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PHILOPOLIS constitutional law & jurisprudence

The Writer's Refusal and Law's Malady - Patrick Hanafin
Ficha Técnica
Volume I - 2007
Direito Constitucional e Filosofia - Nelson Saldanha
Sobre Hermenéutica y Relato - José Calvo González
A Propósito de Direitos (e deveres) - Nelson Saldanha
Building the Imagin(ed)(N)ation - Patrick Hanafin
Ética: Instrumento de Cultura, Justiça e Política - Flávio Marcondes Velozo
The Writer's Refusal and Law's Malady - Patrick Hanafin
Direito e Literatura
O método da narrativa e a voz das vítimas de crimes sexuais - Maria Clara Sottomayor
Defesa da Constituição
Legado Constitucional
Valores Constitucionais
Constituição e Socialismo
Constituição e Metodologia
Leituras, Olhares & Escutas
Coluna do Leitor
Artigos em linha
Página de Direito Universitário
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The Writer’s Refusal and Law’s Malady



Dr. Patrick Hanafin*



In this piece I want to (re)pose  the relation of writing to law and politics, by interrogating the sense of a writing which is simultaneously an unwriting or undoing of legal and political discourse through Maurice Blanchot’s involvement in the movement against the French colonial war in Algeria and in particular his framing of the Declaration of the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War in 1960. The piece analyses how the sense of the event of the Declaration continues to call us to acknowledge a “disastrous responsibility” to a non-community beyond the time of law and politics.


Begin to write. Not with your last ounce of strength, but with all the strength you have no longer.[1]



This piece attempts to examine the relation of the writer to the juridico-political sphere by analysing Maurice Blanchot’s appearance before the law after he had taken part in the movement against the French war in Algeria. Blanchot was the principal author along with Dionys Mascolo of The Declaration of the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War.[2]  This Declaration, more commonly known as the Manifesto of the 121 set forth a right to refuse to take arms against the Algerian people. It placed individuals before a solitary responsibility, not to a patria, not to a blind duty to fight but rather called for a questioning of the actions which the state perpetrated in the name of the people. As the

* Reader in Law, Birkbeck Law School, Malet St., London WC1E 7HX

Manifesto states:

Chacun doit se prononcer sur des actes qu’il est desormais impossible de presenter comme des faits divers de l’aventure individuelle, considerant qux-memes, a leur place et selon leurs moyens, ont le devoir d'’ntervenir, non pas pour donner des conseils aux hommes qui ont a decider personnellement face a des problemes aussi graves, mais pour demander a ceux qui les jugent de ne pas se laisser prendre a l’equivoque des mot et des valeurs.[3]


This act of writing questioned the very relation of the individual to the state, between sovereign power and the citizenry. It called for an absolute right of all to refuse to accept the acts of war which the State purported to carry out in the name of the people.

The event of the Manifesto enacted the concerns of Blanchot in his writings both fictional and critical in the post-war period, such as the contest between the law and its other, between power and transgression and the notion of responsibility. This incident and the context to which gave rise to it raise questions of ongoing import, namely the political role of the writer and the right to refuse the way in which legal language taxonomises the subject. In his essay “Intellectuals under Scrutiny” Blanchot expresses the difficulty for the writer of answering the call to responsibility for an unknown other:

There is… for the person whose vocation is to remain in retreat, far from the world… the pressing necessity to expose himself to the ‘risks of public life’ by discovering a responsibility for someone who, apparently, means nothing to him, and by joining in the shouting and the clamour, when, on behalf of that which is closest, he has to give up the sole exigency that his properly his own: that of the unknown, of strangeness and of distance.

