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Max Blecher:

The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering


Leo Stan
Everything will eventually rot only to be afterwards absorbed by darkness, forever.
Max Blecher1

On September 8, 1909 the remote Romanian town of Botoani witnessed the birth
of a special child. His name was Max L. Blecher. Of Jewish origin, his family
belonged to the relatively affluent local bourgeoisie. His school years were spent
in the nearby city of Roman. Immediately afterwards, he took a huge geographical
leap to Paris with the intention of studying medicine. However, in 1928, shortly
after the arrival in France, Blechers existence took a dramatic turn as he was
diagnosed with tuberculosis spondylitis, also known as Potts disease or extrapulmonary tuberculosis. From this date on, one could say without exaggeration
that his existence resembled a prolonged Golgotha. He spent extended periods of
time at various sanatoria in Switzerland, France, and Romania. The grim reality
he encountered in these places constituted the main source of inspiration for his
prose. Because all treatments proved useless, in 1935 his family placed him in
a house at the outskirts of Roman, where he spent the rest of his life lying in
bed, completely immobilized. He took refuge in reading,2 correspondence, and
a few friendships cultivated with religious reverence.3 After almost ten years
of endless physical and psychological torments, endured, nonetheless, with a
saintly patience and discretion, he died on May 31, 1938. He was only 28. He left
behind three novelstwo of which were published before he died4a volume
This article has been made possible through a generous postdoctoral grant offered by the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, to which I extend my full
gratitude. I also wish to thank Karsten Sand Iversen for his critical and most helpful feedback.
1
Max Blecher, Vizuina luminat, in his ntmplri n irealitatea imediat. Inimi
cicatrizate. Vizuina luminat. Corp transparent. Coresponden, ed. by Constantin M. Popa
and Nicolae one, Craiova and Bucharest: Aius and Vinea 1999, p. 306.
2
Blechers intellectual interests ranged from the status of the chromosomes in biology
to art, poetry, twentieth century epistemology, and even the history of religions. See Blecher,
ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 36184.
3

Radu G. eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, Bucharest: Minerva 1996, p. 13.
4
Max Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, Bucharest: Vremea 1936 (French
translation: Aventures dans lirralit immediate, trans. by Marianne Sora, Paris: Denol
1972); Max Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, Bucharest: Editura librriei Universala Alcalay &
Co. 1937 (English translation: Scarred Hearts, trans. by Henry Howard, London: Old Street
Publishing 2008); and Max Blecher, Vizuina luminat, ed. by Saa Pan, Bucharest: Cartea

Leo Stan

of poems,5 translations, newspaper articles, and book reviews. The recipients of


his epistles included Mihail Sebastian, Andr Breton, Andr Gide, and Martin
Heidegger.6 As regards the literary imprint of Blechers novels, it belongs to an
eclectic family arguably formed by Andr Gide, Franz Kafka, Charles Baudelaire,
Conte de Lautramont, Thomas Mann (particularly, The Magic Mountain), Marcel
Proust, Benjamin Fondane, Henri Bergson, and Ernst Jnger, together with lesserknown figures like Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa,
and Gabriele dAnnunzio.7 Given Romanias oppressive ideological strictures
between 1945 and 1989, the reception of Blechers oeuvre has been slow and
continues to be so to this day. As in the case of a vast number of Romanian writers,
the complete critical compendium of Max Blechers writings still awaits more
auspicious times.
I. The Infinite Negativity of Mystical Repetition
Ever since Blechers works started to reenter the attention of literati, his affinities
with and enthusiasm for Kierkegaard have been sufficiently documented.8 But
the amplitude of Blechers actual knowledge of Kierkegaard remains a source of
speculation. Similarly to all his conational peers, Blecher familiarized himself
with Kierkegaards corpus through the French translations which, aside from
their small number, were also difficult to find. We can be fairly sure that besides
Repetition, Blecher read La puret du coeur, the French translation of the first
discourse from Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits.9 However, it may be of
help to know what other works he might have consulted. Theoretically, by 1936
Romneasc 1971. Throughout this study all references to Blechers work are from Blecher,
ntmplri n irealitatea imediat. All translations from the Romanian are mine.
5
Max Blecher, Corp transparent, Bucharest: n.p. 1934.
6
Max Blechers journalistic and epistolary activity can be found in Blecher, ntmplri
n irealitatea imediat, pp. 359ff. See also Max Blecher mai puin cunoscut. Coresponden
i receptare critic, ed. by Mdlina Lascu, Bucharest: Hasefer 2000. For more biographical
details, intellectual or otherwise, eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, pp. 1418; Gheorghe
Glodeanu, Max Blecher, Cluj-Napoca: Limes 2005, pp. 56; Radu G. eposu, Blecher,
Max, in Dicionarul scriitorilor romni (AC), ed. by M. Zaciu, M. Papahagi, and A. Sasu,
Bucharest: Editura Fundaiei Culturale Romne 1995, p. 297.
7
For a more detailed account of Blechers literary activity and other indispensable
biographical aspects the interested reader may consult Karsten Sand Iversens afterword to
the Danish translation of ntmplri n irealitatea imediat; Karsten Sand Iversen, Kdets
fortvivlelse, in Max Blecher, Hndelser fra den umiddelbare uvirkelighed, trans. by Erling
Schller, Copenhagen: Basilisk 2010, pp. 14255. I am grateful to Karsten Sand Iversen for a
critical reading of the present article, as well as making his afterword available to me.
8

Nicolae Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, Bucharest: Eminescu 1974, p. 159; Ion Negoiescu,
Engrame, Bucharest: Albatros 1975, p. 120; Iulian Bicu, Max BlecherUn arlechin pe
marginea neantului, Bucharest: Editura Universitii Bucureti 2004, p. 39; p. 79; p. 112.
9
Blechers novel Inimi cicatrizate has the following motto: Quel terrible souvenir
affronter. See Sren Kierkegaard, La puret du coeur, trans. by Paul-Henry Tisseau,
Bazoges-en-Pareds: privately published 1936. Cf. SKS 8, 133 / UD, 18.

