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Blanchot, Maurice - The Communication of the Impossible (Suglia)

Blanchot, Maurice - The Communication of the Impossible (Suglia)

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diacritics / summer 200149
THE COMMUNICATION OFTHE IMPOSSIBLE
 JOSEPH SUGLIA
 Death is the death of other people, contrary to the tendency of contemporary philosophy, which is focussed on one’s own solitary death. Only the former is central to the search for lost time. But the daily death—and the death of every instant—of other persons, as they withdraw into themselves, does not belong to an incommunicable solitude: that is precisely what nurtures love.That is Eros in all its ontological purity, which does not require participa-tion in a third term (tastes, common interests, a connaturality of souls)—but direct relationship with what gives itself in withholding itself, with the other 
qua
other, with mystery.
—Emmanuel Levinas, “The Other in Proust”
 Desire, pure impure desire, is the call to bridge the distance, to die incommon through separation.
—Maurice Blanchot,
 L’écriture du désastre
Of the many challenges to the Heideggerian analytic of mortality that emerged through-out the twentieth century, none has been more groundbreaking than that of MauriceBlanchot.
1
The originality and singularity of this confrontation consists in its accent onthe social character of mortality: the “experience” of death appears, in this body of discourse, as a relation to the
autrui
.Death is, for Heidegger, an
individual
engagement.
2
Heidegger absolutely excludesfrom his existential analytic of mortality any consideration of the Other’s dying as apossible object of experience.
3
Although
Sein und Zeit 
(1927) posits cobeing (
 Mitsein
)as a structure essential to the constitution of selfhood,
4
death belongs exclusively to thesolitary
 Dasein
.
5
The problematic of sacrifice is irrelevant to the existential analytic,since the representative function of sacrifice does not correspond to the unrepresentable
1. Derrida’s better-known argument in
Donner la mort
(1992), for instance, concerning theirreplaceability of the responsible self vis-à-vis the death of the Other, would not have been pos-sible without Blanchot’s intervention into the problematic of dual mortality.2. The theme of the Other’s death in Heidegger is discussed extensively in Christopher Fynsk,“The Self and Its Witness.”3. “Je angemessener das Nichtmehrdasein des Verstorbenen phänomenal gefasst wird, umso deutlicher zeigt sich dass solches Mitsein mit dem Toten gerade
nicht
das eigentliche Zuendegekommensein des Verstorbenen erfährt” [
SZ
239].4. “Auf dem Grunde dieses
mithaften
 In-der-Welt-seins ist die Welt je schon immer die, dieich mit den Anderen teile. Die Welt des Daseins ist 
Mitwelt.
 Das In-Sein ist 
Mitsein
mit Anderen. Das innerweltliche Ansichsein dieser ist 
Mitdasein
” [
SZ
118].5. “
Keiner kann dem Anderen sein Sterben abnehmen.
[. . .] Am Sterben zeigt sich, dass der Tod ontologisch durch Jemeinigkeit und Existenz konstuiert wird” [
SZ
240].diacritics
31.2: 49–69
 
50
character of death.
6
This is because, as Heidegger points out, even if one dies
 for 
theOther, one does not
take away
the Other
s death.
7
As Heidegger remarks,
 Dasein
maynever experience the Other
s arrival at the end (
 Zuendegekommensein
) [
SZ 
239] (thetrue object of thanato-ontology), but only its transition into something unliving(
Unlebendiges
) [
SZ 
238].
8
For this reason, no ontological study of death could take thedeath of the Other as an object of formal research.Although the
fate
of 
 Dasein
is communal (occurring within the shared context of a community),
 Dasein
takes no part in the Other
s relation to its most proper possibility:the anticipation of death, which discloses every other possibility and which makes pos-sibility itself possible. Individuals in the community relate to their respective fates as aseries of disconnected possibilities of impossibility. There is,
at most 
, a
holding-in-common
of deaths that are infinitely separated from each other. In destiny (
Geschick 
),individual
 Daseins
share
nothing more than
the mutual impossibility of experiencingeach other
s deaths: there is an
infinite distance
between the death of the self and thedeath of the Other, an impossible articulation or interlacing of incommensurablenonexperiences. Every death is a parallel death
and nothing else besides.
There is, then, for Heidegger, essentially no rapport between the death of the self and the death of the Other.
 Dasein
is
beside
the Other in its dying without ever dying
inthe place of 
the Other. As Heidegger puts it in paragraph forty-seven of 
Sein und Zeit 
,
Wir erfahren nicht im genuinen Sinne das Sterben der Anderen, sondern sind h
ö
chstensimmer nur
dabei
’”
[We do not experience the dying of others in a genuine sense, butare, at the very most, always just
there
] [
SZ 
239]. Holding death in common is whatholds the members of the relation together in their mutual separation. Despite the meth-odological sleight of hand that Heidegger terms
destiny,
 
