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The Instant of My Death / Demeure: Fiction and Testimony

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This volume records a remarkable encounter in critical and philosophical thinking: a meeting of two of the great pioneers in contemporary thought, Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, who are also bound together by friendship and a complex relation to their own pasts. More than a literary text with critical commentary, it constitutes an event of central significance for c This volume records a remarkable encounter in critical and philosophical thinking: a meeting of two of the great pioneers in contemporary thought, Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, who are also bound together by friendship and a complex relation to their own pasts. More than a literary text with critical commentary, it constitutes an event of central significance for contemporary philosophical, literary, and political concerns. The book consists of The Instant of My Death, a powerful short prose piece by Blanchot, and an extended essay by Derrida that reads it in the context of questions of literature and of bearing witness. Blanchot's narrative concerns a moment when a young man is brought before a firing squad during World War II and then suddenly finds himself released from his near death. The incident, written in the third person, is suggestively autobiographical—from the title, several remarks in the text, and a letter Blanchot wrote about a similar incident in his own life—but only insofar as it raises questions for Blanchot about what such an experience might mean. The accident of near death becomes, in the instant the man is released, the accident of a life he no longer possesses. The text raises the question of what it means to write about a (non)experience one cannot claim as one's own, and as such is a text of testimony or witness. Derrida's reading of Blanchot links the problem of testimony to the problem of the secret and to the notion of the instant. It thereby provides the elements of a more expansive reassessment of literature, testimony, and truth. In addressing the complex relation between writing and history, Derrida also implicitly reflects on questions concerning the relation between European intellectuals and World War II.


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This volume records a remarkable encounter in critical and philosophical thinking: a meeting of two of the great pioneers in contemporary thought, Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, who are also bound together by friendship and a complex relation to their own pasts. More than a literary text with critical commentary, it constitutes an event of central significance for c This volume records a remarkable encounter in critical and philosophical thinking: a meeting of two of the great pioneers in contemporary thought, Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, who are also bound together by friendship and a complex relation to their own pasts. More than a literary text with critical commentary, it constitutes an event of central significance for contemporary philosophical, literary, and political concerns. The book consists of The Instant of My Death, a powerful short prose piece by Blanchot, and an extended essay by Derrida that reads it in the context of questions of literature and of bearing witness. Blanchot's narrative concerns a moment when a young man is brought before a firing squad during World War II and then suddenly finds himself released from his near death. The incident, written in the third person, is suggestively autobiographical—from the title, several remarks in the text, and a letter Blanchot wrote about a similar incident in his own life—but only insofar as it raises questions for Blanchot about what such an experience might mean. The accident of near death becomes, in the instant the man is released, the accident of a life he no longer possesses. The text raises the question of what it means to write about a (non)experience one cannot claim as one's own, and as such is a text of testimony or witness. Derrida's reading of Blanchot links the problem of testimony to the problem of the secret and to the notion of the instant. It thereby provides the elements of a more expansive reassessment of literature, testimony, and truth. In addressing the complex relation between writing and history, Derrida also implicitly reflects on questions concerning the relation between European intellectuals and World War II.

30 review for The Instant of My Death / Demeure: Fiction and Testimony

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    This is a review, a review in abeyance. A mastery of nuance is also on display. That would be Blanchot. Parsing his brief work, there was always a subtle gleam to be explored, appreciated. As to Derrida, I kept rereading. I noted that I read most pages at least three times. My normal life doesn't exactly champion such rigor. I found Derrida's framing observation, the one which explored differentiated testament and literature to be wonderful, revelatory. I think the distinction is necessary in ou This is a review, a review in abeyance. A mastery of nuance is also on display. That would be Blanchot. Parsing his brief work, there was always a subtle gleam to be explored, appreciated. As to Derrida, I kept rereading. I noted that I read most pages at least three times. My normal life doesn't exactly champion such rigor. I found Derrida's framing observation, the one which explored differentiated testament and literature to be wonderful, revelatory. I think the distinction is necessary in our approach to Karl Ove, especially through the Norwegian's meditation on Hitler. There are beautiful passages on Dostoevsy and Vlasov, neither of which you imagined to be germane. That is, not German. I oculdn't resist trying that, as certainly Derrida always felt the revealing spark of the pun and the shared or adjacent etymology. The opening selection by Blanchot approximates the autobiographical. It is a from the waning days of the Occupation. There is to be a summary execution and then there isn't. Derrida ponders the release of the former instance and the contractual baggage of the latter. Despite the opacity of the argument, this is a marvelous triumph of poetic association.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chris Via

