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COMMUNICATION THROUGH INTERRUPTION:

THE DISLOCATED CONVERSATION OF WRITING AND READING

By

ANNE C. McCONNELL

B.A., Illinois Wesleyan University, 1999

M.A., University of Colorado, 2001

A thesis submitted to the

Faculty of the Graduate School of the

University of Colorado in partial fulfillment

of the requirement for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Department of Comparative Literature and Humanities

2006

UMI Number: 3207732

UMI Number: 3207732 Copyright 2006 UMI Microform 3207732 by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights
UMI Number: 3207732 Copyright 2006 UMI Microform 3207732 by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights

Copyright 2006

UMI Microform 3207732

by ProQuest Information and Learning Company.

All rights reserved. This microform edition is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.

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This thesis entitled:

Communication through Interruption:

The Dislocated Conversation of Writing and Reading written by Anne C. McConnell has been approved for the Department of Comparative Literature and Humanities

Warren Motte

Paul Gordon

Date

The final copy of this thesis has been examined by the signatories, and we

Find that both the content and the form meet acceptable presentation standards

Of scholarly work in the above mentioned discipline.

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McConnell, Anne C. (Ph.D., Comparative Literature)

Communication through Interruption: The Dislocated Conversation of Writing and Reading

Thesis directed by Professor Warren Motte

Maurice Blanchot employs the concept of interruption to characterize the

role of discontinuity in conversation, and in the literary work. For Blanchot,

interruption both aids in understanding by allowing for the necessary pauses and

intervals that define the boundaries of words and thoughts, and it also disrupts

continuity by emphasizing the infinite interval separating the two parts of an

exchange speaker and listener, writer and reader, writing and the origin from

which it arises. One of the most important ideas that comes out of this analysis of

interruption concerns the distinction of the book and the work. In The Space of

Literature, Blanchot writes, “The writer belongs to the work, but what belongs to

him is only a book, a mute collection of sterile words, the most insignificant thing

in the world” (23). While the writer’s task involves a sort of passive listening to

the incessant murmur of the infinite work, she or he must in a sense betray the

most essential quality of the work its infinite recession into nothingness by

bringing the work to expression within the material and linguistic confines of the

book. In spite of this necessary failure on the part of writing, the book, for the

reader, remains the site where she or he may gain a sort of access to the work.

Thus, the book becomes a means of impossible exchange between writing and

reading an exchange based upon the interruption of the work’s infinite

recession. I develop a reading of Blanchot’s continual reference to the Orphic

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myth throughout his work as a way of considering the impossible communication

of literature. After a preliminary chapter dedicated to an analysis of the

Blanchotian theoretical perspective that informs my dissertation, I focus upon the

notion of communication through interruption as a way of reading five short

fiction texts. Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow,” Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of

Forking Paths,” Louis-René Des Forêts’s The Bavard, Nathalie Sarraute’s

Tropisms, and Blanchot’s L’arrêt de mort all address the supposed outer limits of

the text, meditating upon the interrupting function of textual space in regards to

the infinite movement of the work. In addition, they focus on the interaction and

communication of writing and reading within, and infinitely outside of, the text

that serves as their site of exchange. Kafka’s narrator obsesses over the outer

surroundings of his burrow, which propels him to keep digging, Borges proposes

the possibility of unwritten narratives beyond the material space of the text, Des

Forêts focuses upon the infinite quality of empty chatter, Sarraute “says” as little

as possible by bringing attention to the profound “emptiness” of the text itself and

the characters within, and Blanchot demonstrates the Orphic circularity of writing

and reading as it erases the boundaries which create order and definition in the

text. In his or her own unique fashion, each writer meditates upon the limiting

factors of textual space and seems to search for a certain blankness which defies

containment. This blankness provides the interval within which literary

communication functions. When reading these texts through Blanchot’s

theoretical perspective, we can see the way that these contemporary writers turn

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away from the concrete, the meaningful, the significant, in favor of a much less

secure grounding that defies spatial, temporal, and cognitive limitations.

