Blanchot Mallarme ...

Maurice Blanchot

"The Absence Of The Book"

Let us try to question ourselves, that is, admit in the form of a question
something that cannot reach the point of

1."This insane game of writing." With these words, simple as they are,
Mallarme opens up writing to writing.
The words are very simple, but their nature is also such that we will
need a great deal of time - a great
variety of experiments, the work of the world, countless
misunderstandings, works lost and scattered, the
movement of knowledge, and finally the turning point of an infinite
crisis - if we are to begin to understand
what decision is being prepared on the basis of this end of writing
that is foretold by its coming.

2. Apparently we only read because the writing is already there,
laid out before our eyes. Apparently. But
the first person who ever wrote, who cut into stone and wood under
ancient skies, was far from
responding to the demands of a view that required a reference point
and gave it meaning, changed all
relations between seeing and the visible. What he left behind him was
not something more, something
added to other things; it was not even something less - a subtraction
of matter, a hollow in the relation to
the relief. Then what was it? A hole in the universe: nothing that was
visible, nothing that was invisible. I
suppose the first reader was engulfed by that non-absent absence, but
without knowing anything about it,
and there was no second reader because reading, from then on
understood to be the vision of the
immediately visible - that is, intelligible - presence, was affirmed
for the very purpose of making this
disappearance into the absence of the book impossible.

3. Culture is linked to the book. The book as repository and
receptacle of knowledge is identified with
knowledge. The book is not only the book that sits in libraries - that
labyrinth in which all combinations of
forms, words and letters are rolled up in volumes. The book is the
Book. Still to be read, still to be
written, always already written, always already paralysed by reading,
the book constitutes the condition
for every possibility of reading and writing.

The book admits of three distinct investigations. There is the empirical
book; the book acts as a vehicle of
knowledge; a given determinate book receives and gathers a given
determinate form of knowledge. But the
book as book is never simply empirical. The book is the a priori of
knowledge. We would know nothing if
there did not always exist in advance the impersonal memory of the book
and, more importantly, the prior
inclination to write and read contained in every book and affirming
itself only in the book. The absolute of the
book, then, is the isolation of a possibility that claims not to have
originated in any other anteriority. An
absolute that will later tend to assert itself in the Romantics
(Novalis), then more rigorously in Hegel, then
more radically - though in a different way - in Mallarme, as the totality
of relations (absolute knowledge or
the Work), in which would be achieved either consciousness, which knows
itself and returns to itself after
having been exteriorised in all its dialectically linked figures, or
language, closed around its own statement
and already dispersed.

Let us recapitulate: the empirical book; the book: condition for all
reading and all writing; the book: totality or
Work. But with increasing refinement and truth these forms all assume
that the book contains knowledge as
the presence of something virtually present and always immediately
accessible, if only with the help of
mediations and relays. Something is there which the book presents in
presenting itself and which reading
animates, which reading re-establishes - through its animation - in the
life of a presence. Something that is,
on the lowest level, the presence of a content or of a signified thing;
then, on a higher level, the presence of a
form, of a signifying thing or of an operation; and, on a higher level
still, the development of a system of
relations that is always there already, if only as a future possibility.
The book rolls up time, unrolls time, and
contains this unrolling as the continuity of a presence in which present,
past and future become actual.

4. The absence of the book revokes all continuity of presence, just
as it evades the questioning conveyed
by the book. It is not the interiority of the book,. Nor its
continuously evaded Meaning. Rather it is outside
the book, though it is enclosed in it, not so much its exterior as
arefernce to an outside that does not
concern the book.

The more the Work assumes meaning and acquires ambition, retaining in
itself not only all works, but all the
forms of discourse and all the powers of discourse, the more the absence
of the work seems about to
propose itself, though without ever allowing itself to be designated.
This happens with Mallarme. With
Mallarme, the Work becomes aware of itself and so knows itself as
something coinciding with the absence
of the work, the latter then deflecting it from ever coinciding with
itself, and dooming it to impossibility. A
deviation in which the work disappears into the absence of the work, but
in which the absence of the work
always escapes the more it reduces itself to being nothing but the Work
that has always disappeared

5. The act of writing is related to the absence of the work, but is
invested in the Work as book. The insanity
of writing - the insane game - is the relationship of writing, a
relationship established not between
writing and the production of the book, but, through the production of
the book, between the act of writing
and the absence of the work.

To write is to produce absence of the work (worklessness). Or: writing is
the absence of the work as it
produces itself through the work and throughout the work. Writing as
worklessness (in the active sense of
the word) is the insane game, the indeterminacy that lies between reason
and unreason.