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

when he published his thoughts on Kierkegaard, a fairly good share of Kierkegaards


authorship, both pseudonymous and edifying, could have been at Blechers disposal.
The enthralling and bizarre story from The Diary of the Seducer was one of
the earliest Kierkegaardian texts published in interwar France.10 The simulated
bacchanalia and philosophical parodies comprised in In vino veritas had been
available since 1933.11 Amongst the remaining titles which, interestingly enough,
had a definite religious texture, we count the lilies in the field series,12 For SelfExamination,13 but also The Sickness unto Death,14 Fear and Trembling,15 and The
Concept of Anxiety.16 We would not be completely wrong to assume that Blechers
knowledge of Kierkegaard went beyond primary texts. However, regarding the
secondary sources, the Romanian landscape was not entirely desolate but likewise
was not conducive to an exceptional reception. According to Florin urcanu, the
first written material on Kierkegaard dates back to 1927 and is attributable to the
academic philosopher and sociologist Mihail Ralea (18961964).17 Next, on March
4, 1928 the newspaper Cuvntul hosted an article signed by a young student, Mircea
Eliade, and entitled Sren Kierkegaard: Fianc, Pamphleteer, and Hermit.18 Three
10

Sren Kierkegaard, Le journal du sducteur, trans. by Jean J. Gateau, Paris: Stock,


Delamain & Boutelleau 1929.
11
Sren Kierkegaard, In vino veritas, trans. by Andr Babelon and C. Lund, Paris:
ditions du Cavalier 1933.
12
Sren Kierkegaard, Ce que nous apprennent les lis des champs et les oiseaux du ciel,
trans. by Paul-Henri Tisseau, Paris: Flix Alcan 1935 and Sren Kierkegaard, Les lis des
champs et les oiseaux de ciel, trans. by Paul-Henri Tisseau, Paris: Flix Alcan 1935.
13
Sren Kierkegaard, Pour un examen de conscience, mes contemporains, trans. by
Paul-Henri Tisseau, Bazoges-en-Pareds: privately published 1934.
14
Sren Kierkegaard, Trait du dsespoir. (La maladie mortelle), trans. by Knud Ferlov
and Jean J. Gateau, Paris: Gallimard 1932.
15
Sren Kierkegaard, Crainte et Tremblement. Lyrique-dialectique, par Johannes de
Silentio, trans. by Paul-Henri Tisseau, Paris: Fernand Aubier 1935.
16
No less than two translations of The Concept of Anxiety were available at the time.
See Sren Kierkegaard, Le Concept dangoisse. Simple mditation psychologique pour
servir dintroduction au problme dogmatique du pch originel, par Vigilius Haufniensis,
trans. by Paul-Henri Tisseau, Paris: Flix Alcan 1935; and Sren Kierkegaard, Le concept de
langoisse, trans. by Jean J. Gateau and Knud Ferlov, Paris: Gallimard 1935. For a complete
bibliographical list, see Jon Stewart, France: Kierkegaard as a Forerunner of Existentialism
and Poststructuralism, in Kierkegaards International Reception, Tome I, Northern and
Western Europe, ed. by Jon Stewart, Aldershot: Ashgate 2009 (Kierkegaard Research:
Sources, Reception and Resources, vol. 8), pp. 4601.
17
Raleas article appeared in Viaa romneasc, vol. 19, nos. 67, 1927. See Florin
urcanu, Erudiie i jurnalism. Publicistica lui Mircea Eliade n anii 19261928, Sud-Estul
i contextul european vol. 3, 1995, pp. 8794; p. 93, note 16.
18

Mircea Eliade,Sren KierkegaardLogodnic, pamfletar i eremit, Cuvntul, vol.
4, no. 1035, 1928, p. 1 (reprinted in Mircea Eliade, Virilitate i ascez. Scrieri de tineree
1928, Bucharest: Humanitas Publishers 2008, pp. 6872). For a thorough analysis of Eliades
article, see Leo Stan, Mircea Eliade: On Religion, Cosmos, and Agony, in Kierkegaards
Influence on the Social Sciences, ed. by Jon Stewart, Aldershot: Ashgate 2011 (Kierkegaard
Research: Sources, Reception and Resources, vol. 13), pp. 5580.

Leo Stan

years later, the renowned philosopher and poet, Lucian Blaga, introduced Romanian
readers to Kierkegaards purportedly dualistic view of faith and reason, based on the
Danes peculiar employment of the Christian dogmas.19 Then in 1934, Mircea Eliade
published a tome with the evocative title, Oceanografie,20 whose Kierkegaardian
(explicit or implicit) undertones are not difficult to detect. Not to be ignored either
are Benjamin Fundoianus incidental remarks on Kierkegaard scattered throughout
the inter bellum Romanian press.21 Fundoianu (that is, Benjamin Fondane) published
his chief work, Conscience malheureuse, in which Kierkegaard occupies a relatively
central position, in 1936.22 It so happened that, thanks to Max Blecher, in the same
year a new line was added to the scanty bibliography of Kierkegaards entry onto
Romanian soil.
The title of Blechers article On Kierkegaards Concept of Repetition23 sounds
promising from one standpoint. It appeared in the newspaper Vremea on March
29, 1936. From the first lines we can safely infer that the text was sparked by the
allegedly most recent and most interesting24 French translation of Kierkegaards
Repetition. The term most recent should be taken cum grano salis because the
edition Blecher has in mind was originally published in 1933.25 In the preamble
we are offered two reasons for the deficient knowledge of Kierkegaard in the
Romanian literary milieu. First of all, opines Blecher, for the autochthonous public
the French publicationsthe channel par excellence for the discovery of any foreign
newcomerare difficult to procure. Second, while briefly delving into the quick
running waters of the philosophy of culture, Blecher conjectures that in Kierkegaard
the Romanian audience is confronted with an essentially different way of thinking,

Lucian Blaga, Eonul dogmatic, Gndirea. Literar, artistic, social, vol. 11, no. 2,
1931, pp. 708. See also Mdlina Diaconu, Kierkegaard-Rezeption in Rumnien, Revue
Roumaine de Philosophie, vol. 45, nos. 12, 2001, pp. 14964. Importantly enough, Diaconu
observes that the scholarly approach to Kierkegaards oeuvre was initiated by Nicolae Balc
who wrote the Kierkegaard chapter for Istoria filozofiei moderne, vols. 15, ed. by Mircea
Florian et al., Bucharest: Societatea Romn de Filosofie 193741, vol. 2 (De la Kant pn
la evoluionismul englez), pp. 53162; and by Grigore Popa, Existen i adevr la Sren
Kierkegaard, Sibiu: Tipografia Arhidiecezan 1940. Unfortunately, Blecher did not live long
enough to have consulted these exegetical works.
20
Mircea Eliade, Oceanografie, Bucharest: Cultura Poporului 1934. For references to
Kierkegaard, see Mircea Eliade, Oceanografie, 2nd ed., Bucharest: Humanitas 2003, pp. 212;
pp. 1989; pp. 2001.
21

