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This article is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

Maurice Blanchot John Pilling

NOTHING SO distinguishes the present age from its forbears as the unprecedented attention lavished on an activity previously considered unproblematic: literary criticism. Never before has the act of interpretation - its responsibilities, its limitations, its properties - been so strenuously debated and descanted upon. We have Structuralism to thank, or to reproach, for this; perhaps it is too early to say which response would be the more appropriate. Yet when the history of literary criticism in the twentieth century comes to be written, the structuralists and the deconstructionists may well have to yield pride of place to more isolated and less prominent figures, critics without portfolio, as it were. Of the many names which might come to mind in this connection, three in particular stand out as critics who oblige one to reconsider one's acquiescence to tried and trusted procedures: Martin Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot and Walter Benjamin. Of these three it may be said, as Benjamin himself said in a late letter, that 'to create a place for oneself in criticism means re-creating it as a genre'.

Heidegger's re-creation of the 'thinking dialogue' which he took to be characteristic of pre-Socratic practice has been largely ignored in England. The Anglo-Saxon mind has thus far been unable to find much more than recreation in Heidegger's essays on Hölderlin and Trakl and on works of art generally. Benjamin, by virtue of his troubled Marxism, his tragic death and his contact with the founders of the Frankfurt School, has been ...


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