When the… writer… declares himself… [h]e absents himself from the only task that matters to him… It would be easy for him to remain on the sideline. What then is this command from without, to which he must respond and which obliges him to take his place in the world again and assume an additional responsibility which may lead him astray.[4]


This additional responsibility led the writer “astray” in the eyes of the law and made of him an outlaw. It is as Ann Smock has termed it a “disastrous responsibility”.[5] This is a responsibility which assumes one’s inability to be resposnsible. Yet the recognition of the inability to be responsible makes it all the more imperative. In this piece I want to (re)pose the relation of writing to law and politics, by interrogating the sense of a writing which is simultaneously an unwriting or undoing of legal and political discourse and how the sense of the event of the Manifesto of the 121 continues to call us to acknowledge a “disastrous responsibility” to a non-community beyond the time of law and politics.



In his own encounter with the law after the state instituted criminal legal proceedings against the co-authors of this insubordinate document, Blanchot experienced how legal language purported to rob the individual of his own speech. Blanchot appeared before an examining magistrate during the course of the proceedings in order to give a statement. Indeed in Blanchot’s account of his encounter with the magistrate, he challenges directly the magistrate’s own legitimacy. He remarked to the magistrate that the Prime Minister of the time, Michel Debre had in a speech made two or three days before Blanchot’s appearance before the magistrate tat the 121 signatories of this insubordinate document would be severely punished and that in doing so the Prime Minister had already pronounced judgement and made the magistrate’s role superfluous given that the accused had been already judged and found guilty. The reaction of the magistrate was to become extremely angry and screamed that “There are things that one does not say here!”[6] Blanchot in reply observed that this space is not one in which one can freely express oneself and likened it to the space in which the monarch dispensed justice. To which the magistrate confirmed Blanchot’s suspicions by declaiming “Don’t forget that for such words I can send you to prison”.

The second point of discord between Blanchot and the magistrate concerned the tradition in civil law jurisdictions of a magistrate taking the deposition of the accused and then dictating it in his own words (i.e. the magistrate’s) to the legal clerk. The magistrate when he began to do this was interrupted by Blanchot who said “you will not substitute your words for mine. I don’t doubt your good faith but your phrasing of my words is unacceptable”. After some argument the magistrate finally relented and allowed Blanchot to speak his statement directly to the clerk. In referring to this incident Blanchot notes:

There is a seriously deficient point in this affair, which is the debate between a man with a wealth of legal expertise at his fingertips and another who has perhaps few words and does not even know the sovereign value of speech, of his speech. Why is it that the judge has the right to be sole master of language, dictating (in what is already a diktat) the words of another, as seems appropriate to him, reproducing them not as they were said, stuttering, meagre and unsure, but made worse, because finer, more consistent with the classical ideal, and, most of all, more definitive.[7]


The reductive violence of legal discourse is all too manifest here. The law wants to make of Blanchot an object, a pure mask resounding with the magisterial voice, the perfect persona.  It attempts to impose its language on his words. However, his words fight back leave a trace, even in the violent discourse of the law. The combat between the words of law and those of the individual without traces leaves traces, both on the law and its agents.

Here there is a conflict of languages between the citizen and the representative of the law, an attempt to discipline to suppress the unruly words of the citizen called before the law to explain himself. In this sense, Blanchot’s appearance before a representative of the law mirrors the position of the narrator in his novel The Madness of the Day who is similarly asked to explain himself to the representatives of power/knowledge, the psychiatrist and the opthamologist. Like the narrator Blanchot interrupts his own representation by the law. This reveals a Law which is not so mush secure and self-assured but under siege, driven by a terror of being displaced, a trauma which undoes its hold on the power over discourse.

