Blanchot’s Infinite Conversation

by Beth Metcalf

Deleuze says (Difference & Repetition 274-5), “To ground is always to ground representation”.  But when a form of representation itself is taken to be the ground for knowledge, it always forms a vicious circle of ‘proof’.  How can the ground of representation avoid being determined by the very form that it claims to ground?  Deleuze notices that determination must not be in terms of a matter-form coupling of representational thought, because then the form of matter is presumed to be already determined.  Representational thought thinks the condition in the image of the conditioned.   However, Deleuze tells us that determination cannot directly determine the indeterminate.  Something of the ground must rise to the surface.  There is a sub-representative domain that swarms with pre-individual singularities of differentiating difference.  That domain is not determined by the form-matter coupling of representational thought.  Rather, it is a sub-representative coupling of disparate intensity (DR 222).  Determination cannot immediately ground the indeterminate.  Determination of a ground must confront groundlessness.  Determination of a ground must first confront the pure empty form of time that Deleuze calls ‘Aion’ before the form of the determinable can rise to the surface.   

Blanchot, like Deleuze, questions the philosophical foundations of Western thought.  Traditionally, the philosopher has been afraid of a violent encounter that would threaten the philosophical Image of Thought.  Sometimes the foundation of knowledge has been thought to be given by our sense impressions.  However, we have no ground for that assumption.  How can internal relations between our ideas and our sense perception be assumed to be the ground for representing reality?  Deleuze tells us we need to reach the form of the determinable – that by which the given is given (DR 222).  The given is diverse, but that by which the given is given is that which reaches the intensive external relations of sub-representative disparate ‘difference’.  Therefore, empiricism cannot be the ground of thought, because it is in need of grounding.  Also, transcendentalism needs grounding.  As a priori condition of possible experience in the forms of intuition, space and time; transcendentalism is merely traced from the empirically given.  The transcendental resembles the empirical.  The condition is in the image of the conditioned.  Traditional philosophy looks for the foundation of our knowledge on the plane of Chronos – the given form of already spatialized time.  It never reaches the sub-representative plane of Aion – the plane of that by which the given is given as it spatializes time disparately.  Deleuze’s ‘transcendental empiricism’ is the intersection of the two planes.  The plane of Aion is a transcendental field of that by which the given is given.  The plane of Chronos is the empirically given.  The planes intersect as two types of multiplicities – transcendental conditions of disparate empirical forms of spatialized-time.  We find a more adequate ground for our knowledge only when we reach the sub-representative plane of univocality – the plane of the form of the determinable – the plane of the empty form of time, Aion – the plane of that by which the given is given.  Each actualized empirical ‘use of representation’ must find its own form of possibility in a sub-representative transcendental field of disparate intensity. The transcendental condition does not resemble the empirically conditioned.  The transcendental field of sense produces bodies and their mixtures.  Bodies and their mixtures also produce sense.  But this is not a circular process (Logic of Sense 123-4), because the transcendental production of sense does not occur through an individuation that presupposes itself.  Individuation in bodies and their mixtures presupposes a pre-individual neutral transcendental field.  The transcendental production of sense is pre-individual, impersonal, and aconceptual. 

We have the habit of thinking in terms of chronological time, Chronos.  However, this time that is assumed to be given in consciousness cannot be the ground of consciousness.  It is what needs grounding.  Determination of a ground must confront groundlessness of the pure empty form of time before a form of the determinable can rise to the surface.  If we want to confront an unconscious groundlessness of thought, we need to reach that by which the given is given to consciousness.  But how can we think and speak about that which is unconscious?  How can thought reach its ground outside the vicious circle of representation?  How can we think the unthought?  We must grapple with this paradox.  Thought must reach a sub-representative transcendental field that cannot be thought.  Thought must be in the form of an unconscious dice game.  If thought is to reach unconscious groundlessness, it cannot be mediated by conscious thought of a subject.  Only a random dice game can reach groundlessness.  However, the dice game of univocality is nothing like the dice games with which we are acquainted.  In the dice game of univocal being, events are no longer related according to the time of Chronos and its relations of already formed corporeal elements.  The transcendental field of this univocal dice game is on the plane of the empty form of time, Aion.  This groundlessness is not an undifferentiated black nothingness where being and nothingness are in a negative oppositional relation.  That would still assume a conscious ground in a vicious circle.  Rather, groundlessness is the differentiated nothingness which is the being of the problematic.  Ontology must be a dice game.  Being-itself is univocal.  It is not an equivocal conscious subjectivity. 