What happens to the book during this "game", in which worklessness is set
loose during the operation of
writing? The book: the passage of an infinite movement, a movement that
goes from writing as an operation
to writing as worklessness; a passage that immediately impedes. Writing
passes through the book, but the
book is not that to which it is destined (its destiny). Writing passes
through the book, completing itself there
even as it disappears in the book; and yet, we do not write for the book.
The book: a ruse by which writing
goes towards the absence of the book.

6. Let us try to gain a clearer understanding of the relation of the
book to the absence of the book.

a) The book plays a dialectical role. In some sense it is there
so that not only the dialectic of
discourse can take place, but also dialectic as discourse. The
book is the work language
performs on itself: as though the book were necessary in order
for language to become aware of
language, for it to know itself and complete itself in its
b) Yet the book that has become a work - the whole literary
process, whether it asserts itself as a
long succession of books or is manifested in one unique book or
in the space that takes the
place of that book - is both more of a book than the others and
already beyond the book, outside
its category and outside its dialectic. More a book: a book of
knowledge scarcely exists as a
book, as a developed volume; the work, on the other hand, makes
a claim to be singular: unique,
irreplaceable, it is almost a person; this is why there is a
dangerous tendency for the work to
promote itself into a masterpiece, and also to make itself
essential, that is, to designate itself by a
signature (it is not only signed by the author, but also somehow
by itself, which is more serious).
And yet it is already outside the book process: as though the
work only indicated the opening -
the interruption - through which the neutrality of writing
passes, as though the work were
oscillating suspended between itself (the totality of language)
and an affirmation that had not yet
been made.

What is more, in the work, language is already changing direction -
or place: place of direction - no
longer the logos that participates in a dialectic and knows itself,
rather, it is engaged in a different
relationship. So that one can say the work hesitates between the
book, vehicle of knowledge and
fleeting moment of language, and the Book, raised to the Capital
Letter, Idea, and Absolute of the
book - and then between the work as presence and the absence of the
work that is constantly
escaping and in which time as time is disturbed.

7. The end of the act of writing does not lie in the book or in the
work. As we write the work, we are drawn
by the absence of the work. We necessarily fall short of the work, but
this does not mean that because of
this deficiency we fall under the necessity of the absence of the

8. The book: a ruse by which the energy of writing, relying on
discourse and allowing itself to be carried
along by the vast continuity of discourse, separating itself from it
at the limit, is also the use of discourse,
restoring to culture that alteration which threatens it and opens it
to the absence of the book. Or the book
is a labour through which writing, changing the givens of a culture,
of "experience", of knowledge, that is
to say of discourse, obtains another product that will constitute a
new modality of discourse as a whole
and will integrate itself with it even as it claims to disintegrate

The absence of the book: reader, you would like to be its author, and
then you would be nothing more
than the plural reader of the Work.

How long will it last - this lack that is sustained by the book and
that expels the book from itself as book?
Produce the book, then, so that it will detach itself, disengage
itself as it scatters: this will not mean that
you have produced the absence of the book.

9. The book (the civilization of the book) declares: there is a
memory that transmits things, there is a
system of relations that arranges things; time becomes entangled in
the book, where the void still
belongs to a structure. But the absence of the book is not based on
writing that leaves a mark and
determines a directed movement, whether this movement develops
linearly from a beginning towards an
end, or is deployed from a centre toward the surface of a sphere. The
absence of the book makes an
appeal to writing that does not commit itself, that does not settle
out, is not satisfied with disavowing
itself, nor with going back over its tracks to erase them.

What summons us to write, when the time of the book determined by the
beginning-end relation, and the
space of the book determined by deployment from a centre, cease to
impose themselves? The
attraction of (pure) exteriority.

The time of the book, determined by the beginning-end (past-future)
relation based on a presence. The
space of the book determined by deployment from a centre, itself
conceived as the search for a source.

Everywhere that there is a system of relations that arranges, a memory
that transmits, everywhere that
writing gathers in the substance of a mark that reading regards in the
light of a meaning (tracing it back
to an origin whose sign it is), when emptiness itself belongs to a
structure and allows itself to be
adjusted, then there is the book: the law of the book.

As we write, we always write in the name of the exteriority of writing
and against the exteriority of the law,
and always the law uses what is written as a resource.

The attraction of (pure) exteriority - the place where, since the
outside precedes any interior, writing
does not deposit itself in the manner of a spiritual or ideal presence
subsequently inscribing itself and
then leaving a mark, a mark or sedimentary deposit that would allow
one to track it down, in other words
to restore it - on the basis of that mark as deficiency - to its ideal
presence or ideality, its fullness, its
integrity as presence.

