images the better to deconstruct them, is the line pursued in Lautréamont and Sade.

It is in the attempt to exhaust this endless back-and-forth of literary language that critical language accedes to its own paradoxical essence.

Paradox becomes at once the form, method, and object of Blanchot’s critical discourse, being at once the law of experience (of his entire reading experience), the “work of fire” itself, the “spark of fire,” “flame,” Ariadne’s thread, the “passionate assurance” that allows one to guide oneself through the torments of the night. It often stands out right from the outset, forming part of the dramaturgy or the poetics of critical writing. The articles go on to throw light on the obscurity of this paradox, but never resolve the underlying contradiction. The initial paragraphs set it up, establish it by describing a series of light and almost unnecessary paradoxes, which are all the more surprising given that they are seemingly endless and are stated as if they were facts. Some sort of consistency then takes hold, the analysis centers itself around an essential paradox: this is explored, excavated, enriched, and led toward a paroxysm of complexity a few paragraphs before the conclusion. The latter brings no dénouement, instead confirming that none is possible before returning to silence. This rhetoric of critical writing, which would contribute to Blanchot’s glory, is an improved version of his prose in the Journal des Débats, which develops by broadening out short anaphoric phrases, digging into paradox via chiasmus and oxymoron, but with less depth and speed. This dramatic and spectacular, reproducible and specular rhetoric is now present wherever thinking takes place, and its rigor proves seductive; the challenge it presents makes reading a pleasure (we know how Blanchot’s articles are able to fascinate their readers, and their regular rhythm of publication only increased this pleasure by forcing readers to wait for them). The detachment of the long but lucid phrasing, often toward the start of an article following one or two short, lapidary sentences setting out some fact, enchants readers by setting forth the question, then developing it via various rhythms and enumerations that are always measured and symmetrical, harmonious and self-contained, while also being extended by oratorical redundancies that enclose the problem within the circularity of incompatible elements. Of course, the task of reasoning being pursued here consists in opening, prizing apart all of this, even though it seems impossible, and is made to seem impossible.14

This method of repetition, which is also a heightening, an accumulation, a vertiginous deepening, a plunge into the unpredictable, is a way of underlining the movement of criticism itself, the movement of criticism as Blanchot conceives it—that is, as causing a crisis for the text or giving it over to the crisis and movement within it, making the critical text itself that of crisis and movement. Such a method can be read as a mania for paradox, which proceeds via jouissance to experiment with all possible forms (hyperbole, irony, contradiction, paralipsis, denial), a paradox also found at work in phrases undermining their own logical predicates (such placing of qualifications prior to the predicate characterizes even Blanchot’s narrative writing, they are presuppositions that undermine the permanent presence of the voice of utterance). But this is only meaningful if we read this mania as a way of setting aside the melancholy that might proceed from multiple encounters with the impossible. Each time, the exhausting writing of critical reason plays a role in tearing its author apart. But it is also a way for him to find new life, to seize the madness of the day during the wearying labor of the night. And it is a way of bringing himself back to life, if the work constructing the oeuvre of the other can also be said to be his own. Paradox is Blanchot’s flower of Tarbes: he does not enter into any text without the decision, the incision of seeing in it—to the point of excess—the contradictory movements of his own mind and the metamorphoses of his own body.

He also tests the texts of the community that he unworks through the effacement of the self, which is his particular way of making assertions: unworking these texts, analyzing—more than the texts themselves—the process by which they had been constructed and which demonstrate that this very construction is impossible. The partner that the critic represents becomes less and less visible. This invisibility belongs to the insistent, tireless movement of his writing, which is becoming more and more the critical research of a writer.15

“The essential impulse of such a way of thinking is to contradict itself” (290), Blanchot writes of Nietzsche. He now tracks this movement of thought and writing in all the works he encounters. Critical thought requires a thinking of time. Even in its maddest moments, such as those when a relation to the divine provokes endless reversals, the movement of experience is what disrupts the feeling of duration.16 The critical text is protected against dogmatism by constantly calling the results of analysis into question, submitting them to paradox. Later, Blanchot would describe this in a letter to Mascolo: “the declarative mode can carry the entire trembling of thought, its torment and its infinite search, not affirming anything but forcing us to take risks where no affirmation is possible: truly over the abyss.”17 Ultimately perhaps it is only possible to grasp paradox in a “time of distress,” at an “end of History,” where contradiction becomes exhausted, unable to relaunch itself while remaining full of energy: paradox governs how ideas are present for the “inoperative community.” Enunciating paradoxes does not lead to any purification or any catharsis.18

