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Signed book, First edition

Maurice BLANCHOT Le Mythe d'Ulysse, tapuscrit inédit


Le Mythe d'Ulysse, tapuscrit inédit

S.n., s.l. s.d. (circa 1936), 49 feuillets A4 (21x26,5cm), en feuilles.

Le Mythe d'Ulysse [The Ulysses Myth] Unpublished typescript N. d. [circa 1936], 49 leaves 210 x 265 mm (8 1/4 x 10 7/16 ”), loose leaves
Unique complete document comprising 49 A4 leaves, of which 47 mimeographed and 2 typescript (being 1 title page and 48 leaves numbered from 1 to 47, including one page numbered 9 bis. Pages 19 and 46 typescript), entitled: Le Mythe d'Ulysse [The Ulysses Myth] with very occasional manuscript corrections. A faint mark to upper margin of title and traces of a paper clip to head, a few marginal folds.
An exceptional typescript of the first fiction work by Maurice Blanchot, a veritable fountainhead for Thomas le Solitaire and Thomas l'Obscur.
By the time Blanchot's first novel was published in 1941, the young writer had already written two shorter works which were not to appear until 1947, but which were, according to his account, composed during the writing of Thomas l'Obscur: Le Dernier Mot and L'Idylle.
Though the existence of an earlier text than these writings had been suspected, it was thought lost, and it was only very recently that the existence of a legendary first novel called Thomas le Solitaire was discovered. We offered its original manuscript and typescript for sale in 2016. Although very different to the published version, Thomas le Solitaire nonetheless seems – because of its hero, the general course of its story and entire sections of its narration, like an early version of Thomas l'Obscur. This first Thomas thus became – along with some incredibly rare documents – almost the oldest written trace of Maurice Blanchot.
Nonetheless, alongside the manuscripts of the two Thomases, there was among Blanchot's siblings' papers an unsigned mimeographed text entitled Le Mythe d'Ulysse. Clearly contemporary with the two novels (same paper, same typed deletions in the form of little crosses, same rusty paperclip marks) this 47-page short story reveals itself to be, on reading, the obvious fictional origin of Thomas.
Drawing inspiration from Homer, this story tells the tale of Ulysses' sojourn on Calypso's island, only briefly mentioned in the Odyssey which tells us of the arrival and the departure of Ulysses from the island, but is very sparse in detail about the seven years the hero spent there. Maurice Blanchot takes the sadness of the hero as described in Book V and invents a love story between the nymph and the sailor, fuelled by his fantastic tales while he himself languishes in a melancholy at his realization of human fragility and his desire to attain immortality.
Apart from giving him a radically different physical appearance, Blanchot touches on many of the principal themes of Thomas in this short story, including what we call the désincarnation du récit [disincarnation of the narrative], an attitude to death that pictures it as a form of pure life unencumbered by the obstacle of the physical body.
This need to liberate thought from the limits of the body which is present throughout the entire published work originates in this mythological tale, through Ulysses' desire:
“I feel weak and so shut in, and yet at the same time so curious about everything around me. With each one of my steps, I stop and find myself closed in on myself, seeing clearly only the desire to go on and take another step that leads me back to the same dead end and the same desire...The Gods...have shut me in a circle so tight that [I] take up all of it and there is only room from a few fools. There, they gave me a thousand shining powers, distinct rights against which nothing offends and on which nothing impinges, rendered more certain by their use, but in this place they feel nothing for me except an incomprehensible derision, my art – limiting itself – destroys itself there to become nothing but artifice and tomorrow to take on a human aspect of unreasonableness. That is why I must tear myself out of this circle; foolish or wise – and not only as judged by insignificant appearance, but by the incorruptible truth – nothing else can give me peace.” (Le Mythe d'Ulysse pp. 15-16)
What starts off as an undefined malaise (indecipherable to the nymph) takes shape towards the end of the story: “even a delicate frame is a barrier for the curious spirit” (M.U. p. 37), and becomes desire. “How could you expect me to be happy, Calypso, when I have to share that happiness with this passive frame?” (M.U. p. 37). It eventually transmutes into fear: “He came to envy less the spirits denuded of all material being by their purity, and feared the shocking sensation of a mind no longer having control of its body” (M.U. p. 38).
Shockingly, the will of Ulysses remains an obstacle, despite the very nature of the story, which allows for the appearance of the fantastic and despite the intervention of the god Proteus, the true mythological source of this reflection of Blanchot's. “Proteus: [...] I did not put myself into this body, it does not bear my fullness; I come to it fighting, bumping against its borders like a nightbird in the day. I am born in it and die in it, all together.” (M.U. p. 34)
Thus what in the mythical world of Ulysses and Calypso is maintained on the level of desire – “no longer to feel him at the same time dead and alive beside me, that also would be a joy,” is achieved in the shared world of Anne and Thomas, clothed until the 1950 version with all the powers of the immortal nymph and the shape-shifting god.
“Really, he was dead and at the same time removed from the reality of death,” (in Thomas l'Obscur, 1950, Gallimard, p. 40)
