Blanchot and Poverty

  • What is irritating about poverty is that it is visible, and anyone who sees it thinks: You see, I’m being accused; who is attacking me? Blanchot.

The quotation above is from Maurice Blanchot’s story, “The Madness of the Day” (“La Folie du jour”), translated by Lydia Davis (The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction and Literary Essays. Trans. Lydia Davis, Paul Auster, and Christopher Fynsk. Ed. George Quasha. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill P,  1999, 196).

The story is full of provocative lines like this, and it’s usefully “difficult” to read, since it explores the difficulties of responding to a person or a system that already has an answer in mind.  Through much of the story, Blanchot illustrates how even the account of an emotional event may be like the response to a loaded question: “I had been asked: Tell us ‘just exactly’ what happened.” Replying as a witness in strict legal-ease may not produce truth when the perspective of a poet, painter, or novelist is needed. Accounting for yourself can be hard in a world full of already existing patterns and conventions.

In the line above, Blanchot suggests that the appearance of poverty irritates because the loaded question, or challenge, of capitalism, provokes instinctive feelings of guilt.

Jacques Derrida also considers the predicament of loaded questions, and Blanchot’s story, in “The Law of Genre” (Critical Inquiry 7, 1980, or in the volume Acts of Literature, edited by Derek Attridge). “La Folie du jour” was originally published in 1949 as “Un récit?” [“A Story?”] (Originally posted February 3, 2013)