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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

“The Disappearance of Literature”

I was trying to write something about it, and I hopefully will soon, but for now, an excerpt (a link to the full essay is at the end):

“[The independence of the poem from the author, in the sense meant by Mallarmé when he spoke of the Book,] does not designate the proud transcendence that would make literary creation the equivalent of the creation of a world by some demiurge; it does not even signify eternity or the immutability of the poetic sphere; on the contrary it reverses the ordinary values that we attach to the word “to make” (faire) and to the word “to be” (être).

This surprising transformation of modern art, which occurs at the moment when history offers humanity tasks and aims that are entirely different, could seem like a reaction against these tasks and these aims, an empty effort of affirmation and justification. That is not so, or it is true only superficially. Writers and artists sometimes answer the summons of community with a frivolous withdrawal, answer the powerful work of their century with a naïve glorification of their idle secrets or with a despiare that makes them recognize themselves, like Flaubert, in the condition they reject. Or rather they think they can save art by enclosing it in themselves: art might be a state of the soul; ‘poetic’ should mean ‘subjective.’

But precisely, with Mallarmé and with Cézanne (to use these two names symbolically), art does not seek out these paltry refuges. What counts for Cézanne is realization— not the states of the soul of Cézanne. Art strives powerfully for the work, and the work of art, the work that has its origin in art, shows itself as an affirmation entirely different from works that have their measure in labor, values, and exchanges— different, but not opposite: art does not negate the modern world, or the world of technique, or the effort toward liberation and transformation that relies on this technique, but it expresses and perhaps achieves connections that precede any objective, technical accomplishment.

Obscure, difficult and tormented quest. It is an essentially risky experiment in which art, the work, truth, and the essence of language are called back into question and enter into risk.”

Italics in original.

Google Books was kind enough to display the full [rather short, a little less than seven pages] essay, here, the whole of which would really be better to read than just an excerpt.

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Filed under: Blanchot, Quotes

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