“She changed without ever ceasing to be Anne...He saw her approaching like a spider...the final heir of a fantastic race. She walked with her eight enormous feet as if she were walking on two slender legs” (T.O., 1950, pp. 46-47)
A true thematic fountainhead for Thomas, Le Mythe d'Ulysse, raises some of the fundamental questions developed in Thomas, as in Blanchot's other works.
The first is the dream, which opens the narrative and symbolically contains it: “he an immortal...A fearsome device held him...Thus...he threw himself at the immortal body, cold like the marble of a statue” (M.U. p. 2).
Others are:
Immobility as powerless supremacy: “you will see the weakness of the gods and their fragility...Zeus, the greatest of the gods will have to yield to you because the immobile necessity, the silent destiny that restrain him, will hardly weigh on you” (M.U. p. 9 bis).
Tranquility as accomplishment rather than the denial of desire. Thus, the melancholy Ulysses convincing himself of the fullness of his peaceful joy, whose worthlessness he nonetheless feels: “He came back to the daylight and stayed for a long time motionless, not looking at the sea at all...O companion, he ended up saying, give thanks to the gods for they have not denied you happiness; the pure flame of your hearth lights the face of a tranquil man. Tomorrow is vouchsafed for you, you want nothing other than today and your mediocre wishes carry you higher than the most sublime desires” (M.U. p. 12-13).
Many years later, in a similar vein, Thomas the “twin brother” (Te'oma in Aramaic) of Ulysses will reformulate in turn the frightening vanity of this supreme freedom: “He stood, watching and waiting for a long time. There was in this contemplation something painful that was like a manifestation of too great a liberty, a freedom gained by cutting all one's ties” (T.O., 1941).
Night, silence, ways of looking, light, time, all these themes so dear to the writer emerge at the end of the mythological tale, mixing and repeating throughout the story, searching for their precise expression, which already seems to be manifested in this paradox:
“Everyone...mixed water with the flames, chasing the alternating images of the shadow and the light” (M.U. p. 25).
“The water, having shaken the earth, seemed to want to join it with the sky and keep them mixed in one fell swoop” (M.U. p. 38).
“In the middle of this silence that had fallen from her nakedness, like the night that prompts the autumn skies” (M.U. p. 20).
“The dangerous grace of a body whose origins threaten it constantly and that plays in this heavy form as though among the lightest of veils” (M.U. p. 11)
“The future nearer than the moment” (M.U.).
The first fictional piece by one of the most complex writers of the 20 th century, Le Mythe d'Ulysse sows the seeds of the themes that would go on to feed Blanchot's writing right up until L'Instant de ma mort.
Some will judge the resemblance between Ulysse and Thomas by the yardstick of that uniting all of Blanchot's writings.
Nonetheless, like Athena emerging fully clothed from her father's skull, Thomas shares far more with Ulysses than just their common progenitor. Beyond these themes, the two stories, though they seem radically different, show narrative similarities that bear witness to their close kinship. Facing the sea at the start of both narratives, the heroes both go into the water to swim, without this having any narrative justification in either case. In essence, this highly symbolic initial scene is without follow-up as both heroes come back out of the water very quickly, only to return to it at the end of both stories.
There are a number of similarities in the first few lines of both stories.
M.U.: “Abandoning his body to the waves like a lifeless form.” T.O.: “The real sea, where he was like someone who'd drowned.” Or, later, “he was submerged and his emotional state resembled that of a being drowned bitterly in itself.” M.U.: “He ran to throw himself in the water that still bubbled from his recent anger.” T.O.: “The water swirled around him in a whirlpool.” M.U.: “His tautened muscles seemed to him to weigh heavier in the water with each moment.” T.O.: “A very sharp cold...paralyzed his arms, which seemed heavy and foreign.”
The same similarities appear even more clearly when each of the heroes rushes into the forest.
Thus the impotent wandering of Ulysses – “Slipping into it [the forest], Ulysses set about wandering inside, but the labyrinth itself offered more order than the solitude where each step seemed to recommence and did not carry him on, a naked clarity showed the outlines of things without managing to render the horizon and confused him with false shadows,” – is linked to Thomas' hesitation when, in the version used until 1950, he meets the same obstacle in the forest.
“His way was barred on all sides, an unbreachable wall all around...what dominated was the feeling of being pushed on by the refusal to go doubt his advance was more virtual than real, for, with this new place not distinguishing itself from the was in some way the same place he had left behind for fear of leaving things behind...the night swallowed all, there was no hope of crossing its shadows...”
This persistence of narrative elements across various versions and both stories, of which we could give numerous examples (we've compared only the first few pages of the stories!) indicate the structural importance of this early work as the “root” of the novel to come.
Nonetheless, it seems that Maurice Blanchot erased all legible trace of this kinship in the various printed versions and, except for a slip-up, there would be no point in searching for obvious references to the Odyssey or to characters from Greek mythology in the published versions of Thomas.
