Too Square for This Sort of Profundity?

Well, kids, I’ve reached a point far enough post-academia that I don’t really feel the need to praise self-consciously abstruse pieces of writing, just because 1) they do indeed hurt your brain or 2) everyone else is enthralled with their profundity.

Courtesy Deviant Art

Courtesy Deviant Art

So let’s talk about Maurice Blanchot’s Awaiting Oblivion– or at least dedicate a few words in honor of the commendable phenomenon of the author’s having succeeded in putting a book out there with which he was apparently satisfied, and of my having read it. I wouldn’t really go beyond that brief acknowledgment, save for the fact that more than a few friends of mine delight in Blanchot’s creative (sometimes) semi-fictional theorizing. I get its initial charm, at least for a certain stage in one’s life; diving into what amounts to a lot of seemingly opposed terms talking cleverly to each other is like a bright adolescent receiving a blessedly complex epiphany in the midst of bland establishmentarian existence.

But then it all gets old, and starts feeling like a shtick that you could take part in, too, if you’re gifted with word games. About halfway through this 85-page book, I was reminded of an old Saturday Night Live skit, where some modern-day hippie kids are confronted with the ghosts of (if I remember correctly) John Lennon and Jerry Garcia. Finally able to mine their heroes for wisdom and keys to authentic living, every question they ask the pair is repeated back to them– a tactic that at first seems profoundly mind-blowing, but which soon becomes stale and ridiculous, even for teenagers in search of something outside the norm.

Blanchot, of course, can’t be reduced to such simplistic antics; more than a few of his apparently paradoxical juxtapositions do make you think– among other things, about why this style is so naturally French, and why some cultures and the languages they use seem to roll with this sort of thing so much better than others do. After having read Awaiting Oblivion, though, I’m left merely with the obvious conviction that yeah, waiting is a blow, no matter how you look at it; that we may never be able to be wholly knowable or ourselves with others or even on our own; and that forgetting is rarely as simple as we’d like to think it is. All in all, my time was better spent getting through the book than it would have been shopping or vegging out in front of a sitcom– but I’m glad to put this one to rest, and am ready to wrap myself in a more straightforward narrative less fond of self-satisfied word games.

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