The Negative Eschatology of Maurice Blanchot

The Tragic Man

 II. Infinite Deliberations

Fascinated with the pale cast of Anne's corpse, Thomas comes to fully inhabit the night of the night. Here, consigned by the ambiguity of the cadaverous image to the futility of interminable work, Thomas begins to display to the world the remorse and anguish that typically haunts all unfortunate souls shipwrecked within transmigratory repetition. In other words, exposed to the interminable, Thomas feels ashamed of his stasis, of his inability to advance.

Caught in a whirl of motion that dooms him to inertia, Thomas flails in a state remote from accomplishment and definitive progress. Assaying his peril, which descends upon him like a negative epiphany, he utters, "The totality of things wrapped about me and I prepared myself for the agony with the exalted consciousness that I was unable to die" (TO 91). In this capacity, in his inability to die, Thomas, like a protagonist of a Shakespearean tragedy, comes to represent the ultimate inability for human success and achievement. He begins to reveal to humanity "the strangeness of their condition and the shame of an endless existence" (TO 91).

Transfixed by a spectral presence deprived of the right to act in the world, infinite deliberation engulfs Thomas. Consumed by the vacillation that accompanies an excess of consciousness, he finds himself plagued by the insomnia of the night. In this state, a dialectic doomed to whirl horizontally ad infinitum, without ever transcending its opposing terms through the vertical movement of Hegelian sublation or Aufhebung, takes hold of Thomas. Incapable of striking upon a resolve that might mitigate the impasse of conflicting thought, he sinks into a mire that lacks accomplishment. Overcome by incessant reversals, by an absent presence bespeaking of the unknown, death soon becomes for Thomas the "death of death" (TO 91). Death becomes the impossibility of ever arriving at a terminus capable of resolving the ambiguity of the cadaverous image, of ever experiencing the absolute end that the word 'death' signifies.

Although he can visualize the existence of a cognito, Thomas, unable to methodologically deduce this absolute, begins, like Sartre's protagonist Roquentin, to sense that contingency dominates the essence of existence. Like Igitur, who found his wagers in the tomb doomed to the relativity of a die throw ("for there is and is not chance"), Thomas begins to sense that contingency rather than order and meaning dictate worldly phenomena (SP 100). This leaves him feeling relatively insignificant and superfluous. Failing to uncover a cornerstone that might help him resolve the "play of equivocal light," he continues to flail in the futility of unresolved thought (IC 97). Like Nietzsche's Dionysian man, who upon returning to the pain of individualization "resembles Hamlet," Thomas, as his thoughts fluctuate increasingly between opposites, entertains the nauseating suspicion that his "action could not change anything in the eternal nature of things" (Nietzsche 60). Unable to strike upon any sort of resolve or course of action, Thomas's mind therefore remains consumed by the play of infinite deliberation.

Stultified by contraries preserved in everlasting opposition, Thomas finds himself battered between affirmation and negation in a circumvolution he is powerless to halt. As these vicissitudes claim possession over him ad nauseam, he confronts, like the tragic man Blanchot speaks of in The Infinite Conversation, "the incessant necessity of infinitely beginning anew" (IC 444). Of these vicissitudes, Blanchot writes:

Let us note well that all the contradictions in which we exist--the misfortune of a thought that has nothing with which to begin and dissipates from one infinite to the other; the ambiguity by which we are scattered, not dwelling, incessantly coming and going, always here and there and yet nowhere, curious with regard to everything in order not to stop anywhere; a world in which nothing is either present or absent, where there is neither proximity not distance, where everything escapes, leaving us the illusion of having everything--all this is the consequence of a dispersing, pervasive, and errant obscurity that we have not had the force to fix in place (IC 96).

Intimate with emptiness similar to that of the Holy Sepulcher, with a loss that forever evokes the great divide between the finite and infinite, between the embodied and disembodied, Thomas persists as a creature of unrealized longing. For even though he keeps company with a corpse, he in fact bears no actual relationship with the death and the afterworld. Thomas consequently again encounters the impossibility of death. In this context, Blanchot uses 'the impossibility of death' as a metonymy to describe Thomas's estrangement from the world of the ideal, for although Thomas can imagine its existence, this ideal world remains, like Pascal's God, hidden, without limits and beyond comprehension. 'The impossibility of death' likewise becomes a means for Blanchot to describe Thomas's remoteness from the presence that previously inhabited Anne. In other words, 'the impossibility of death' refers to Thomas's struggle with the mystery of what may or may not lie beyond the threshold of death; it invokes the impossibility for eschatological knowledge, for knowing whether God, an afterworld and/or an immortal soul actually exist. It ultimately stresses the fact that Thomas bears no easy relation with death.

However, despite the incongruity that segregates the embodied from the disembodied, Thomas nevertheless attempts, although he knows it is vain, to fathom what lies beyond the veil of death. Hoping to gain a better understanding of obscure Anne, he allows his imagination free reign to wander in search of an obscure presence similar to the one that vanished when Anne died. As he considers his options, Thomas, not yet resolved to the death of Mallarmé's Igitur, dismisses suicide as a possible means for bringing about a reunion with Anne. He states, "killing myself: absurd plan...No poison might unite me with that which could bear no name" (TO 97). Like Hamlet, who, rather than commit felo-de-se, resigned himself to "the pale cast of thought," Thomas thereby consigns himself to the static reversals of inertia (Ham. 3.1.84).

Swung within a vortex of mutability, Thomas continues to encounter the impossibility of death. Bound within awareness battered between polar opposites, it becomes plainly obvious to him that he cannot interrupt through the elevation of synthesis the horizontal reversals of consciousness. Considering this interminable state and the evasiveness of death, he laments, "Was it then a fantasy, this enigma, the creation of a word maliciously formed to destroy all words?" (TO 97). Continually torn between the invisible or intangible and the visible or tangible, Thomas, divided among discrete moieties, broaches upon an utterly neutral state, where he earns the epithet attached to his name. Indeed, as he falls prey to the conflict and indecision of paradox, Thomas earns the epithet he shares with Heraclitus the Obscure, the weeping philosopher.

Forward to The Tragic Man: III. Obscure Thomas

Back to The Tragic Man: I. Absent Presence


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