Blanchot’s writings exemplify that which Deleuze calls ‘univocal being’.  Blanchot explores the art of writing that has its source in the empty form of time on the plane of artistic composition.  What is this empty form of time through which we see and say new forms without identity, analogy, or resemblance?  Although Maurice Blanchot does not use Deleuze’s terms, in reviewing Blanchot’s writing I will use a mixture of terms used by Deleuze and Blanchot whenever I think they both express being as univocal.  In The Infinite Conversation*, Blanchot writes about the void of the outside other.  Between self and the other is a void of the infinitely other.  It is neutral nonrelation unmediated by any common measure.  In his chapter, ‘Reflections on Hell’, Blanchot writes about this absence of relation.  It is the experience of the groundlessness of the void.  Orpheus can retrieve Eurydice from the underworld only by way of his song that does not represent or signify.  It is the encounter that reveals Eurydice as infinitely other outside conscious thought of a subject.  The speech of this encounter is the intersection of two kinds of death.  One death is the time of ‘Chronos’.  It is the present which causes everything to pass.  It is death by way of corporeal causes.  The other is on the incorporeal plane of ‘Aion’ where death has no relation to me.  It has no presence.  It is the waiting of that which is always coming but is never present.  It is the abyss of nonrelation.  When Orpheus encounters Eurydice, his choice is either ‘to speak’ or ‘to kill’.  When Orpheus looks back at Eurydice, his gaze brings death to her as other.  His gaze is merely a conscious ground that represents self and other in an image of sameness.   If thought is to reach unconscious groundlessness, it cannot be mediated by conscious thought which brings death by seeing the other as an object.  Only when Orpheus’s song reaches an empty form of groundlessness can Eurydice be brought to the surface.  That is, determination must confront groundlessness of the pure empty form of time before a form of the determinable can rise to the surface.  The sub-representative transcendental field of groundlessness is on the plane of the empty form of time, Aion.  Immanence of the other must be an unmediated movement through which the infinite inessential may be brought to the surface.  But as soon as conscious presence (Chronos) closes around Eurydice as an essential property, Orpheus’s song of the inessential ceases and Eurydice is lost.  Otherness returns to sameness.  Conscious thought does not reach the speech (Deleuze’s ‘expression’) that is the ungrounding of sight (Deleuze’s ‘content’).  Orpheus’s song must cross the abyss through which inessential expression becomes possible.  This speech is expression of nonrelation that brings the other into inaccessible presence without common measure.  This speech across the void of Aion signifies no essence.  If there is to be a void of otherness, seeing and speaking (content and expression) must be a heterogeneous nonrelation of the void.  It is Aion as present without thickness that nomadically distributes disparate intensive couplings of singularity.  It is that play of inessential difference across the void that Deleuze calls ‘vice-diction’. 

Therefore, Blanchot says there are two dimensions of the event that are coexisting and inseparable.  First is that which is fulfilled in the actualization of corporeal bodies.  According to this aspect, death is actualized on the personal level of the corporeal body.  The second is the counter-actualized potentialities of the incorporeal at the level of the empty form of time.   According to this aspect, death cannot be actualized.  It is the counter-actualization of the incorporeal.  On this incorporeal level, Aion is the abyss of time without present.  It is impersonal and pre-individual singularities.  It is the neutrality of the pure event.  There is no particular or general, individual or collective, affirmation or negation.  There is no opposition at all.  ‘To die’ is singular neutrality.  All of being is said in this infinitive sense of death.  Orpheus can bring Eurydice to the surface only if his gaze dissolves into the void of death. 


