Maurice Blanchot
Born22 September 1907
Died20 February 2003(2003-02-20) (aged 95)
EducationUniversity of Strasbourg (B.A., 1922)
University of Paris (M.A., 1930)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas
The Neutral (le neutre)
Right to death
Two kinds of death[a]

Maurice Blanchot (/blænˈʃ/ blan-SHOH, French: [blɑ̃ʃo]; 22 September 1907 – 20 February 2003) was a French writer, philosopher and literary theorist.[4] His work, exploring a philosophy of death alongside poetic theories of meaning and sense, bore significant influence on post-structuralist philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy.



Blanchot was born in the village of Quain (Saône-et-Loire) on 22 September 1907.[5][6][7]

Blanchot studied philosophy at the University of Strasbourg, where he became a close friend of the Lithuanian-born French Jewish phenomenologist Emmanuel Levinas. He then embarked on a career as a political journalist in Paris. From 1932 to 1940 he was editor of the mainstream conservative daily the Journal des débats. In 1930 he earned his DES (diplôme d'études supérieures), roughly equivalent to an M.A. at the University of Paris, with a thesis titled "La Conception du Dogmatisme chez les Sceptiques anciens d'après Sextus Empiricus" ("The Conception of Dogmatism in the Ancient Sceptics According to Sextus Empiricus").[8]

Early in the 1930s he contributed to a series of radical nationalist magazines while also serving as editor of the fiercely anti-German daily Le rempart in 1933 and as editor of Paul Lévy's anti-Nazi polemical weekly Aux écoutes. In 1936 and 1937 he also contributed to the far right monthly Combat and to the nationalist-syndicalist daily L'Insurgé, which eventually ceased publication – largely as a result of Blanchot's intervention – because of the anti-semitism of some of its contributors. There is no dispute that Blanchot was nevertheless the author of a series of violently polemical articles attacking the government of the day and its confidence in the politics of the League of Nations, and warned persistently against the threat to peace in Europe posed by Nazi Germany.

In December 1940, he met Georges Bataille, who had written strong anti-fascist articles in the thirties, and who would remain a close friend until his death in 1962. Blanchot worked in Paris during the Nazi occupation. In order to support his family he continued to work as a book reviewer for the Journal des débats from 1941 to 1944, writing for instance about such figures as Sartre and Camus, Bataille and Michaux, Mallarmé and Duras for a putatively Pétainist Vichy readership. In these reviews he laid the foundations for later French critical thinking by examining the ambiguous rhetorical nature of language and the irreducibility of the written word to notions of truth or falsity. He refused the editorship of the collaborationist Nouvelle Revue Française for which, as part of an elaborate ploy, he had been suggested by Jean Paulhan. He was active in the Resistance and remained a bitter opponent of the fascist, anti-semitic novelist and journalist Robert Brasillach, who was the principal leader of the pro-Nazi collaborationist movement. In June 1944, Blanchot was almost executed by a Nazi firing squad (as recounted in his text The Instant of My Death).


After the war, Blanchot began working only as a novelist and literary critic. In 1947, Blanchot left Paris for the secluded village of Èze in the south of France, where he spent the next decade of his life. Like Sartre and other French intellectuals of the era, Blanchot avoided the academy as a means of livelihood, instead relying on his pen. Importantly, from 1953 to 1968, he published regularly in Nouvelle Revue Française. At the same time, he began a lifestyle of relative isolation, often not seeing close friends (like Levinas) for years, while continuing to write lengthy letters to them. Part of the reason for his self-imposed isolation (and only part of it – his isolation was closely connected to his writing and is often featured among his characters) was the fact that, for most of his life, Blanchot suffered from poor health.

Blanchot's political activities after the war shifted to the left. He is widely credited with being one of the main authors of the important "Manifesto of the 121", named after the number of its signatories, who included Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert Antelme, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, René Char, Henri Lefebvre, Alain Resnais, Simone Signoret and others, which supported the rights of conscripts to refuse to serve in the colonial war in Algeria. The manifesto was crucial to the intellectual response to the war.

In May 1968, Blanchot once again emerged from personal obscurity, in support of the student protests. It was his sole public appearance after the war. Yet for fifty years he remained a consistent champion of modern literature and its tradition in French letters. During the later years of his life, he repeatedly wrote against the intellectual attraction to fascism, and notably against Heidegger's post-war silence over The Holocaust.

Blanchot wrote more than thirty works of fiction, literary criticism, and philosophy. Up to the 1970s, he worked continually in his writing to break the barriers between what are generally perceived as different "genres" or "tendencies", and much of his later work moves freely between narration and philosophical investigation.