See Diaconu, Kierkegaard-Rezeption in Rumnien.
22
Benjamin Fondane, Conscience malheureuse, Paris: Denoel 1936. Fondane treats
Kierkegaard alongside Martin Heidegger, Lev Shestov, and Dostoevsky. A separate chapter
analyzes Kierkegaards category of the secret. However, it is highly improbable that Blecher
read Fondanes book before writing the material on Kierkegaard which I discuss below.
23

Max Blecher, Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], Vremea, vol. 9, no. 431,
March 29, 1936. The article has been reprinted in Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat,
pp. 3768. Concerning page references I have followed this edition.
24

Blecher, Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], p. 376.
25
Sren Kierkegaard, La Rptition. Essai dexprience psychologique par Constantin
Constantius, trans. by Paul-Henri Tisseau, Paris: Alcan 1933.
19

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

given our somewhat Latin intellectualism in contradistinction to the severe Protestant


mysticism of the Danish writer.26
On Kierkegaards Concept of Repetition puts forward a few controversial
theses. However, their unprecedented quality which makes them worthy of further
study must be properly appreciated. After all, Blecher writes in the French tradition
of essay which is built on free associations and a rather impressionistic hermeneutic.
Besides, there are two theoretical assumptions which Blecher adopts without further
questioning, a proof that they may have been floating in the air at the time. First,
Blecher remarks that Kierkegaard can be fruitfully assimilated to the emerging school
of phenomenology. Husserls philosophy, he declares, similarly to that of Jaspers
and Heidegger, takes us closer to Kirkegaards [sic] thought.27 In the same vein,
Blecher claims that, apart from significantly influencing such phenomenologists
as Karl Barth, Karl Jaspers, and Martin Heidegger, Kierkegaard genuinely sought
to appropriate in experience that pure state of consciousnesswhich Husserl was
content merely to describe.28 Despite the inordinate character of these statements,
Blecher hereby touches upon a historical-philosophical truth that is neglected to this
very day. We forget too quickly that none other than Edmund Husserl introduced
Lev Shestov to Kierkegaards reflections on religion, and that the Danish thinker
was a recurrent reference point in the history of twentieth-century phenomenology.
Blecher refers to the latters allegiance to Kierkegaard as if formulating a cultural
fact. The explanation might be that in the interwar period Kierkegaards thought
was disseminated via the existentialist branch of phenomenology.29 In this respect,
Blecher alludes to Jaspers and Heidegger, and implies that Karl Barths theology is
inseparable from existentialist phenomenology, which it was to a certain extent.30
However, although he rightly points out that Kierkegaard is first and foremost
concerned with the endless examination of the challenges (problemelor) of
eternity,31 Blecher does not pause for a second to ask how that would be possible
within the narrow limits of Husserls or Heideggers secular phenomenology.
The fact that Kierkegaard naturally belongs to phenomenological existentialism
perfectly coheres with a second theoretical move which allows Blecher to interpret
Kierkegaard in a rigidly biographical key. Although Repetition is a pseudonymous
work with an intricate authorial dynamic, the Romanian writer discusses it not only
as if it had been signed with Kierkegaards name, but also credits it as confessional

Blecher, Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], p. 376.
Ibid.
28
Ibid., p. 378.
29
For an interpretation of Blecher in the horizon of Jaspers existentialism, see
Negoiescu, Engrame, pp. 11939.
30
Of course, Blecher must have had in mind Karl Barth, Der Rmerbrief, Munich: Kaiser
1st ed., 1919, 2nd ed., 1922. (English translation: The Epistle to the Romans, trans. by Edwyn
C. Hoskyns, London: Oxford University Press 1933.) Somewhere else, Blecher considers
Kierkegaard the spiritual forefather of the philosophers of existence, amongst whom he
counts Jaspers, Ludwig Klages, Heidegger, Husserl, and Barth. See Max Blecher, Exegeza
ctorva teme comune, Azi, vol. 5, no. 23, MayJune, 1936 (reprinted in his ntmplri n
irealitatea imediat, pp. 37984; see p. 383).
31

Blecher, Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], p. 377.
26
27

Leo Stan

fiction. Blecher calls this aspect the purely anecdotic side of the book,32 and
subsequently holds that in Repetition Kirkegaard [sic] recounts his first love, the
engagement to his inamorata, and the dreadful despair of being unable to marry
her.33 The far-reaching thesis seems to be that what was infinitely troubling and
painful in Kirkegaards [sic] life34 represents indubitable evidence that the nature
of thinking, in general, is pathos-filled.35 Of course, that Blecher completely ignores
the indispensible role of Constantin Constantius within the existential universe and
ideational dialectic of the book will significantly compromise his hermeneutic
enterprise.
Turning to the theoretical core of the article, Blecher starts from the premise that
Repetition carries within it the entire Kierkegaardian problematic36 and as such
represents a pertinent introduction to [Kierkegaards] oeuvre as a whole.37 On the
other side, Blechers discussion revolves around (1) the momentous significance
of negativity in Kierkegaards thought38 and (2) an inwardness-centered conception
of mysticism. Vis--vis the negative factor, Blecher observes that the essence of
Kierkegaards approach lies in the desire to repeat a past state of mind,39 and that,
at the same time, every effort to fulfill this desideratum is bound to fail. For instance,
when he painfully regains his freedom after having broken the engagement, the young
man/Kierkegaard believes that his reborn and exalted selfhood can be subjected
to a religious teleology. More exactly, the new identity seems encompassing and
passionate enough to pattern itself on the biblical example of Job. However, Blecher
insightfully realizes that within the confines of Repetition it is not clear whether
Kierkegaard did succeed in emulating Job.40 To Blecher what is nonetheless certain
is that, despite his ebullient claim to the contrary, Kirkegaard [sic] falls prey to the
same inner turmoil.41
32

Ibid., p. 376.
Ibid.
34
Ibid., p. 378.
35
Ibid.
36
Ibid., p. 376.
37
Ibid.
38
For a full treatment of this issue, see Arne Grn, Subjektivitet og negativitet:
Kierkegaard, Copenhagen: Gyldendal 1997. See also Slavoj iek, The Parallax View,
Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: MIT Press 2006.
39

