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Customer Review

on 12 October 1999
Blanchot is, quite simply, the most original, coherent and compelling philosopher of literature since neo-Platonic times. He should also be accorded the title of "father of the philosophy of literary composition." This is Blanchot's master work, in the sense that it is both his most generally accessible text and also the text to which one is most likely most often to return. It makes lucid sense of questions which, before he wrote, should never have been asked in the academic realm (for example, "Why does a writer write? And what can we learn from his inability to give us a constant answer? Can a writer read his own work in the same way as every other reader? What does it mean to write a journal? Is it possible to be a writer, and yet, like Joubert, write nothing? Is it possible that reading is a task requiring as much inspiration as that of writing? Why does the writer find it so hard to accept a book as complete, and what is the real "completeness" of his texts? How does posterity affect the true achievement of a writer?") These are entirely superficial summaries, but they should give a flavour of the kind of questions he addresses. What is significant is that his ground of enquiry is uniquely his own; and anyone who aspires to write or read "seriously" in our time must battle, sooner or later, the questions he raises; his answers are both so lucid and compelling that they cannnot help but alter forever the way we view writers and readers, writing and reading, desire and aesthetics. A great part of Blanchot's gift is that he rationalises the psychology of reading and writing; he dissolves texts into the ambition, desire, credulity, desperation and insight of their authors. There could be no more faithful a "writer's writer", and Levinas, Bataille, Cixous and many others have paid homage both to his analytical gifts and his preternatural integrity. Blanchot provides almost effortlessly what was sought so hard by latter day 20thC critics from the Expressivists to the New Critics - a coherent account of how and why we write and read. To understand such things is worth more than an academic understanding of the most esoteric Deconstructionist because it puts us in touch with our most subjectively human qualities. Even at his most recondite and abstruse, Blanchot "satifies" in the same way as the most personally beloved of authors. His thoughts and ideas pass into our words and speech; his philosophy governs our hopes and fears. "The Space of Literature", for those who respond to it, must assume its own place in our canon, as the text before which all other texts are judged. To read and assent to it is to comprehend all that is important in "close reading"; accordingly, for the undergraduate or graduate of canonical literature, this book alone is probably worth more than any other work of scholarship, since it explains and questions the bases upon which all literary scholarship is possible.
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