As Leslie Hill puts it: “the law always expresses itself as an irreducible double bond.”[8] In this sense, the sense of law is its own undoing. Law is vulnerable to the contradictions which lie at the heart of its discourse. In this sense, legal discourse reveals a space in which power and transgression are at play. It is these infintesimal moments of interruption which expose the limits of legal discourse, which display fleetingly this other law, or the law of another community not bound by law’s word. Blanchot as outlaw as disruptive force exposes law’s limiting discourse. He seduces the magistrate and reveals a law, which though authoritarian and oppressive is fallible. The magistrate who questioned Blanchot had subsequently to take sick leave for what he termed moral exhaustion, a monstrously appropriate malady for a servant of the law to be afflicted with.[9]

 For what Blanchot did in his performance was to expose the very moral exhaustion of the law. A law which no longer respected the autonomy of the citizens on whose behalf it purported to speak. What instead it did was to make speak, to force words out of the citizen only then to transform them into the acceptable speech of law. Blanchot himself was in a sense enchanting the law, calling it forth from within itself to address its own irresponsibility, exhausting its limits, just as the other figure of law in The Madness of the Day states:

The truth is, we can no longer go our separate ways. I will follow you everywhere, I will share the same roof, we will enjoy the same sleep.[10]


This double figure appears again in Blanchot’s Unavowable Community where he speaks of two opposing versions of socio-political formation. One is exemplified by immanence, homogeneity and a repressive law, while the second version is heterogeneous, fluid and interrupts the law. This figure is the intruder or outsider who “perturbs the untroubled continuity of the social bond and does not recognise prohibitions”. [11]

Thus the law in its repressive mode is constantly interrupted by this alter ego. The law tried to impose its power over language to deny Blanchot of his speech. Yet through his passive resistance he exposes the law’s own fragility. He interrupts or contests the law’s representation of itself as well as its representation of him, and in so doing evokes the law of the other beyond all law.

This performance of the interruption of law plays out the play between law and its subversion. Nothing is ostensibly changed the institutions continue, but something will never be the same. This is the imperceptible moment of subversion, which, as workless, as pure excess, achieves nothing, but this is its very force. It counterposes worklessness to the work of power, non-identity, to identity, responsibility to one’s own non-responsibility. Thus, Blanchot appears before the law as the writing appears before the work or the book. For Blanchot “To write is to produce the absence of the work (worklessness).”[12] Writing for Blanchot is the “relation to the other of every book, to what in the book would be de-scription, a scriptuary exigency outside discourse, outside language. Writing on the edge of the book, outside the book”.[13]

Thus, like the writer who goes beyond the book, the work, towards a certain worklessness, as apolitical writer who is impelled to intervene in the political in the name of an unavowable community.[14] The relation of writing to the law of the book mirrors the relation of the citizen to the law of the state. As Hill notes in this regard:

The relation between writing and the law is a relation of non-relation; and it is from this that derives ‘transgressive’ demand… of writing, writing that is always other than the law, not because of its superior power or legitimacy in the face of the law, but rather because of its refusal, on grounds of impotence, impossibility, and weakness, to allow itself to be addressed by the language of the law and constituted by the law as a subject or hostage of that law… preceding the discourse of law, lacking all unity, presence, and identity, writing is a challenge to any authority whatsoever, including of course its own.[15]


Thus the Declaration and the Blanchot’s encounter with the magistrate play out this tension evoked in his writings on writing. Like the one who writes Blanchot in his persona as apolitical writer is called by a responsibility to an unknown other to refrain from silence and intervene or interrupt the operation of politics and law. This lack of unity, presence and identity which he performs unsettles both the political machine and the machinery of justice. Like Melville’s Bartleby his not saying, his passivity, his persistent just being there is enough to disrupt. His is a fading before the law which widens law’s limit point. Even though the law tries to order the voice of the citizen what in effect occurs is that law’s power is undone in this move.[16]

It is vital from the point of view of legal and political elites that the insubordinate citizen is seen to be managed, thorough repressive legal intervention, despite the fact that such insubordination can never be managed or repressed, given its intimate bond with the law. This insubordinate performance may point to that space of resistance wherein is traced “the flashing line that causes the limit to arise”.[17]