Blecher, Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], p. 376.
40

Repetition ends with the young mans outburst that he won himself back. The parallel
with Job, though explicitly endorsed by the young man, is rather artificial as long as the
transcendent is completely absent from his discourse, and as he lacks any sense of sinfulness.
That there may be a teleological suspension of the ethical, given the young mans deliberate
breaking of the engagement, is an untenable conjecture. Unlike Abraham, who willfully set
aside the ethical considerations (that is, his fatherly duties but never his love for Isaac) in order
to fulfill Gods commandment, the young man puts an end to the engagement due to an inner
impossibility to assume the marital role. It may be worth remembering that in the Postscript,
when he comments upon Repetition, Johannes Climacus never mentions the young mans
attempt to emulate Job, even if Climacus tackles the possible opposition between the ethical
and the religious. See SKS 7, 23845 / CUP1, 2628.
41

Blecher, Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], p. 377.
33

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

Therefore, Blechers argument goes on, the difference between Kierkegaard and
the true mysticwho is particularized not necessarily by faith but by an incessant
inward examination42is negligible. Provided his pathos-laden search for a
solution,43 Kierkegaard must have placed himself between his real personhood and
his spiritual idealization in eternity.44 It is precisely on this existentialist ground that,
in Blechers view, Kierkegaard gives one the impression of a Hegelian in endless
becoming (formaie).45 Specifically, Kierkegaard rejects a third term not because
it was not logical, but because his inner uneasiness is too deep, too passionate to be
reducible to a merely objective perspective on the quandaries that torment him.46
Mysticism, holds Blecher, can be equated with an intense subjective quest
for meaningfulness and a continual dissection of ones inward commotions.
Consequently, (1) if mysticism hinges on an endless and ardent attempt to realize
repetition despite the impossibility of fulfilling it; (2) if Kierkegaard stressed the
permanence of the [inner] quest;47 and (3) if he remained within the parameters
of passion, at equal distance from the rational and the absurd,48 then, Blechers
reasoning goes, Kierkegaard can be considered a mystic. Even if Blecher does
acknowledge the significance of the eternal and its stakes for Kierkegaard, his slant
on the latters mysticism stresses the passionate introspection and inner antagonism
to such a degree that it almost borders on solipsism. It is for no other reason that
for Blecher, what particularizes Kirkegaards [sic] mysticism is precisely the
desire to free himself from any contingency (be it an inward one), to live his inner
conflict in its sheer purity, unbound by time, space, and feelings.49 The overall
thesis advocated here is that, since existential repetition50 constitutes an unattainable
ideal, the mystical (as different from religious) existencewhich Kierkegaards
personality peerlessly epitomizesis the only way out of repetitions impasse.
The odd aspect is, of course, the absence of any reference whatsoever to divine
transcendence. In Blechers article we look in vain for any mention of union with
God or suffering for the sake of Christ, to name only two exceptionally mystical
tropes. Moreover, as I hypothesized above, Kierkegaards substantial reflections on
the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian religiosity and faith may have been within
Blechers reach. And yet, they are completely absent from his article. But once we
come to know more of Blechers personal and aesthetic Weltanschauung, the picture
42

Ibid.
Ibid.
44
Ibid.
45
Ibid.
46
Ibid.
47
Ibid., p. 378.
48
Ibid.
49
Ibid., p. 377.
50
By existential repetition I mean the possibility to fully relive a past experience.
The first example that comes to mind is, of course, Constantin Constantius who returns to
Berlin hoping to relive the same pleasures and enchantments from a previous trip. However,
the failure of this experiment makes him wonder whether repetition has a far more inward
connotation than he initially expected. And that is how he brings the young man into the
picture (together with his unseemly involvement in it).
43

10

Leo Stan

of his idiosyncratic reception of Kierkegaard will lose its bewildering penumbrae. It


is this world-view and its possible pathology (delineated with Kierkegaards help)
that I shall tackle next.
II. Prior to Repetition: On Dreams, Eros, and Filth
That Blecher reads Kierkegaard in such an unsophisticated manner is not accidental.
It may be the case that Blecher took his Danish companion as the occasion for a
covert confessio. Thus, Blechers intimate world-viewthe literary reverberations
of which are hard to missmust have played a fundamental part in his reception of
Kierkegaard. And since Blechers work, I hold, can be diagnosed as the product of
a self in despair, below I shall hypothetically read the central themes of Blechers
novels in light of Kierkegaards anatomy of Fortvivlelse.
But first a few words on Blechers literary profile. Scholars have argued that
Blechers allegiance lies with existentialism, surrealism, and the nineteenth-century
literature of decadence. From surrealism Blecher inherited an irresistible propensity
towards the dazzling world of dreams and imagination. Decadent writers gave him a
taste for artificial objects and theatricality.51 I also noted above that the existentialist
version of phenomenology was incrementally reaching a degree of popularity during
the period that concerns us here. Blecher felt particularly close to this philosophical
current because it proposed a type of thinking and a writing style which were rooted
exclusively in the carnal individuality of the author.52 At the same time, incipient
hard-core existentialism equipped Blecher with a recklessly lucid understanding
of the tragic human condition, which, we should never forget, was confirmed by
his own quotidian ordeals. Alienation vis--vis oneself, the others, or the world, an
intenseand nihilistic, I shall suggestsensitivity to the absurdity of life, the stress
on the individuals inevitable loneliness, the equivocal flight from alterity in any of
its forms, and a bold affirmation of universal contingency are the main contours of
Blechers existentialist mindset.
All of these elements must be taken into consideration when analyzing Max
Blechers prose. Most importantly, in spite of any contrary opinion,53 my assumption
throughout this study is that, somewhat similarly to Kierkegaard, one cannot sharply
separate Blechers harrowing life from his literary exploits. If we accept that Blecher

Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 66; pp. 6871; p. 74; Blecher, Vizuina
luminat, p. 275; pp. 299300; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, pp. 1779; Nicolae Manolescu,
Arca lui Noe, Bucharest: Gramar 1998, pp. 5667. Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 121.
52
We should not forget that in 1938, the year of Blechers death, Jean-Paul Sartre
published La Nause. Five years later Sartre sent to the printer his magnum opus, Ltre et
le nant (1943) which, in concert with Albert Camus Ltranger (1942) and Le Mythe de
Sisyphe (1942), arguably consecrates atheist existentialism as a self-standing literary genre
and philosophical current.
53

See in this sense Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, pp. 1545. My position coincides with
that of Radu G. eposu, who unearths the biographical roots of Blechers literary activity. See
eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, pp. 21ff.
51

