Guide Very Little...Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature (Warwick Studies in European Philosophy)

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However, in the experience of la veille, the subject is no longer able to achieve cognitive mastery over objects, to exercise its strange right to death. Insofar as Blanchot employs the il y a to describe the experience of literature, there would seem to be perfect accord between them. Thus, the debate between Levinas and Blanchot would seem, at a profound level, to repeat the ancient Platonic quarrel between philosophy and literature.

However, the substantive question here is: Can philosophy overcome literature? Can it reduce does it seek to reduce the moment of writing, rhetoric and ambiguity that is necessary to its constitution? Is this the lesson of Platonic dialogue? This is another way of asking: Can Levinas surmount the neutrality of the il y a? But we are already getting ahead of ourselves. What is the nature of the horror undergone in the il y a? What does Levinas mean by calling it tragic? As is often the case, Levinas is using Heidegger as a lever to open his own thought; for the latter, Angst is a basic mood had in face of nothingness, it is the anxiety for my Being experienced in being-towards-death.

Therefore, the most horrible thought, for Heidegger, would be that of conceiving of the possibility of my own death, of that moment when I pass over into nothingness. This is more strange than such a murder is. Fuyons dans la nuit infernale! Suicide is unavailing. There is no death. What if the rope with which the suicide leaps into the void only binds him tighter to the existence he is unable to leave?

What if there is something stronger than death, namely dying itself? On the other hand, literature is that concern for things prior to their negation by language, an attempt to evoke the reality of things — the opacity of the night, the dim radiance of materiality. The second temptation of literature as the desire to reveal that which exists prior to all revelation — which revelation destroys — is destined to fail because each poem is a revelation and hence conceals that which it meant to reveal. The writer, even the most delicate of poets, always has the Midas touch, which simultaneously renders things precious and kills them.

This is why literature is divided or shared between these two slopes; it is the space of a certain partage, an experience of both sharing and division. If you write, believing yourself to know where you are and what slope you are going to follow, then literature will insidiously cause you to pass from one slope to the other: if you convince yourself that you are indeed there where you wanted to be, you are exposed to the greatest confusion because literature has already insidiously caused you to pass from one slope to the other and changed you into what you were not before.

Alternatively, one could desire, like Ponge or Heaney, to write poetry faithful to the intangible grain of things and only produce gobbets of utter transparency that reduce the elusive to the banal.

To put this in the form of a hypothesis, we can say that for Blanchot ambiguity is the truth of literature, and perhaps also the truth of truth, which is to say that truth is something duplicitous and bivalent — like physis, it loves to hide. In the equivocation, the threat of the pure and simple presence of the il y a takes form.

This is its discovery. Instead of some rapturous merging or ecstatic fusion with the night of unconsciousness, one is unable to sleep, and hence the essential night is discovered as the fatality or necessity of that which cannot be evaded, a consciousness without subjectivity, but a consciousness, nonetheless, that draws out diurnal activity to the 73 Lecture 1 point where it turns over into the utter neutrality of fatigue and sleepless exhaustion.

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Literature is thus the discovery of the world of the insomniac, as the double impossibility and double necessity of the day and the night. The fundamental experience towards which literature tends is the ambiguity of the il y a. You who live later, close to a heart that no longer beats, suppose, suppose this: the child — is he perhaps seven or eight — standing, drawing the curtain and looking through the window. What he sees, the garden, the winter trees, the wall of a house: whilst he is looking, in the way a child does, at his playing space, he gets bored and slowly looks up towards the ordinary sky, with clouds, the grey light, the drab and distance-less day.

The unexpectedness of this scene its interminable trait is the feeling of happiness that immediately overwhelms the child, the ravaging joy to which he can only testify through tears, an endless streaming of tears. They think that the child is sad, they try to console him.

He says nothing.

Very Little Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy and Literature - CRC Press Book

He will henceforth live in the secret. He will weep no more. ED So, in this passage, a seven- or eight-year-old child — is it a boy or a girl? To write is to learn to live in this secret. Literature is the life of the secret, a secret which must be and cannot be told.

Very Little...Almost Nothing: Death Philosophy Literature (Warwick Studies in European Philosophy)

The secret, in order to remain a secret, cannot be revealed; that is, literature cannot be reduced to the public realm, to the daylight of publicity and politicization, which is not at all to say that literature is reducible to the private realm. If ambiguity is to become the truth of literature, then we have to begin with death. Blanchot writes: If we want to bring back literature to the movement which 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.