 Dasein
s relation to its owndeath is constitutively dissociated from that of the Other.In contrast to this tendency, Blanchot conceives of the self 
s relation to its owndeath as an exposure that opens onto the death of the other person. Such is Blanchot
smost important contribution to the thought of death, as well as what distinguishes hisposition most radically from that of Heidegger. Heidegger forecloses the possibility of 
6.
 Indes scheitert diese Vertretungsm
ö
glichkeit v
ö
llig, wenn es um die Vertretung der Seinsm
ö
glichkeit, die das Zu-Ende-kommen des Daseins ausmacht und ihm als solche Gl
ä
nzegibt 
[
SZ
240]. In contrast to the tendency in Heideggerian thought to exclude sacrifice from thethought of death, Levinas describes the function of sacrifice as opening up the possibility of another relation (one that is determined as the
experience
of guilt and sur-vival). Levinascriticizes Heidegger 
s refusal of 
dying for . . .
(understood as substitution for the Other in itsdying) as an existential possibility (an existential relation to mortality) in his fascinating
 Mourir  pour . . . .
 It should be noted, however, that Heidegger does use the term
das Opfer
(
sacrifice,
 
of- fering,
 
victim
), and a thematics of sacrifice is evident throughout his writing. To cite a fewinstances of the motif of sacrifice in Heideggerian thought: in
 Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,
the essential sacrifice
(
das wesentliche Opfer
) is given as one of the finite instantiations of thebecoming-of-truth; in the second volume of the
Nietzsche
lectures, the theme of sacrifice is intro-duced in the context of a discussion of Nietzsche
s autobiography; a metaphorics of sacrifice canbe traced throughout the H 
ö
lderlin lectures
 —
in particular,
 H 
ö
lderlin und das Wesen der  Dichtung,
 
Germanien,
and 
 Andenken
; the Rectorial Address approaches the question of sacrifice in its concern with the appropriation of authentic freedom; according to Heidegger 
sreading of George
s
 Das Wort 
in
 Das Wesen der Sprache,
the attempt to find the word for thething is sacrificed, and so on.7.
 Jemand kann wohl
 f 
ü
r einen Anderen in den Tod gehen.
Das besagt jedoch immer: f 
ü
den Anderen sich opfern in einer bestimmten Sache
[
SZ
240].8. But neither is
Dasein,
 Heidegger reminds us, capable of experiencing its own end. Onemight say that 
Dasein
s approach toward its end is infinitely delayed.
 
diacritics / summer 200151
experiencing the death of the Other
as
that of the Other. Whoever takes the Other
sdying as a point of departure for an ontology of death, Heidegger suggests,
misses
thephenomenon of death altogether. For Blanchot, however, the exact opposite is the case.Anyone who fails to take the death of the Other as constitutive of the death of the self misses the phenomenon of death
as such.
Throughout his entire oeuvre, Blanchotsuggests
in a manner that is at times oblique and yet nonetheless forceful
that
only
the
experience
of the Other
s death may grant me a relation to the impossible.
 La communaut 
é 
inavouable
What calls me into question most radically, Blanchot writes in
 La communaut 
é 
inavouable
(1983), is my presence for an Other who absents itself by dying.
9
Every human beingcalls itself into question, Blanchot suggests, by exposing itself to the Other
as
Other
an exposure that grants the self a relation to the outside. By contesting itself, the self opens itself up to the community, which is
grounded
precisely by the self 
s relation tothe
death
of the other person. Blanchot writes,
To hold oneself present in the proxim-ity of another who by dying removes himself definitively, to take upon myself another
sdeath as the only death that concerns me, this is what puts me outside of myself,
10
this isthe only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Open of a commu-nity
[
CI 
21/ 
UC 
9].When Blanchot writes that the self places itself beside the Other in its dying, hemeans that the self is brought outside of itself and into the community by way of itsrelation to the Other
s finite existence. I can only
experience
death by exposing my-self to the Other in its finitude, and this exposure grants me a relation to mortality.Although I cannot know my own death, I can experience mortality
via
the other personin its finite existence
an existence that contests the self by exposing it to an infinitealterity. Knowledge of the Other as a finite, existing being is at the same time an expe-rience of mourning, and the exposure to the
death
of the Other is an exposure to anabsolute transcendence.
11
9. Blanchot 
s text takes as its point of departure Jean-Luc Nancy
s discussion of the commu-nity. On the relation between Nancy and Blanchot, see Bernasconi.10. Blanchot borrows this term from Georges Bataille:
 A man alive, who sees his fellowman die, can survive only
outside of himself 
[hors de soi]
[
CI
21/ 
UC
9]. This is translated as
beside himself 
in the English translation.11. See Fynsk 
s foreword to Jean-Luc Nancy
s
Inoperative Community
[xvii]. The relationbetween the self and the Other described in
La communaut
é
inavouable i
s not, despite appear-ances, a struggle that would lead to a Hegelian
Anerkennung
in which the fragile mastery of theself (
 fragile
because, in its satiety and loss of possibility, it is liable to be overturned) would be posited vis-
à
-vis the slave. Certainly, there is a structural parallelism between the
Knecht-Herr
relation and that delineated by Blanchot: the Other is what radically calls the self-subsistence of the subject into question by drawing that subject 
outside of itself.
Hegel writes:
For self-consciousness is another self-consciousness; it has come
out of itself 
[ausser sich].
This is thesame movement described in the Bataille citation [see note 10]: when it encounters the Other, theself is pulled into an ecstatic movement. Hegel continues:
This has a two-fold significance:
first,
it has lost itself, for it finds itself as
another
being [. . .] .
At this point, Blanchot/Bataille and  Hegel seem to be in agreement. Yet Blanchot interrupts the Hegelian dialectic, insofar as herefuses to follow him beyond this point. Hegel continues:
[S]econdly,
in doing so [in findingitself as another being] it has sublated the other [
das Andere aufgehoben]
[146]. The Other isnever, strictly speaking, sublated in Blanchot: it retains its transcendence and its impulse toward exteriorization. Again, neither does this struggle lead to recognition in Blanchot, but rather to thesheer negation of a formally posited individuality. The dialectic, it would seem, has been stalled at its negative moment. The self experiences itself as an exteriority through its engagement with

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