This is what we are given to understand by the pages on Terror, which Blanchot’s detractors have attempted to read as a direct resurgence of his political past. We must see the passages in question for what they are: less than five pages (317–322) of “Literature and the Right to Death,” which, although intense and decisive in tone, are in no way conclusive. They carry out a simple task: at the close of the 1940s and at the dénouement of The Work of Fire, Blanchot reorients his research and his allegiances in criticism. The Terror discussed here now has nothing to do with Jean Paulhan’s Terror; it is a way of removing Paulhan from these critical reflections (his use of political language no longer coinciding exactly with Blanchot’s). Critical language becomes at once aesthetic, historical, and philosophical. As an excessive form of anguish, Terror seizes the writer through “experience.” Taking place in “times of distress,” at the “end of History,” Terror is much more than a political equivalency: it is the coming-together of two freedoms experienced as absolute, of two sovereignties put at stake, made to face the void of existence and the alarming possibility of creating a world. Terror means that the writer cannot accept any compromise, either in the ethics of his work (his relation to language) or in the uncommitment he has allowed himself, which only takes on its full meaning in an absolutely free society (which also means that it will never take on its full meaning, and thus that Terror is inevitable). Blanchot here is introducing only the shadow of terrorism into literature, and this terrorism is the reverse of totalitarianism; he knows that power is nothing, that everything comes down to nothing. Revolutionary Terror is that of Sade: it claims even those who control it. Terror knows no power. What about Robespierre and Saint-Just? “The Terror they personify does not come from the death they inflict on others but from the death they inflict on themselves. . . . Their thinking is cold, it has the freedom of a decapitated head” (320). The terrorist of the fantastic is exposed to his own death and exposes the liberty of all to death—to what Blanchot names dying (le mourir). If literature is Terror, he continues,

it is because it finds its justification in revolution, and if it has been called the Reign of Terror, this is because its ideal is indeed that moment in history, that moment when “life endures death and maintains itself in it” in order to gain from death the possibility of speaking and the truth of speech. (322)

But in order for life to maintain itself in death, death also has to maintain itself, and this death is dying.

“Any writer who is not induced by the very fact of writing to think, ‘I am the revolution, only freedom allows me to write,’ is not really writing” (321). The excessive vigor of his thinking makes much literature unreadable for Blanchot, perhaps because he had tolerated it too much previously. Ethical judgment takes place on no other issue than that of death, in order that he can lay claim to the “inoperative community” (a movement that gives literature “every right”).19 This vigor of his thinking proves magnetic, and almost makes the fate of this or that writer into a sacred destiny. And yet it is necessary to understand what this sacralization means: as Blanchot says of Hölderlin, the writer is only the witness, witnessing that it is impossible for the sacred to move into literary language.20 Over and against all the readings attempting to make Sade into a breviary of immorality, Blanchot states on the opening page of Lautréamont and Sade, “Here we have the most scandalous book ever written. . . . Moreover, to all his present and future publishers and commentators, we cannot stop ourselves from discreetly uttering this avowal: Ah, in Sade, at least, respect the scandal.”21

This Terror with its destructive capacity and divine atheism presents a real challenge to reason. In his fiction Blanchot analyzes the contradictory and “infinitely” expansive construction of this challenge. He draws a symbolic principle of energy from it: “nothing evil will ever happen to the man actively connected to evil.”22 Nothing stands up in Sade’s theoretical construction: man is overcome by the name of God, God by the name of Nature, Nature by the energy of contestation. When it is taken on board even in the face of death, this principle of energy leads one to sovereignty. In this, things have gone very far beyond a Gospel of Evil: literature is the site of apathy. Sade can carry the principle of energy to this site, this ambiguous and equivocal energy, making it the principle of his work itself. This principle of his work is neither a moral nor an immoral principle. Blanchot is careful to make this explicit in concluding his essay on Sade:

We are not saying that this thought is viable. But it does show that of the normal man who locks up the sadistic man in an impasse, and the sadistic man who turns this impasse into a means of escape, the latter is the one who is nearer to the truth, who understands the logic of his situation, and who has the deeper intelligence of it, so much so that he can help the normal man to understand himself by helping him change the conditions of all perception.23

Literature is this energy of comprehension, and is all the stronger for being contradictory, mobile, and unceasing, for endlessly producing contradictions. Blanchot would say this of Lautréamont too: “At no time was evil simply a theoretical idol for him,” with the entire movement of the Chants consisting in bringing to light (and to the reader) “his awareness of this.”24

Blanchot reproaches critics for not seeing this power of infinite contestation on the part of consciousness either in Sade or in Lautréamont; he reproaches them for not reading these authors, for isolating certain questions as if obsessed, obsessively preoccupied by their own thematics. Something very real becomes necessary:

[analysis] only makes up for what is illegitimate in its method (which separates out what is together) through its excesses and by indefinitely prolonging its activity. . . . Only perpetual movement justifies analysis, for once it stops, all of its suspended conclusions, its provisional explanations take on definitive value and the work, violently separated from itself, breaks apart to make room for a rudimentary framework which is clumsily reconstructed from without.25

Energy has to become the very principle of criticism.