In order to speak, we must see death, we must see it behind us. Death is therefore the most fundamental possibility of the Subject, which enables consciousness to assume its freedom.

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Death is a civilizing power and the condition of possibility for freedom, projection and authentic existence. With the second slope of literature, and the notion of the il y a, we introduced the idea of a fate worse than death, namely the interminability of existence where I lose the ability to die and where the dead seem to rise up from their graves. Dread, on this second slope, cannot be characterized as Beingtowards-death, but is rather dread in the face of the irremissibility of Being itself. In the il y a, death is impossible, which is the most horrible of thoughts.

Ambiguity, therefore, is ultimately an ambiguity about death, where the writer is suspended between two rights to 77 Lecture 1 death, death as possibility and death as impossibility. The wages of art are a peaceful death. The writer here enters a circular relation with death, what we might think of as a thanatological circle, that is premised upon the belief that death is a possibility. The writer, in this case Kafka, writes in order to be able to die, and the power to write comes from an anticipated relation with death.

Death, therefore, is something to be achieved; it is, for Heidegger, a possibility of Dasein, the most fundamental possibility of impossibility which allows us to get the totality of our existence in our grasp. However, the question here must be: Is death possible? Surely the test-case as to whether death is a possibility and is therefore something of which I am able, is suicide.

The act of suicide would be the perfection or highest realization of death as a possibility, a possibility which, Blanchot writes, is like a supply of oxygen close at hand without which we would smother. Can I kill myself? Have I the power to die? Can I go to my death resolutely, maintaining death, in Heideggerian terms, as the possibility of impossibility? Or is death more truly the experience of not being able to die, of not being able to be able, in Levinasian terms the impossibility of possibility? Can death be an object of the will? Blanchot writes: The weakness of suicide lies in the fact that whoever commits it is still too strong.

He is demonstrating a strength suitable only for a citizen of the world.

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The contradiction of the suicide is analogous to that of the insomniac, who cannot will him or herself to sleep because sleep is not an exercise of the will — sleep will not come to the person who wills it. Now everyone can make it so that there shall be no God and there shall be nothing.

Man, in his mortal frame cannot 81 Lecture 1 bear it; he must either physically transform himself or die. In order to endure this any longer one would have to transform oneself physically. I believe man would cease to beget. Why have children when the goal is reached? By contrast, the person who actually lives in despair, that quiet resignation that makes up so much of the untheorized content of everyday life, dwells in the interminable temporality of dying, in le temps mort, where time is experienced as passing, as slipping away — the wrinkling of the skin, the murmuring of senescence, crispation.

The point here can be made with reference to the theme of laughter. As such, within suicide, there is an 82 Il y a attempt to abolish both the mystery of the future and the mystery of death. Suicide — or euthanasia for that matter — wishes to eliminate death as the prospect of a contingent future that I will not be able to control, to avoid the utter misery of dying alone or in pain. However, once this heroic leap is taken, all the suicide feels is the tightening of the rope that binds him more closely than ever to the existence he would like to leave, the horror of the irremissibility of Being which we discussed above.

Death is not an object of the will, the noema of a noesis, and one cannot, truly speaking, want to die. To die means losing the will to die and losing the will itself as the motor that drives the deception of suicide. Through its very weakness, the thought of le mourir proves itself stronger than la mort.

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But is it possible to face up to the impossibility of death, this most horrible of thoughts? Blanchot writes: There is one death which circulates in the language of possibility, of liberty, which has for its furthest horizon the freedom to die and the power to take mortal risks — and there is its double, which is ungraspable, it is what I cannot grasp, what is not linked to me by any relation of any sort, that never comes and toward which I do not direct myself. In believing that death is something that can be grasped — in placing the noose around my neck 83 Lecture 1 or the gun in my mouth — I expose myself to the radical ungraspability of death; in believing myself able to die, I lose my ability to be able.

And yet, is one to conclude from this that the second conception of death as impossibility is the truth of death for the writer?

I’m too dead to tell you: withdrawing rooms and other breathing spaces.

If so, what has happened to the irreducibility of ambiguity as the truth of literature that was insisted upon above? This bad faith is analogous to that of the writer, who always mistakes the book that is completed and published for the work that is written.

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The writer is a priori ignorant of the nature of his work, as is revealed by Kafka in his Diaries, and will have recourse to the journal or diary form as a way of arresting the worklessness of literature in literature. Therefore, both the artist and the suicide are deceived by forms of possibility, both want to have a power in the realms where power slips away and becomes impossible: in writing and dying.