    Video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKYS1... Video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKYS1...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    Derrida musing extravagantly on a tiny [but poignant] story, the length of a few paragraphs. In Blanchot's story, the narrator recalls a young man nearly executed by a pillaging band of soldiers in the French countryside on the tail end of WWII. The young man is brought to the very brink of death, and then saved by the momentary dismissal of a soldier. What follows is a strange recounting of the emotional aftermath of such an experience, the "living on", as Derrida expressly focuses on. Despite Derrida musing extravagantly on a tiny [but poignant] story, the length of a few paragraphs. In Blanchot's story, the narrator recalls a young man nearly executed by a pillaging band of soldiers in the French countryside on the tail end of WWII. The young man is brought to the very brink of death, and then saved by the momentary dismissal of a soldier. What follows is a strange recounting of the emotional aftermath of such an experience, the "living on", as Derrida expressly focuses on. Despite the usual difficulty of following Derrida's prose, I found it quote enjoyable that he scrutinizes every single word Blanchot writes and opens up multiple rabbit holes, the most fascinating of which deals with the clashing of survivor's guilt and "justice", as well as the question that any reader of The Instant of My Death asks immediately: What even is this work? Is it a fictive story? A memoir? A semi-fictive memoir? No right or wrong answers here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    ok I'm just wondering who it was who got derrida and blanchot mixed up. This silly goodreads thing lists Blanchot as the author of the TWO pieces in this book, but it is not the case. Blanchot wrote "The Instant of My Death" (L'instant de Ma Mort) but Derrida wrote Demeure, which can be read as a reading OF Blanchot's text, and it's quite silly to list Blanchot as the author of Derrida's essay unless one wants to argue that Blanchot has written Derrida or vice versa. Derrida would like this thou ok I'm just wondering who it was who got derrida and blanchot mixed up. This silly goodreads thing lists Blanchot as the author of the TWO pieces in this book, but it is not the case. Blanchot wrote "The Instant of My Death" (L'instant de Ma Mort) but Derrida wrote Demeure, which can be read as a reading OF Blanchot's text, and it's quite silly to list Blanchot as the author of Derrida's essay unless one wants to argue that Blanchot has written Derrida or vice versa. Derrida would like this though, it's like that weird post-card in the oxford library *rolls eyes*

  5. 4 out of 5

    YZ

    For class. My virgin Derrida experience.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    I actually followed Derrida's writing for most of the time. Which is sadly rather appallingly rare. I actually followed Derrida's writing for most of the time. Which is sadly rather appallingly rare.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael A.

    The Blanchot anecdote was terrifying and can shed some light on his thoughts on death. It was apparently the last thing he published(?) The rest of the 100 of the 120 or so pages is an analysis by Derrida and a 4 page Postscript. The analysis was hard to follow but more readable and not as consistently dense as Blanchot is (this is probably because it was a talk and not a paper). Derrida states the subject (of Demeure? Of Blanchot's anecdote?) is literature, death, and truth. If I had to sum up w The Blanchot anecdote was terrifying and can shed some light on his thoughts on death. It was apparently the last thing he published(?) The rest of the 100 of the 120 or so pages is an analysis by Derrida and a 4 page Postscript. The analysis was hard to follow but more readable and not as consistently dense as Blanchot is (this is probably because it was a talk and not a paper). Derrida states the subject (of Demeure? Of Blanchot's anecdote?) is literature, death, and truth. If I had to sum up what I think Derrida was doing (I am new to reading him directly) I think it was a (phenomenological? deconstructive? analytical?) description of the temporality of the instant of one's own death. It was surprisingly fun to read, but I would be lying if I said I understood more than 3% of what he meant. It was really fun seeing all the usages/puns with "demeure" and its variations. The Postscript is fucking great. I guess a scholar named J. Drake had a dispute with Derrida over the latter's interpretation of Curtius in Of Grammatology. Derrida takes 4 pages to build up to pretty much an academic conflagration: "[Drake] suspects me of "intellectual charlatanism" at the very same moment that, on two separate occasions - which cannot be accidental - he confuses Phaedrus with Phaedo. Nothing less. Is this not worrisome on the part of a guardian who is so jealously preoccupied with reserving for himself the right to interpret a philologist and historian of great repute? What would the great Curtius have thought of a "scholar" who, coming to his rescue, does not see the difference between two of Plato's dialogues, just because the two titles both begin with Ph? Ph, as in pharmakon, this poison-remedy to which letters are compared: and this in Phaedrus, not Phaedo. If Mr. Drake would like to read Plato one day, he would see a difference, this difference at least to begin with." Damn. Good book though! Gotta read more Derrida now.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Fai Ahmed