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CHAPTER

CONTENTS

I. Introduction……………………………………………………………… 1

II. Writing Interruption Reading……………………………………

…22

III. The Infinite Patience of Franz Kafka’s Literary Interruption……………46

IV. Wandering Within Jorge Luis Borges’s Literary Labyrinths……………76

V. Conversing with a Bavard…………………………………

……

….108

VI. The Continuity of Discontinuity in Nathalie Sarraute’s Tropisms… …136

VII. The Circularity of Orphic Communication in L’arrêt de mort…………161

VIII. Conclusion………………………………………………………

……197

BIBLIOGRAPHY………………………………………………………………207

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CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

Maurice Blanchot tells us that every récit involves an encounter with the

imaginary. In “The Song of the Sirens,” he insists, “The tale is not the narration

of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that

event is made to happen an event which is yet to come and through whose

power of attraction the tale can hope to come into being, too” (447). 1 Blanchot

evokes Ulysses and the Sirens, Ahab and Moby Dick, and other significant

encounters that depict the law of the récit. The Sirens call Ulysses forward,

inspiring him to transgress the laws that govern his world, and to enter into an

1 Lydia Davis translates the French word récit as “tale”; my own text will retain the French. I refer to Davis’s translation of “Le chant des sirènes” found in The Blanchot Reader. This essay was originally published in Blanchot’s Le livre à venir. Elsewhere in the dissertation, I use Charlotte Mandell’s translation of that collection of essays, The Book to Come, but I prefer Davis’s translation of “Le chant des sirènes.” For this reason, citations from “The Song of the Sirens” come from Davis’s translation, but any other references to The Book to Come use Mandell’s translation

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imaginary space that threatens to engulf those who penetrate it. The song

resonates from an infinite distance, even as Ulysses hears its melody and struggles

to break free from the restraints that keep him from losing himself in this distance.

Ahab, on the other hand, sacrifices himself to the distance, as it overcomes him

and silences his ability to communicate the experience. Of course, there remains

something about those encounters that eludes their participants; Ahab is

swallowed into the depths of the sea, and Ulysses feigns mastery over a song that

promises to escape his grasp. The encounter that constitutes the récit surpasses

the récit. Yet, the récit is the encounter, and it relies upon the space that the

encounter opens. Herein resides the paradox, the infinite circularity, the

unapproachable abyss, the incommunicable communication that guides the récit.

The encounter with the imaginary whether in the form of a mythic battle with a

whale or the alluring song of dangerous temptresses clearly depends upon the

tale for its communication; but, at the same time, the tale can only come about by

way of the movement towards the point of encounter. In other words, Ahab must

encounter the whale, and Ulysses must listen to the song, for the stories

themselves to begin. The récit, as encounter, inspires the telling of the récit. Of

course, temporally, this makes little sense.

Blanchot writes:

The tale is a movement towards a point, a point which is not only unknown, obscure, foreign, but such that apart from this movement it does not seem to have any sort of real prior existence, and yet it is so imperious that the tale derives its power of attraction only from this point, so that it cannot even “begin” before reaching it and yet only the tale and the unpredictable movement of the tale create the space where the point becomes real, powerful, and alluring. (447)

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From this point of view, the encounter announces itself, in the sense that it

precedes itself, only to allow for its taking place. Rather than sacrificing myself

to this infinite, inescapable circularity, I would like to consider its implications in

regard to writing, reading, and the encounter or communication between the

two. Blanchot uses the examples of Ulysses and Ahab in order to analyze the

functioning of the récit an approach to writing that he privileges because of the

circular process that governs its inception and its communication. For Blanchot,

writing and reading are communicative gestures, even if they drown in the infinite

distance of the sea separating Ulysses from the Sirens, and Ahab from the whale.

In my dissertation, I plan to examine literary communication from that point of

view, adducing Blanchot’s thought in my readings of five short fictions.

I have chosen to begin by referring to Blanchot’s analysis of the Sirens’

song because it proposes his theory of the récit. It also parallels his understanding

of the Orphic gaze, which serves as a central point of reference throughout my

dissertation. “The Song of the Sirens,” though, specifically addresses the question

of genre, insofar as it applies to the notion of brevity when comparing, say, a

novel to a short fiction. That question poses itself as early as the “Table of

Contents” preceding my dissertation, as the reader might remark the way that

each of my chapters focuses on a particular short text whether we term it a short

story, a récit, a novella, or a collection of tropisms. For that reason, I would like

to consider Blanchot’s reflections on the récit as a way of entering into a

discussion of shortness as it relates to the topic of literary communication. In

Maurice Blanchot and the Literature of Transgression, John Gregg asserts,

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“Every novel contains secretly invaginated within it a récit” (199, emphasis in

original). That récit resides within the novel, yet exceeds the outer limits of that

which appears to contain it; it allows for the writing of the novel even before the

novel begins. It is not necessarily that Blanchot dismisses the novel in favor of

the récit, because, as we see here, the one does not exclude the other. In fact,

Blanchot celebrates the novel, since “Diversion is its profound song. To keep

changing direction, to move on in an apparently random way, avoiding all goals,

with an uneasy motion that is transformed into a happy sort of distraction” (446).

