Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003), novelist, literary theorist, philosopher, and journalist – though a reclusive figure in the literary world – had a profound impact on twentieth-century thinkers such as George Bataille, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, among others. A recent acquisition by the Library, a joint purchase by Modern Books and Manuscripts, the French, Italian, and Scandinavian Collections of Widener Library, and an anonymous donor, will help shed new light on this elusive figure.
In Blanchot’s criticism (writing, for example, about Beckett, Holderlin, Kafka, Mallarmé, Proust, Rilke, Sade), he asked the question: what is literature? In philosophical dialogue with Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, he analyzed ontological and ethical questions. He developed a theory of writing and the book that moved away from metaphysical truth toward a sense of absence and an ethics of the Other (‘community’) that was irreducibly plural.
Having disengaged from his right-wing political nationalist writings during the 1930s, he re-engaged on the left in 1958 with the Algerian War and the events of May 1968 in France. He is the author of Awaiting Oblivion, The Book to Come, Death Sentence, The Madness of the Day, The Space of Literature, The Step Not Beyond, Thomas the Obscure, The Unavowable Community, The Writing of the Disaster, and The Infinite Conversation, among other works.
Houghton Library recently acquired page proofs of Blanchot’s 1969 major work, L’Entretien Infini (The Infinite Conversation). Blanchot seemingly did not preserve the records of his literary work; these were (according to the dealer from whom they were purchased) salvaged from a rubbish bin by the husband of Blanchot’s long-time housekeeper. The proofs contain numerous handwritten annotations by Blanchot, along with typewritten sheets inserted into the proofs (of which some are small slips taped over pages, and some are multiple pages in length). The page shown above is characteristic of the additions Blanchot made at the proof stage, and indicates the significant scholarly interest these proofs hold.
An article providing an overview of the new material uncovered in the proofs, by Smith Professor of French Language and Literature Christie McDonald, along with a brief history of their journey to the Library by Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts Leslie Morris, is available online on the Espace Blanchot.
MS Fr 497. Purchased with the Class of 1952 Manuscript Fund, the Amy Lowell Trust, and the Patrick Grant Second Memorial Fund 1928. Houghton Library, Harvard University.