The Negative Eschatology of Maurice Blanchot


The Orphic Experience

 VII. Anne's Second Death

Although Thomas attempts to introduce her into the world as an immortal beauty, as a living sculpture (like metamorphosed Galatea), Anne, as she reduplicates each step he takes, foresees the folly of his approach. Indeed, as they near the surface, rather than pass into an eternal day, Anne, grasped by the eternal return, feels herself beginning to fade back into the pitch-blackness of the void.

Before the void can completely subsume her, though, Anne, in a final act of desperation, flings herself against the silent void of Thomas. With this act, Anne, hoping that a better understanding of obscure Thomas will grant her a better understanding of herself, attempts to fathom the void that radiates from Thomas's form. Hurling herself against the silent, absent presence at the core of obscure Thomas, she pushes her attempt á outrance or to excess, and thus displays a resolve not unlike the one that compelled Sue Bridehead to exclaim, "I will drink my cup to the dregs!" (Hardy 416).

However, Anne, although she seeks to gain a better understanding of obscure Thomas, encounters only an unfathomable emptiness, which increases the strength of the undertow that pulls her into the abyss. Faced with this state of affairs, Anne concludes that, in order to save herself, she must, as originally perceived, annihilate conscious individuality or "the thought of thought" (TO 62). Seeking "an I without its glassy solitude," she begins to yoke herself to a trial whose self-renunciation increasingly attenuates and rarefies her presence (TO 62). As a result, "before her spread forth wondrous falls, dreamless sleep, the fading away which buries the dead in a life of dream, the death by which every man, even the weakest spirit, becomes spirit itself" (TO 61-2). In other words, through her attempts to lessen her selfhood, Anne begins to broach upon the night of true sleep or death. She begins to wed herself to a "body a thousand more times more beautiful than her own" (TO 63). Nevertheless, despite her close proximity to death, several of Anne's selves start to believe, like the imaginal men of Thomas, that they can embrace death under human auspices. They begin to believe that, under that cover of an identity, it will be possible for them to "return to the surface after the dive" (TO 62).

With the commencement of chapter IX, Anne, despite the fact that she has more or less surrendered to the abyss and assimilated with its mutism, experiences a brief resurrection. Similar to J. in Blanchot's Death Sentence, who likewise experienced resuscitation, Anne casts off her death shroud. In so doing, Anne momentarily transforms her death into a gift, for her resurrection, like that of J., helps her loved ones recall a time unburdened by sickness.

Similar to the ephemeral resurrection of J., though, Anne's "awakening was only a slow exhausting, the final movement toward rest," for her illness soon reasserts its pestilent grasp (TO 69). As a result, Anne reassumes the peaceful countenance of a sleeping beauty. Here, rather than resist the inevitability of death, Anne begins to express "by her closed eyes and her pinched lips the greatest passion ever experienced" (TO 81). In other words, Anne, instead of greeting the unknown with the revulsion that society expects from the dying, conceals her anguish behind the veil of a serene composure. Anne, greeting the uncertainty of death with a stoical reserve, thus transforms her death into a profound sacrifice or "nothingness of love" (TO 82). Avoiding "weak emotions" and "regret," raising "the words 'give oneself' to their true meaning," she transfigures her dying form, like Jeanne d'Arc engulfed by the British-driven auto-de-fé, into an eternal flame that consecrates those around her (TO 82).

Like Socrates, who "in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or feature," took the cup of hemlock and raised it to his lips as a oblation, Anne displays noble restraint on her deathbed (Plato 276-7). Like Socrates, who met death with an indifference epitomizing the school that assembled in the porticoes or stoai of ancient Athens, she dies in a manner that in effect says, "To die well is to die with propriety" (SL 100). Through this mode of death, Anne, like Camus's Meursault, who, because he perceived that "we're all elected by the same fate," greeted his death sentence with indifference, meets the inevitability of her death with grace and solemnity (The Stranger 121).

Tranquilly facing the abyss, Anne bravely exhibits a concern for laws or conventions soon annulled. Even though she approaches a realm that renders the world's rituals meaningless, Anne persists in her observance of these conventions. Similar to J., who smiles and clasps the narrator's hand "with all the affection and all the tenderness it could," Anne thus goes away bidding farewell to her loved ones and granting pardon unto her enemies (DS 30). In other words, Anne transforms her death into a sacrifice for the other.

Purified by her suffering, the body of Anne, like J., whose "head lay on a little cushion and because of that she had the stillness of a recumbent effigy and not of a living being," comes to resemble a statue (DS 19). Like J., upon whom the narrator of the récit reflects, "She who had been absolutely alive was already no more than a statue," Anne begins on her deathbed to radiate ideal perfection (DS 20).

