Maurice Blanchot (Routledge Critical Thinkers) Review

Maurice Blanchot (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
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Maurice Blanchot (Routledge Critical Thinkers) ReviewUllrich Haase and William Large's text on Maurice Blanchot is part of a recent series put out by the Routledge Press, designed under the general editorial direction of Robert Eaglestone (Royal Holloway, University of London), to explore the most recent and exciting ideas in intellectual development during the past century or so. To this end, figures such as Martin Heidegger, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Paul Ricouer and other influential thinkers in critical thought are highlighted in the series, planned to include more than 21 volumes in all.
Haase and Large's text, following the pattern of the others, includes background information on Blanchot and his significance, the key ideas and sources, and Blanchot's continuing impact on other thinkers. As the series preface indicates, no critical thinker arises in a vacuum, so the context, influences and broader cultural environment are all important as a part of the study, something with which Blanchot might agree, yet with some interesting reservations.
Why is Blanchot included in this series? Blanchot is a foundational thinker for the modern literary criticism and language philosophy - every philosopher and intellectual of the past few generations has had to contend with his ideas or ideas generated in response or reaction to his, and his impact has gone far beyond narrow intellectual confines to influence psychology, politics, literature, sociology, philosophy, linguistics, history and anthropology. Haase and Large indicate that Blanchot's concentration on literature is unrivaled in modern intellectual development, and had direct influence on Derrida, Foucault, and de Man, through whom almost all modern thinkers have had to deal with ideas originating in some way with Blanchot.
The authors separate Blanchot's writing into four main types: political journalism, literary reviews, writing novels, and a fourth, combination form that includes philosophy and literature. It is this fourth type that typifies Blanchot's primary point of the blurring of distinctions between philosophy and the text; it is significant that Blanchot cared less for the relative evaluation of novels and such (is this novel better than that one) and worked with thinkers such as Heidegger, Hegel and Levinas to look for what he describes as 'the possibility of literature'.
Unlike other volumes in this series, the Key Ideas are not neatly contained as ideas. Haase and Large explore Blanchot's overall definitions of literature and his anti-theory of literature (he argues for a 'stubborn independence' of the text from author). They look at Blanchot's ideas of the connection between language and literature, the connection of philosophy (and particularly concentrating on the idea of death in both literature and philosophy), and the philosophical issue of ethics in literature (Levinas is a strong influence here). Later ideas show the progression to ethics and politics, working through journalism, a particular form of literary expression (when done properly) that Blanchot used at different times in his career.
One of the useful features of the text is the side-bar boxes inserted at various points. For example, during the discussion on Blanchot's development of Nationalism, there are brief discussions, set apart from the primary strand of the text, on the significance of the events of May 1968 for the French academy in particular and the intellectual world generally; another box gives a short biography of Charles de Gaulle in the context of Blanchot's nationalist development. Each section on a key idea spans approximately twenty pages, with a brief summary concluding each, which gives a recap of the ideas (and provides a handy reference).
The concluding chapter, After Blanchot, highlights some key areas of development in relation to other thinkers, as well as points of possible exploration for the reader. Haase and Large explain that few in the English-speaking world encounter Blanchot directly (in some ways confirming one of Blanchot's key points of the separation of text from author); we in the English-reading world are more familiar with the names of Derrida and Foucault, as well as other intellectuals such as Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze. The precursor to Derrida's 'key idea' of deconstruction is present in Blanchot (Haase and Large claim that there are few ideas of Derrida that are not already present in Blanchot).
As do the other volumes in this series, Haase and Large conclude with an annotated bibliography of works by Blanchot (primarily those available in authoritative English translation), and works on Blanchot by major scholars.
While this series focuses intentionally upon critical literary theory and cultural studies, in fact this is only the starting point. For
Blanchot (as for others in this series) the expanse is far too broad to be drawn into such narrow guidelines, and the important and impact of the ideas extends out into the whole range of intellectual development. As intellectual endeavours of every sort depend upon language, understanding, and interpretation, the thorough comprehension of how and why we know what we know is crucial.
Maurice Blanchot (Routledge Critical Thinkers) OverviewWithout Maurice Blanchot, literary theory as we know it today would have been unthinkable.Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze: all are key theorists crucially influenced by Blanchot's work.This accessible guide:* works 'idea by idea' through Blanchot's writings, anchoring them in historical and intellectual contexts* examines Blanchot's understanding of literature, death, ethics and politics and the relationship between these themes* unravels even Blanchot's most complex ideas for the beginner* sketches the lasting impact of Blanchot's work on the field of critical theory.For those trying to come to grips with contemporary literary theory and modern French thought, the best advice is to start at the beginning: begin with Blanchot, and begin with this guide.

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