Writing marks but leaves no mark; it does not allow us to work our way
back from some vestige or sign
to anything more than itself as (pure) exteriority and, as such, never
given as either forming itself, or
being gathered in a unifying relationship with a presence (to be seen,
to be heard), or with the whole of
presence or the Unique, present-absence.

When we begin to write, either we are not beginning or we are not
writing: writing does not accompany

10. In the book, the uneasiness of writing - the energy - tries to come
to rest in the favour of the work
(ergon), but the absence of the work always summons it immediately to
respond to the deflection of the
outside, where what is affirmed no longer finds its measure in a
relationship of unity.

We have no "idea" of the absence of the work, certainly not as a
presence, but also not as the
destruction of the thing that would prevent this absence, if only in
the form of absence itself. To destroy
the work, which itself is not, to destroy at least the affirmation of
the work and the dream of the work, to
destroy the indestructible, to destroy nothing so that an idea that is
out of place here will not impose itself
- the idea that to destroy would be enough. The negative can no longer
be operative where an
affirmation has been made that affirms the work. And in no case can
the negative lead to the absence of
the work.

Reading would be reading in the book the absence of the book, and as a
consequence producing this
absence where there is no question of the book being absent or present
(defined by an absence or a

The absence of the book: never contemporaneous with the book, not
because it emerges from another
time, but because it is the source of noncontemporaneity from which
it, too, comes. The absence of the
book: always diverging, always lacking a present relationship with
itself, so that it is never received in its
fragmentary plurality by a single reader in the present of his
reading, unless, at the limit, with the present
torn apart, dissuaded -
The attraction of (pure) exteriority or the vertigo of space as
distance, fragmentation that only drives us
back to the fragmentary.

The absence of the book: the prior deterioration of the book, the game
of dissidence it plays with
reference to the space in which it is inscribed; the preliminary dying
of the book. Writing, the relation to
every book's other, to what is de-scription in the book, a scriptuary
demand beyond discourse, beyond
language. The act of writing at the edge of the book, outside the

Writing outside language, writing which would be in some sense
originally language making it
impossible for there to be any object (present or absent) of language.
Then writing would never be man's
writing, which is to say it would never be God's writing either; at
most it would be the writing of the other,
of dying itself.

11. The book begins with the Bible, in which the logos is inscribed as
law. Here the book achieves its
unsurpassable meaning, including what extends beyond it everywhere and
cannot be surpassed. The
Bible takes language back to its origin: whether this language is
written or spoken, it is always the
theological era that opens with this language and lasts as long as
biblical space and time. The Bible not
only offers us the highest model of a book, the specimen that will
never be superceded; the Bible also
encompasses all books, no matter how alien they are to biblical
revelation, knowledge, poetry, prophecy,
proverbs, because it contains the spirit of the book; the books that
follow it are always contemporaneous
with the Bible: the Bible certainly grows, expands with itself in an
infinite growth that leaves it identical,
permanently sanctioned by the relationship of Unity, just as the Laws
set forth and contain the
monologos, the One Law, the law of Unity that cannot be transgressed
and never can be denied by
negation alone.

The Bible: a testamentary book in which the alliance is declared, that
is to say, the destiny of speech
bound to the one who bestows language, and in which he consents to
remain through this gift that is the
gift of his name, that is to say, also the destiny of this
relationship of speech to language, which is
dialectic. It is not because the Bible is a sacred book that the books
which spring from it - the whole
literary process - are marked with the theological sign and cause us
to belong to the realm of the
theological. It is just the opposite: it was because the testament -
the alliance of speech - was rolled up
in a book, took the form and structure of a book, that the "sacred"
(what is separated from writing) found
its place in theology. The book is in essence theological. This is why
the first manifestation of the
theological (and the only one that continues to unfold and to develop)
could only have been in the form of
a book. In some God does not remain God (does not become divine)
except as He speaks through the

Mallarme, confronting the Bible in which God is God, establishes a
work in which the insane game of
writing sets to work and already disowns itself, encountering the
interdeterminacy with its double game:
necessity, accident. The Work, the absolute of the voice and of
writing, is unworked even before it has
been accomplished, before it ruins the possibility of accomplishment
by being accomplished. The Work
still belongs to the book, and because of this it helps sustain the
biblical aspect of every Work, and yet
designates the disjunction of a time and a space that are something
other, precisely that which can no
longer assert that it is in a relationship of unity. The Work as book
leads Mallarme outside his name.
The Work in which the absence of the work is in effect leads the man
who is no longer called Mallarme to
madness: let us understand, if we can, that this to means the limit
which would be decisive madness if it
were crossed; and this obliges us to conclude that the limit - "the
edge of madness" - if conceived as
indecision that cannot decide, or as nonmadness, is more essentially
mad: would be abyss, not the
abyss, but the edge of the abyss.

