The Negative Eschatology of Maurice Blanchot
The Orphic Experience

 V. Reunion

Discovering that he persists within the hole he has burrowed into the netherworld, that his concave instrument (similar to the Orphic lyre) returns him to the one earlier lost, Thomas approaches Anne, who languishes within the garden of the dead. However, upon entering Tartarus ("the deserted world"), instead of immediately coming across Anne, Thomas encounters a procession of shadowy phantoms or "vanished corpses, the emptied men" (TO 43). Like the congregation of dead souls that approached Odysseus during his Nekya, who were prevented from drinking the sacrificial blood that induces truthful speech, this procession of shades remain duplicitous (Homer bk. XI: 49-50). Therefore, despite Thomas's attempts to fathom the specters, they remain, as they mingle with the vanishing point of the infernal void, "shapeless and mute" (TO 42).

However, despite their ambiguity, Thomas searches among the shadows for Anne. As he searches, he hopes that, unlike the mutable and ambiguous shades, Anne will have remained a constant and fixed presence, that she will have passed into this liminal land of the dead "without ceasing to be Anne" (TO 43). Thomas in other words envisions Anne as a presence that will somehow resist dissolution and withstand the test of doubt.

Meanwhile Anne, upon seeing Thomas, immediately recognizes him as the double to whom she is indissolubly linked. She recognizes him as "this inevitable being in whom she recognized the one she might try in vain to escape, but would meet again every day" (TO 41). Bound together in this manner by fate, Thomas and Anne come to resemble the tragic doubles Jude the Obscure and Sue Bridehead, for Jude and Sue, although separated by the law of the day, also remained inexorably tied to one another.

Mimicking the intimacy of Jude the Obscure and Sue Bridehead, who "seem to be one person split in two," Thomas and Anne enjoy a reunion characterized by sympathetic similitude and reciprocity (Hardy 242). Within this state the words Thomas utters, "might as well have been in one mouth as the other, so completely did he let her do as she wished" (TO 47). However, again mirroring the interactions of Jude and Sue, who, due to their vacillation, never succeeded in consummating their affinity through marriage, Thomas and Anne, once they are reunited, also share a relationship comprised of torn intimacy. For like Sue Bridehead, who took Jude for granted to the degree that he pursued her, Anne clings to Thomas in a manner that induces him to sink into a state of reticent laconism and despondency. As a result, "The more he withdrew within himself, the more she came frivolously forward" (TO 47). Thomas and Anne thereby embody the archetypal plight of ill-fated lovers. Like Tristan and Isolde, of whom Blanchot writes "these lovers...give the impression of an intimacy that is absolute yet absolutely without intimacy," Thomas and Anne seem to know each other and yet be doomed to never know one another (IC 190-1).

Operating as a palimpsest of the tragic story inscribed within the pages of Jude the Obscure, the relationship of Thomas and Anne, as it totters to either side of a zero point, perpetually homes in on the naught of separation. As each of them separately harbor the impossible dream of encountering a perfect double within the fallen world, a state of non-occurrence dominates them. Thomas and Anne therefore enter "a story emptied of events...nevertheless drawing from this absence its inflexible direction which seemed to carry everything away in the irresistible movement toward an imminent catastrophe" (TO 50-1).

Despite the burden of fate, though, Anne attempts to communicate with Thomas. Although the ambiguity of language makes it so "she might say nothing true no matter how she might speak," she nevertheless seeks to somehow ignore the equally plausible words her utterance excludes (TO 57). Anne first asks Thomas the question, "Really, who could you be?" But in posing such a question to Thomas, Anne quickly realizes that she exposes herself to a taciturn, absent presence (TO 48). Moreover, she realizes that, in asking Thomas a question, she welcomes language, an element with a propensity for dissimulation and deception. As a result, similar to an exchange in the Robert Bresson film The Devil, Probably (1977), in which one character requests of her lover, "Tell me nothing," as Thomas begins his rejoinder, Anne utters, "Be quiet" (TO 49).

Sensing that the cause of her separation from Thomas originates in his absent presence, Anne begins to believe that, in order to approach Thomas, she must mirror his absent presence and inhabit "an infinite distance" (TO 55). Although she realizes that death might only involve her in the perpetual return of the same or "the eternal race in the labyrinth," she nonetheless begins to believe that she must transcend the limits of individualization through recourse to this end (TO 59). Coming to regard the unknown as a space that will alleviate her separation from Thomas, she begins to hope for a cataclysm, for an event not unlike the double suicide that dissolves the ménage à trois in Truffaut's film Jules and Jim (1961). In other words, she places her hopes in the abyss.

Forward to The Orphic Experience: VI. The Gaze

Back to The Orphic Experience: IV. Descent


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