Blanchot was new to me until recently, but I'm very glad that he was recommended to me. Reading Blanchot's essays on literature (from Melville and Hemingway to Rilke and Mallarmé) will change the way you think literary criticism works. It's hard to believe that books like "Faux Pas" and "The Work of Fire" [La part du feu], which appeared in French in the 1940s, have only been translated into English in the past ten to fifteen years, some of them appearing as recently as 2003. In France and in selected elite circles of Anglo-American critics (such as Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman and a few others), Blanchot has been well known for a long time, but the lack of translations meant he was not well known in the U.S. except in selected departments of French and comparative literature. This probably contributed to the reputation of selected "deconstructionists" as being hermetic or obscure, as they were influenced by Blanchot but wrote for an audience who often did not know Blanchot at all. Now, after 40 to 50 years' delay, readers without French (and even those with French: Blanchot's books are often quite expensive and hard to get ahold of) can read a wonderful and ceaselessly interesting writer.
Blanchot is a meditative, effortlessly elegant writer, with beautifully composed literary essays that achieve a rare thing in criticism: they are themselves of literary quality rather than being totally subordinate to the literature being discussed. This means, as I discovered much to my surprise, that you can read essays by Blanchot on authors you probably don't know well or at all and still get a lot out of them. That is because Blanchot often swerves away from his ostensible object of commentary and starts thinking about something completely different, whether it be how characters in a novel think, the relationship between the author and his work, the meaning of the literary image, and a number of profound philosophical or theoretical questions. Blanchot, a prolific writer who wrote throughout his very long life [he died at the age of 95 in 2003] is also a novelist, political writer and philosopher, but I am still chewing on his literary criticism. I haven't yet read his novels but a number of excellent translators, such as Lydia Davis, have worked on Blanchot, and Charlotte Mandell, another gifted translator from French, has also done an excellent job with "The Work of Fire." I'm curious to see how Blanchot affects the future of literary studies now that he is more accessible than ever!