Despite interpretations by Hegelian commentators, Nietzsche takes a non-dialectical path that violently ruptures the traditions of Western thought.  Blanchot reflects on Nietzsche’s nihilism and his experience of the eternal return.  According to both Deleuze and Blanchot, Nietzsche’s experience of the eternal return has nothing to do with philosophical tradition.  This experience cannot be measured by the chronological time of ‘Chronos’.  The eternal return is transformation of time and value.  The empty form of time, ‘Aion’, is this transvaluation.  Blanchot writes about Nietzsche’s overwhelming fear of his experience of the eternal return.  It is nothing like any thought that came before.  Whereas Nietzsche’s ‘higher man’ totalized a whole of logos in a continuity of speech, the ‘overman’ is the becoming of the whole of being that always changes in nature.  The overman is no longer limited by the time of Chronos.  The overman has to reach the eternal return as transformation of time outside the possibilities of Chronos.  Speech becomes a fragmentary new language of waiting across the void for an already that transmutes all value.  It is Deleuze’s transvaluation of disparate intensive difference.  Being is saying – the eternal repetition of singular difference.  But we reach this univocal event only when the sub-representative plane of the empty form of time is included.  The language of the event is always out of place in relation to itself.  It is played as an unconscious dice game across the interval of the void.  The void is the empty form of time that flies in past and future directions at once.  It is the slowness of “What is going to happen?” and the speed of “What happened?”  The empty form gives rise to fragmentary speech of waiting across the void for the already that transmutes value.  It arises out of groundlessness that conditions the intersection of two types of multiplicities.  The disparate transcendental ground intersects with its own use of singular-universal perspective. 

Nietzsche writes in aphorisms of fragmentation, plurality, and dispersion.  His fragmentary speech consists of partial objects that are never part of a totalizing unity, original or produced.  Fragmentary language does not judge, measure, or negate.  It overcomes any unifying or totalizing whole.  There is, with each repetition, constituent singular difference, never a general-totalizing contradiction.  With each actualization, there is a temporary and fragile singular ‘use of representation’.  Each singular use is a world of perspective.  These multiplicities of perspective cannot be totalized conceptually.  Each actualized use dissolves into the void, to return as a new singular perspective.  The intensive disparate difference of Nietzsche’s fragmentary speech, in crossing the void, changes in nature.  It never maintains an origin.  It never reaches a final form.  It has nothing to do with a dialectical system of thought.     

Nietzsche uses fragmentary signs of disparate intensity that, in separating, change nature.  Yet this fragmentary speech is always said univocally as the whole of singular being, with each repetition.  All difference is affirmed as singular because all real difference is unique.  With each division or augmentation of intensive degree, there is a new singularity of difference (Deleuze’s ‘inseparable variation’).  But all difference is said as same because all difference is singular.  In whatever degree, difference in-itself is said as singularity of the whole of being.  But beyond actualized uses is the experience of the eternal return as counter-actualization that resists all intersection with the time of Chronos.  The eternal return is all difference said univocally as singularity of the whole changing in nature with each repetition.  Nihilism is impossible.  Affirmation refutes nihilism while affirming it.  This is not philosophy of logos that thinks the identity of the whole and speaks in relations that return to unity.  The eternal return is said as same, but it is not.  It is not subjectivity of thought, but being-itself, that is univocal.

Blanchot, like Deleuze, reads Nietzsche’s nihilism to mean that the highest values are dead.  God is dead.  There are no values other than what man invents.  However, nihilism is not humanism.  Both God and Man are dissolved.  There is not even human truth as a measure.  Truth itself is at risk.  This is a new dialectic of the real.  There is no value in-itself.  Authoritarian truth and value have dissolved.  Nihilism opens the event to new possibilities of value by crossing thresholds with each repetition of singular use.  Still man knows nothing of this ‘event’.  Man is unaware of the power of that sub-representative event that puts him already beyond self.  Nietzsche’s nihilism is not nothingness in opposition to being.  It is not negation of the negative.  Nihilism is without any oppositional relations at all.  There is not even opposition between affirmation and negation.  All is pure affirmation.  There are multiplicities of actualized uses that cannot be totalized.  With the intersection of two types of multiplicities, will-to-power is liberated.  Man is no longer limited by the time of Chronos. 