Suicide: what is written as necessity in the book is denounced as
chance in the absence of the book.
What one says, the other repeats, and this statement that reiterates,
by virtue of this reiteration
encompasses death - the death of self.

12. The anonymity of the book is such that in order to sustain the book
it calls for the dignity of a name. The
name is that of a temporary particularity that supports reason and
that reason authorizes by raising it to
itself. The relationship of the Book and the name is always contained
in the historical relationship that
linked absolute knowledge of system with Hegel's name: this
relationship of the Book and of Hegel,
identifying the latter with the book, carrying him along in its
development, made Hegel into post-Hegel,
Hegel-Marx and then Marx radically estranged from Hegel, who continues
to write, to correct, to know, to
assert the absolute law of written discourse.

Just as the Book takes the name of Hegel, the work, in its more
essential (more uncertain) anonymity,
takes the name of Mallarme, with the difference that Mallarme not only
recognises the anonymity of the
Work as his own trait and the indication of his own place, not only
withdraws into this manner of being
anonymous, but does not call himself the author of the Work,
suggesting at the very most, hyberbolically,
that he is the capacity - never a unique or unifiable capacity - to
read the nonpresent Work, that is, the
capacity to respond, by his absence, to the work that continues to be
absent (but the absent work is not
the absence of the work, is even separated from it by a radical

In this sense, there is already a decisive distance between Hegel's
book and Mallarme's work, a
difference evidenced by their different ways of being anonymous in the
naming and signing of their
works. Hegel does not die, even if he disavows himself in the
displacement or reversal of the System:
every system still names him, Hegel is never altogether without a
name. Mallarme and the work have no
relationship, and this lack of relationship is played out in the Work,
establishing the work as what would
be forbidden to this particular Mallarme as to anyone else with a
name, and ultimately forbidden to the
work when conceived as capable of completing itself by and through
itself. The Work is not freed of the
name because it could be produced without someone producing it, but
because anonymity affirms that it
is constantly already beyond whatever could name it. The book is the
whole, whatever the form of that
totality, whether or not the structure of that totality is completely
different from that which a belated
reading assigns Hegel. The Work is not everything, it is already
outside everything, but, in its resignation,
it is still designated as absolute. The Work is not bound up with
success (with completion) as the book
is, but with disaster: but this disaster is yet another affirmation of
the absolute.

Let us say briefly that the book can always be signed, it remains
indifferent to who signs it; the work -
Festivity as disaster - requires resignation, requires that whoever
claims to write it renounce himself and
cease to designate himself.

Then why do we sign our books? Out of modesty, as a way of saying:
these are still only books,
indifferent to signatures.

13. The "absence of the book" - which the written things provokes as the
future of writing, a future that has
never come to pass - does not form a concept any more than the word
"outside" does, or the word
"fragment", or the word "neuter", but it helps conceptualise the word
"book". It is not some contemporary
expositor who gives Hegel's philosophy it's coherence and conceives of
it as a book; thus conceiving of
the book as the finality of absolute Knowledge; beginning at the end
of the 19th century it is Mallarme.
But Mallarme, through the very force of his experience, immediately
pierces through the book to
designate (dangerously) the Work whose centre of attraction - a centre
that is always off-centre - would
be writing. The act of writing, the insane game. But the act of
writing has a relationship, a relationship of
otherness, with the absence of Work, and it is precisely because he
senses this radical alteration that
comes that comes to writing and through writing with the absence of
the Work that Mallarme is able to
name the Book, naming it as the thing that gives meaning to becoming
by suggesting a time and place
for it: first and last concept. But Mallarme does not yet name the
absence of the book or he only
recognises it as a way of thinking the Work, the Work as failure or

14. The absence of the book is not the book coming apart, even though in
some sense coming apart lies at
the origin of the book and is its opposing principle. The fact that
the book is always coming apart
(disordering itself) still only leads to another book or to a
possibility other than the book, but not to the
absence of the book. Let us admit that what obsesses the book (what
haunts it) would be the absence of
the book that it always lacks, contenting itself with containing it
(holding it at a distance) without
containing it (transforming it into content). Let us also admit the
opposite, that the book encloses the
absence of the book that excludes it, but that the absence of the book
is never conceived only on the
basis of the book and only as its negation. Let us admit that if the
book carries meaning, the absence of
the book is so alien to meaning that nonmeaning does not concern it

Taken from Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays,
trans. Lydia Davis (New York:
Station Hill Press, 1981) , p. 145 - 152

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