In this moment the play between power and transgression is clear. Alterity rather than identity mark the law’s relation to itself. The irony however is that in engaging in such a practice, the insubordinator finds himself at the mercy of the laws of the state which attempt to punish him for his temerity and crush his act of insubordination, by a prison sentence but more invidiously by taking his voice his language and forming it into the classical speech of law which allows for no protest. However, it is the law that is perplexed and at the mercy of Blanchot after the encounter in spite of appearances. The law is revealed as the perpetrator of its own transgression the law presumes. It struggles to impose itself while the transgressor remains within, yet beyond, it’s grasp, a state of affairs expressed eloquently in the image of the oil soaked rag in Blanchot’s novel The Most High. The stain however remains, this trace which lives on after the process, which points to this coming politics outside of the time of politics beyond the time of the repressive law. [18] It is in the empty space between utterance and recording that Blanchot’s words leave their trace. At the end of the encounter between Blanchot and the magistrate it is the law which is temporarily disarmed. This subversive moment provokes not a new state or a different elite but rather the power of a withdrawal, a haunting, a seduction. Law’s discourse is disrupted by his insubordinate being there before it. This presence which the law attempts to make absent by imposing on him it the force of its language, in his very persistence disturbs, makes ill, literally, the Law.



In Corpus Jean-Luc Nancy interrogates this problematic of the nation state in terms of areality, a word which is an archaic French term meaning the nature or the property of an area an aire. The word however also lends itself to suggesting a lack of reality or else a suspended reality. The arealization of the nation leaves it in place but suspended, unbordered, exposed on the limit between spatial ethnic and linguistic differences. Perhaps it is such a becoming areal of the nation that provokes such fears the disappearance of its sense as the event of its sense, yet the metaphysics of presence or the ideology of cultural separatism are intensified As areal the nation is exscribed not just uncommon ground but ungrounded community

For Nancy there appears to be a name for such a thought and that name is poetry. He states that “poetry is a cadastre, or else a geography”. (Birth to presence, p.308). He writes: “The poet can be recognised by a certain surveyor’s step, by a certain way of covering a territory of words, not in order to find something, or to plant a crop, or to build an edifice, but simply to measure it” (p.308). This taking measure of, as opposed to enclosing, inscribing imprisoning, speaks of not a colonising appropriating geography but one in which the surveyor disappears without leaving a trace a building etc or even an imprint. This is the experience of the death of the I in writing. The writer disappears but paradoxically leaves a trace.

In the field of political action we must then ask can there be a politics that   “takes the form of an effacement: a gesture which itself is, after all, commonplace, which indicates your place, mine, yet another’s, and which withdraws? (pp.308-9). This event of being in common as different, of being together as apart, of a finitude that is the unheard of condition of community. Poetry here is the compearing of singular beings that Nancy calls the Inoperative Community, not the opus of its own immanence but the undoing of itself as itself, one woes gesture must also be irretrievably singular, finite, while the metonym of the nation-sate as people grounded in a land demands the horizontality of topographical and discursive borders, of frontiers, and myths, poetry… is what speaks the unheard of not only in language but also in our difference from each other, and from our history and from the spaces we inhabit. is a making that is simultaneously an unmaking, a compearing of community that is also its withdrawal, an advent of sense in which sense is eclipsed, a speaking of what cannot be heard.

