FRIENDSHIP, ASYMMETRY, SACRIFICE: Bataille & Blanchot - Patrick Ffrench (2007)

Jacques Derrida’s Politics of Friendship [Politiques de l’amitié] carries within it a hope that friendship concieved as ‘familial, fraternalist and andocentric’ be interrupted. The other friendship, which interrupts the friendship of ‘brothers’ is extended to any other, and anticipates the death of the friend; it is a friendship beyond the grave. friend speaks to the friend already from beyond the grave, if the friend speaks to the friend at all, and the friend responds in a situation of survival and of mourning, if response there is. There are two politics (at least) of friendship: that of the brothers, of man, on the one hand, and on the other friendship as a rupture with any kind of reciprocity or bond. other friendship ruins reciprocal exchange; it is not of the order of dialogue or of interlocution: friendship of this kind is synonymous with asymmetry. In the final pages of Derrida’s book, this friendship without bond and beyond the bond finds an exemplar in the relation (or the non-relation) of Maurice Blanchot and Georges Bataille, and particularly in the text that Blanchot dedicated to Georges Bataille: Friendship [L’Amitié] (PF 293). The friendship which interrupts the bond is moreover to be linked, Derrida suggests, to the ‘community without community’ (48) named by Bataille, and on which Blanchot will write in The Unknowable Community [La communauté inavouable], in response to Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Inoperative Community [La communauté désoeuvrée]. Politics of Friendship thus addresses, obliquely, a community of friends whose links with each other take the written form of a series of ruptures with community, a series of asymmetrical interventions and responses. Friendship, in this sense, exists in the response or the echo that one text gives to another, where this response responds without answering, and where the echo is already another voice; community is inscribed in or rather across a disjunctive network of texts. In this context, can it be said that the text addresses or is addressed to the other? How do these conditions affect the mode of address and the character of critical thought? The reciprocity of non-reciprocity, or in other words, the way in which these texts respond to or echo each other by not responding to or echoing each other, has important consequences in terms of what does not return in Blanchot’s friendship with Bataille, and in terms of what is not addressed in Bataille’s work.

A genealogy of texts thus constitutes this series of interruptions of friendship, leading back to the encounter between Bataille and Blanchot in the early 1940s and to the interplay of their writings, which often refer to ‘conversations’; this is taken up again in the 1980s with the ‘exchange’ between Nancy and Blanchot on community (in which Blanchot’s mode of responding to is to write, partly, on Marguerite Duras’ Maladie de la mort and on the ‘community without community’ of May 1968). But the first part of The Unknowable Community at least is concerned with the theoretical legacy of Bataille’s experiments with community of the pre-war period, the ‘secret’ society Acéphale, the Collège de Sociologie, whose contexts are the precise political conjunctures of the 1930s. Blanchot and Nancy’s engagements with Bataille tend, to an extent, to disengage him from these conjunctures. Blanchot’s Friendship also, while its various articles can be situated as asymmetrical responses to specific moments in Bataille’s writing, disengages these moments from their immediate conjunctures. This dis-engagement or de-scription is, however, inherent to the mode of friendship envisaged by both Blanchot and Bataille. Their friendship, otherwise their communication, is one which withdraws from presence and from immediacy in differing ways. In both withdrawing from immediacy, Blanchot and Bataille’s texts (Friendship and ‘Friendship’) seem to gesture towards each other, on either side of the limit of Bataille’s death, texts on two sides of a tomb, to form an asymmetrical reciprocity.