In 1994, my mother had just died. I went to visit my father on Rue Michel-Ange. I found him on the telephone with Maurice Blanchot.
To my knowledge, this had almost never occurred.
In expressing their mourning, they said tu to one another. The words broke up over their first names: Maurice, Emmanuel. There was between the two of them an inexpressible connection that for thirty years had only been expressed through letters and the dedications of their books.
“Raissa is dead,” Blanchot was saying. The sentence hung there. It was not necessary to expand. “Raissa is dead.” What I heard there was like an echo from the forties. The voice of “broken and martyred France,” but the eternal France that my father had always loved.
Standing there next to my father, I then remembered June 1961. Maurice Blanchot was involved in the political battle of the time. June 1961 was the last encounter between Maurice Blanchot and Emmanuel Levinas. I was present, a child hardly twelve years of age.
There had been a great event in my father’s life the previous evening. I was there, too.
It was the thesis defense of Emmanuel Levinas in the old Sorbonne. The Liard amphitheater was full. The French university was getting Totality and Infinity.
On the jury were Jean Wahl, Vladimir Jankelevitch, Paul Ricoeur, Gabriel Marcel, and Georges Blin. In the audience standing very discretely was Maurice, always the friend, the unique and brotherly interlocutor. It was the following morning that Maurice Blanchot came to visit Emmanuel Levinas at his home on 59 rue d’Auteuil. He had, it seems to me, been there several times since the war. This thesis defense of the previous evening marked the end of my father’s institutional isolation. Undoubtedly emotion dominated, too strong. Words were pointless.
What could they say to one another?
I was present for a strange and sublime “pas de deux” in that living room on Auteuil, where Totality and Infinity had been written in sorrow.
There was in this room a silent emotion interrupted by attempts at speaking.
The impossible words were fragmented like broken sobs.
There remained only the“tu”and their given names, Maurice, Emmanuel. They paradoxically helped to veil the extreme intensity of the connection, just as they would much later in 1994.
My father stood almost perfectly still in front of the fireplace while Maurice performed a series of scholarly and continuous circumvolutions in that living room.
To the child that I was at the time, Blanchot appeared immeasurably elongated and thin. He was very handsome. He walked with his chest slightly inclined like Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche.
I felt the bond between the two men. It had been forged at the heart of the twentieth century’s great tragedies and nearly miraculous consolations: the Russian revolution, Nazism and its defeat, and the creation of the State of Israel.
But I could foresee at the moment of this last encounter that the forms of the connection uniting these two men were again going to be radicalized.
Why did this occur precisely on this morning of June 1961, the day after the defense of Totality and Infinity? I would not know exactly how to go about analyzing this.
The speech that carries within itself the inevitable memory of the profane and the dailiness of language became improper to use without betraying, for Maurice and Emmanuel, the infinite complexity of the values of life, of thought. It was a question of leaving intact everything that forged the connection between Blanchot and Levinas since Strasbourg in the 1920s.
That morning in June of 1961 they left one another to pursue this indissoluble connection in a proximity that was still greater for being further away, disengaged from all trivial orality.
They never again saw each other face to face. And that left room for a correspondence that so often was sublime and essential.
Michael Levinas, The Final Meeting between Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot [Technically, it wasn't their final meeting - Derrida recalls visiting Levinas with Blanchot in 1968]