Where is the site of such a writing which unwrites rather than inscribes which pares away the layers of rhetoric to reveal the dystopia occluded by utopian legal writings. As Jean –Luc Nancy has pointed out the danger with the politics of communal identity where one conceives of the community as having an identity that is immanent to it and that needs to be brought out and put to work. Thus the community as subject necessarily implies the community as subject-work, if one’s true or higher being or universal self is found in one’s scared communal identity, it becomes the work of politics to bring forth that immanent communal identity. This will entail conflict with other political identities. Politics for such groups is a matter of discovering the immanent or implicit identity of a group and setting it to work. This conception of politics as work relies upon and follows from the conception of community as immanent identity. The other way of looking is to think of a community which doesn’t put identity to work in this way, which is in Nancy’s words inoperative or as blanchot would have it unavowable. The hollow and parodic language of the legal document attempts to construct or put to work the polity. It creates the textual illusion of a community founded on a being in common. It creates the textual boundaries which enclose the citizen in the state. In this regard law seen as a stabilising instrument, a means of suspending in abstract ghostly form identifiable citizens who are simultaneously citizens with an identity. This identity being the invisible bond which fixes the citizenry in an illusory commonality. In other words the text of law creates or provokes a symbolic unity where none exists in order to secure the State in its territorial and textual space.  This illusory wholeness or togetherness is permanently under siege in the paranoiac discourse of the Security State. However this grounded commonality of the state shares discursive space with a formless community, which constantly interrupts it, as the possibility of community beyond the juridico-political state this the possibility of being beyond the law, the political form of the state, a potential politics, an interruption.

This giving up of the self in the service of an impossible responsibility is similar to the effacement of the self which for Blanchot was writing. In both cases, the self is given in order to respond to a call to be responsible for one’s inability to be responsible for the unknown other. As he noted elsewhere one must respond to the impossibility to be responsible.[19] It is this very call to be responsible to an unknown other that informed Blanchot’s framing of the Declaration of the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War.

Like his appearance before the law, the Declaration penned by Blanchot performed an interruption in the time of politics. It counter-declaratory power called for a solitary responsibility not to the state but to an unknown other. It was an unsettling document, just as Blanchot’s words unsettled the law so did this document unsettle the stabilised political order. It points to what an alternative politics might be without telling us explicitly, like a secret that can never be uttered, unavowable. The Declaration On The Right to Insubordination In The Algerian War, according to Marguerite Duras, one of the co-signatories, attempted to:

place those to whom it was addressed before an essential and solitary responsibility, which was the responsibility to decide both for themselves and in relation to themselves.[20]


Blanchot in describing the rationale behind the Declaration elaborated on the importance of the use of the term “right” to insubordination in this context:

I believe that the whole force of the Declaration, its whole power of disturbance, comes from the authority with which it utters the single word insubordination, a solemn word, signifying utmost refusal: the Right to insubordination. I say Right and not Duty… an obligation refers to a prior moral code that shields, guarantees, and justifies it; wherever there is duty, all that is necessary is to close one’s eyes and carry it out blindly; everything is then quite straightforward. The right to do something, on the other hand, refers only to itself, to the exercise of that freedom of which it is the expression; a right is a free power for which each individual, for himself and with regard to himself, is responsible and which binds him completely and freely: nothing is stronger, nothing is more serious. That is why it is essential to say: the right to insubordination: each person takes their own sovereign decision.[21]


Blanchot in writing in another context of an absolute right defines it as:

a right which no real power doubles or reinforces…  a right, then, detached from power and duty, a madness required by reasonable integrity and which, moreover, seems to succeed quite often.[22]


Blanchot refuses all language, which is authoritarian, self-assured, peremptory, repetitive, and oppressive.[23] According to Leslie Hill the Declaration the Declaration of the 121 had the following traits:

Instead of appealing to morality, and thus necessarily to some institutionalised code that had disquieting similarities with the very authority of the state it sought to challenge, the declaration reaffirmed each signatory's inalienable right of refusal, a right that was absolute to the extent that it logically preceded any form whatsoever of recognition of the power of the state and any complicity in its decisions.[24]


This notion of right destabilises the limiting language of universal human rights which is authorised by some transcendental power or value. In this counter-declaration of right, the individual takes their own sovereign decision. It performs or prefigures a right to refuse which is so powerful because not given by some divine power or moral code. It is a right to resist not granted by the law.

