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The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me.

The mark of Lydia Davis's translation can be cited right away in the American title for this most recent of Maurice Blanchot's fictions to appear in English. Davis's elegant variation of Blanchot's French title (Celui qui ne m'accompagnait pas--a "straight" translation might be "The One (or He) Who Was Not Accompanying Me") carries in the word apart the echo of Blanchot's ambivalent terminal pas--both a "step" and a prohibition, an advancement and an interdictive "no." This double movement, of uncertainty, paradox--something given and something taken away--works at the heart of Blanchot's writing.

This particular recit--the word brings up its musical parallels, "recital" or "recitatif"--appears here a full forty years after it first came out in French. The work takes the form of a conversation, an interview. An obsessive questioning back and forth builds up Blanchot's narrative, with its sense--shared with Kafka's famous "doorkeeper" parable--that behind each question lies the spooky possibility of a further, more imposing, more insoluble question. Melveille's "Bartleby" is close to this work, in its spirit and potency--where, for example, he writes, "for it seemed to me that I belonged, not to the order of things that happen and that one remembers with joy or sadness, but to the element of hunger and emptiness where what does not take place, because of that, begins again and again without any beginning or any respite."

Thematically, powerlessness, inertia, insufficient speech, weariness, falling, faltering--everything tied to a negative or nonexistent value in ordinary discourse is given here by its being articulated, moved into writing and thought. What's insignificant or worthless gathers weight through its troubling persistence, its failure to disappear--and by Blanchot's adherence to these barely audible voices.

The address to these "negatives," these voides or hollow spaces is--another paradox--without cynicism. There's none of the speed of fiction about Blanchot. Or rather, it disappears, breaks down. An initial openness decelerates, slows to an impacted pace. Careful attention seems too fast, to push you past the reading, to lose it. What keeps it compelling (keeps it happening) in its fragility. Enigmatically liberating and tied up around its knotted complex, the "endless" conversation of Blanchot's writing turns "fiction" toward an experience of listening--a far cry from the storytelling most fiction (still) takes itself to be. [Steve Dickison]
COPYRIGHT 1994 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Dickison, Steve
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Words:376
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