    “ There remained, however, at the moment when the shooting was no longer but to come, the feelings of lightness that I would not know how to translate: freed from life? The infinite opening up? Neither happiness, nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of fear and perhaps already step beyond. I know. I imagine that this unanalyzable feeling changed what there remained for him of existence.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alex Obrigewitsch

    Speech evinces the space, the distance, between the self and the other. Speaking - destroying of effacing the self and its presence, to attempt to move closer to the other (communication) through neutrality - yet maintaining the distance, leaving the other their space, opening and maintaining it in secret, through the secret of the between; leaving silent (the other left to the silence of alterity, the outside). To speak, to maintain the secret, in the between - the space in which and through whi Speech evinces the space, the distance, between the self and the other. Speaking - destroying of effacing the self and its presence, to attempt to move closer to the other (communication) through neutrality - yet maintaining the distance, leaving the other their space, opening and maintaining it in secret, through the secret of the between; leaving silent (the other left to the silence of alterity, the outside). To speak, to maintain the secret, in the between - the space in which and through which difference may proliferate and the other may maintain its alterity; through the joyous play of the disastrous emptiness of language (in its shattering instant or instance which is ever coming, to come, yet from out of an absolute anteriority; an an-arche of time which shatters time and its principles (the present and its presence - maintenant) - the instant).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tijmen Lansdaal

    For the most part, this is an interesting 'interpretation' of Blanchot. I wouldn't want to belittle that effort, since if anyone needs that kind of exegesis it's Blanchot. If you're into Blanchot and you know what I'm talking about: you should definitely give this a try. For anyone invested in Derrida, there might not be much news here and for people new to Derrida this definitely wouldn't be an understandable start. However, there is one link to deconstruction in general that is interesting her For the most part, this is an interesting 'interpretation' of Blanchot. I wouldn't want to belittle that effort, since if anyone needs that kind of exegesis it's Blanchot. If you're into Blanchot and you know what I'm talking about: you should definitely give this a try. For anyone invested in Derrida, there might not be much news here and for people new to Derrida this definitely wouldn't be an understandable start. However, there is one link to deconstruction in general that is interesting here, which he develops towards the end (say, from p 92's 'constituting structure/destructuring fracture' and onwards): of the instance of death (in abeyance) it is difficult to say that it remains to come (p 101). Notice the technical usage of 'to come'. Enigmatic stuff I'd say.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Delgado

    Blanchot's story "The Instant of My Death" expands his ideas of "the disaster" with a personal note, and of the impossibility of given testimony. As Derrida well points out in the following essay "Demeure: Fiction and Testimony," the impossibility to give testimony has to be understood with Blanchot's philosophical such "The Writing of the Disaster" and "Friendship." Blanchot's story "The Instant of My Death" expands his ideas of "the disaster" with a personal note, and of the impossibility of given testimony. As Derrida well points out in the following essay "Demeure: Fiction and Testimony," the impossibility to give testimony has to be understood with Blanchot's philosophical such "The Writing of the Disaster" and "Friendship."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

    The clearest, most interesting Derrida I have read. Extremely useful in terms of trauma theory and memory. Blanchot's story about nearly being killed by the Nazis is also fascinating and beautifully told. The clearest, most interesting Derrida I have read. Extremely useful in terms of trauma theory and memory. Blanchot's story about nearly being killed by the Nazis is also fascinating and beautifully told.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Maddy

    Remind me to read more Blanchot.

  14. 4 out of 5

    anon

    Engaged w/ Derrida's engagement w/ Blanchot here: http://www.5cense.com/14/389.htm Engaged w/ Derrida's engagement w/ Blanchot here: http://www.5cense.com/14/389.htm

  15. 4 out of 5

    vi macdonald

  16. 4 out of 5

    Will Buckingham

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sohum

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jayoung

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Holden

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  22. 4 out of 5

    Black Saga

  23. 4 out of 5

    April

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lukas

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rae

  26. 4 out of 5

    Arhondi

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dee

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Pistelli

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark Broadhead

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