Literature is only a domain of coherence and a common region as long as it does not exist, as long as it does not exist for itself and conceals itself. As soon as it appears in the distant presentiment of what it seems to be, it flies into pieces, it sets out on the path to dispersion in which it refuses to be recognized by precise, identifiable signs. As, at the same time, traditions remain powerful, humanism continues to seek the assistance of art, prose still wants to fight for the world, there results a confusion in which, at first sight, one cannot reasonably try to decide what is at issue. In general, limited causes and secondary explanations are found for this disintegration. The blame is laid on individualism: each writer is said to write in accordance with a self whose purpose is to be distinct from all others. Blame is also laid on the loss of common values, the profound divisions in the world, the break-up of ideals and of reason. Or else, to re-establish a little clarity, the distinctions of prose and poetry are restored: poetry is consigned to the disorder of the unpredictable, but it is noted that the novel nowadays dominates literature, and that the latter, in the novel form, remains faithful to the everyday, social designs of language, remains within the limits of a circumscribed genre, capable of channelling and specifying it. The novel is often said to be monstrous but, with a few exceptions, it is a well-bred, highly domesticated monster. The novel is identifiable by clear signs which do not lend themselves to misunderstanding. The predominance of the novel, with its apparent freedom, its audacities which do not imperil the genre, the unobtrusive reliability of its conventions, the richness of its humanist content, is, as formerly the predominance of formally regular poetry, the expression of the need we feel to protect ourselves from what makes literature dangerous: as if, at the same time as its poison, literature urgently sought to dispense for our benefit the antidote which alone allows its untroubled, lasting consumption. But perhaps what makes literature innocuous also spells its doom.
In answer to this quest for subordinate causes, we must reply that the break-up of literature is essential and that the dispersion to which it is succumbing also marks the moment at which it approaches itself.
1. There are none the less complaints about the monotony of talent and the uniformity or impersonality of works.
2. But there is virtually nothing which, in literary terms, distinguishes the Catholic novelist from the Communist novelist, and the Nobel prize and the Stalin prize reward the same practices, the same literary signs.
-Maurice Blanchot, translated by Ian Maclachlan, in Michael Holland, ed., 144-45.