Thus, it is in counter-opposition to the rather ironic right to resistance found Article 20 of the Constitution of the German Federal Republic, which in the event of an attempt to overthrow the established legal order all German citizens have a right to resist if other less extreme remedies are not possible. This legalised form of the right to resistance remains a last resort when the very legal order itself is under threat and provides not so much a right but imposes a duty on the German citizen to resist the overthrow of the state, yet another method of protection for the security state.[25] However through its very institutionalisation the right to resist in the German Constitution, becomes nothing but a contingent duty leaving untroubled the normal role of the citizen as ineffectual critic. It is this very role which Michel Foucault rejects in another counter-declaration of rights in the following terms:

We must reject the division of tasks which is all too often offered to us: it is up to individuals to become indignant and speak out, whiile it is up to governments to reflect and to act. It is true that good governments like the hallowed indignation of the governed, provided it remains lyrical. I believe that we must realise how often, though, it is the rulers who speak, who can only and want only to speak. Experience shows that we can and must reject the theatrical role of pure and simple indignation which we are offered.[26]


Blanchot in his Declaration turns the type of legal formulation found in the German Constitution around and speaks of a right to refuse not brought on in answer to a need to protect the specific type of legal order the Constitution establishes, but a right to refuse based on a call to responsibility to an unknown other, a duty not to protect an identifiable politico-territoral space but a right to based on an impossible responsibility to the other to whom we may have no duty to defend. In this sense another counter declaration of right issued some twenty years later by Michel Foucault, himself no stranger to the works of Blanchot, bears certain traces of similarity. In 1981, Foucault together with activists from Medecins du Monde and Terre des Hommes, issued a press declaration at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on the need to intervene to protect Vietnamese boat people from international pirates. In the face of thousands of stateless people who had fled the war in Vietnam but who were not granted refugee status elsewhere had been preyed on by pirates in the Gulf of Thailand and raped, tortured and murdered, while international governments and international organisations failed to intervene. In language strikingly similar to that of the manifesto of the 121, Foucault’s document, published after Foucault’s death as Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’Homme, declares:

We are here only as private individuals, who have no other claim to speak, and to speak together, than a certain shared difficulty in accepting what is happening…

            … Who… has commissioned us? No one. And that is precisely what establishes our right.

            … People’s misfortune must never be a silent remainder of politics. It founds an absolute right to rise up and to address those who hold power.

            … [this new right is] that of private individuals actually to intervene in the order of international politics and strategies.[27]  


This attempt by Foucault to use the rhetoric of rights to subvert its normal functioning in the hands of the disciplinary state, again draws out the tension or aporia between power and its transgression. Perhaps what Foucault like Blanchot was enacting was this absolute right deprived of the law’s force, a right dislodged from the repressive state apparatus, which was impossible to conceive, by virtue of its very ungroundedness. Indeed as Tom Keenan has observed what Foucault in this gesture did perform was the definition of:

A radical theory of rights as such. Not the classical rights of individuals, the inalienable rights of man, or the rights said to find their ground in human nature, but rather a theory of rights as the condition of a radically democratic [politics, rights without limit and end, rights as the irreducible claim and gesture of the political as such.[28]


Thus, both Blanchot and Foucault call for a right beyond state power, an interruption which neither destroys nor recreates but leaves the present not quite what it was. This event this interruption in the present order will, as Keenan reminds us, “have already violently interfered with the presence of our present and our position(s) within it”.[29]  It is such an ephemeral writing of dissent that silently calls to a time beyond the political which leaves a stain on the present “stabilised” order. This is then in counter-opposition to the writing or inscribing of a community thorough the written constitution, call it an exscribing, an unwriting, an undoing. It calls for another politics a politics beyond the time of the political, made of not of inscribed clearly delineated subjects but of ghosts traces people without qualities, people without identity, whatever singularities.