He understands this process of diversion to be intimately related with the récit;

rather than proceeding towards a specific goal, the novel strays, follows multiple

paths, branches out in several directions with no regard for a final destination. 2

Blanchot continues, “The tale begins at a point where the novel does not go,

though in its refusals and its rich neglect it is leading towards it” (446). 3 Another

paradox clearly arises with such reasoning. The récit, unlike the novel, does

appear to have a destination; but the novel, in neglect of that destination,

ultimately approaches the point that the récit seeks to confront. Thus, the

encounter of the récit involves distraction, lack of direction, aimlessness even if

the récit finds inspiration in a single point on the horizon. But the récit does

indeed distinguish itself from the novel, since it begins where the novel leaves off.

Blanchot writes, “Heroically, pretentiously, the tale is the tale of one single

2 See Ross Chambers’s Loiterature. In the first chapter, “Divided Attentions (On Being Dilatory)” he discusses a sort of digressive, meandering, distracted narrative approach (3-25). From Blanchot’s point of view, those qualities overtly characterize the novel, but also suggest the récit.

3 Hill translates récit as “tale.”

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episode, that in which Ulysses encounters the inadequate and enticing song of the

Sirens” (446).

One could perhaps mistake Blanchot’s identification of the récit simply

for a sort of essentialist vision of what literature can and should do. But even if

we understand the tale as the essence, the core, the defining movement of

literature, the glaring absence that arises out of the récit puts any naïve claims to

essentiality to rest. To clarify, the récit always involves a distance that

perpetuates its infinite movement towards an unreachable point and continually

defers the encounter that constitutes it. If the récit lies at the heart of writing, it

simply opens onto an abyss that defies any attempt to locate it. And if the récit

consists of an event the event of the encounter then it is only when the event

turns away from its reality as event, towards the imaginary, that the absence of the

event may speak. Blanchot explains this in terms of Ulysses’s encounter with the

Sirens:

It is true, Ulysses was really sailing, and one day, on a certain date, he

encountered the enigmatic song. And so he can say: now this is

happening now. But what happened now? The presence of a song which

was still to be sung. And what did he touch in the presence? Not the

occurrence of an encounter which had become present, but the overture of the infinite movement which is the encounter itself, always at a distance, from the place where it asserts itself and the moment when it asserts itself, because it is this very distance, this imaginary distance, in which absence is realized, and only at the end of this distance does the event begin to take place, at a point where the proper truth of the encounter comes into being and where, in any case, the words which speak it would originate. (450)

Therefore, we have two points Ulysses and the infinitely distant origin of the

song and an imaginary distance separating the two that seems both to prevent

their encounter and to constitute it. The récit, of course, is this always distant

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encounter. If the narrative of Moby-Dick aimlessly approaches this encounter,

and gains its inspiration from it, it merely arrives at the distance that engulfs Ahab

and leaves everyone else (Ishmael, Melville, the reader) infinitely outside. But

without that impossible encounter, which is the récit, the novel can never come

into being.

In some sense, the récit appears completely to negate itself but, by way

of this negation, it also affirms itself. According to Blanchot, the récit belongs to

the other time, which involves an affirmation of nothingness. He develops that

concept in The Space of Literature when discussing the fascination that inspires

writing: “Time’s absence is not a purely negative mode. It is the time when

nothing begins, when initiative is not possible, when, before the affirmation, there

is already a return of the affirmation” (30). This other time does not involve

beginnings or ends, or a movement towards a goal, but in the absence of these

things, affirms itself both as predecessor and follower, as absence and presence of

absence. The récit’s circularity it relies on itself to come into being makes

such an understanding of time necessary. And that is precisely what distinguishes

it, in Blanchot’s mind, from the novel. He writes:

If for the sake of convenience because this statement cannot be exact we say that what makes the novel move forward is everyday, collective or personal time, or more precisely, the desire to urge time to speak, then the tale moves forward through that other time, it makes that other voyage, which is the passage from the real song to the imaginary song. (BR 449, emphasis in original) 4

4 Throughout my dissertation I use abbreviations when citing Blanchot’s texts: AM (L’arrêt de mort), BC (The Book to Come), BR (The Blanchot Reader), IC (The Infinite Conversation), PV (La parole vaine), SL (The Space of Literature), and WF (The Work of Fire).

