The Negative Eschatology of Maurice Blanchot
The Orphic Experience

IV. Descent

Similar to Orpheus, who, according to myth, composed hymns to the night and descended into Hades after his bride Eurydice, Thomas embarks on a Nekya that immediately plunges him into the essential night. Here, in "the night of the night" or the dark night of the soul that excludes the true rest of sleep, Thomas encounters the ominous portent of a dying cat (TO 34). In a voice attributed to it by Thomas, this cat laments the impossibility of death, that is, the horror of facing an iterative task without conclusion. The cat utters, "I am surrounded by a special void which repels me and which I wouldn't know how to cross over" (TO 33).

As it finishes what seems to be its last soliloquy, the cat hears Thomas scratching the earth, digging his own grave. Thomas, through this excavation, uncovers the hole located near the lake of Avenas that leads to Erebus. Similar to Jude the Obscure, who buried his theological texts in a shallow hole, Thomas takes this hole for his tomb and stoically tosses himself into it with a stone tied around his neck. With this act, it is as if Thomas, haunted by that reciprocity and world of understanding he sensed in the gaze he exchanged with Anne, has decided to descent into Hades to either locate Anne or die.

However, when Thomas lands in the tomb, he discovers it is already occupied by his double, obscure Thomas. Faced with this repetition, with his mirror image, Thomas begins to consider the possibility that his journey into the underworld will only mire him in the endless repetition of eternal transmigration. So rather than encounter in the tomb deafening silence, silence that, as with the breaking of the seventh seal in the book of Revelation, announces the beginning of the end, Thomas only discovers the perpetual beginning of the beginning (4:5). In other words, Thomas encounters a caesura that mimes the eternal futurity of the apocalypse.

Like the gibbeted man who, as the noose constricts around his throat, feels himself "bound as he had never been before to the existence he would like to leave," Thomas encounters death as the impossibility of death (TO 36). Death becomes a terminus infinitely one step beyond the pace of his annihilation, a light at the end of an unending tunnel. As a result, Thomas begins to recognize that, because death subjects human consciousness to an infinite realm and dehumanizes awareness, it as an inevitability that he paradoxically cannot experience. Plagued by the impossibility of death, by what at first appear to be a freedom even though it is a curse of endlessness, Thomas enters, "the core of an infinity where he was bound by the very absence of limits" (TO 37).

Burrowed into a hole hollowed out to succeed where the sea failed, to permit disembodied awareness, Thomas, as he starts to suffocate (as if crucified), nevertheless encounters death as that which perpetually resides beyond the limits of human awareness. Finding himself unable to die and thus, in a sense, resurrected from the pit of his phenomenological expedition, he becomes "the only true Lazarus" (TO 38).

Forward to The Orphic Experience: V. Reunion

Back to The Orphic Experience: III. Book of Shadows


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