 The Declaration instead of imposing a community of citizens bound together by force of law and state power, but called for as effacement of this sense of community built on identity. This community of singularity without identity threatened the very putting to work of the nation in the rhetoric of the Fifth Republic. The personification of the nation in the body of De Gaulle, the construction of a French metropolitan identity was at odds with a document which saw the cause of Algeria as the cause of all free men. There was a disjunction between the time of politics and the time of the coming community. This workless interruption opposes the law of the book, the law of inscription. As Blanchot observed in writing about a similar hiatus between the time of politics and that of the promise of another radical politics, the events of May 1968:

In May there is no book about May: not for lack of time or the need to ‘act’, but because of a more decisive impediment: it is all being written elsewhere, in a world without publication; it is being distributed in the face of the police and in a way with their help, violence pitted against violence. This stop put to the book, which is also a stop put to history, and which, far from taking us back to a point preceding culture, is what is most provocative to authority, to power, to the law. May this bulletin prolong that stop, while preventing it from ever stopping. No more books, never again, for as long as we remain in contact with the upheaval of the break.

… The only mode in which revolution is present is that of its real possibility. At that moment, there is a stop, a suspension. In this stop, society falls apart completely. The law collapses: for an instant there is innocence; history is interrupted.[30]


Power unmasked momentarily, like the unmasking of the gas-masked enforcer of law’s order in a street protest, before the blows of the baton reign down on the unmasked. These moments when the interruption of this community flickers and fades through a haze of gas, smoke and fire is the very sense of this faceless community.


The right to refusal calls us to think beyond the State and our role in the biopolitical matrix. It is a call to a thinking of another politics beyond the political time of the present. Giorgio Agamben provides an eloquent mode of helping us to think towards this new politics when he observes:

The novelty of the coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the conquest or control of the State, but a struggle between the State and the non-State (humanity), an insurmountable disjunction between whatever singularity and the State organisation. This has nothing to do with the simple affirmation of the social in opposition to the State… Whatever singularities cannot form a societas because they do not possess any identity to vindicate nor any bond of belonging for which to seek recognition. In the final instance the State can recognise any claim of identity… What the State cannot tolerate in any way, however, is that the singularities form a community without affirming an identity, that humans co-belong without any representable condition of belonging… The State… is not founded on a social bond, of which it would be the expression, but rather on the dissolution, the unbinding it prohibits. For the State, therefore, what is important is never the singularity as such, but only its inclusion in some identity, whatever identity (but the possibility of the whatever itself being taken up without an identity is a threat the State cannot come to terms with)….

Whatever singularity…[which] rejects all identity and every condition of belonging, is the principal enemy of the State. Wherever these singularities peacefully demonstrate their being in common there will be a Tiananmen, and sooner or later, the tanks will appear.[31]


It involves a questioning of why it is that the law presumes to be in control of language. It involves a certain refusal to submit to the law, to be insubordinate. It is that other law of writing that is without foundations as opposed to the writing of law which purports to found the community. It is a call to suspend the dialectical closure of representational politics, as well as the essential complicity of government and legal opposition deriving from it, in order to affirm a different kind of politics, no longer dependent on the law of possibility. As Blanchot suggests in The Unavowable Community, it involves a thinking beyond the reliance on received political concepts such as those of project or subject.[32]

The friendship of the no is the negative affirmation of community. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the recent blackout in New York where citizens reacted in a temporary coming together, a provisional friendship created in times of adversity, or indeed spontaneous compearing. As Paul Auster noted in an interview at the time, this was “a poetic response to disaster.”[33] It could be seen as a coming (together of) community in adversity rather than a closing down of community against the invader. An inoperative community in an inoperative city?  Auster's description of the response as poetic is important here, in that in an America where a profound sense of putting the nation to work against the latest provisional enemy (for enemies are always provisional), there exist albeit fleeting glimpses of a coming community.




[1] A. Smock, ‘Disastrous Responsibility’ (1984) 3 L’Esprit Createur, 5, p. 10.

[2] This text was first published in Verite-Liberte on the 6 of September 1960. The authorities seized the edition of the review and the publisher was charged with inciting soldiers to desert. The text is also known as the Manifesto of the 121, after the number of its signatories, who included Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre Boulez, Andre Breton, Marguerite Duras, Henri Lefebvre, J.-B. Pontalis, Alain Resnais, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute.