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Thus, the distinction of the récit and the novel only indirectly involves the issue

of length. If the récit is commonly shorter than the novel, this results from the

way that the récit confines itself to the moment when time becomes the other

time. It focuses on the circular moment where distance speaks. It commits itself

to a single, distant point, and thereby opens onto an infinite, bottomless, spaceless

movement. From this perspective, the concept of length makes little sense.

It seems, therefore, that my choice of analyzing short fiction is not a

simple question of length even if the term, on the most literal level, identifies

this sub-genre of fiction precisely by its brevity. Blanchot’s analysis of the récit

reveals the complexity of any act of reduction concerning the literary text.

Nevertheless, if we accept the relationship between the other time of the

encounter and a sort of condensed space that limits itself to this distant encounter,

then we arrive at the conclusion that the récit consists of the essential moment of

narrative without the ten years of a voyage that lead up to, and follow, this

moment. Of course, in Blanchot’s thought, essence is infinitely elusive; but this

remains beyond the point, so to speak. Blanchot identifies the récit as the abyssal

gulf that inhabits any narrative; while the epic or the novel might contain this

bottomless pocket, each also provides the superfluous, excessive, distracted

narrative that surrounds it. Blanchot does not critique this; furthermore, he notes

that the aimless digressions of the novel paradoxically lead to the point they lie

outside of. One cannot approach the encounter with purpose or intent; it exceeds

any sense of effort, or mastery. This explains Blanchot’s negative portrayal of

Ulysses in “The Song of the Sirens”: “a Greek of the period of decadence who

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never deserved to be the hero of the Iliad” (444). With that in mind, Blanchot

does not dismiss the novel, or epic; rather, he sees the récit as intimately involved

with it. Yet, the récit takes focus, sending any narrative excess to the outside, if

only in order to present its own measureless excess. One might therefore

conclude that the récit takes on a shortened, condensed form as a means of

bringing an undistracted attention to its infinite excessiveness.

In Small Worlds, a study of minimalism in French literature, Warren

Motte suggests the difficulty in identifying something as “small.” He writes:

We designate things as “small” capriciously and according to different

registers of perception. We may focus on a thing’s physical size; on its

duration, intensity, or range; on its import, its significance; on the quantity

of the elements composing it; or on the simplicity of its structure. What

seems common to all of those interpretive moves is the notion of reduction

in relation to some more or less explicit norm. Art that insists upon that

reduction and mobilizes it as a constructive principle can be termed

minimalist. (1, emphasis in original)

In the case of short fiction, or the récit if we specifically engage Blanchot’s term,

smallness, or shortness, indeed assumes a sense of reduction. And as Blanchot

suggests, a certain relativity is implied; in other words, “short” fiction is short in

relation to the traditional novel. Of course, Blanchot’s definition of the récit does

not necessarily apply to Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories, or to Franz Kafka’s

parables; yet each writer works with a form that plays on the notion of shortness.

Moreover, this shortness, or reduction in size, points us towards the notion of

essentialism in each case. Borges writes in his “Autobiographical Essay,” “The

feeling that the great novels Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn are virtually

shapeless served to reinforce my taste for the short-story form, whose

indispensable elements are economy and a clearly stated beginning, middle, and

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end” (238). Whether or not we take such a statement at face value, Borges clearly

celebrates the simplicity and the structure of the shortened form. It comes in a

neat, organized package that appears to get right to the point. Motte reflects on

these issues of reduction: “One may construe [the minimalist gesture of reduction]

as a careful process of distillation and concentration through which the desire to

approach a representational essence plays itself out” (5). If we apply this to the

genre of short fiction, which necessarily has a minimalist aspect to it, one might

infer that the shortened form reflects an effort to avoid the excesses of a text that

could, theoretically, be longer. From that point of view, such a process implies

the intentional interruption of a text that could infinitely expand by feeding off of

the unending possibilities of excess. While every text that appears between the

definitive limits of a front and back cover, no matter what length, can be

understood in these terms, short fiction specifically engages the question of

textual limitation, simply by virtue of its shortness. In other words, the short form

immediately brings the reader’s attention to the material boundaries of the text.

