The writer, discontent with writing, miserable at the loneliness of the writing life, can always enter the political world. Bind yourself body and soul to a political cause and you tie your misery to something determinate. It is the state of the world, you will mutter, that makes me despair. And thus you can dream like Kafka of travelling to Palestine and beginning a new life there, or, like Mishima, of the great deed which will, as it were, set fire to your literary works, binding your name henceforward to the Emperor. The writer’s dream: a community like Lawrence's Rananim in which all will live frugally and in peace; here is a work of creation that is now communal and egalitarian.
One finds the desire for a collective labour in which each works alongside another in the days after the liberation of Paris: the experience of the Resistance is paramount; a new optimism is born. With the reading of Hegel – or with Kojève’s Hegel – it is a matter of transforming society and the human being by the same stroke in the same movement. The dream of communism begins: we will work together, struggle together, in view of the glorious future. We will learn the ‘diamat’ (the name for Stalin’s distillation of Marxian philosophy into several key theses) and recite it; we have all the answers. An admirable, optimistic dream, but one that threatens to shatter itself when the horrors of the Stalinist Soviet Union become clear.
Another communism kind is born in the groups who break themselves free from the French Communist Party. The Arguments group – Axelos, Lefebvre, Mascolo, Chatelet and others – remain highly significant. Axelos studies Heidegger and argues that Marx’s metaphysics remains productivist; the notions of work and production become problematic. Communism is no longer bound to work, to actualisation, but set in a much more complex fashion into the history of metaphysics. The lessons of Heidegger's Letter on Humanism have been learnt. Lefebvre had already drawn on the image of the total human being one finds in Surrealism and, like the other thinkers linked to Arguments, was tremendously excited at the publication of the writings of Marx’s youth (the 1844 manuscripts). Here was a Marx who placed alienation at the heart of his work (close, perhaps, to the Marxism of Lukacs). It is also necessary to tell the story of Socialism or Barbarism ... another time.
Alongside this group there are others including those who gather at rue Saint-Benoit – Duras, Antelme, Schuster, and Mascolo. Some are writers; all are readers. Blanchot and Bataille are also affiliated with them; Barthes and Des Forets are frequent visitors; they reach out to the Italian writer Vittorini and to the German Enzenberger. Some of them have passed through the discipline of Party membership; Antelme bore his expulsion from the Communists with great pain; this is also true, I think, of Duras. I have tried to sketch some aspects of their shared journey elsewhere; for now, I want to underline the fact that it is in this group that one finds a peculiar communism linked to what Bataille was first to call worklessness [désoeuvrement]. It is no longer a matter of shared work; of the unitary project that would bind each to one another in pursuit of a common goal. Is there a goal held in common? There is – but it is not shared only according to the ordinary understanding of this word ...
Pain: Duras, the older Duras, capable of writing (and rewriting) books like The Malady of Death and The Year 1980 invests her money in property; she becomes rich, famous, and, according to the accounts I have read, intervenes clumsily in public affairs, misusing her prestige. Why do I condemn her (what right do I have)? Because she was one of the communists of rue Saint-Benoit, married to Mascolo who was on the editorial board of Arguments and affiliated thereby to thinkers like Lefebvre who, moving from Strasbourg where he taught some of the Situationists, to Nanterre (alongside, I think Levinas and Ricoeur), which was, of course, the home of the March 22 Movement, is some argue the finest exponent of Marx in France. Because she is was bound first of all in marriage and then in friendship to Robert Antelme, author of The Human Race. And all are bound in their admiration of Bataille (who died, too soon, in the early 1960s) and in friendship to Blanchot, who returned to political activity as soon as he read the pages of the first issue of 14 Julliet, edited by Mascolo and others.
More than all of thus, there is her writing itself which is always more than the sum of its influences. Why, though, be disappointed with the political actions of a writer? Why because Duras is a writer is it appropriate to condemn her for investing in property? But she is not any writer. The author of The Ravishment of Lol V. Stein and Destroy, She Said has moved, in these works, towards an affirmation of a language as far removed from authoritarianism and self-assurance as possible. It is as though she has assumed a kind of powerlessness specific to literature which is no longer understood in terms of great works, sturdy masterpieces, but according to a demand which passes through books. There is now a discordance between the writing this demand names and the work, all work, even the necessary labour of working alongside one another in the attempt to transform the world. Does this mean that writing, bound to worklessness, thereby escapes responsibility? Or is there, rather, a responsibility specific to worklessness and even a form of communism which is bound to the literary (to the movement of writing which Duras's books do not fail to answer)?
How absurd, how peremptory these questions must sound! For now, I will content myself in making unsubstantiated programmatic remarks ... hopefully all will become clear (to me, first of all – and this is the only reason I write here. This is a workbook, nothing else, in which I try out ideas which I have no easy way to formulate and do not want to assume the responsibility to defend. I will do that elsewhere, and in my own name. Why write, then? Because others are struggling with analogous ideas, and a kind of community binds us to one another because we share a desire to work alongside one another without rushing into the language of results and outcomes.)
It is hard to work collectively. Sometimes it is necessary to communicate frequently, to speak and to write – one must submit to organisation, rules, protocols. But it is also necessary, at other times, to retreat from communication in which thoughts can be too quickly transmitted, in which an experience of thinking is translated too rapidly into the language of outcome and result. We work together – but sometimes this work requires a gap sufficient to allow another experience to occur.
There is the danger that the militant group is liable to express itself in terms increasingly more crude and simplifying; there is the risk that one can reduce everything to slogans like ‘counter-revolution’ or ‘defense of the proletariat’. Still, militancy is necessary – or at least a certain militancy (I am remembering Deleuze and Guattari’s analyses, as they are retraced in a book by Thoburn). And it is also necessary, in a time when there seems no alternative to the system in which we find ourselves, to relearn the vocabulary upon which these slogans draw.
Today, there is no official communism in the countries of the West; we are not in the situation of those of the Rue Saint-Benoit, exiles from an official communism who nevertheless retained the word communism as an indication of the direction in which their thought and their lives were moving. Communism: here it comes to name a refusal of the aggressive, commanding language of the orthodox left which, in the period of the invasion of Hungary, had lost its meaning, functioning, as Blanchot writes in an uncollected essay from 1958, as ‘signals, ethical forces, allusions to formidable transcendent principles which it is forbidden to approach, especially for the purposes of a precise analysis’. It is values that are signalled; but, Blanchot writes, ‘it is against the very notion of value that thought must defended’.
To understand these claims, a lengthy detour is required. And if one does not undertake this detour? There is a danger in language itself – or in the dictare, the imperious repetition through which one supplants a language which makes itself felt in the literary work of art. There is the danger of value, signal and principle. One can resist through a minute analysis which takes place alongside militancy, not supplanting it, but not allowing, at the same time, the militant’s voice to drown out another, quieter voice.
But there is another danger here, indicated in one of the essays Blanchot circulated anonymously during the Events of May 1968. Science can supplant the experience of language to which I am here linking literature – the science which, in the late 1960s, presumbably under the influence of Althusser, sought to retrieve the hard kernel of Marxism from its anthropological appropriation (from those who would focus on Marx’s 1844 manuscripts). There is no yet science, but only ideology – that, I think, was the claim. Nevertheless, there was a science to come – a science which would complete human knowledge. Blanchot identifies the danger that the patient voice of the scientist, whilst it is not the peremptory voice of dictare, nevertheless threatens to silence the murmuring or idling to which literary writing is linked.