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

11

suffered a daily martyrdom,54 being tortured and humiliated by every inch of his
body55a reality that is impossible to disputethen the fact that his prose describes
only gravely ill people, whom he probably chanced upon in various sanatoria, cannot
be dismissed as marginal. In this regard, I would dare to say that the humanity that
literally crawls through Blechers pages is epitomized by the figure of the (hopeless)
patient. The wordsmith of ntmplri n irealitatea imediat (Events from the Close
Unreality), Inimi cicatrizate (literally, Scarred Hearts), and Vizuina luminat (The
Lighted Burrow, subtitled A Sanatorium Diary) portrays only negative heroes56
who resignedly live at the mercy of their sick bodies whims. Everyone in Blechers
fiction sees the world and themselves through the darkening lens of their diseased
condition and physical degradation. The novelistic triptych I alluded to earlier is
dominated by the imagery of a grotesque, tragic-comic humanity that is integrally
affected by the humiliations of a decaying corporeality and whose origin is anything
but divine. Many of Blechers characters suffer from terminal illnesses, while the
recovery period of others is long enough to result in unforgettable and ghastly
revelations.
Given the aims of this article, it is important to remember that there are, broadly
speaking, three ways in which Blechers personages wish to escape the inferno of
pain: a melancholy retreat into the oneiric and phantasmal dimension of interiority,57
the erotic escapades meant to compensate for physical invalidity, and the rapturous
immersion into the material and the abject. In what follows, after a short overview, I
project each of these against Kierkegaards discussion of the pathology of subjectivity.
Hereby I hope to open a few vistas that deserve a more extensive analysis.
To begin with, Blechers ailing protagonists have recurrent experiences of
estrangement from the outer world but also from themselves.58 Consequently,
some of them will seek liberation through evasive withdrawal into the depths of
imagination and dreams. Their self-absorbed involvement with the imaginary is so
profound, and their oscillation between daydreaming and facticity so vertiginous,
that reality and fantasy become impossible to discern.59 Thus one can speak of a
hallucinatory dimension of Blechers fiction. Oftentimes this oneiric universe is
imbued with a nightmarish aggressiveness, wherein one can guess the ghastly omen
of death or annihilation.60 However, the anti-traumatic descent into the abyss of inner

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 153.
Ibid.
56
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 160 (Scarred Hearts, p. 84).
57
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 65; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 180;
eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 25; pp. 735.
58

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, pp. 1569; eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher,
pp. 53ff.
59
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 64; p. 73; Blecher, Vizuina luminat,
p. 242; p. 260; p. 292; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 560; eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher,
p. 39; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 156; pp. 1635.
60

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 172; eposu, Blecher, Max p. 300; eposu,
Suferinele tnrului Blecher, pp. 7682. Balot observes that the spatiality encountered in
Blechers prose appears as a trap, a cavern, a burrow, while the objects that fill this space
are hostile towards the afflicted self. Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 44; p. 62;
54
55

12

Leo Stan

phantasms proves ultimately futile. Not unlike Kierkegaards A from Either/Or,


Part One, upon leaving the land of reveries and while in the grips of despondency,
Blechers personae return to the ever-present ontological void.61
Seen strictly within these limits, Judge Williams ethical exhortations to his
friend A are perfectly valid for Blechers afflicted aesthetes. That the latters
existential condition is one of despair is beyond doubt. However, Blecher refuses
to open any door towards the ethical venue in Williams sense. His characters are
so degraded by their daily Hades that the ideal of ethical self-becoming may sound
like anathema to their ears. Compassion is also conspicuously absent from their
souls. If they turn their attention to the suffering of others, Blechers characters do it
either egotistically, that is to say, by feeling relieved it is not their plight, or almost
objectively, as if dissecting the slow and terrifying agony of their fellows with the
impartiality of a scientific observer.62
Kierkegaards The Sickness unto Death is extremely useful here. The elaboration
of despair as lack of finitude, as lack of necessity, and as refusal to be oneself
seems perfectly applicable to Blechers plausible aestheticism.63 For instance, AntiClimacus statement that [when] feeling becomes fantastic, the self becomes only
more and more volatilized and finally comes to be a kind of abstract sentimentality
that inhumanly belongs to no human being64 can be easily predicated of Blechers
tormented dreamers. Moreover, as we shall soon see, the latter remain hopeless
because, instead of choosing to appropriate the fideistic stance, they defiantly
dwell on their ordeals and never achieve the status of a suffering self before the
transcendent. Thus, as if with Blechers unfortunate in mind, Anti-Climacus writes:
Whether or not the embattled one collapses depends solely upon whether he obtains
possibility, that is, whether he will believe. And yet he understands that, humanly
speaking, his collapse is altogether certain.The believer sees and understands his
downfall, humanly speaking (in what has happened to him, or in what he has ventured),
but he believes. For this reason he does not collapse. He leaves it entirely to God how he
is to be helped, but he believes that for God everything is possible.So God helps him
alsoperhaps by allowing him to avoid the horror, perhaps through the horror itself
and here, unexpectedly, miraculously, divinely, help does come.65

For a short time, eroticism in lieu of faith is taken as a possible suspension of bodily
wretchedness. Blechers fascination with carnal passion or even amoral sexuality is
very salient. Blechers patients feel that sexuality possesses the capacity to assuage
the brutal and continual assaults of pain. Their occasional carnal ecstasies are part
p. 88; p. 106; p. 107; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 158; pp. 16673; Manolescu, Arca lui
Noe, pp. 56970.
61
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 229 (Scarred Hearts, p. 226); eposu, Suferinele
tnrului Blecher, p. 61; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 176.
62
For example, Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 91; Blecher, Vizuina
luminat, p. 234. Aside from his intention to study medicine, Blecher manifested a genuine
and lasting interest in sciences.
63

SKS 11, 14653 / SUD, 307. SKS 11, 16475 / SUD, 4960.
64

SKS 11, 147 / SUD, 31.
65

SKS 11, 1545 / SUD, 39; second and third emphases added.

