‘Why write?’, or Blanchot’s double paradox of writing, through Hegel’s paradox of action
Hegel’s paradox of action
The paradox of action for Hegel is that I can only discover who I am by acting, but acting already presupposes that I know who I am: ‘an individual cannot know what he really is until he has made himself a reality through action’. [The Spiritual Animal Kingdom, in Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit]. This means that he already has to determine the end of his action [that is, the end in the Aristotelian sense of telos, as the final aim; but he has to do this] before he has acted, even though it is only the action itself that will prove that he has made the right decision.
[What is more fundamental, is not the ‘rightfulness’ of the decision, but in fact the very possibility of action – what Hegel aims at, it seems to me, is the very possibility of action without knowledge of self. Any knowledge of self must come through action, but the paradox is exactly in the possibility of action without knowledge of oneself – Arendt calls this the only possibility to disclose oneself to others, and therefore also the only form of politics. In other words, it seems that Hegel aims to point out that action must first presume an actor, but the actor is not simply a physical force with chain reactions, as would be ticking a domino; the actor must have a sense of knowledge of themselves in order to act outside this deterministic sense].
This seems to be a vicious circle in which there is no way to get out. This means that he just has to begin, for this will be the only proof that his action was the right one or not.
[It is exactly because of the impossibility of action prior to actor, that there is a necessity for acting as a beginning. Here too we can make use of Arendt, but in this case with her notion of natality – by virtue of birth alone, human beings bring something new into the world; this miracle, she claims, is not simply a biological one, but especially a political one. If we are to follow this through onto a metaphysical sense, however, one could say that birth itself is the initiating action, the cause of all causes, or the ‘unmoved mover’ to go back to Aristotelian terminology].
Blanchot’s first paradox of writing
Blanchot transforms this dilemma into the impasse of writing. He asks whether it was at all possible to be a writer, for to write implies that one has talent to write; that is to say, that one is a writer before one writes. And yet one only becomes a writer through writing itself. To write one needs to write, or as Blanchot describes it ‘he has no talent until he has written, but he needs talent in order to write’ . This paradox demonstrates that the writer is dependent on his work, rather than his work just being dependent on him. It is not enough that he contemplates his work in his imagination. He actually has to get down and do the writing for himself. Without the work he is nothing, but likewise without him, the work is also nothing. Is this the nothing that Blanchot says is at the heart of literature? There isn’t a solution to this problem; rather the writer simply has to write. He has to throw himself into the projects as though he were launching himself into the unknown. When he does that he realises that the work he is writing is himself, and he only needs to recognise himself in it. The work then seems to be a project of the writer who finds himself confirmed in it, if the starting point is arbitrary and random. The book confirms the existence of the writer. Thus, when Kafka writes the sentence, Blanchot imagines, ‘he was looking out of the window’, he becomes an author through it, and was not an author before it: ‘it is the source of his existence, he has made it and it makes him, it is himself and he is completely what it is’ . This is the wonderful thing about writing, and it doesn’t matter whether it is bad or good, that it is a perfect translation from what is inside to an outside, since what is outside is what creates the inside.
[Here, one has to remember that according to Foucault, and I agree with him to greater extent than to Blanchot, ‘one writes in order to forget’ – what Foucault means, to some degree at least, is that one cannot will to write without the urge to leave the problem behind him. In this, then, one does not only write as a beginning, but already as a continuation of something else within the writer. So we can easily imagine here that the writer is indeed born, albeit not in that specific sense of a great writer, or even a mediocre one – any writer who picks up the medium of writing from whichever cause, must find that medium his or her medium; and of course, it could be any other medium than writing].
Blanchot’s second paradox of writing
I confirm myself in what I have written. But we might add, ‘so what?’. Having written the sentence, what other meaning has it except for the writer? What relation does it have to the world? The sentence, if it is written down, really does have another relation, and that is to the reader.
[This move seems quite obvious, but it need not be. There is a lot of writing, if not the majority, that is not intended to any reader; and I do not mean this in any particular sense – to any reader in sight, etc. Quite the opposite, if one writes in order to forget, or from whichever position that one wishes to escape, his or her writing is not intended to be read, not even by the writer – at least not initially].