Published posthumously, Ending and Unending Agony is Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s only book entirely devoted to the French writer and essayist Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003). The place of Blanchot in Lacoue-Labarthe’s thought was both discreet and profound, involving difficult, agonizing questions about the status of literature, with vast political and ethical stakes.
Together with Plato, Holderlin, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Heidegger, Blanchot represents a decisive crossroads for Lacoue-Labarthe’s central concerns. In this book, they converge on the question of literature, and in particular of literature as the question of myth—in this instance, the myth of the writer born of the autobiographical experience of death.
However, the issues at stake in this encounter are not merely autobiographical; they entail a relentless struggle with processes of figuration and mythicization inherited from the age-old concept of mimesis that permeates Western literature and culture. As this volume demonstrates, the originality of Blanchot’s thought lies in its problematic but obstinate deconstruction of precisely such processes.
In addition to offering unique, challenging readings of Blanchot’s writings, setting them among those of Montaigne, Rousseau, Freud, Winnicott, Artaud, Bataille, Lacan, Malraux, Leclaire, Derrida, and others, this book offers fresh insights into two crucial twentieth-century thinkers and a new perspective on contemporary debates in European thought, criticism, and aesthetics.
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s vigilant engagement with Blanchot’s late 'autobiographical' texts is a piercing testimony to the originality and power of a writer whose significance should be beyond dispute. For those who prize close reading, Ending and Unending Agony will be both an inspiration and a delight.
University of Virginia
“As it makes its way, in a manner that is painstakingly attentive and demanding, through two texts by Maurice Blanchot (The Instant of My Death and “(A Primal Scene?)”), Ending and Unending Agony explores the relationship between “dying” and “writing”: Does not each hold the truth of the other as they relate to the immemorial? That which never took place and of which there is neither memory nor forgetting is also that which binds us to the extremity of sense, where sense renders itself absent. What is at stake as this limit is reached? Can one speak of “myth”—something Blanchot had ruled out long ago—or rather of an experience which no one can experience but which nevertheless leaves a trace? Such are some of the questions to which English-speaking audiences may now direct their attention thanks to this translation of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s book on Blanchot.”
University Marc Bloch, Strasbourg
“Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, writer, thinker, translator and interpreter of Hölderlin, Heidegger, and Benjamin, was also one of Maurice Blanchot’s most constant, scrupulous, and uncompromising readers. In this book on death’s interruptions, itself interrupted by death, he provides an incisive, rigorous, and illuminating account of the work of one of the twentieth-century’s most incisive, rigorous, and illuminating thinkers. It is powerful testimony to the enduring contemporaneity of an unending dialogue exploring with remarkable originality the possibilities and impossibilities of writing and its critical relationship with literature, philosophy, and politics.”
University of Warwick