Having said that, if one goes back to the first few pages of the manuscript of Thomas l'Obscur, the similarities between Thomas and Ulysses are immediate and very clear.
O.M., p. 1, l. 12: “Still stretched out on the sand, he began an endless voyage with his absence of body in an absence of sea, a crossing in which he did not run aground or drown. No weariness could recall him to himself. He was slipping through the void, irresistibly drawn by the retreating of the shore. He was endlessly called by his own downfall.”
This veritable recursive use of the Odyssey is enriched with even more explicit references in the first pages of the manuscript of Thomas le Solitaire:
“Having himself given birth to some god of the sea, to some fantastic Siren, he came slowly back to the awkward pace of men” (Thomas le Solitaire, p. 1).
These same Sirens in the short story, whom “only obscene bodies and impure souls can fail to pity” bear, with their intellectual promises, offer the hero the first formulation of the temptation to, or attempt to, move beyond the human condition.
Maurice Blanchot thus effaced his early work by rewriting and rewriting, while at the same time paradoxically completing – through the “shared” character of Thomas, the fruitless quest of the “mythological” hero.
Nonetheless, there is still an element that, despite all the changes Blanchot's novel went through, stayed intact throughout the various manuscripts, typescripts and in the two published versions. This is a simple and prosaic proposition that is justified in its actual form neither by its narrative function nor by its aesthetic qualities. This is a perfectly ordinary phrase that is nevertheless systematically drawn to the reader's attention at the very beginning of the reading process. This is the very first line of both Thomas le Solitaire and Thomas l'Obscur, in the versions of 1941 and 1950: “Thomas s'assit et regarda la mer [Thomas sat looking at the sea].”
This action, as we know, is associated with a failure: “despite the fact that the fog prevented him seeing very far”, which in turn provokes a “turning inwards on himself” that sets the story in motion.
Blanchot, though he did not put it right at the beginning of his first tale, punctuates his Mythe d'Ulysse with this stationary, repeated action, subjected to the same barrier. We have found several examples:
“They...sat down on a rock and listened to the sounds of the sea across the grey light,” (p. 12 M.U.). “He came back to the daylight and stayed for a long time motionless, not looking at the sea at all,” (M.U. p. 13).
In the same way, later on, when he is once more trying to look at the horizon: “There was a real fog in the way of his view.”
“He remained still all day, facing the sea and half perched on the sound of the waves fleeing the open water,” (M.U. p. 41).
It's on the final page of the short story that a line from Pallas Athena seems to provide a key to the interpretation of the enigmatic contemplative pose: “You have watched this dead earth long enough...Listen, the sea comes back to you...and turns itself towards your soul.”
But beyond this early short story, the opening of Thomas is born from the roots of Blanchot's tale, Book V of Homer's Odyssey who, in a few lines, tells the story of his hero's journey to the nymph Calypso's island.
“But the great-hearted Odysseus [Hermes] found not within [the cave]; for he sat weeping on the shore, as his wont had been, racking his soul with tears and groans and griefs, and he would look over the unresting sea, shedding tears.”
This short story is also significant, then, for Blanchot's giving the reader a highly significant mythological origin to his first novel.
The Odyssey, beyond Thomas alone, perhaps provides a framework for other stories, such as Au moment voulu [At the wished-for moment], the first part of which appeared in a journal under the title Le Retour [The Return]. Besides this mythological kinship with Blanchot's future novels, Le Mythe d'Ulysse should be looked at (like any first attempt at a novel?) in the light of its relation to the figure of the artist as demiurge and more specifically, Blanchot himself. For the writer's allegories run through and, no doubt, carry the story, a powerful and fragile figure embodied by turns by the Sirens, Ulysses (“I do not envy the gods their kingdom if mine makes me the master of stories...”) and above all, Proteus.
Proteus, the all-powerful master of shapes who gives Ulysses his power, declares: “So be, good Ulysses, the King of Chaos, the Father of Monsters, destroy what is made, unmake what is perfect, and sow everywhere the element of inequality, the enemy of stability where equilibrium breaks. In all these works, you will have me as a benevolent father and a helper.”
But Proteus is also shifting, and his endless changes of shape are as much a source of power as a curse. “I will not reveal myself...I try to escape myself so that my changes of shape are not secret returns. These changes that dazzle the stranger are not, in fact, to flee him, but to flee myself and get closer back to him.”
Is Proteus Blanchot's fictional doppleganger? What is for certain, at the very least, is that beyond this tutelary figure, Ulysses is certainly the “Toma” of the hero of the future novel, as he himself announces prophetically to the nymph: “Calypso: [...] because your thoughts are no longer melancholy as they were, is that nor right? Ulysses: Why do you ask me that? I don't believe that they were ever melancholy, but they are still obscure, more obscure than yesterday” (M.U. p. 28).
The unique copy of Maurice Blanchot's previously unknown first work of fiction and the Rosetta stone for Thomas l'Obscur.  


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