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Signed book, First edition

Maurice BLANCHOT Correspondance complète de Maurice Blanchot avec sa mère, sa soeur Marguerite, son frère René et sa nièce Annick.

Maurice BLANCHOT

Correspondance complète de Maurice Blanchot avec sa mère, sa soeur Marguerite, son frère René et sa nièce Annick.

S.n., s.l. s.d. (1940-1991), Formats divers, ensemble constitué d'environ 1000 lettres complètes et 400 lettres amputées.


BLANCHOT Maurice
Maurice Blanchot's complete correspondence with his mother, his sister Marguerite, his brother René and his niece Annick
1928-1991, various sizes, a collection comprising more than 1200 complete letters
An exceptional set of more than 1200 autograph letters signed by Maurice Blanchot addressed mostly to his mother Marie, his sister Marguerite and his niece Annick, as well as a few to his brother René and his sister-in-law Anna. Some of Anna Blanchot's written parts have been excised, but the letters remain complete of Maurice Blanchot's writings. To the 1200 complete letters, we join a few incomplete additional letters, where some of Maurice Blanchot's text is missing. This collection was kept by Marguerite Blanchot with the books her brother inscribed to her and the manuscripts of Blanchot's first novels and reviews.
This unique, complete correspondence, as yet entirely unpublished and unknown to the bibliographers, covers the period from 1940 to 1991 (and some rare letters from an earlier time).
The first batch of letters – more than 230 composed between 1940 and 1958 (when Marie Blanchot died) – are addressed to his mother and sister who lived together in the family house at Quain.
Then, from 1958 to 1991, there are more than 700 letters addressed to Marguerite, including some without the Anna Blanchots' written part.
Eight letters addressed to his brother René and his sister-in-law Anna from the 1970s, with whom he would go living, were also retained by Marguerite.
And finally, there is a large set of letters written from 1962, addressed to his niece Annick and her son Philippe – grandson to Georges, Maurice's second brother.
Though Blanchot's intense affection for his mother and sister is evident from his inscriptions to them, we know almost nothing about their actual relationships. In the only biographical essay on Blanchot, Christophe Bident nonetheless tells us that: “Marguerite Blanchot worshipped her brother Maurice. Intensely proud of him...she attached great importance to his political thought...She read a lot...They would speak on the phone and correspond when apart; they shared the same natural authority, the importance attached to discretion.” Blanchot sent her a number of works from his library, demonstrating a previously unknown intellectual link.
The large number of letters addressed by Maurice to his sister reveal an intellectual complicity and a greater trust from the writer than he placed in almost anyone else close to him.
The biographical part that dominates each letter reveals the intimate world – previously unknown – of the most secretive of writers. Essentially, he reveals himself as forthright with his sister and mother as intellectual and discreet with everyone else. Even his closest friends did not find out about the serious health problems that Blanchot faced throughout his life, which are laid bare here in detail.
Nonetheless, these intimate topics are only one aspect of this correspondence, which also aims to share the latest developments in the intellectual, social and political world – that Maurice Blanchot decodes for his little sister, who had sacrificed her independence and the artistic success she may have had as a noted organist for the sake of her mother.
Thus, from the Occupation to the Algerian war, from Vietnam War to the election of Mitterrand, Blanchot interprets for his mother and sister the intense and complex state of the world, sharing with them both his objective observations and his intellectual affinities, as well as justifying to them his standpoints and commitments.
An unembellished record, free of the posturing imposed by his intellectual status, Blanchot's correspondence with his family also has another unique feature: it is without doubt the only written record of the profound sensitivity of this writer who was known only for his outstanding intellect. This correspondence from the heart also reveals a Maurice fantastically benevolent towards his sister's and mother's religious convictions, and it is without any reticence that he punctuates his letters with explicit signs of the intense affection he bore for these two women – so different from the people in his intellectual set.
This precious archive covers the period from 1940 to the death of Marguerite in 1993. There is almost no trace of correspondence before this date, aside from a letter to his godmother in 1927, which leads one to suspect that the correspondence has been destroyed, perhaps at Blanchot's own request.