[3] Declaration sur le droit a l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algerie, http://www.bok.netpajol/manif121.html.

[4] M. Blanchot, ‘Intellectuals under Scrutiny’ in The Blanchot Reader ed. M. Holland (1995) 217.

[5] Smock, op. cit., n. 1, p. 5.

[6] Id., p. 11.

[7] M. Blanchot, “Pre-texte: Pour L’Amitie” in A la rechreche d’un communisme de pensee (1993, ed. D. Mascolo), 11.

[8] L. Hill, Maurice Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (1997), 101.

[9] In his autobiographical collection of musings Angelique Ou L’Enchantement, (1987) 204 Alain Robbe-Grillet makes an interesting comparison between Blanchot’s appearance before the magistrate and the that of the weakness of the magistrate in front of the seductive character of the young woman in Robbe-Grillet’s film Glissemnets Progressifs Du Plaisir. This seduction of the law or undoing of the law by a seductive law beyond law is enacted again through the character of Blanchot in his appearance before the magistrate. Blanchot also manages to undo the magistrate, to seduce or bewitch him. Perhaps here we see the play between power and transgression, between law’s repressive face and its seductive other face, a compearing without touching of tow beings to form a communion.

[10] M. Blanchot, The Madness of the Day (1981, tr., L. Davis), 15.

[11] M. Blanchot, La Communaute inavouable (1983) 70.

[12] M. Blanchot, The Infinitr Conversation (1993), 424.

[13] Id., p. 427.

[14] In speaking of how he saw his role in authoring this document, Blanchot has noted: “I signed this text… as an apolitical writer who felt moved to express an opinion about problems that concern him essentially… On eof the main purposes of the Declaration is to bring out the particular responsibility of intellectuals: when the democratic order is corrupted or decays, it falls to them, independent of any purely political allegiance, to say in simple terms what seems to them just.” (M. Blanchot, “The Right To Insubordination”  in The Blanchot Reader (1995, ed. M. Holland), 196.

[15] Hill, op. cit., pp. 187-88...

[16] As Hill op. cit., n. 2, p. 215 notes:

the language of power [is] ultimately always vulnerable: vulnerable not to the challenge that might come from a rival code of values… but vulnerable instead to the infinite scepticism affirmed by the language of writing itself.

[17] M. Foucault,  “A Preface To Transgression” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. D. F. Bouchard (1977 tr. D.F. Bouchard and S. Simon) 35.


[18] As Blanchot reminds us: “There is not, to begin with, law, prohibition, and then transgression, but rather there is transgression in the absence of any prohibition, which eventually freezes into Law, the Principle of Meaning”. (M. Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster. (1980, tr. A. Smock), 75.



[19] M. Blanchot, L’Ecriture du Desastre (1983) 46.

[20] Cited in L. Hill, Maurice Blanchot: Extreme Contemporary (1997) 213.

[21] Id.

[22] M. Blanchot,. The Space of Literature  (1982, tr. A. Smock) 105.

[23] Id., p. 215.

[24] Id., p. 214.

[25] See further G. Agamben, Stato di eccezione (2003), 21.

[26] Foucault, op. cit., n., p. 157.

[27] Reprinted in T. Keenan, Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics, (1997), 156-7.

[28] Id., p. 173.

[29] Id. p. 169.

[30] M. Blanchot, “Disorderly Words” in The Blanchot Reader (1995, ed. M. Holland) 205.

[31] G. Agamben, The Coming Community (1996) 84-6.

[32] See Hill, op.cit., n. 2, pp.217-18.

[33] A. Monda, “La citta ha vinto con poesia”. Lo scrittore Paul Auster racconta” La Repubblica 17 August 2003, 3.

Patrick Hanafin

Revista Electrónica de Direito Constitucional & Filosofia Jurídica