The reader has the sense that the short text seeks to present the essential, and

nothing more.

5

When I refer to short fiction as an interruption, I do not mean to minimize

the import of the genre by identifying it as unfinished, fragmentary, or sketch-like

(though these terms might indeed apply). Moreover, sometimes short fictions

5 As Motte’s argument implies, the ideal of approaching some sort of essence does not suggest the pretension of successfully doing so. Rather, many texts that self-consciously play upon the notion of essentialism undermine their own processes of attempting to shed excess. In the case of Blanchot’s discussion of the récit, it would seem that the narrowing of the text towards the essential moment of the récit simply opens the text up onto an illimitable, immeasurable excess. The song of the Sirens demonstrates the infinite distance that lures the récit into an essential bottomlessness. Paradoxically, the avoidance of excess leads to an infinite excessiveness.

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provide a greater sense of “wholeness” and completeness than longer texts when,

for example, they focus on carefully weaving together the pieces of a perfect

puzzle. I think specifically of Borges, who clearly values the tidy structure he

seems to find in short fiction. Yet, from a Blanchotian perspective, textuality

always implies interruption because it assigns boundaries to the infinite work;

and, for my purposes, short fiction specifically addresses the material confines of

the text because those limits are noticeably cinched in. Furthermore, the texts I

have chosen for analysis in my dissertation meditate upon beginnings, ends, and

other sorts of containment. Each text ultimately pushes the reader to question the

sense of wholeness we seek from a literary work; despite any appearance of

tidiness and completeness that a writer like Borges may offer, each text brings our

attention to its inability to constitute a whole.

Considering the text as interruption encourages us to rethink the questions

of wholeness and unity in relation to literature. In The Infinite Conversation,

Blanchot warns, “Whoever says fragment ought not to say simply the fragmenting

of an already existent reality or the moment of a whole still to come” (307). I will

demonstrate in the first chapter of my dissertation how, from Blanchot’s point of

view, every text functions by way of interruption because the work of literature or

art opens onto an infinite, limitless space. In that way, the concept of wholeness,

at least in these terms, does not apply to the literary text. Blanchot brings together

the notions of fragmentation and interruption when he tries to define what he calls

“the fragment word”: “‘Fragment,’ a noun, but possessing the force of a verb that

is nonetheless absent: brisure, a breaking without debris, interruption as speech

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when the pause of intermittence does not arrest becoming but, on the contrary,

provokes it in the rupture that belongs to it” (307). The “becoming” of literature

arises out of the rupture that interrupts it the space that breaks its flow, its unity,

its presence. The fragmented text demonstrates this broken process that proceeds

by intermittence, rather than a sort of flowing communication. For Blanchot, this

intermittence becomes the speech of literature. He continues, “The fragmented

poem, therefore, is not a poem that remains unaccomplished, but it opens another

manner of accomplishment the one at stake in writing, in questioning, or in an

affirmation irreducible to unity” (308).

We can understand the concept of the fragment in several different ways.

First, the fragment identifies the material piece of the infinite work; that piece

does not necessarily function in relation to some ideal whole, but, rather, points to

the impossibility of wholeness, or unity. In this way, any and every text appears

to demonstrate this initial understanding of fragmentation. But I would suggest

that certain texts self-consciously play on their status as fragment, rather than

promoting the illusion of wholeness. When Blanchot refers to the fragmented

poem, he specifically mentions René Char, who clearly reflects on the processes

of interruption and intermittence in his work. This next step in our

conceptualization of fragmentation begins to bring our focus to the way that the

use of space and silence in a text creates a sense of brokenness, or interrupted

flow. In such a perspective, while we may at first think of the fragment in

positive terms the material book as a piece of the infinite work, for

instance ,stopping here would miss the complexity of Blanchot’s argument. The

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book, because it brings the infinitely hidden work into a space of readability and

cognizance, silences the most essential quality of the work. For that reason,

Blanchot brings our attention to the blankness of the text, the interruptions.