Among the letters to his mother and sister, we have identified some significant recurring themes.
Wartime letters in which Blanchot presents himself as both a reassuring son and a lucid thinker:
“Est-ce la mort qui approche et qui me rend insensible au froid plus modeste de l'existence?” (“Is death, as it approaches and makes me insensible to the cold, more modest than existence?”)
“Il n'y a pas de raison de désespérer.” (“There is no cause to despair.”) At worst, he says: “nous nous regrouperons sur nos terres. Nous trouverons un petit îlot où vivre modestement et sérieusement”; “la politique ne va pas fort. L'histoire de la Finlande m'inquiète beaucoup” (“we'll regroup on our own land. We'll find a little island where we can live humbly and seriously”; “the political situation is not good, and the situation of Finland seems to me very worrying.”)
“À la répression succèdent les représailles [...] Cela ira de mal en pis.” (“Repression is followed by reprisals...It's going from bad to worse.”)
More personal news about his involvement and setbacks with various revues:
Aux Écoutes, run by his friend Paul Lévy, whose flight to Unoccupied France he recounts,
– the Journal des Débats and the political upheavals that transformed it,
– his quitting of Jeune France upon Laval's return,
– his involvement in the survival of the NRF and the political challenges it faced during this difficult time.
“Il est absolument certain qu'il n'y aura pas dans la revue un mot qui, de près ou de loin, touche à la politique, et que nous serons préservés de toute ‘influence extérieure'. À la première [ombre?] qui laisserait entendre que ces conditions ne sont pas respectées, je m'en vais.” (“It is absolutely certain that there will not be one word in the revue that touches on politics from a country mile, and that we will be spared all ‘external influence'. At the first [shadow?] of these conditions no longer being respected, I'll be off.”)
An astounding letter about the tragic episode that would become the subject of his final story, L'Instant de ma mort: “Vous ai-je dit qu'à force de déformations et de transmissions amplifiées, il y a maintenant dans les milieux littéraires une version définitive sur les événements du 29 juin, d'après laquelle j'ai été sauvé par les Russes! C'est vraiment drôle [...] de fil en aiguille j'ai pu reconstituer la suite des événements” (“Did I tell you that via a process of distortion and exaggerations in its repetitions, there is now a definitive version circulating in literary circles of the events of 29 June, according to which I was saved by the Russians! It's really quite amusing...one step at a time, I was able to reconstitute the chain of events.”) He then recounts these at some length to his mother and sister, the same account – save for a few minor details – as presented in L'Instant de ma mort. “Et voilà [...] notez comme la vérité est tournée à l'envers. ... En tout cas c'est certainement ainsi ou peut-être sous une forme plus extravagante que nos biographes futurs raconteront ces tristes événements.” (“And there you have it, the truth turned upside down...in any case, it's certainly like this or in perhaps an even more extravagant form that our future biographers will recount these sad events.”)
This extraordinary letter throws (a very enigmatic) light on an event that we know only in its fictionalized form. At the heart of that fiction is...more fiction!
Letters from the Liberation period, in which Blanchot places special emphasis on his concern for the fate of Emmanuel Levinas:
“Son camp a été libéré, mais lui-même (à ce qu'un de ses camardes a affirmé à sa femme) ayant refusé de participer à des travaux, ... avait été envoyé dans un camp d'officiers réfractaires. On craint qu'il lui soit arrivé ‘quelque chose' en route (et cela le 20 mars). [...] Impénétrable destin.” His camp was liberated but he himself (so his comrades told his wife) having refused to work...was sent to a camp for recalcitrant officers. They fear that ‘something' may have happened to him en route (this on the 20 March)...An impenetrable fate.”)
He also mentions great emerging intellectual figures, both friends and not:
Sartre: “Il y a une trop grande distance entre nos deux esprits.” (“There is too great a distance between our two spirits.”)
Char: “L'un des plus grands poètes français d'aujourd'hui, et peut-être le plus grand avec Éluard.” (“One of the greatest contemporary French poets – perhaps the greatest, along with Eluard.”)
