To Give the Literary Event: Blanchot and Lawrence’s Narratives of Life/Death

2020 Event Thumbnail
22 Oct 2020 10.30 AM - 12.00 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Tamara Wagner

This paper will read Maurice Blanchot’s novel Thomas the Obscure (1941) and D.H. Lawrence’s novel The Man Who Died (1929) as dialectical texts exploring the confrontation between the demands of narration, and the event of death as the limit and gift of language. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s ideas about the (non-) event of death as the paradigmatic

example of the gift which both interrupts the economy of life as pure presence and autoaffection and gives it its chance as deferred beginning and the absolutely unknowable future. 

I explore both novels as texts engaging not only in a vital deconstruction of the boundaries between life and death, but also as attempts to theorize that which gives language its force but which also ceaselessly exceeds its formulations. I first map how Blanchot’s characters incarnate his theories about the event of literature as it incorporates absence in its very core and hollows out a space wherein death and absence become ineluctable pre-conditions for meaning and representation to arise. In this reading, the origin of the event of writing paradoxically becomes the event of its disappearance. Reading Lawrence’s novel about the resurrection of Christ alongside this movement enables the reader to think past Blanchot’s aesthetic praxis of disappearance by envisioning the event-ing of presence which comes into being after absence, or more precisely, a mode of presence which is opened up by the gift of death. Lastly, I will probe the religious significance of both novels through a consideration of how the dialectical interplay between presence and absence opens up the question of the post-secular belief in/of the event. I take this theological framing from Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Deconstruction of Christianity (2008), which provides a useful lens through which to investigate how the thinking of presence and the abiding within presence necessarily exceeds representational objectification towards an understanding of the coming-into-presence of the Divine which the event exemplifies. Both Blanchot and Lawrence thus illustrate how literary language not only writes of its own impossibility, but also adumbrates the fragile conceptualisation of that which is to-come.


Ian Tan is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Warwick, focusing on the poetry of Wallace Stevens and philosophy. He is interested in modern and contemporary fiction and the relationship between literature, philosophy and film, and has written and spoken widely on these topics. His essays and reviews on Wallace Stevens, James Joyce, Flann O’Brien and directors such as Bela Tarr and Alexander Sokurov in the journals Journal of Modern Literature, The
Wallace Stevens Journal, Literary Imagination, Studies in European Cinema and Senses of Cinema. He has written two student literary guidebooks.