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

13

of the larger telos to reactualize the primordial unity of being and to annihilate the
feeling of self-alienation.66 However, in the battle between thanatos and eros the
former is the sole possible victor. Since love is understood by Blecher exclusively
in physiological termsas if the soul were a mere chimerathe sickliness of
the body invades and defiles even the last sanctuary of relative purity, namely,
the human emotions and affection. Therefore, Blechers sufferers fall prey to an
overwhelmingly instinctual or sickly excessive sensuality.67 When not abandoning
themselves to an unbridled, Dionysian-like sexuality,68 they practice a hygienic
love without any trace of jouissance,69 or they enjoy perverse, heavily ritualistic
forms of sexuality.70 In the end, however, sex turns out to be every bit as impotent as
oneiric escapism. When the erotic ecstasy vanishes, the diseased are engulfed again
by the unfathomable blackness of existence, by melancholy, and forlornness.71
This disheartening landscape is not absolutely incommensurable with
Kierkegaards Christian spirituality and insistence on agape. To be sure, the issue
of sexuality most prominently arises in Kierkegaards mind in connection with the
dynamic between anxiety and the perpetuation of sin throughout human generations.
In Works of Love, when the limitations of erotic affection are explicitly taken up,
sexuality plays a marginal role. Kierkegaard is more interested in the selflessness
of agape as antithetical to the preferentiality of spontaneous love or friendship, to
the detriment and sometimes even exclusion of the sexual determinations of human
nature. In Kierkegaards philosophy, instinctual corporeality rarely comes to the
fore, and even then as indicative of the dangers it poses to salvation. On the other
side, as paradoxical as it sounds, Blecher could help us contemplate eroticism within
the horizon of fallenness, whose effects on erotic behavior have been insufficiently
addressed by Kierkegaard.
As to the third remedy practiced by Blechers unfortunate characters, we
should specify from the outset that it envisions the most elementary level of
existence. In Blechers relation to eroticism we already sensed a certain attraction
to a purely elemental physiology, to an organicity deprived of ineffability or any
spiritual connotations. Here matter and especially its decomposing constitution are


eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 68. On the loss of identity induced by
recurrent physiological crises, see Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 43; p. 44;
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 136 (Scarred Hearts, pp. 378).
67
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 161; p. 216 (Scarred Hearts, p. 86; p. 200); Blecher,
ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 501; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 564; and Blecher,
Vizuina luminat, p. 271; p. 306.
68
See, for instance, Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 60; p. 67; and Blecher,
Inimi cicatrizate, p. 216 (Scarred Hearts, p. 200). See also eposu, Suferinele tnrului
Blecher, p. 69.
69
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 126; see also ibid., p. 187 (Scarred Hearts, p. 16; p. 141).
70
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 5661; Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate,
pp. 1889 (Scarred Hearts, pp. 1446); Blecher, Vizuina luminat, p. 287; and eposu,
Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 70.
71
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 85; Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 164
(Scarred Hearts, p. 95).
66

14

Leo Stan

deliberately and perversely used as a source of enjoyment. It is almost as if one


wallows in the very poison that slowly consumes him or her.
Commentators have often observed that Blecher writes as if he might aim to
construct a phenomenology of pure materiality.72 That in his last unpublished novel,
Vizuina luminat, the reader comes into contact with a true sensory delirium73 can
be seen as part of the same strategy. However, every attempt to lose themselves in
the outer non-human reality, every experiment in self-reification, brings Blechers
characters before a hostile and oppressive physicality.74 Within the limits of this
exteriority matter and material objects acquire an opaque heaviness, a black
substantiality.75 On these ill-fated sites the organic sordidness of existence triumphs
over any other truth, irrespective of its sublimity.76 Moreover, in Blechers depiction,
in realizing on his skin the impossibility of purity,77 the sick individual voluptuously
yields to the degenerate lures of the abject. In a more or less veiled fashion, he
displays an ambiguous attraction to dirt, to the musty and the viscous, to moist
dark places, and putrid odors.78 In this horizon, the ultimate truth about humankind
goes beyond the fact that we find ourselves captive to an essentially evil matter.79
Rather, the nadir of degradation comes to the surface when the cursed willfully,
hedonistically, and almost liturgically bathe in grime.80 This quasi-demonic liturgy
72

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 173. Balot goes so far as to claim that Blecher
sometimes bypasses the role of consciousness in this process. In his turn, even if he holds that
the object of Blechers phenomenology is an ontic crisis, Nicolae Manolescu admits that
human consciousness is replaced by an absorbing vacuum, which results in a pure vision
of materiality. Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, pp. 5645. However, from a phenomenological
standpoint, both of these assumptions are unfounded since consciousness is and remains
primarily intentional, while phenomena of whatever kind must always present themselves to a
conscious receptive ego. On this matter, I concur with Octav uluiu who astutely remarks that
a subtle metaphysical psychology is at work in Blechers ntmplri n irealitatea imediat;
O. uluiu, Scriitori i cri, Bucharest: Minerva 1974, pp. 198204.
73

eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 22.
74
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 467; p. 50; Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate,
p. 225 (Scarred Hearts, pp. 21718); Blecher, Vizuina luminat, p. 303; p. 313; Negoiescu,
Engrame, p. 127.
75

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, pp. 1734.
76
Ibid., p. 176.
77

Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 127; eposu, Blecher, Max, p. 300.
78
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 937; p. 110; Blecher, Vizuina luminat,
p. 239; p. 306; p. 317; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 558; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 174;
Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 121.
79
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 44; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 174.
80
This reminds us of Kierkegaards depiction of anxiety as sympathetic antipathy. SKS
4, 348 / CA, 42. SKS 4, 366 / CA, 61. SKS 4, 400 / CA, 97. Though we cannot be entirely sure
that he has ever read The Concept of Anxiety, there are a few hints in Blechers prose which
buttress that possibility. One finds four specific instances where the phenomenon of anxiety,
understood as an attraction to what is and remains repugnant, surfaces in his texts. First,
interpreters speak of an anxiety of alienation. Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 157; Blecher,
ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 43. Second, the so-called vile spaces, in conjunction with
the threatening objects, trigger horror, vertigoes, swoons, but also an inexplicable euphoria.

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

15

can be interpreted either as a symptom of the profundity and destructiveness of evil


(i.e., of sinfulness in the Christian doctrinal parlance) or as the disconsolate desire to
commune with the oneness of matter and to escape ontological separation. The latter
possibility has been suggested by several commentators.81 As I read it, the former is
more Kierkegaardian in spirit.
My conjecture is that perhaps here we come across an unexpected instantiation
of demonism in Kierkegaards sense, whereby the malady of spirit is taken one
step further. In what sense? In The Sickness unto Death Kierkegaard argues that
the supreme demonic attitude presupposes an open denial of the salvific powers of
Christ. More exactly, demonism declares Christianity to be untruth.82 In Blechers
authorship, however, we can discern a tendency to counteract the immense stupidity
of physical pain83 and the ensuing meaninglessness of existence not by an open
denial of the salvific intentions of a lofty God but by a deliberate communion with
the lowest, that is, with the nauseating and repulsive component of matter.84 This
is not infinitely far from Kierkegaards soteriology since, as I hypothesized above,
distinct echoes of the fallenness of the flesh, in particular, and of materiality, in
general, are discernible in Blechers corpus. My suggestion is that in its Blecherian
version, demonism manifests itself through the odious embrace of a fallen organicity
with absolutely no awareness of the souls existence, letting alone the truthfulness
of God, spirit, redemption, etc. Thus portrayed, the demonic self proclaims the
primitive, ever-changing, though soulless and disintegrating, materiality as the sole
verity of our lives.
It may be clearer by now why Blecher interprets Kierkegaards Repetition in
the way elaborated above. We have seen that the mystical trait he identifies in
Kierkegaard is inwardness-centered but, paradoxically enough, godless. In this
section I have delineated a few reasons why the humanity textually drawn by
Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 570. See also Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 47;
p. 65; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 167; p. 174; and Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 134. Anxiety
is also related to the impossibility of dispensing with ones self. Manolescu, Arca lui Noe,
p. 573. (Interestingly enough, this is a quality that Kierkegaard attributes to despair.) Fourthly,
anxiety surges in consciousness when one is faced with the indeterminacy, putrescence, and
chaos of matter as such. Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 45; Blecher, Vizuina
luminat, p. 275; Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 129; pp. 1303.
81

