Dying and the Death Sentence

maurice blanchot death sentence sidharth vaardhan review analysis
maurice blanchot death sentence sidharth vaardhan review analysis
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(Death Sentence – A novel (1948) by Maurice Blanchot
A review by Sidharth Vardhan
(4 / 5))


The first half is narrator talking about his dying wife, J. – who strangely looked more and more like a child closer she got to death and even came back to life after her first death once. J.’s reactions to her own approaching death.

“Every minute stolen from solitude and fear was an inestimable boon for J. She fought with all her strength for one single minute: not with supplications, but inwardly, though she did not wish to admit it. Children are that way: silently, with the fervor of hopeless desire, they give orders to the world, and sometimes the world obeys them. The sickness had made a child of J.; but her energy was too great, and she could not dissipate it in small things, but only in great things, the greatest things.”

…..or narrator’s attitude towards her (or later as he tries to get over death) seem to justify the title.

“The only difference, and it was a large one, was that I was living in proud intimacy with terror; I was too shallow to see the misery and worthlessness of this intimacy, and I did not understand that it would demand something of me that a man cannot give. My only strong point was my silence. Such a great silence seems incredible to me when I think about it, not a virtue, because it in no way occurred to me to talk, but precisely that the silence never said to itself: be careful, there is something here which you owe me an explanation for, the fact that neither my memory, nor my daily life, nor my work, nor my actions, nor my spoken words, nor the words which come from my fingertips ever alluded directly or indirectly to the thing which my whole person was physically engrossed in. I cannot understand this reserve, and I who am now speaking turn bitterly towards those silent days, those silent years, as towards an inaccessible, unreal country, closed off from everyone, and most of all from myself, yet where I have lived during a large part of my life, without exertion, without desire, by a mystery which astonishes me now. I have lost silence, and the regret I feel over that is immeasurable. I cannot describe the pain that invades a man once he has begun to speak. It i a motionless pain that is itself pledged to muteness; because of it, the unbreathable is the element I breathe. I have shut myself up in a room, alone, there is no one in the house, almost no one outside, but this solitude has itself begun to speak, and I must in turn speak about this speaking solitude, not in derision, but because a greater solitude hovers above it, and above that solitude, another still greater, and each, taking the spoken word in order to smother it and silence it, instead echoes it to infinity, and infinity becomes its echo.”

maurice blanchot death sentence sidharth vaardhan review analysis
Maurice Blanchot

The narrator even agreed to her once that her death was long overdue. And it was all so powerful until J. died for second time, after that though prose sustained its beauty, the story seemed to fall apart as we see Narrator trying to get over the loss of his wife through different cognitive responses – running away (choosing to live in hotels instead of his own place); being violent towards a woman to carry out frustration, indulging in self-delusion (because reality was too much) etc in a number of apparently unrelated incidences and thus some of the negative reviews here.

“As for me, I have not been the unfortunate messenger of a thought stronger than I, nor its plaything, nor its victim, because that thought if it has conquered me, has only conquered through me, and in the end has always been equal to me. I have loved it and I have loved only it, and everything that happened I wanted to happen, and having had regard only for it, wherever it was or wherever I might have been, in absence, in unhap- piness, in the inevitability of dead things, in the necessity of living things, in the fatigue of work, in the faces born of my curiosity, in my false words, in my deceitful vows, in silence and in the night, I gave it all my strength and it gave me all its strength, so that this strength is too great, it is incapable of being ruined by anything, and condemns us, perhaps, to immeasurable unhappi- ness, but if that is so, I take this unhappiness on myself and I am immeasurably glad of it and to that thought I say eternally, “Come,” and eternally it is there.”

*

“People who are silent do not seem admirable to me because of that, nor yet less friendly. The ones who speak, or at least who speak to me because I have asked them a question, often seem to me the most silent, either because they evoke silence in me, or because, knowingly or unknowingly, they shut themselves up with me in an enclosed place where the person who questions them allies them with answers that their mouths do not hear.”

– March 20, 2018
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