Varieties of Nothing


Maurice Blanchot stands at the nexus of modern reflections on nihilism and of nihilism as modernity. Eschewing the simple opposition of Descartes and Pascal, he recognizes that philosophical modernity emerges in the agonistic bond between them. So, too, Nietzsche is at once Pascal’s most vocal antagonist and his unacknowledged heir. Blanchot’s insights stem from his precept that literature “in truth has meaning and value only as a passion lived by the writer,” and in keeping with the vocation of criticism, he approaches these philosophers as writers. The more recent engagement with Nietzsche in the antifoundationalist, postmodern philosophy of Gianni Vattimo, and with Pascal in the reflexive sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, occasions pertinent comparisons to Blanchot as a reader of Pascal and Nietzsche, all the more so when Blanchot’s precept is applied to these later thinkers’ work and the passions embodied in their writing.

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