The book The Instant of my Death, written by Blanchot, is a short narrative that describes, to the reader, an event that is characterized as being impossible to explain, or as an unexperienced experience. Demeure is a follow up piece, written by Derrida, that analyzes Blanchot’s tale.
When I first read The Instant of my Death I thought that the sold idea of the piece was to show how one can experience death, but not physically die. After reading Demeure I realized how much I missed from the original story.
While Demeure is a more difficult read than I am used to, I was able to see all the minute details about the The Instant of my Death that I had glanced over. From whether or not the piece could be characterized as literature to how Blanchot seamlessly plays with his words, the story became much more involved than I had anticipated.
A key debate by Derrida is the difference between literature and experience. “Everything that does not allow itself to be translated or received in this Latin word, precedes or exceeds latinity…cannot seriously or literally be recognized as literature”. [pg 21] An experience is one example given by the book of a piece of writing that cannot keep its composure when translated. Blanchot’s peace, he argues, it is not literature because certain words [“instant” and “instance” on page 39] do not translate equally to other languages and therefore if the story was read certain dialects it would not convey the same information. It is an experience, he says, because it is something that happened to him and only he can attempt to describe what it felt like. Even if someone else were there and had been alongside him, their recounting of events could be totally different from Blanchot’s and both accounts could be 100% true. As Hegel says [pg 83] “There is always more than one truth because there are several friends” .
The other principal argument by Derrida is about the line between fiction and truth. According to Derrida, truth can only be called true if someone testifies to it. In his book, Blanchot describes his experience from both a first and third person point of view. It cannot be called truth however, because the act of death, to which Blanchot allegedly was a witness, is not an act which can be witnessed [an unexperienced experience]. Death is the culmination of existence; it is the end. One cannot experience death and proceed to testify about it, as life is over the instant that death happens. However, if death is imminent and one has accepted this fact but yet death does not come, does this mean that the “one” has experienced death without physically experiencing it? Labeling Blanchot’s work as fiction is not just, as the events described did take place. This leaves one to wonder where, if at all, on the border of literature and fiction does one place The Instant of my Death?
When I first read Blanchot’s piece I did not catch the subtlety of him testifying to experiencing his own death. After reading Demeure I can say that I have gained a new appreciation for the words Blanchot chose and how he decided to arrange them.