Ponge, who asked him for “une étude à paraître dans un ensemble sur la littérature de demain” (“a study to be published in a collection on the literature of tomorrow.”)
And Thomas Mann, whose death in 1955 affected him personally: “C'était comme un très ancien compagnon.” (“He was like a very old companion.”)
An observer of political events, he shows a benevolent but already suspicious interest towards General de Gaulle. “Comme homme, c'est vraiment une énigme. Il est certain que seul l'intérêt du bien public l'anime, mais en même temps, il reste si étranger à la réalité, si éloigné des êtres, si peu fait pour la politique qu'on se demande comment cette aventure pourrait réussir. [...] Quand on va le voir, il ne parle pour ainsi dire pas, écoute mais d'un air de s'ennuyer prodigieusement. [...] Il est toujours en très bons termes avec Malraux qui joue un très grand rôle dans tout cela. En tout cas, les parlementaires vivent dans la crainte de cette grande ombre.” (“As a man, he's a real enigma. Certainly, it is the public interest alone that drives him, but at the same time, he is nonetheless such a stranger to reality, so far removed from other human beings, and so little cut out for politics, that it's hard to see how this adventure could succeed...When you go and see him, he doesn't talk just for the sake of it, listening instead – but doing so with an air of profound boredom...He's still on very good terms with Malraux, who plays a big role in all this. In any case, parliamentarians live in fear of this great shadow.”)
But his view of the country's future remains strict: “La France n'est plus qu'un minuscule pays qui selon les circonstances, sera vassal de l'un ou de l'autre. Enfin, on ne peut pas être et avoir été.” (“France is nothing more now than a miniscule country which – depending on circumstances – will be a vassal of some other. In the end, you can't live for today while living in the past.”) Nonetheless, he followed the fate of Mendès-France as minister, whose fall he anticipated when he wrote: “Il sera probablement mort demain, tué par la rancune, la jalousie et la haine de ses amis, comme de ses ennemis.” (“He will probably be dead tomorrow, killed by the rancor, jealousy and hatred of both his friends and his enemies.”)
Post-war correspondence.
1949 marked a turning-point: “Pour mener à bien ce que j'ai entrepris, j'ai besoin de me retirer en moi-même, car la documentation livresque n'est profitable qu'à condition d'être passée par l'alambic du silence et de la solitude.” (“In order to complete successfully what I have begun, I have to retreat into myself, because written documentation in the form of books cannot be worthwhile except if it is first filtered through the still of silence and solitude.”) This is followed by long reflections on his relationship to writing and the world: “Je sais que la vie est pleine de douleurs et qu'elle est, dans un sens, impossible: l'accueillir et l'accepter ... dans l'exigence d'une solitude ancienne, c'est le trait qui a déterminé mon existence peut-être en accord avec cette part sombre, obscure en tout cas, que nous a léguée le cher papa.” (“I know that life is full of painful things and it is, in one sense, impossible to welcome and accept that... seeking age-old solitude, this is perhaps the trait that determined my existence, perhaps together with that more somber part – more obscure in any case – that dear Father bequeathed us.”)
“Mon sort difficile est que je suis trop philosophe pour les littérateurs et trop littéraire pour les philosophes.” (“My difficult fate is that I am too philosophical for the literary types and too literary for the philosophers.”)
“Je suis radicalement hostile à toutes les formes de l'attention, de la mise en valeur et de la renommée littéraires – non seulement pour des raisons morales, mais parce qu'un écrivain qui se soucie de cela n'a aucun rapport profond avec la littérature qui est, comme l'art, une affirmation profondément anonyme.” (“I am radically opposed to all forms of attention-seeking, of self-promotion and literary fame – not only for moral reasons, but because a writer who is concerned with that has no real deep connection with literature, which is – like art – a profoundly anonymous affirmation.”)
Intellectual standpoint on Algeria.
“Quels lamentables et stupides égoïstes que les gens d'Algérie.” (17 mai 1958) (“What lamentable and stupid egotists the people of Algeria are”) (17 May 1958) “Et là-dedans l'intervention du Général qui achève la confusion.” (“and then there's the General's intervention to complete the confusion.”)