Perhaps here, in this untainted gap that signifies communicative impossibility (at

the same time that it makes communication possible), something more profound

speaks. Blanchot privileges the fragmented text not merely because of the

fragments themselves, but because of the spaces and silences preserved between

them. The interrupted form of communication that remains vigilantly aware of

the infinite gap between things characterizes the literary conversation of writing

and reading. In Blanchot’s thought, the communication of the writer and the

work, the reader and the work, and writer and reader function by way of

interruption a topic I shall fully develop in the first chapter of my dissertation.

Returning to the question of short fiction, I believe that the form itself

immediately puts the issues of fragmentation, containment, and interruption

into play. In addition, the theme of communication arises in each of the short

fictions I have specifically chosen. Up until this point, I have been discussing

communication and interruption at the literal level of the text, but it also applies to

the representational level of the texts I analyze: Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow,”

Jorges Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths,” Louis-René Des Forêts’s

The Bavard, Nathalie Sarraute’s Tropisms, and Blanchot’s L’arrêt de mort. Each

of these texts addresses the notion of communication in a thematic way whether

to make evident the gaps that appear to make positive, “meaningful”

communication impossible, or to focus on the complexities of different kinds of

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exchange. I have chosen texts that offer unique insights on the interruptive

quality of communication. While they all have this theme in common, each short

fiction provides a different angle for approaching it. I rely on Blanchot’s critical

discourse throughout my dissertation, but I consider the way that the short fictions

I have chosen expand upon, invigorate, and even complicate Blanchot’s ideas.

One of the goals of my work involves engaging some of the disparate

trains of thought found in Blanchot’s work. For example, the notion of

interruption occupies a very small place in his critical oeuvre; yet, I have sought

to investigate its traces throughout his most influential essays. From this point of

view, the short fictions in my dissertation create a sort of communicative thread

that encourages conversation between the topics of interruption, the Orphic quest,

writerly exile, fragmentation, the resurrection of Lazarus, and the infinite realm of

the work and its impossibly distant origin. Even though Blanchot’s essay on

interruption in The Infinite Conversation follows the publication of The Space of

Literature, I assume a sort of circularity in his work, allowing for a reading of

later texts upon those which preceded them.

After a careful analysis of the critical foundation that Blanchot’s work

provides, I turn to Kafka’s “The Burrow” to begin my study of how the ideas of

interruption, communication, writing, and reading play out in narrative. Within

the work of Blanchot, Kafka serves to illustrate the plight of the writer; he

occupies a central place in Blanchot’s thought, as his struggle with the world and

with writing demonstrate the painful Orphic quest that an artist endures. Kafka’s

heroes reflect that endless struggle, and therefore illuminate the process of

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writing. “The Burrow,” in particular, stages Kafka’s inability to experience a

sense of success and completion through writing; the reader observes, through the

eyes of the burrowing narrator, the paranoia and obsessive behavior associated

with the infinite process of construction. The winding and incessant thoughts of

the narrator parallel the tunnels of his excruciatingly vulnerable burrow, and

furthermore encourage the reader to imagine these tunnels as those of a text.

While the tunnels branch out in multiple directions, they never provide the sense

of stability that the narrator seeks. This textual metaphor plays on the ideas of

centrality, linearity, limitation, beginnings and ends, precisely by undermining

each in their attempt to structure the space of the burrow, or text. In that

perspective, the concept of interruption applies to the way that any positive

manifestation of the work merely interrupts an ongoing and helplessly vulnerable

process, and therefore fails to capture the infinite recession of the work. The

narrator can’t possibly finish the burrow, and this torments him; he is left with the

enormous hollowed space he has created, which prevents any communication

with the outside world. He inhabits a sort of gap, and can only perceive the threat

of an Outside that imposes infinite solitude upon him. These ideas guide my

reading of Kafka’s “unfinished” story, and provide a first approach to examining

the interruptive process of writing.

