Aaron Hillyer considers the implications of Maurice Blanchot's strange formulation: "Literature is heading to its essence, which is its disappearance."





Aaron Hillyer, The Disappearance of Literature: Blanchot, Agamben, and the Writers of the No. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

In this book Aaron Hillyer considers the implications of Maurice Blanchot's strange formulation: "Literature is heading to its essence, which is its disappearance." This quest leads Hillyer to stage a dialogue between the works of Blanchot and Giorgio Agamben. Despite being primary points of reference for literary theory, no significant critical work has examined their "literary" writings together. The Disappearance of Literature initiates this new trajectory through readings of Blanchot's The Unavowable Community and Agamben's The Open, two short books that harbor their most enigmatic writings. A series of related concepts—study, community, mysticism, and friendship—emerges from this pairing, and, Hillyer argues, forms the basis of a new vein of contemporary literature found in the novels and hybrid fictions of Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne Carson, and Cesar Aira.


"To its disappearance," is how Maurice Blanchot tells where literature is headed in a brief essay from 1953. Blanchot's exhortation to his fellow writers, "what will we do to disappear?" serves as the epigraph for a 2002 novel by Enrique Vila-Matas, Montano's Malady. In The Disappearance of Literature Vila-Matas is counted with Giorgio Agamben, Anne Carson and Cesar Aira among a constellation of writers that have more or less explicitly pursued the implications of Blanchot's claim in their own works. The principal aim of this study is to raise signposts that begin to register how these writers wield the potential that can be glimpsed in Blanchot's statement, which is an exemplary attempt to formulate the mode literature assumes when it is aligned with what has been termed by continental philosophy, in the Spinoza-Nietzsche-Deleuze lineage of thought, as an "immanent" ontology. The present work is the first sustained scholarly engagement with this increasingly vibrant literary tendency, which, Hillyer claims, attains political significance by showing how literature and innovative action spring from shared resources and experiences. This study concludes with a consideration of friendship as the paradigm for the literature and politics that emerge from the encounters it registers.^

In this book, Aaron Hillyer attends, with sensitivity and erudition, to the implications of one of the most startling paradoxes of literature: that its essence may be disappearance. Through a sequence of meditations on the vicissitudes of negativity, with Giorgio Agamben and Maurice Blanchot as his guides, Hillyer explores the divagations of writing in the non-works of Melville, Kafka, C sar Aira, Anne Carson, Enrique Vila-Matas, and others. In doing so, he attempts to imagine 'a new human innocence.' -- Justin Clemens

The disappearance of literature is one of Maurice Blanchot's most provocative, paradoxical, yet affirmative propositions, one that binds the future of writing neither to modernist autonomy nor to oppositional negativity, but to an essential vanishing of all essentiality. In this probing new book, Aaron Hillyer expertly traces the faultlines of interpretation and misunderstanding between Blanchot and Agamben regarding literature's vocation, calling on a host of philosophical and fictional writings, from Bataille to Benjamin, Derrida to Duras, C sar Aira to Anne Carson and Enrique Vila-Matas, in order to study, solicit, and survey the possibilities and impossibilities announced by literature's disappearance. -- Leslie Hill