The opening of the essay on Lautréamont denounces the “mirage of sources” as having rendered most critics blind, as well as denouncing thematic commentary for fixing the work in a single position (the book’s becoming “a homogeneous, unmoving expanse, like a thing that has always existed, its meaning—sought independently of the direction it moves in—neglecting in particular the movement by which it has been made”).26 This failing is all the more apparent in the case of the Chants because this work is movement (something that justifies the exception Blanchot makes in dedicating this long and patient study to a single book). Here the analysis attempts not to separate the work from its movement, which is to say from itself. This explains the genetic point of view that is repeatedly adopted, for instance by comparing the first two publications of the first Chant (from Dazet to animals, from Ducasse to Lautréamont). Blanchot looks at the endless contradictions and reversals that give progression to the narrative; the “progressive experience” of metamorphosis, now as something awesome, a “paroxysm of frenzied violence,” now as something heavily slithering, thick, patient, and menacing, “the power of an infinite passivity,” which is always excessively organic.27 He also turns to the permanent uncertainty created by dreams and insomnia, the instability of representation corroded by irony, “the very experience of metamorphosis carried out at the heart of language,” an experience lived out at the heart of the work’s structure (which changes in the sixth Chant) and of its writing (which changes again in the Poems).28 Blanchot reads this endless movement, this prose and this genesis of writing, as the narrative of the author’s birth, “the progressive birth of the novelist”: “in this collaboration of patience and violence that is birth, Lautréamont, definitively pushing Ducasse aside, brought himself into the world.”29

It was 1948 or 1949. This birth of a novelist, in which he draws on the power of a “night made of organs,” is also that of Blanchot. Alongside Death Sentence and the second version of Thomas the Obscure, another oeuvre is being created, one that had already been present beneath the surface, in the metamorphoses of the former. It would become less ornate, more secret, while remaining just as mobile. Its traces, its innovations, its movements are commented on in advance in Lautréamont and Sade: “the possibility [for the character] of entering into situations and of escaping them, of living the present moment as if this present were perpetually behind him . . . of being simultaneously sick, dead, and healed”; “there is a continuous exchange of situation, of nature, and of power” with God; the unexpected fall of language “into the semi-darkness of insomnia; [words] get stuck, and their effort to track down obscurity only results in an endless pursuit, in the insubstantiality of a dream that is transformed as soon as one touches it in the fatality of a death that is always its own resurrection.” To this can be added the apparent imperceptibility of experience, which is endlessly churned and sometimes suddenly torn apart by the monstrous, ungraspable, gripping movement of shadow, and the “indeterminate moment between life and death when the same disappears and the other approaches.”30

The energy of metamorphosis requires infinite patience. Lautréamont and Sade is laden with the suffering and the weight of the past. The process of creating a novelist was a double one: before becoming the author of the récits of the 1950s, Blanchot had had to become that of Thomas the Obscure. Lautréamont’s energy, similar to that of Sade, was also similar to the energy of the 1930s writer. Let us read this long passage on Lautréamont and think of what Blanchot could be saying about himself:

At no time was evil simply a theoretical idol for him. It could be said that “evil” was in him and, quite nearly, was him. This evil not leaving him free, he put up an admirable fight, and since he found nothing in himself that was evil, except for his awareness of it—a sovereign power that he marvelously backed up—he was only able to combat evil with evil, making himself its accomplice and pushing it as far as possible, in the steadfast—but also spellbound—courage of his resolution and in the hope of a radical overthrow which might return him to himself, or cast him outside everything. If today he preaches reason and order, it cannot be said that he has disowned his former beliefs, for his tragic struggle was a struggle for daylight, and he always wanted to see clearly. In this sense, he remains perfectly faithful to himself and, as he says in a letter, “in short, it is always the Good that one sings.” But it is also quite true that between yesterday and today the change risks being significant: the man who moves from keeping his eyes open when darkness reigns to easily taking pleasure in reasonable tranquil clarity is no longer the same man. And he changes all the more given that, thinking that he has changed more than he actually has and turning toward a past that he pushes away, he will now see this struggle from long ago as an unhealthy indulgence for night, this shadowy will as a weakness, a game or experience without sincerity or value.31

What remains then is only—to use the title of the section immediately following these words—“to write, to die.”

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