‘As Nobody I was Sovereign’: Reading Derrida Reading Blanchot
From this first encounter, interruption anticipates death, precedes death .it is at the moment when Derrida himself, a living man about to die (lui mourant vivant), survivor in reprieve, faces his own death, that he carries, bears and endures with the greatest lucidity, without turning away, the philosophical question par excellence of death ‘as such’ that will have haunted his entire oeuvre from the beginning .we cannotspeak untilwe hearthe words fromone who hasdiedbefore .
2. Witnessing, Writing, Disappearing
This ‘one who cannot recount because she bears… the torment of the impossible narration, knowing herself… to be the measure of this outside where… we risk falling under the attraction of speech that is entirely exterior’, is that singularity (the third person, neuter), which exists outside of the frame of legally and politically imposed personhood. As Derrida once put it, the narrative voice isto live once again in another, in a third person, the dual relation, the fascinated, indifferent relation that is irreducible to any mediation, a neutral relation, even if it implies the infinite void of desire; finally, the imminent certainty that what has once taken place will always begin again, always give itself away and refuse itself… But who is telling the story here?... it is rather the one who cannot recount because she bears—this is her wisdom, her madness—the torment of the impossible narration, knowing herself… to be the measure of this outside where, as we accede to it, we risk falling under the attraction of speech that is entirely exterior: pure extravagance (, p. 462, n. 4).
a neutral voice that speaks the work from out of this place without a place, where the work is silent. The placeless place where the work is silent: a silent voice, then, withdrawn into its “aphony”. This “aphony” distinguishes it from the “narrating voice”, the voice that literary criticism or poetics or narratology strives to locate in the system of the recit, of the novel, or of the narration .
the voice of a subject recounting something, remembering an event or a historical sequence, knowing who he is, where he is, and what he is talking about. It responds to some “police”, a force of order or law… In this sense, all organized narration is “a matter for the police”, even before its genre… has been determined (, pp. 130–131).
In beginning to disappear out of the story this whatever singularity, being without categories of identity taunts and undoes the law and its representatives:The Powerful One is the master of the possible, but he is not master of this relation that does not derive from mastery and that power cannot measure: the relation without relation wherein the ‘other’ is revealed as ‘autrui’... Hence the furious movement of the inquisitor who wants by force to obtain a scrap of language in order to bring all speech down to the level of force. To make speak, and through torture, is to attempt to master infinite distance by reducing expression to this language of power through which the one who speaks would once again lay himself open to force’s hold; and the one who is being tortured refuses to speak in order not to enter through the extorted words into the game of opposing violence, but also, at the same time, in order to preserve the true speech that he very well knows is at this instant merged with his silent presence—which is the very presence of autrui in himself (, p. 132).
In refusing to be formed, he reverses the power relation. The State officials have no power if there is no object to govern. The State ‘disappears’ objects and makes them appear, forms them. However, this does not happen with he who refuses to make himself appear and resolves to disappear of his own accord. As Derrida would put it, the narrator in The Madness of the Day:when at last nothing was present but my perfect nothingness and there was nothing more to see, they ceased to see me too. Very irritated, they stood up and cried out, “All right. Where are you? Where are you hiding? Hiding is forbidden, it is an offense (, p. 14).
not only troubles the representatives of the law… who demand of him, but are unable to obtain, an organized recit, a testimony oriented by a sense of history or his story, ordained and ordered by reason… he alarms… the lawmen, he radically persecutes them and… conceals from them… the truth they demand and without which they are nothing .
3. Contesting Sovereignty
This revolution within the revolution, the breathtaking instant of encounter with the other sums up perfectly Blanchot’s mode of linking the impersonal to the political. It is a thinking in which something barely happens, a silent encounter, a breathturn.It is as if, after the poetic revolution that was reaffirming a poetic majesty beyond or outside political majesty, a second revolution, the one that takes one’s breath away or turns one’s breath in the encounter with the wholly other, came to try or to recognize, to try to recognize, or even—without cognizing or recognizing anything—to try to think a revolution in the revolution, a revolution in the very life of time, in the life of the living present .