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 175; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, pp. 5701; eposu,
Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 63.
82

SKS 11, 23642 / SUD, 12531.
83

Quoted by Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 155.
84
It is important to note that Blecher views religiosity only through the dark prism of
physical illness, against which every religious consolation or endeavor is utterly powerless
and even ludicrous. Implicit denials of Judeo-Christian spirituality and of its creationistsoteriological gist can be found in Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 934;
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, pp. 1801 (Scarred Hearts, pp. 1289); Blecher, Vizuina luminat,
p. 237; pp. 3001; Max Blecher, Berck oraul damnailor, Vremea, vol. 7, no. 358, 1934
(reprinted in ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 352ff.; see pp. 3567). As fundamental
here is Blechers fascination for Lautramonts Les chants de Maldoror; Blecher, Inimi
cicatrizate, pp. 1834 (Scarred Hearts, pp. 1345).

16

Leo Stan

Blecher is completely unaware of and unable to commune with the divine. As one
commentator put it, the human lot is, according to Blecher, a pointless struggle
in a carceral condition wherefrom there is no exit, except a few rare and transitory
moments of ecstasy when ones identity is suspended and allows one, as in a beautiful
dream, to take part in the infinite, profound, and essential existence of the Whole.85
I have claimed above that Kierkegaards category of despair represents a pertinent
tool in diagnosing the existential malady Blechers characters suffer from. In this
context, my thesis is reinforced by the presence of another symptom, namely, that
the individuals who people Blechers novels incessantly vacillate between organic
authenticity and mechanical objectification.86 As such, this vacillation gives birth
to a selfhood perceived as a burden, as something one has to free oneself from.
Consequently, Blechers personages will do everything in their power to flee from
themselves. They are eager to become someone else and dread the impossibility of
annihilating their present ipseity.87 This is exactly what Kierkegaard meant by the
despair of not willing to be oneself or the despair in weakness.88 As if dissecting
Blechers bleak anthropology, Kierkegaard remarks that for someone fully given
to pure immediacy or immediacy containing a quantitative reflectionthere is no
infinite consciousness of the self.89 And he continues:
The man of immediacy is only physically qualified (insofar as there really can be
immediacy without any reflection at all); his self, he himself is an accompanying
something within the dimensions of temporality and secularity, in immediate connection
with the other, and has but an illusory appearance of having anything eternal in it.
The self is bound up in immediacy with the other in desiring, craving, enjoying, etc., yet
passively; in its craving, this self is a dative, like the me of a child. Its dialectic is: the
pleasant and the unpleasant; its concepts are: good luck, bad luck, fate.90

Astonishingly enough, Kierkegaard realizes that the person fully given to immediacy
understands everything in terms of fatality, and that whenever destiny deals her a
crushing blow, as when, for instance, she becomes physically ill, then unhappiness
sets in.91 Moreover, such an individual, states Kierkegaard, regards himself as dead,
as a shadow of himself.92 Indeed, due to the radical destruction of illness and pain,
Blechers characters lack concreteness; they are half-dead and incarnate a merely
generic selfhood without an unmistakable personal identity.93 Moreover, since in
Blechers thought the ever-shifting mask is much more valuable than real existence,
the ostentatious falsification of life appears heuristically adequate and aesthetically
advisable. Kierkegaard, too, realized that, while in despair, the first thing the self
85

Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 575.



eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 64.
87

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 159; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, pp. 5723.
88

SKS 11, 1645 / SUD, 4950.
89

SKS 11, 165 / SUD, 50.
90

SKS 11, 1656 / SUD, 51.
91

SKS 11, 1667 / SUD, 51.
92

SKS 11, 167 / SUD, 52.
93
See Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 559; p. 563.
86

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

17

longs for is a different identity.94 Because [immediacy] actually has no self,95 the
man of immediacy constantly aspires to exchange his actual selfhood for a new one
every time the outer reality seems unwelcoming. The difference here would be that
Kierkegaard does not insist as much as Blecher on the irrecoverable degradation of
physical suffering96 and especially, on the sufferers aspiration to the quietude of
indifference97 or a reification without remainder.98
The differences between our authors are, I hold, quintessential. Whereas Blecher
identifies human inwardness with the milieu of escapist phantasms or reduces it to
the entrails of the physical body,99 Kierkegaard relegates corporeality to immediacy,
and by qualifying the latter as deficient in reflection, he does not dwell too much on
its base despair. By contrast, in Blechers world, where God is dead, matter plays
the role of a pitiless destiny.100 The kind of introspection Blecher advocates does
not envision ones inner invisible emotions or reflexivity, but rather reveals a being
in flesh and bones, which is situated on this side of the skin in a purely physical
interiority.101 As contemplated by Blecher, human life is definable primarily by its
organic quantity and fleshiness, as a landscape shaped by veins, muscles, nerves and
a heart,102 wherein the soul and the spirit are utterly absent, almost inconceivable.103
Here we should never forget that, for Blecher, the bodily determination of existence
is, by virtue of its constitutive and mortal sickliness, a trap. This philosophical view
has a certain Gnostic or Neoplatonic flavor,104 but is not necessarily incommensurable
with the Christian understanding of corporeality.105
Finally, we arrived at what I consider the core point of contention. Even
if we could see Blechers world-view as an instance of human fallenness in the
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 81; p. 92; p. 113; Balot, De la Ion la
Ioanide, p. 180. Blechers characters often display clear suicidal tendencies. See Blecher,
ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 98 and Blecher, Vizuina luminat, pp. 3034.
95

SKS 11, 168 / SUD, 53.
96
Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 121; p. 134; p. 136; p. 139; p. 177; p. 225 (Scarred
Hearts, pp. 67; pp. 301; p. 37; p. 43; pp. 1212; pp. 21718).
97