In 1983, Blanchot published La Communauté inavouable (The Unavowable Community). This work inspired The Inoperative Community (1986),[9] Jean-Luc Nancy's attempt to approach community in a non-religious, non-utilitarian and un-political exegesis.

He died on 20 February 2003 in Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis, Yvelines, France.


Blanchot's work explores a philosophy of death, not in humanistic terms, but through concerns of paradox, impossibility, nonsense and the noumenal that stem from the conceptual impossibility of death. He constantly engaged with the "question of literature", a simultaneous enactment and interrogation of the idiosyncratic act of writing. For Blanchot, "literature begins at the moment when literature becomes a question".[10]

Blanchot drew on the poetics of Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Celan, as well as the concept of negation in the Hegelian dialectic, for his theory of literary language as something that is always anti-realist and so distinct from everyday experience that realism does not simply stand for literature about reality, but for literature concerning paradoxes made by the qualities of the act of writing. Blanchot's literary theory parallels Hegel's philosophy, establishing that actual reality always succeeds conceptual reality. For instance, "I say flower," Mallarmé wrote in "Poetry in Crisis", "and outside the oblivion to which my voice relegates any shape, [...] there arises [...] the one absent from every bouquet."[11]

What the everyday use of language steps over or negates is the physical reality of the thing for the sake of the abstract concept. Literature - through its use of symbolism and metaphor - frees language from this utilitarianism, thereby drawing attention to the fact that language refers not to the physical thing, but only to an idea of it. Literature, Blanchot writes, remains fascinated by this presence of absence, and attention is drawn, through the sonority and rhythm of words, to the materiality of language.

Blanchot's best-known fictional works are Thomas l'Obscur (Thomas the Obscure), an unsettling récit (which "is not the narration of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that event is made to happen ...")[12] about the experience of reading and loss, Death Sentence, Aminadab, and The Most High. His central theoretical works are "Literature and the Right to Death" (in The Work of Fire and The Gaze of Orpheus), The Space of Literature, The Infinite Conversation, and The Writing of the Disaster.


Blanchot engages with Heidegger on the question of how literature and death are both experienced as an anonymous passivity, an experience that Blanchot variously refers to as "the Neutral" (le neutre). Unlike Heidegger, Blanchot instead rejects the possibility of an authentic relation to death, because he rejects the conceptual possibility of death. In a manner similar to Levinas, who Blanchot later became influenced by with regards to the question of responsibility to the Other, he reverses Heidegger's position on death as the "possibility of the absolute impossibility" of Dasein, instead viewing death as the "impossibility of every possibility".[13]


Fiction and narrations (récits)

Philosophical or theoretical works

Many of Blanchot's principal translators into English have since established reputations as prose stylists and poets in their own right; some of the more well-known of them include Lydia Davis, Paul Auster and Pierre Joris.


  1. ^ Blanchot's premise is that the first death is the actual event, happening in its own history; the second death is the virtual form of the event, which does not tangibly "happen".[2][3]


  1. ^ Max Pensky, The Actuality of Adorno: Critical Essays on Adorno and the Postmodern, SUNY Press, 1997, p. 162.
  2. ^ Maurice Blanchot, The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction and Literary Essays (New York, Station Hill Press, Inc., 1999), p. 100.
  3. ^ Osaki, Harumi, "Killing Oneself, Killing the Father: On Deleuze's Suicide in Comparison with Blanchot's Notion of Death", Literature and Theology (2008) 22(1).
  4. ^ Kuzma, Joseph. "Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003)". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  5. ^ Taylor, Victor E.; Vinquist, Charles E. (2002). Encyclopedia of Postmodernism. London: Routledge. p. 36. ISBN 9781134743094. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  6. ^ Zakir, Paul (2010). "Chronology". Maruice Blanchot: Political Writings 1953–1993. Fordham University Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780823229970.
  7. ^ Johnson, Douglas (1 March 2003). "Obituary: Maurice Blanchot". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  8. ^ Alan D. Schrift (2006), Twentieth-Century French Philosophy: Key Themes and Thinkers, Blackwell Publishing, p. 101.
  9. ^ See Jean-Luc Nancy, La communauté désavouée at Lectures –
  10. ^ Maurice Blanchot, "Literature and the Right to Death" in The Work of Fire, C. Mandel (trans), Stanford University Press, 1995, p. 300.
  11. ^ Stephane Mallarmé, "Poetry in Crisis" in Selected Poetry and Prose, Mary Ann Cawes (ed), New Directions, 1982, p. 75.
  12. ^ Maurice Blanchot, "The Song of the Sirens", 1959
  13. ^ Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster (trans. Ann Smock), University of Nebraska, 1995

Further reading