It is a response to state violence, which is both an act of witnessing and an active witnessing in Blanchot’s sense of the term, an act of contestation. It is a call for an effacement of the sense of community built on identity. The Manifesto is an example of a writing that moves from the ‘we’ of ‘we the people’ to the third person, the undefined singularity without identity. As such, it is emblematic of Blanchot’s attempt to seek ‘liberation from [the] exclusionary powers of concepts themselves’ .The undersigned—considering that everyone must come to an opinion about acts that it is henceforth impossible to present as trivial episodes of an individual adventure… considering that they themselves, in their place, and according to their means, have the duty to intervene, not to give advice to men who have to decide personally when faced with such grave problems, but to ask those who judge them not to be taken in by the equivocal aspect of words and values—declare:
- - We respect the refusal to take arms against the Algerian people, and we judge this to be justified.
- - We respect the conduct of the French citizens who consider it their duty to bring help and protection to the oppressed Algerians in the name of the French people, and we judge this to be justified.
- - The cause of the Algerian people, which contributes to ruining the colonial system in a decisive way, is the cause of all free men.
In his repudiation of the investigating magistrate’s demands Blanchot stated:The approach that consists in dividing responsibilities, in an effort to establish a pseudo-hierarchy of responsibility, is a fundamentally erroneous one; it fails to recognize the truth of all collective texts, signed collectively: that is, that “each one has his share and all have it entirely.” Everything you are trying to make me say would go against this affirmation, which is the meaning of every collective text, will be false, and I revoke it in advance .
In this regard the text was a collective speaking out delivered by an assemblage of singularities, coming together provisionally to bear testimony to state violence and refusing to be spoken and acted for by a State which had betrayed any responsibility to its citizens and to the principle of political representation.I declare that I recognize myself as entirely responsible for this text, from the moment that I signed it. The fact of the signature is essential. It means not only that I agree with this text, but that I am merged with it, that I am this text. Each one of the signatories identifies with the text, just as you have it before your eyes, just as it was made public (, p. 29).
4. Conclusion: Towards a Poetics of Disappearance
The refusal to divulge in such circumstances is a form of power as non-power, a non-positive affirmation rather than a withdrawal into silence. This is the imperceptible moment of subversion, which, as workless, as pure excess, achieves nothing, but this is its very force. It counter-poses worklessness to the work of power, non-identity to identity, responsibility to one’s own non-responsibility. This ‘counter-law’ is: ‘the condition of the possibility of the law… an axiom of impossibility… [which] confound[s] its sense, order and reason’ (, p. 220). Indeed, it can be seen as the performance of what Michel Foucault has called: ‘[the] right to bear witness, to oppose truth to power… That right to set a powerless truth against a truthless power’ . This is a move to a form of witnessing as contestation, as active intervention in the political life of the community, as opposed to a subject-forming and subject-ordering witnessing as confession. As Michael Holland reminds us Blanchot engages in a more radical form of witnessing which is both active and contestatory. As Holland argues: ‘For Blanchot… contestation restores the appeal to witnessing which it originally contained by establishing two languages each of which is the site of the expiation of authority which experience as contestation endlessly endures’ .the refusal to speak is the starting point of Blanchot’s poetics... that is, his arche is ... resistance to the extracted confession as a kind of transcendental event: resistance to the power that “wants one to speak”... that compels us to speak its truth under the auspices of a freedom bestowed on us- a sovereignty, according to our only philosophical definition of sovereignty, that is given first of all in the logic of language and culture, or in the total fabric that constitutes the conditions of possibility of speech as such. Blanchot’s” refusal” is a refusal of these conditions, that is, a refusal to speak .
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Hanafin, P. ‘As Nobody I was Sovereign’: Reading Derrida Reading Blanchot. Societies 2013, 3, 43-51. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc3010043
Hanafin P. ‘As Nobody I was Sovereign’: Reading Derrida Reading Blanchot. Societies. 2013; 3(1):43-51. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc3010043Chicago/Turabian Style
Hanafin, Patrick. 2013. "‘As Nobody I was Sovereign’: Reading Derrida Reading Blanchot" Societies 3, no. 1: 43-51. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc3010043