The Imperative to Write: Destitutions of the Sublime in Kafka, Blanchot, and Beckett

The Imperative to Write: Destitutions of the Sublime in Kafka, Blanchot, and Beckett

by Jeff Fort


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Is writing haunted by a categorical imperative? Does the Kantian sublime continue to shape the writer’s vocation, even for twentieth-century authors? What precise shape, form, or figure does this residue of sublimity take in the fictions that follow from it—and that leave it in ruins?

This book explores these questions through readings of three authors who bear witness to an ambiguous exigency: writing as a demanding and exclusive task, at odds with life, but also a mere compulsion, a drive without end or reason, even a kind of torture. If Kafka, Blanchot, and Beckett mimic a sublime vocation in their extreme devotion to writing, they do so in full awareness that the trajectory it dictates leads not to metaphysical redemption but rather downward, into the uncanny element of fiction. As this book argues, the sublime has always been a deeply melancholy affair, even in its classical Kantian form, but it is in the attenuated speech of narrative voices progressively stripped of their resources and rewards that the true nature of this melancholy is revealed.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823254699
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 03/03/2014
Pages: 440
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Jeff Fort is Associate Professor of French at the University of California, Davis, and the translator of more than a dozen books, by Jean Genet, Jacques Derrida, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Luc Nancy, and others.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: "Why Do You Write?"-The Fault of Writing

Part I: Kafka
1. Kafka's Teeth: The Literary Gewissenbiß
2. The Ecstasy of Judgment: Ungrasping Justice
3. Embodied Violence and the Leap from the Law: "In the Penal Colony" and The Trial
4. Degradation of the Sublime: "A Hunger Artist"

Part II: Blanchot
5. Pointed Instants: Blanchot's Exigencies
6. The Shell and the Mask: L'arrêt de mort
7. The Dead Look: The Death Mask, the Corpse Image, and the Haunting of Fiction

Part III: Beckett
8. Beckett's Voices and the Paradox of Expression

Conclusion: Speech Unredeemed-From the Call of Conscience to the Torture of Language


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