The Disappearance of Literature is not another disquisition on the alleged death of the novel. Instead, it sets out to chart “the paths still open” to fiction; those that, in Aaron Hillyer’s view, are being explored by the “writers of the No” referred to in the book’s subtitle. The appellation was coined by Enrique Vila-Matas in Bartleby & Co. (2000) to designate authors, who – taking their cue from Melville’s agraphic scrivener — “would prefer not to”. This radical negativity is constitutive of artistic modernity, to the point of often merging with it, as in Hofmannstahl’s aphasia-afflicted Lord Chandos, Rimbaud’s years-long silence, Valéry’s Monsieur Teste, the Dada suicides, Robert Musil’s unfinishable masterpiece, Kazimir Malevich and Robert Rauschenberg’s monochromes, John Cage’s mute music, Yves Klein’s empty exhibitions, the libraries of unpublished or unwritten books, and erasure poetry.
Studies of “Bartleby’s syndrome” tend to focus on its transcendent strain — works haunted by the ideal forms of which they are but imperfect instantiations, every book being, as Walter Benjamin put it, “the death mask of its conception”. The holy grail, however, is the ur-text in which everything would be said: Stéphane Mallarmé’s notion of “Le Livre”, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s volume that would cause all the others “to explode”, or Jorge Luis Borges’s “catalogue of catalogues”, rumoured to be lurking on some dusty shelf in the Library of Babel. This materialization of the Absolute in codex form is, of course, a doomed quest. In its place, Hillyer champions an immanent version of literature, which no longer refers to “a richer source of meaning that cannot be conveyed in the word on the page or the voice in the air”. He attempts to discover what function fiction can fulfil once it has been liberated from mimesis and the spectre of the total book.
If language cannot speak the world, “can the world speak in language”? That is the crucial question at the heart of The Disappearance of Literature. It proceeds from an agonistic relation to language, which is construed as a curse or, at best, a negative force. From this post-Hegelian perspective, words give us the world by taking it away: they negate things and beings in their singularity, replacing them with concepts. The answer, Hillyer argues, is to negate the negation by deactivating “the tendencies that cause our experience of the world to be as abstract as the language we use to describe it”. Literature must go through a “zone of decreation” that deactivates its habitual signifying and informative functions “in order to communicate communicability itself, openness to the world itself”. Such openness is predicated on the author coinciding with his or her work; disappearing momentarily into a thingly, asignifying language that now speaks itself. Only a writer who has vanished into “the pure event of the word” – where the telling becomes the teller — may express (although not in so many words) “what absolutely escapes our language”.
Hillyer’s point of departure is Maurice Blanchot’s gnomic prediction that “Literature is heading towards itself, towards its essence, which is its disappearance”. What the French thinker and novelist outlined in Le Livre à venir (1959) was nothing short of an anti-realist manifesto. As Fredric Jameson recently demonstrated in The Antinomies of Realism (2013), the nineteenth-century novel took on an Adamic quality, by systematically colonizing aspects of experience (the “vulgarly ineffable”, according to Hillyer) that had no prior linguistic expression. In contrast, Blanchot heralded a counter-movement of linguistic decolonization, akin to the young Beckett’s “literature of the unword”. The “new mode of telling” analysed in these pages is thus also a new mode of not telling; “a refusal to impersonate the impersonal, to lend one’s lips… to a voice that does not belong to one”.
Unlike their realist forebears, the writers of the No do not strive to extend the unsayable in words. For them, language becomes a “procedure” designed “to indicate what passes beyond it”: their words “stand beside the unfolding of the world that remains unexpressed, gestured to, within them”. This gestural, apocalyptic writing is illustrated, for instance, by Macedonio Fernández’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (1967), a series of prologues to a novel that never gets going. The aforementioned Bartleby & Co. is likewise presented as a series of footnotes to an invisible text that only exists in outline. In Reading the Remove of Literature (2006), Nick Thurston erased the text of Blanchot’s The Remove of Literature, keeping only his own marginalia.
The Disappearance of Literature is a highly ambitious work that moves seamlessly from theory to praxis. Its theoretical underpinning is a critique by Giorgio Agamben of Blanchot’s mystical tendencies, in which the latter is never even “explicitly mentioned”. In spite of such an inauspiciously tenuous premiss, Hillyer goes on to make a strong case for reading the Italian philosopher’s The Opening as “unfolding” from The Unavowable Community. More importantly, this gives him the opportunity to explore Blanchot’s intuition about the disappearance of literature through the works of others — César Aira, Anne Carson and Vila-Matas in particular. He also does so, thematically, by analysing figures such as the student, the flâneur and the mystic, whose potentiality never completely translates into actuality, making them emblems of the “literature of the future”.
The fragmentary nature of this experimental work reflects a similar refusal to realize its full potential — to pretend that all the dots can be joined — as well as a rejection of narrative determinism. Combined with the author’s subtlety of mind and impressive erudition, it may, however, leave some readers baffled at times. Hillyer’s crucial contention that the “self-unfolding of the world” is the source of literature and art is taken as a given, as is the messianic correlation between the emergence of a new language and a new world. The numerous phrases used to refer to the unindividuated aspect of being — the void, the impersonal, the neuter, the absolute, Genius, etc — may prove confusing, and it is only on page 91 that the notion of “forward dawning” is linked back to Ernst Bloch (which is rather surprising given that the book derives from a PhD dissertation). These are very minor quibbles. The Disappearance of Literature is not only a thrilling addition to the growing body of work tracing the emergence of a literature of disappearance, but it also signals the birth of an important new critical voice. In recent years, few people have spoken about what escapes language with such extraordinary eloquence. - Andrew Gallix