In whatever degree of intensive difference, the whole of being is always said as a new measure of singularity.  The whole of being is univocal.  It is said as really different singular-universal with each repetition.  I take this to be what Blanchot expresses in ‘The Most Profound Question’.  The movement of time is disparate degrees of intensive coupling of new singularities.  Every division or augmentation fills the whole of being as new singular-universal.  Being-itself, not a subject, is questioned and does the questioning.  Between question and answer (between content and expression) is a nonrelation – a relation of otherness that is infinite waiting in the void of Aion.  The questioning that questions the being of the whole and changes its nature cannot be an abstract dialectical movement of generalized truth whose answer merely maintains its own origin.  A dialectical system of thought never reaches the most profound question because it never reaches that void which is the empty form of time, Aion.  It never reaches the waiting that is already a leap that transforms.  The slowness of waiting (“what is going to happen?”) is coupled with the speed of already (“what happened?”) that changes nature.  The void does not determine the generality of the particular but the universality of each repetition of singular difference.  There is eternal repetition of difference in the void.  Being-itself eternally returns as all differentiation expressed as singularity of one universal with each return.  This universal ‘whole’ must never be conceived as a universal generality.  It is not the many as unity of one whole.  Difference is said as the whole of being, but it is ‘Entirely Other’ that never maintains a same totalizing generality. 

In traditional forms thought is the same as its speech – content resembles its expression.  However, like Deleuze, Blanchot rejects that resemblance.  There must be relation through the abyss of nonrelation – a nonrelation through the unknown and the incommensurable.  Seeing and speaking are heterogeneous.  Thinking is the event of the void in-between seeing and speaking, content and expression.  In crossing the void of the outside, thinking is the roll of the dice.  It is the intensive coupling that creates new singularities.  The void of Aion is the place or non-place of changing forces.  When seeing and speaking are no longer homogeneous, then they may reach heterogeneous forms of exteriority.  Then thinking crosses the void of the outside without form.  There is no dialectical synthesis or reconciliation.  When contents (seeing) and expression (speaking) are no longer homogeneous, forces are opened to an outside.  Thinking is the dice-throw in a dispersion of singularities.  The dice-throw is the nonrelation of being and thought. 

Whereas Blanchot writes that expressive speech, rather than content mediated by light, is primary; Deleuze writes that seeing (content) and speaking (expression) are always already a singular coupling of inseparable variations.  However, Deleuze and Blanchot both agree that seeing (content) and speaking (expression) are heterogeneous nonrelation.  The concept of one has nothing to do with the concept of the other.  Fragmentary speech does not double the same.  It redoubles the outside other.  Speaking frees thinking from the visibilities that traditionally subjugate thought.  Writing does not give seeing and speaking a common measure.  We never see one whole generality of everything.  We see only within the thresholds of a horizon of perception.  But speech can transgress these thresholds.  Speech, when it is fragmentary, is disorienting.  Speech perverts sight.  Perversion frees sight from its limits. 

Phenomenology, by showing a correlation between the object and intentional consciousness, presupposes a structured relation between the transcendental and the empirical, thereby still maintaining an identity of the subject in terms of light.  Structuralism also still maintains identity that equalizes relations between successive states of a subject.  However, what we see is deceptive.  Light mediates through a “dialectical illusion”.  But fragmentary writing is a refusal of the appearance of immediacy that light gives to sight.  It is refusal of the mediation of light.  Being is not revealed by light.  Being is saying, and it is univocal.  With being as univocal, thinking can go outside what has always been thought to be possible.  The eternal return is not doubling of the one.  It is redoubling of the outside other.  Being has no common measure.  There are multiplicities of interpretation.  There are no facts in themselves.  In Deleuze’s terms ‘sense’ precedes any “use of representation” (LoS 144-7).  Interpretation is neutral movement that has no prior object or subject to which it is related.  Fragmentary speech is expression which disperses content. 


