File spoon-archives/blanchot.archive/blanchot_1997/blanchot.9706, message 26

Subject: MB: Blanchot Before and After
Date: Sat, 28 Jun 1997 15:55:04 PDT

February 26, 1997 --

What is Literature?  The work of a strong individual of artistic 
temperament who desired an effect and attempted its realization in the 
work.  The success or failure of the venture is of no import.  The Drive 
is what matters.

Writers, it is true, are also readers; but they are readers in moments 
of weakness.  They never read their own work, which is created during 
moments of strength.  They will not even read their works in moments of 
weakness, for the weakness is not felt until after the work is 
"complete" -- that is, during the interim, between projects (other 
manifestations of the Work), the recovery period.  It is true, 
therefore, that the true work of the artist ends only with death.  But 
the current manifestation of a writer's Work -- being his or her most 
recent -- carries with it the illusion of completion, at the point when 
it "escapes" from the writer.  "The writer can never read his work for 
the very same reason which gives him the illusion that he does .... But 
in order for the ... being who gives form and measure, the form-giver, 
the 'Beginner' ... to attain the ultimate metamorphosis which would turn 
him into 'the reader,' the finished work has to escape from him ... 
complete itself by putting him at a distance ..." (Blanchot, _The Space 
of Literature_, p. 200).  The work is "ended" by the reader, but I 
hesitate, in fact I refuse, to call it "completion."  I would say, 
rather, that when the work meets the reader, it has gone as far as it 
possibly can in its "original" form -- the form in which it "began."  
Blanchot says that the distance, or "distancing," which "dispossesses" 
the writer, "takes the form of the reading" (p. 200).  That is to say 
that the act of reading itself, and not its consequences, constitutes 
the completion of the work; but the consequences of this act of reading 
(all that comes from interpretation, which is the next step after 
reading) alter the work, strip it of its original form.  Now the idea of 
this original form can only be held in that it is a "given," for the 
reader holds such a power that s/he can, in his/her _total absence_, 
alter the work even before receiving it.  "The writer, inasmuch as he 
remains a real person and believes himself to be this real person who is 
writing, also believes that he willingly shelters in himself the reader 
of what he writes.  He feels within himself, vital and demanding, the 
role of the reader still to be born.  And very often, through a 
usurpation which he barely escapes, it is the reader, prematurely and 
falsely engendered, who begins to write in him" (p. 200).

The phrase "falsely engendered" is important, since the reader is a 
"weak" individual who is not, for whatever reason, engaged in creating 
his or her own effect, independent of meaning; for the primary act of 
literary writing is not to communicate meaning, but to "glorify" or 
crystallize or preserve in a glorious form moments of being (becoming) 
that are a testament to the life lived.  The writer's work only ends 
with death because, for the writer, life should not be something that 
unfolds gradually, while never unfolding its meaning, except when it is 
too late, but rather something that lights up and reveals its essence -- 
"a virtual stream of fireworks over jewels" (Mallarme, _Crise de vers_).  
Therefore, to say that the role of the reader is felt by the writer 
during the actual moment of composition of the work, insofar as it can 
affect the "intended" outcome, or nature, of the work, even 
subconsciously, is to preclude any act of writing; the writer will feel 
the role of the reader in him/herself only during "down time," when the 
writer is assailed by the weakness of a reader. Let us say, then, that 
the writer is aware of the moment when the work will escape, and is 
attempting to ensure the ideal reception of the work by giving 
precedence to _communication_, by attempting to arrive at the 
realization of the effect through the communication of a meaning.  This 
is not the role of the reader "usurping" the creative control of the 
writer, but rather the writer's knowledge of the loss of his work to the 
reader affecting the intended nature of the realization of his/her 
project -- it is the actual absent reader, the reader-to-come, engaging 
in a sort of _archi-interpretation_, if you will.

The reader alters the work almost at its beginning, as opposed to its 
origin, which comes before the beginning -- "the origin blossoming into 
a beginning" (Blanchot, p. 205).  So when I speak of the "original" 
work, I mean the work as it is received by the present reader, who 
proceeds to alter it after the reading process by the necessary 
interpretive acts.  It must be kept in mind, however, that the received 
work has already been altered -- but the reader is not aware of this.  
What the reader _is_ aware of, though, is the difficulty or obscurity of 
the work, set against the idea of or hope for clarity.  The extent to 
which a work is more or less obscure is a gauge of the level of 
influence of the "archi-interpretive" action: a "clear" writer, whose 
"meanings" are easily perceived, is one whose anxiety concerning the 
realization of his/her effect has led to the detouring of that effect 
through the road of communication of a meaning, one who has felt the 
_presence of the absent reader/desire for completion of the work_ most 
oppressively; an obscure or difficult writer, who has utilized his/her 
words more fully in the cause of the desired effect, is one who was most 
absorbed by the process of the work, the movement of becoming of the 
effect; and who perhaps relinquished the work to its "completion" most 

Edward Moore

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