Aaron Hillyer: IRONY, STYLE, HAPPINESS


In this book, Aaron Hillyer attends, with sensitivity and erudition, to the implications of one of the most startling paradoxes of literature: that its essence may be disappearance. Through a sequence of meditations on the vicissitudes of negativity, with Giorgio Agamben and Maurice Blanchot as his guides, Hillyer explores the divagations of writing in the non-works of Melville, Kafka, César Aira, Anne Carson, Enrique Vila-Matas, and others. In doing so, he attempts to imagine 'a new human innocence.'” –  Justin Clemens, Senior Lecturer in English, University of Melbourne, Australia,
“The disappearance of literature is one of Maurice Blanchot's most provocative, paradoxical, yet affirmative propositions, one that binds the future of writing neither to modernist autonomy nor to oppositional negativity, but to an essential vanishing of all essentiality. In this probing new book, Aaron Hillyer expertly traces the faultlines of interpretation and misunderstanding between Blanchot and Agamben regarding literature's vocation, calling on a host of philosophical and fictional writings, from Bataille to Benjamin, Derrida to Duras, César Aira to Anne Carson and Enrique Vila-Matas, in order to study, solicit, and survey the possibilities and impossibilities announced by literature's disappearance.” –  Leslie Hill, Professor, Department of French Studies, University of Warwick, UK,
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- See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-disappearance-of-literature-9781623565121/#sthash.kXdfKJzR.dpuf
llyer considers the implications of Maurice Blanchot's strange formulation: "Literature is heading to its essence, which is its disappearance." This quest leads Hillyer to stage a dialogue between the works of Blanchot and Giorgio Agamben. Despite being primary points of reference for literary theory, no significant critical work has examined their "literary" writings together. The Disappearance of Literature initiates this new trajectory through readings of Blanchot's The Unavowable Community and Agamben's The Open, two short books that harbor their most enigmatic writings. A series of related concepts-study, community, mysticism, and friendship-emerges from this pairing, and, Hillyer argues, forms the basis of a new vein of contemporary literature found in the novels and hybrid fictions of Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne Carson, and Cesar Aira. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-disappearance-of-literature-9781623565121/#sthash.kXdfKJzR.dpuf
n this book Aaron Hillyer considers the implications of Maurice Blanchot's strange formulation: "Literature is heading to its essence, which is its disappearance." This quest leads Hillyer to stage a dialogue between the works of Blanchot and Giorgio Agamben. Despite being primary points of reference for literary theory, no significant critical work has examined their "literary" writings together. The Disappearance of Literature initiates this new trajectory through readings of Blanchot's The Unavowable Community and Agamben's The Open, two short books that harbor their most enigmatic writings. A series of related concepts-study, community, mysticism, and friendship-emerges from this pairing, and, Hillyer argues, forms the basis of a new vein of contemporary literature found in the novels and hybrid fictions of Enrique Vila-Matas, Anne Carson, and Cesar Aira. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-disappearance-of-literature-9781623565121/#sthash.kXdfKJzR.dpuf

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