Literature awaits a language where expression is not internally related to a visible content.  This language does not conceal or reveal.  It is the non-truth of the thing.  It is saying without the coming to light of seeing – a manifestation without giving itself to sight.  Literature’s image is not the doubling of the object.  It is the folding or the intensive coupling that redoubles the outside other.  Time is the difference through which we speak.  But this time is not the time of presence.  Just as Deleuze distinguishes between Chronos and Aion, so also Blanchot makes the distinction between the time of presence and time of difference without presence.  The void of Aion is the absence or nonrelation of a work of literature.  It is the void that brings a ground for a ‘use of representation’ to the surface arising out of the groundlessness of the void. 

Time has no common measure.  There are no facts in themselves.  There are only multiplicities of interpretation.  Interpretation is a movement of the neutrality of sense.  Sense is same from the point of view of quality, quantity, relation, and modality.  The neutrality of sense cannot mediate because it is outside all relation.  There are no negative relations of identity or opposition, unity or presence.  There can be no exclusive disjunctions.  But the negative may itself be affirmed because there is no oppositional relation of negation/affirmation.  There is only what Deleuze calls ‘vice-diction’ that affirms everything as inessential.  The text is the expressive world of disparate intensive fragmentation dispersed across the void that changes the nature of forms with each repetition.  Fragmentary language of literature is expression which disperses content.  Fragmentary language has no meaning other than dispersal and rupture.  There may be temporary uses of metaphor.  However, literary text does not speak of being by way of metaphor.  Text is univocality of the real.  It is the expression of being as univocal. 

Literature is the fragmentary play in a void.  It is a coupling of disparate fragments without cause or purpose.  It is the dice game as interweaving of signs as they spatialize time into new uses of interpretation.  A temporary and fragile ground may rise to the surface because it first confronts the groundlessness of the empty form of time.  This empty form is not an undifferentiated void.  It includes all differentiation of disparate difference said as one.  Intensive signs express the play of chance across distances.  There are new ruptures and fusions of tears.  Difference is nonrelation of all relation.  The Outside is more distant then the external world of corporeal things.  It is closer than an internal world of conscious subjectivity.  Every incorporeal difference of singularity fills the whole of being to a new degree of intensity with each repetition.  Difference is not a doubling of the same.  It is redoubling (in-between content and expression) of the outside other.  It is the folding or redoubling that is always already outside itself and always inside its outside.  Literary text is language that stammers and makes the image tremble.  The real is a whole without center – a body without organs.     

Blanchot says that traditional philosophy is a refusal of the ‘outside’ due to the fear of death.  This refusal is the fear of the loss of relations that mediate a transcendent image.  It is the denial of death that leads to an image of permanence and representational truth.  We construct an Image of Thought, an Image of Eternal Presence, by which we deny that we are mortal.  But in so doing, we enact “the great refusal” – the refusal to encounter the immediate immanence of singular death.  This singular death is closer than any interiority of consciousness and farther than any exteriority of corporeal things.  It is Blanchot’s ‘limit-experience’ as radical questioning of ‘self’.  There is an excess of nothing that cannot be put into actualization.  It is counter-actualization.  Limit-experience is loss of meaning and value that frees us toward new possibilities.  There is no dualistic opposition between reason and the absurd.  Limit-experience reveals nothing.  It totalizes nothing.  It is pure affirmation free of all negation.  It is thought that can’t be given to a subject – the dice throw of radical change.  The eternal return is limit-experience not lived.  It is the disinterested indifference of desire.  It is forgetting beyond memory.  It is freedom from the presence of Chronos.  The void is the eternal waiting attention of language suspended between memory and absence of memory – forgetting and absence of forgetting.


*The Infinite Conversation, by Maurice Blanchot, University of Minnesota Press, translated by Susan Hanson.


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