Borges’s evocation of labyrinths throughout his work relates to Kafka’s

burrow, in that both writers employ textual images to represent the writing and

reading of textual space. Kafka examines a sort of centripetal force which moves

from the outer limits to the proposed center of the textual metaphor, while Borges

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invokes a centrifugal force, working from the most central chambers of the text to

its margins, and perhaps even beyond. The third chapter of my dissertation, on

“The Garden of Forking Paths,” addresses the status of the text as an interruption

of infinitely branching, labyrinthine narrative possibilities. I begin the chapter

with a discussion of the symbol of the labyrinth a widely-employed symbol

throughout the work of Borges. Labyrinths, for Borges, serve as an image for the

navigation of a text by both writer and reader. Depending upon purpose,

orientation, and destination, a navigator of a labyrinth can take any of an infinite

number of routes. And, most likely, this journey will involve confusion,

retracing of steps, and misdirection. Borges uses the textual metaphor to inform

his understanding of the way writing and reading operate within such a space.

The interaction between the two seems infinitely complicated when considering

the site that they share as a basis for communication. Blanchot, of course,

informs this perspective on the labyrinth. Then I begin a reading of Borges’s

detective-style story with this focus in mind. Borges uses a metatext a novel

called The Garden of Forking Paths to theorize the possibility of a text that

transgresses the spatial and temporal limitations of narrative. He opposes this

metatext with the extremely linear and overly-determined “outer” narrative that

functions through his narrator’s dictation. Yet the notion of bifurcating space and

time spills over into the narrative that Yu Tsun dictates; in other words, Yu

Tsun’s attempts to forge a singular path are undermined by the implications of the

metatext. Throughout the chapter, I develop the notion of communication that

arises in various ways: the theme of the chase that focuses on the interaction of

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the pursuer and his target, the relay of a message that threatens to change the

course of history, and the attempts of confused readers who try to unravel the

weavings of an infinite novel. In each case, one could conclude that it is only by

way of interruption that any of these communications take form, which has

interesting implications when considering the status of the text itself.

In the fourth chapter of my dissertation, I shift from the idea of physical

and literary labyrinths to verbal, or discursive labyrinths. In Louis-René Des

Forêts’s The Bavard, language reveals itself as excessive, exhaustive, and empty.

It is primarily concerned with its own perpetuation, rather than any claims to

meaning or truth. I analyze what it means to be the reader or listener of such a

narrative, and I suggest that such a blatant disregard for positive communication

actually opens up a more profound, even if empty, communication. The narrative

seems to arise from itself, as it becomes impossible to assign it to the “I” who

narrates. By nullifying itself, the text presents itself as a gap, an absence, or an

interval, that nevertheless keeps the reader turning the pages. The Bavard thereby

addresses the topic of interruption in two distinct ways: the ceaseless chatter of

the narrator puts emphasis on a sort of exchange that only stops when the listener

decides to interrupt the flow of words; and the emptiness of the words themselves,

which points to a different kind of communication one that recognizes the

distance that language creates between two participants in an exchange.

In Tropisms, Nathalie Sarraute, like Des Forêts, addresses the questions of

communication and textuality as they relate to the notion of emptiness. While

Des Forêts fills his textual space with noticeably extended sentences, drawn out

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explanations, digressions, and inane chatter, Sarraute opts to leave a surprising

amount of space blank both in terms of her minimalist writing style that

generally “says” as little as possible, and also in terms of the fragmentary

presentation of the text which leaves noticeable gaps between the written

passages. Des Forêts’s narrator gives us the sense that he relates anything and

everything that could have a bearing on either the story he tells or the way he tells

it; for that reason, the reader perceives the narrative as an exhaustive effort.

While the bavard appears to leave nothing unsaid (at the same time that he seems

to say nothing significant at all), the third-person narration of Tropisms

continually refuses what likely strikes us as essential information: names of

characters, identification of setting, developed descriptions, contextualization, and

a sense of narrative unity, to name some examples. In that way, the space of the

text feels unfinished and often empty, in that our attention is continually drawn to

what the narrator leaves blank, or unsaid. In the preface of Age of Suspicion,

Sarraute explains that the fragments of Tropisms aim to capture the impressions

left by the fleeting movements of life:

These movements, of which we are hardly cognizant, slip through us on the frontiers of consciousness in the form of undefinable, extremely rapid sensations. They hide behind our gestures, beneath the words we speak and the feelings we manifest, all of which we are aware of experiencing, and are able to define. They seemed, and still seem to me to constitute the secret source of our existence, in what might be called its nascent state. (8)

For Sarraute, these passing movements escape verbal explanation and are best

communicated through images that create a similar sensation. We see that

Sarraute’s tropisms function less through a sequential and coherent stringing

together of narrative, and more through a fragmentary collection of images that