Charlotte Mandell | A language of absence

Charlotte Mandell est traductrice de Maurice Blanchot en anglais (Faux Pas, Le livre à venir, Une voix venue d’ailleurs, La part du feu). Elle a par ailleurs rendu accessible l’œuvre de Proust, Flaubert, Balzac, Maupassant, Genet, Rancière, Nancy, Littell et bien d’autres en anglais. Le texte que nous publions ci-après est écrit suite à la parution d’un ultime livre de Maurice Blanchot: sa dis-parition. Un Pas au-delà. A Language of Absence a été publié en 2003 dans Nowhere Without No, recueil d’hommages à Blanchot rassemblés par Kevin Hart, chez Vagabond Press à Sydney.

Je voudrais vous remercier du silence dans vos mots. That’s all I remember saying in the one letter I wrote to Maurice Blanchot, a few years before his death. I want to thank you for the silence in your words. I was working on my translation of Le livre à venir, and suddenly I felt an urgent need to write to Blanchot, simply to thank him for his work all these years, for all that he’s written, but especially for all that he has left unwritten: for the voice beneath the words, the sly, quiet, inner voice of all that’s left unsaid. Blanchot has — I can’t say had, since his books are all around me now, and his voice is still speaking — Blanchot has a way of shaping absence so that it becomes a shimmering presence, and of giving a voice to silence so that it can be heard beneath the apparent words on the page.

There is no such thing as a passive reader of Blanchot. Reading Blanchot becomes an active engagement; he involves the reader in his thinking; he makes the reader think, and respond, and question. Pick up any book of Blanchot, start reading anywhere, and before you’re even aware of it, you have become involved: he has engaged you in a conversation; something in you resists, but you read on; suddenly you discover the patience of true reading, the infinite patience required to tease out a subject, play with it, negate it, reassert it, leave it unresolved. Blanchot had infinite patience, and infinite generosity too. He welcomes all of literature, all of it, he lets the words come and he follows them faithfully, so faithfully. Blanchot believed in the power of the word, in the power of language to lead us where it likes, where we may not have thought of going. There is a wonderful selflessness in Blanchot, an emptying-out of self and an investment in language, a faith in the unfailing ability of language to lead us out of ourselves, out of our own nonexistent ego into — what? Something other, something beyond. After I heard of Blanchot’s death — “Blanchot s’efface,” wrote Libération — I felt a deep sorrow, as if a great presence had left us. I picked up The Writing of the Disaster and opened to this:

“(A primal scene?) You who live later, close to a heart that beats no more, imagine, imagine this: the child — is he seven, eight perhaps? — standing, opening the drapes and, through the window, looking out. What he sees — garden, winter trees, wall of a house — while he sees, of course as a child would, the place where he plays, he grows tired and slowly looks up to the ordinary sky, with clouds, grey light, the dull daylight with no depth.

“What happens then: the sky, the same sky, suddenly open, absolutely black and absolutely empty, revealing (as if the windowpane had broken) such an absence that everything has always and forever been lost in it, to the point that in it the dizzying awareness forms and vanishes that nothing is what there is, and to begin with nothing beyond. What is unexpected in this scene (its interminable aspect) is the feeling of happiness that immediately overwhelms the child, the ravaging delight to which he can bear witness only through tears, an endless stream of tears. They think the child is upset, they try to comfort him. He says nothing. He will live ever after in the secret. He will not cry any more.”

“He will live ever after in the secret.” Prince Andrei, having taken his death wound, looks up at the clouds in the sky and suddenly death is beside the point. There is a beyond to things, a revealing absence: nothing is what there is, and this nothing is everything, it is emptiness and the sky and it is also the vast space within ourselves, which all language tries to convey. All of Blanchot’s work is illumined with this light of infinite space. Speaking of Joubert, Blanchot writes, “…withdrawn from ourselves, we can find in ourselves the same intimacy of space and light into which we must henceforth put all our cares so that our life will correspond to it, our thinking preserve it, and our works make it visible.” Blanchot did just that, true to his word.