Social Intersections 07 (an example)

At the center of his short ‘story’, The Madness of the Day, Maurice Blanchot describes a minor occurrence:

Outdoors, I had a brief vision: a few steps away from me, just at the corner of the street I was about to leave, a woman with a baby carriage had stopped, I could not see her very well, she was manoeuvering the carriage to get it through the door. At that moment a man who I had not seen approaching went in through that door. He had already stepped across the sill when he moved backward and came out again. While he stood next to the door, the baby carriage, passing in front of him, lifted slightly to cross the sill, and the young woman, after raising her head to look at him, also disappeared inside.1

This very ordinary event prompts a profound moment of realisation:

This brief scene excited me to the point of delirium. I was undoubtedly not able to explain it to myself fully and yet I was sure of it, that I had seized the moment when the day, having stumbled against a real event, would begin hurrying towards its end. Here it comes, I said to myself, the end is coming; something is happening, the end is beginning. I was seized by joy.2

The scene and its interpretation take shape as a kind of Zen koan, a conceptual puzzle that pushes beyond the limits of rational explanation – somehow both asserting the revelatory potential of the everyday and acknowledging the absurdity of revelatory investment in ordinary happenings. Notably, there is no effort to properly account for the event’s perceived significance. The narrator himself cannot adequately explain the association. In this manner, the passage establishes a curious tension between a sense of poetic possibility and a sense of radical incommensurability – indeed the two become entwined and mutually imbricated.

  1. Blachot, M. 1981 The Madness of the Day (Trans. Lydia Davis), Station Hill Press, New York, p.10
  2. Ibid.
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2 Responses to Social Intersections 07 (an example)

  1. yes, I feel it … the mind searches for the point the author is trying to make, it searches the scene that is described to try and perceive something of note … causes a kind of frantic search for meaning. When that meaning isn’t delivered, it leaves a kind of wonderment at the possibilities … a kind of disappointment compensated by this infinite feeling. I bet that infinite feeling is the joy Blanchot is talking about. Very inspiring.

    “there is no effort to properly account for the event’s perceived significance”

    I often read the Dreamtime stories of the Australian aborigines to my son, at night. One of the things that constantly strikes me about these dreamtime stories is that there seems to be no apparent purpose to the stories, other than describing something or how it came to be. The stories don’t seem to have any moral imperative, or lessons to be learnt … its almost as though their existence hinges purely on a need to understand how things came to be… but that need serves no expressed purpose.

    That’s why I was very dissapointed when I saw the 2006 movie based on an Aboriginal story: Ten Canoes ( It collapsed into a moral tale.

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