“The Authenticity of Exile” between Blanchot and Levinas


In 1956, Emmanuel Levinas devoted a provocative essay to the writing of his friend and companion in thought, Maurice Blanchot, entitled “The Poet’s Vision.” Therein, Levinas closely examines Blanchot’s meditations on the origin and essence of the literary work, focusing in particular on the collection of essays assembled together in the book The Space of Literature, which appeared one year beforehand in 1955. His contention, broadly speaking, is that Blanchot’s literary criticism and fiction does not reduce “the limit of the human” to the domain of possibility (“Vision” 127). Instead, it places into question the definition of human being in terms of the “I can,” whereby the subject exercises power over the object, gaining mastery over things, words, and others in the world. One could say that Blanchot thus contests the dialectical view, as received at least in part from Alexandre Kojève’s famous lectures on Hegel in the 1930s, according to which humanity gradually produces and realizes itself by means of undertaking an enormous effort to negate nature, comprehend the other, and transform the entirety of the given in the course of Western history.

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