File spoon-archives/blanchot.archive/blanchot_1999/blanchot.9903, message 70

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 12:28:17 +0000
Subject: Re: MB: Concepts

At 20:08 16/03/99 +0000, you wrote:
>I' m interested why Leslie does not think words such like neuter,   
>outside, or disaster are not concepts.  Is this because we have certain   
>concepts about concepts that would not permit these words to belong to   
>conceptualisation?  I feel there is something right about what Leslie   
>says, and yet at the same time I worry that if we give up the concept of   
>concepts altogether that we are left with silence and mysticism.  But   
>perhaps this is a false opposition of conceptual thought itself?

I had several things in mind when I made that point.

First, what Blanchot (as I read him) is seeking to address with his use of
such terms as the other night, the outside, disaster, and so on, is a
movement that (with all the appropriate precautions) can 'properly' only be
described as 'pre-conceptual'.  The other night, for instance, is that
which precedes the dialectical couple of night and day, which it makes
possible, but which it also exceeds and fissures, and to that extent makes
impossible too, at least to the extent that the dialectic of night and day
claims total coverage of the phenomenal world.  (The same argument can be
made about death in Blanchot: death in Blanchot is that which makes thought
and language possible but at the same time also makes them impossible.)
Something which resists conceptual formulation in this way obviously can't
be a concept, even if the discourse Blanchot uses (and, more to the point,
the one I'm using here) means that these various terms inevitably become
assimilated to thought as though they were concepts (and the same also
applies to the temporal register of the argument about the other night used
above.  The other night escapes temporality, but it is very hard to find a
form of words that says this without falling into the trap of the concept,
once more).  Though the other night, say, ends up behaving as a concept in
my discourse, it would be more accurate to treat it simply as a name:
albeit a name for that which properly (improperly) has no name and resists
naming (like the name of the Most High in the novel of that name).  To
treat it as a name is to treat it as having a singularity that it cannot
have if it's to be a concept (as least in the Hegelian sense of that term),
and which, like the viens, or come, in Death Sentence (about which Derrida
has written so much), is simultaneously necessary and contingent.

Secondly, if one looks again at Blanchot's writing, it becomes clear, I
think, that words such as the other night, or disaster, etc, do not serve
as ways of analysing phenomena (which might be one of the roles of a
well-constituted concept), but as ways of responding in various singular
contexts to the irreducibility (unthinkability, even) of what is being
explored.  All these terms necessarily function in Blanchot in the absence
of any properly constituted, well formed conceptual system.  Blanchot's
outside, for instance, does not belong to any properly constituted
spatiality; for instance it cannot become an inside, which is why it's hard
to see it as referring to phenomenality in general.  And if one attempts to
use the term diasaster as part of a conceptual system it becomes plain that
it does not get you very far!  Moreover, Blanchot himself has always been
scrupulous about ringing the changes on such terms by shifting them around
(this is a trait he shares with Derrida).  Desoeuvrement (worklessness),
for instance, which is prominent as a key term in the 1950s, soon gives way
to absence d'oeuvre, which in turn gives way to the neutre or to disaster.
It's obviously important to prevent these terms turning into well-heeled

Thirdly, let me just endorse William Flesch's remarks about Blanchot's
distaste for the Hegelian Begriff and all that is implicit in the rhetoric
of grasping, seizing, appropriating, and incorporating.

One final point.  It's  important to emphasise in all of this that the
relationship to the outside in Blanchot can only ever be oblique.  I can
but agree, then, that the choice between concepts or mystical silence is
already a false choice.  Silence itself is already a part of language, and
would not exist without it.  Blanchot's contention, I guess, is that
writing speaks the silence in language, and that by writing what we do is
to respond in language to that which is outside of language, which is
another way of saying (in Levinas's formulation) that every text contains
more than it is able to contain.  In other words, concepts are not all.  If
they were, there would be no concepts.



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