The day after the ultimatum sent by the conspirators of Algiers on 29: “Mon indignation est profonde, et je n'accepterai pas aisément que nous ayons pour maîtres à penser des légionnaires qui sont aussi, dans bien des cas, des tortionnaires” (“My indignation is profound and I will not easily accept that we have chosen to follow the lead of Legionnaires who are, in many cases, torturers.”)
“Le 14 juillet n'est pas destiné à continuer de paraître – c'est plutôt une bouteille à la mer, une bouteille d'encre bien sûr!” (“14 July is not destined to keep being published – it's more a message in a bottle – a bottle of ink, of course!”)
“Quant à notre sort personnel, il ne faut pas trop s'en soucier. Dans les moments où l'histoire bascule, c'est même ce qu'il y a d'exaltant: on n'a plus à penser à soi.” (“As for our personal fate, one mustn't worry too much. There is still something exultant in moments of historical upheaval: you no longer have to think of yourself.”)
“Cette histoire d'Algérie où s'épuisent tant de jeunes vies et où se corrompent tant d'esprits représente une blessure quasiment incurable. Bien difficile de savoir où nous allons.” (“This Algerian story where so many young lives are extinguished, and where so many spirits are corrupted, represents an almost incurable wound. Very difficult to know where we're headed.”)
“C'est bien étrange cette exigence de la responsabilité collective [Manifeste des 121] qui vous fait renoncer à vous-même, à vos habitudes de tranquillité et à la nécessité même du silence.” (“It's very strange, this demand for collective responsibility [the Manifeste des 121] which makes you renounce your very self, your habits of peace and even the necessity of silence.”)
Physical participation in May 1968.
“J'ai demandé qu'on envoie un télégramme à Castro: ‘Camarade Castro, ne creuse pas ta propre tombe'.” (“I've asked that they send a telegram to Castro: ‘Comrade Castro, don't dig your own grave.'”)
“Et je t'assure – pour y avoir été à maintes reprises – que ce n'est pas drôle de lutter avec des milliers et des milliers de policiers déchaînés...: il faut un énorme courage, un immense désintéressement. À partir de là s'établit une alliance qui ne peut se rompre.” (“And I assure you – having done so many a time – that it's not fun to fight with thousands and thousands of policemen let loose...you have to have enormous courage, an incredible disinterest. And from there, an alliance builds that cannot break.”)
“Depuis le début de mai, j'appartiens nuit et jour aux événements, bien au-delà de toute fatigue et, aujourd'hui où la répression policière s'abat sur mes camarades, français et étrangers (je ne fais pas entre eux de différence), j'essaie de les couvrir de ma faible, très faible autorité et, en tout cas, d'être auprès d'eux dans l'épreuve.” (“Since the beginning of May, I have been night and day at the service of events, beyond all tiredness and now, when police repression is practiced on my comrades, both French and foreign (I make no difference between the two), I try to spread over them my weak – oh so weak – protection, and in any case to be on their side in this time of trial.”)
“Cohn-Bendit (dont le père du reste est Français, ses parents ayant fui la persécution nazie en 1933), en tant que juif allemand, est deux fois juif, et c'est ce que les étudiants, dans leur générosité profonde, ont bien compris.” (“Cohn-Bendit (whose father, by the way, is French, his parents having fled Nazi persecution in 1933), as a German Jew is doubly Jewish, and it is this that the students, in their profound generosity, have understood.”)
“Voilà ce que je voulais te dire en toute affection afin que, quoi qu'il arrivera, tu te souviennes de moi sans trouble. L'avenir est très incertain. La répression pourra s'accélérer. N'importe, nous appartenons déjà à la nuit.” (“That's what I wanted to say to you with all affection so that, whatever happens, you will remember me without difficulties. The future is very uncertain. The repression could gather pace. It doesn't matter – we already belong to the night.”)
“Nous sommes faibles et l'État est tout-puissant, mais l'instinct de justice, l'exigence de liberté sont forts aussi. De toute manière, c'est une bonne façon de terminer sa vie.” (“We are weak and the State is all-powerful, but the instinct of justice, the need for liberty are strong as well. In any case, it's a good way to end one's life.”)