In further correspondence with J., who, in her delirium of her deathbed, had visions of a rose incapable of wilting, "a perfect rose" (DL 25), Anne imagines on her deathbed that she is being offered immortal or "artificial roses" (TO 78). In this manner Anne mirrors in this manner Colette Peignot (Bataille's mistress, known as Laure), who uttered in her last breath, "la rose" (EC 147). Anne's death might also remind one of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who died at the age of 24 from suffocation brought about by tuberculosis. Like Anne, St. Thérèse went away excusing the errors of others, with a lightheartedness that belied the night she inhabited and the agony of her martyrdom. In fact, the smile and the grace St. Thérèse exuded on her deathbed often persuaded the other Carmel sisters that she was getting better. So too, Anne, although she advances "into a delicious field of peace," stoically masks her suffering to such a degree that those around her cannot detect that she is slipping away from the world (TO 76). Indeed, though she prepares herself for a space that transcends the dualism of night and day, her companions, unaware that Anne clears within her bosom "a refuge of extreme silence," believe her to be in recovery (TO 77). Anne's striking appearance on her deathbed likewise reminds us of St. Thérèse's death, for we are told that at her death, St. Thérèse (now known under the sobriquet 'the little flower') appeared "very beautiful; and this is evident in the photograph taken by [her sister] Céline" (St. Thérèse 271). With these similarities in mind, one almost wants to speculate that the passing of St. Thérèse served Blanchot as a model for Anne's death.

Embodying beauty mingled with imminent death, Anne offers the world from her deathbed the contradiction of timeless florescence. Displaying an aggregate of ideal beauty in a transient form doomed to ultimately wilt and disappear, she represents the Orphic symbol par excellence. That is, like a rose in full bloom, Anne exudes on her deathbed in greater degrees the efflorescence of beauty on the verge of death. In this manner, she resembles the "phantasmal, bodiless creature [with] little animal passion" that fascinated Jude the Obscure (Hardy 272).

Similar to the heroine of Robert Bresson's Les Anges du Péché (1943), who was discovered in the vegetated cemetery radiating the grace of a martyr dying young, Anne at the onset of chapter X is found dying in the garden. However, although she approaches death for a second time, Anne emanates a repose that suggests she mentally inhabits Eden, "that she was in another garden" (TO 71). In this manner, Anne, exuding a composure that makes death seem preferable to the vicissitudes of life, presents the living with an enigma, for her serenity suggests that she nears a sunlit, utopic garden far superior to the fallen world.

Instead of existing in the night of insomnia, in the night comprised of fascination with deliriums and phantoms, Anne approaches the night of true sleep, the night that Blanchot refers to as 'the first night.' Entering this night, she begins to gradually blend and merge with the sea of the unconscious, "with the supreme consciousness of all things" (TO 76). Reaching a space similar to the Tibetan bardo, Anne broaches on a luminous realm that "does not possess any nature whatever, neither substance nor quality such as color, pure emptiness" (Tibetan 86). Nevertheless, like the imaginal men of Thomas, who want to remain conscious beyond the threshold of death, to enter the abyss under the auspices of human onomastics, part of Anne continues to struggles against the black cloak of Death. In the mode of the Greeks, this part of Anne esteems life as preferable to the underworld. As a result, this facet of Anne seeks perdurance, "to pass into death completely alive" (TO 80).

Despite her vain selves, though, Anne, resigning herself to an absence that ultimately strips one of individual consciousness, leaps beyond the "betrayed fatality" of her momentary resurrection and into the Lethean void (TO 70). In doing so, Anne turns her back on the world and all her failed attempts to reach Thomas. As she merges with her shadowy spirit, the "absolutely hidden second person deep within her," Anne begins to experience a lack of experience (TO 71). Gradually deprived of empirical sensation, she broaches upon a solitude in which, "All that she saw, all that she felt was the tearing away which separated her from what she saw and what she felt" (TO 71-2). As her spirit seemingly starts to wander beyond the clay fetters of human embodiment, the fog of eternal sleep descends about her, bringing with it oblivion.

Mingling with the dark edges of the primordial sea, with an obscurity alien to the clear and distinct light of the day, Anne, "on the threshold of the irremediable," confronts an apocalypse that simultaneously creates and destroys (TO 83). Anne soon finds herself drawn toward "bottomless valleys where the world seemed to have returned to the moment of its creation" (TO 84) where it as if, "All the fountains of the great abyss burst forth, and the flood gates of the sky were opened" (Gen. 7:11). Here Anne abruptly loses herself. In an instant, the "mysterious hand" of the hidden God nullifies the impossibility of her death and "that which could in no way be expected received its success," namely "the possibility of annihilation" (TO 84-85).

Like Eurydice, who, as a result of Orpheus's impatient gaze, died a second time, Anne fades into "limitless caprice" (TO 85). As she becomes one with the Lethean abyss, with the oblivion that shrouds all consciousness, the world grows increasingly insignificant. So although Anne discovers in her last moments "the words she had searched for all her life in order to reach him," rather than speak them to Thomas, she whispers in her last breath, "Let us sleep" (TO 86).

Forward to The Orphic Experience: VIII. Elegy and Return

Back to The Orphic Experience: VI. The Gaze


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