Friday, February 11, 2005

polis, indifferent murmur

From the end of Mark Cohen's review of The Book to Come:

The most overtly political moment in The Book to Come comes at the end. The final essay, "The Power and the Glory," does bring up an important cultural theme very much in the air in France in the 1950s: the relationship of the writer to mass culture. Blanchot in effect compares the alienation imposed on the reader by literature with that of the public on the individual. What might in Heideggerian terms look like a fall into the "they" or more conventionally and nostalgically the loss of identifiable human beings ("friends") who might read one's books is actually embraced by Blanchot as a happy meeting of the twain. In his closing lines, he is implicitly celebrating the equalizing powerlessness that language can, if understood properly, induce us to accept and thus clearing the ground for his, the writer's, return to politics. In a rarely remarked allusion to Orpheus that is no longer that of The Space of Literature, where it is used as an allegory of Blanchottian creation, here the poet is said not to find the artwork by losing its object but to arrive at his speech by joining the flow of his song with the indifferent murmur of public culture:

If today the writer, thinking of going down to the underworld, is content with going out into the street, that is because the two rivers [the underground and above-ground Styx] . . . passing through each other, tend to be confused. . . . the profound original rumor . . . is not unlike the unspeaking speech . . . the "public mind." (250) (PMC)

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