The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, marked by a number of difficult challenges, were shot through with a growing pessimism. “L'avenir sera dur pour tous deux [ses neveux], car la civilisation est en crise, et personne ne peut être assez présomptueux pour prévoir ce qu'il arrivera. Amor fati, disaient les stoïciens et disait Nietzsche: aimons ce qui nous est destiné.” (“The future will be hard for both [of his nephews], because civilization is in crisis and no one can be presumptuous enough to foresee what will happen. Amor fati, as the Stoics said and also Nietzsche: let us love what is written for us.”)
“Je suis seulement dans la tristesse et l'anxiété du malheur de tous, de l'injustice qui est partout, m'en sentant responsable, car nous sommes responsables d'autrui, étant toujours plus autres que nous-mêmes.” (“I am but in the sadness and worry of everyone's misfortune, the injustice that surrounds us all, and I feel responsible, for we are all responsible for one another, being always more others than ourselves.”)
Still retaining his preoccupation with international affairs...: “Tout le monde est contre Israël, pauvre petit peuple voué au malheur. J'en suis bouleversé.” “Sa survie est dans la vaillance, sa passion, son habitude du malheur, compagnon de sa longue histoire.” (“Everyone is against Israel, poor little people destined for unhappiness. I'm stunned.” “Its survival lies in its watchfulness, its passion, and its being accustomed to misfortune, the companion of its long history.”)
“Comme toi je suis inquiet pour Israël. Je ne juge pas les Arabes; comme tous les peuples, ils ont leur lot de qualités et de défauts. Mais je vis dans le sentiment angoissé du danger qui menace Israël, de son exclusion, de sa solitude, il y a, là-bas, un grand désarroi, ils se sentent de nouveau comme dans un ghetto: tout le monde les rejette, le fait pour un peuple, né de la souffrance, de se sentir de trop, jamais accepté, jamais reconnu, est difficilement supportable.” (“Like you, I worry for Israel. I'm not judging the Arabs; like all peoples, they have their strengths and their faults. But I live in the anguish of the danger threatening Israel, of its exclusion, its solitude. There is, over there, great disarray, they feel they are once more closed in the ghetto: everyone turns their back on them – which, for a people born of suffering, which felt unwanted, never accepted, never recognized, is very hard to bear.”)
...as well as the domestic: “Mitterrand reste à mes yeux le meilleur Président de la République que nous puissions avoir: cultivé, parlant peu, méditant, les soviets le détestent.” (“Mitterrand remains in my eyes the best President of the Republic that we could have: civilized, taciturn, meditative; the Soviets hate him.”)
But it is without doubt the more personal letters in which he bears witness to his love and profound complicity with his correspondents which reveal the most interesting and most secret part of the personality of Maurice Blanchot. When, confronted with the tragedies of life, the son, brother or uncle expresses his love and his profound empathy, far from the pathetic commonplaces and received wisdom that is man's natural bulwark against misfortune, Maurice humbly offers his correspondent, to “ponder” the wounds of the soul, the form of words that is the highest expression of intelligence: poetry.
“Je pense à toi de tout cœur, et je suis près de toi quand vient la nuit et que s'obscurcit en toi la possibilité de vivre. C'est cela, mon vœu de fête. C'est aussi pourquoi, à ma place, et selon mes forces qui sont petites, je lutte et lutterai: pour ton droit à être librement heureuse, pour le droit de tes enfants, à une parole absolument libre.” (“I think of you with all my heart and I am near you when night comes and overshadows in you the possibility of living. There it is, my festive wish. That is also why, in my place, and in accordance with my resources – which are small – I fight and will continue to fight: for your right to be freely happy, for the right of your children to absolutely free speech.”)
“Attendons chère Annick, tu as raison, c'est souvent le silence qui parle le mieux. Les morts aussi nous apprennent le silence. Partageons avec eux ce privilège douloureux. Oncle Maurice.” (“But wait, Annick dear, you're right, it's often silence that speaks volumes. Deads, too, teach us silence. Let us share with them this sad privilege. Uncle Maurice.”)

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