Part 1: Fiction and Truth
When I first read “The Instant of my Death” I missed the relationship of the narrative to the topic at hand. It wasn’t until I read Derrida’s analysis of Blanchot’s piece that I realized that there were many aspects of Blanchot’s writing that could be interpreted as fiction, or possibly a veiled truth. Derrida eases us in by discussing the concept of mistranslations. He then discusses, in detail, the approach that should be used to distinguish a narrative or a testimony from fact or fiction. He begins by starting with the title and proceeds to analyze the first segment of Blanchot’s writing. For example, he states that allusion to “total insofar as fragmentary death” indicates that we are “in literature” and signals it is a testimony of sorts (45). He continues on, paragraph by paragraph, tackling each line and explaining the implications of the wording in regards to the “truth vs. fiction” agenda. Derrida’s analysis really helped me to understand Blanchot’s narrative and many of his seemingly contradictory lines. It seemed as though his “autobiography” was laced with a lot of fiction, and had a hidden agenda of cloaking the truth with a work of fiction. It also seemed as though there were two primary approaches that Derrida was taking in his analysis of Blanchot’s work. One was simply looking at grammar and sentence structure or word arrangement. For example, on pg 53 he quotes Blanchot and follows up by saying “self-reference of the ‘I’…the narrator is engaging in an act of memory” (pg 53). He explains that by changing from first to third person, there is a different interpretation because of the division of the subject. The other approach is looking at somewhat contradictory or nonsensical statements, and analyzing them so that they do make sense (if we accept a portion of it as truth and a portion as fiction.) An example of this is on pg 47 with the discussion of the “impossible necessary death” and “unexperienced experience,” as well as pg 96 when he discusses Blanchot’s final line “I am alive. No you are dead.”
Part 2: What I got out of the reading
I felt that Derrida spent a lot of time training us to distinguish truth from fiction. This is especially evident in the “I am speaking French” segment and his general analysis of Blanchot, where he analyzes the possibilities of the narrative being a testimonial. However, the overall mindset, to me, seems to be that literature can be both truth and fiction; it just depends on the reader’s take of whether it is false or can be accepted as truth.
When I first started reading this book, I thought Derrida was simply discussing the effects of mistranslation. Derrida begins his account by discussing how the word “Dichtung” can easily be mistranslated into fiction, or perhaps another word. It initially almost seemed like a critique of translations, until we reach the discussion of “passion” where he provides 7 different versions of what passion implies. He concludes by saying “literature depends on reading and the right conferred on it by an experience of reading” (29). It almost seems as though what we understand or accept from reading is a result of our own experiences. And our experiences determine our ability, not just to distinguish fact from truth, but to also accept this division within all works. After Derrida’s discussion, I felt like the overall lesson of the book is that there are different implications to each phrase and statement. It is up to the reader to select the correct implication and determine fiction from truth.