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 159.
98

eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 41.
99
Blecher, Vizuina luminat, p. 233; pp. 2679; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 558.
100

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 175.
101
Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 559.
102

Ibid., p. 559. See also Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 129.
103

However, we should keep in mind that, in addition to the paroxysmal proliferation of
corporeality, Blechers obsessions are equally directed towards the imaginary of subjectivity,
the phantasms of inwardness, the hallucinating unreality of psychical depths, the profundity
of the unconscious, and the terrifying spectacle of groundlessness. eposu, Suferinele
tnrului Blecher, pp. 223; see also ibid., pp. 367.
104

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 168; Manolescu, Arca lui Noe, p. 559; p. 571; eposu,
Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 75; p. 83.
105

Here we should remember that by taking on a human body, Christ restored the sanctity
of corporeality. At the same time, physical pain, illness, and ultimately death are conceived
by the Christian doctrine as a direct consequence of the Fall. It may be useful to realize that
neither Kierkegaard, nor Blecher, pay any attention to the transfiguration of the body via
Gods embodiment in Christ.
94

18

Leo Stan

Christian senseand Kierkegaard would not disagree with this possibilitythe


radical dissimilarity lies in the unambiguous denial of religiousness professed by
Blecher.106 Instead, the Romanian writer succeeds in denouncing the infirmity of
being per se. He renders mortality and decay so endemic that life itself becomes an
epiphenomenon of non-being. And it is for no other reason that his fictional alteregos parade before us as protean incarnations of a vaguely pulsating nothingness.107
We are therefore entitled to speak of Blechers existential nihilism108 or aesthetics
of the void109 as opposed to Kierkegaards Christian-soteriological psychology.
Kierkegaard does recognize the ubiquity of despair and the nihilistic potential of
suffering. Nevertheless, he discusses them against the background of Christianity,
neighbor love, and the imitation of the exemplar (whereby any suffering acquires
a redemptive meaningfulness).110 Unlike Kierkegaard, Blecher considers the world
meaningless, preposterously oppressive or theatrical, that is to say, both dramatic as
well as ludicrously artificial.111 When not suffused with infernal depictions of bodily
degradation, Blecher chronicles a vast artificial paradise,112 where the tragic farce
of humanness recklessly unfolds before our eyes.
I have explained above why Blechers characters ultimately fail to do away with
the alienation from the world or with their inner discord and self-split.113 That can be
106

Balot speaks of Blechers suffering as being placed in the proximity of religiousness,
but he immediately adds that the latter does not envision any deity. For Balot, the religious
element resides in Blechers deep compassion for any kind of tribulation and in his
uncompromising refusal to occasion pity in others. Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 155. My
position is that one can hardly pinpoint the specifically religious dimension of this, indeed
highly dignified, attitude.
107

eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 37; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 170;
p. 176; Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 121.
108

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 177. See also Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea
imediat, p. 71; p. 82; p. 103; p. 113; Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 129; p. 139; 177; p. 223
(Scarred Hearts, pp. 201; p. 43; p. 121; pp. 21314); Blecher, Vizuina luminat, p. 233;
p. 261; p. 302; p. 304; Negoiescu, Engrame, pp. 1367; and Silvian Iosifescu, Reverberaii,
Bucharest: Eminescu 1981, pp. 1413.
109

eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 74. See also Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea
imediat, p. 63; p. 93; Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 151; p. 229 (Scarred Hearts, p. 67; p. 226).
110
For Kierkegaard, the horrors of physical suffering can and should be integrated into
a faith-oriented existence. Tellingly enough, this attitude is embraced by none of Blechers
characters. By way of contrast, Blecher admits that pain cannot be otherwise than degrading,
meaningless, unacceptable, or worthy of despising. Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 140; p. 185
(Scarred Hearts, pp. 456; p. 137); Blecher, Vizuina luminat, p. 263; p. 270; p. 312; eposu,
Blecher, Max p. 300; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 154.
111
On the meaninglessness of the world, see Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat,
p. 48; p. 50; p. 62; pp. 637; pp. 6970; p. 88; p. 103; Blecher, Inimi cicatrizate, p. 175
(Scarred Hearts, p. 118); Blecher, Vizuina luminat, p. 302. eposu plastically writes that
Blechers world is an immense panopticon animated not by a vital flux but rather by a
grotesque, stale mechanization. Cf. eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 58.
112

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 179.
113
Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, p. 44. See also eposu, Suferinele
tnrului Blecher, pp. 401; Negoiescu, Engrame, p. 125.

Max Blecher: The Bizarre Adventure of Suffering

19

seen as a sign of their sickness unto death. From a different perspective, Blecher
abundantly buttresses Kierkegaards view of despair as unawarenessand therefore
implicit rejectionof the eternal. He does so through an exclusive emphasis on the
devouring temporality. As already mentioned, Blecher is completely uninterested
in attaching any expiatory sense to human tribulations, physical or otherwise, in
stark contrast to Kierkegaard, for whom suffering is a source of joy because it is
a constitutive part of a soteriological scenario. In sum, granted the impossibility
of religious rebirth, Blecher emerges from his life and oeuvre as an Ecclesiastes
without God, absorbed only by his fetid sores and inconsolable grief; an Ecclesiastes
for whom even the eternally meaningless ordeal of Sisyphus remains a bliss.114
And yet, irrespective of their significant divergence, the careful reader cannot
help noticing a few salient similarities, this time from a biographical viewpoint.
Both Kierkegaard and Max Blecher have learned the harsh lesson of suffering,
whether physical (Blecher) or psycho-spiritual (Kierkegaard). Neither of them
has been spared the torments of eros. It appears that Blecher secretly fell in love
with a married woman,115 although his affection never crossed the limits of a book
dedication.Kierkegaards marital-erotic fiasco, the most debated episode of his
biography, need hardly be mentioned. Next, we should not ignore that both authors
have benefitted from the generosity and wealth of their fathers, although Blecher
was never physically fit for the aesthetic extravagances of the young Kierkegaard.
Their vital dependence on writing116 and their fondness for pseudonymity117 brings
further support to the tenet that these great sufferers found a comparable means to
sublimate their earthly purgatory. Last but not least, Blecher and Kierkegaard might
have been kindred in death. Noteworthy in this sense is that after his fatal collapse
in the street, Kierkegaard was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine marrow.118
Thus, for a few weeks he may have experienced, to be sure, on a different scale, what
Max Blecher endured during the last ten years of his sorrowful passage through life.

See Blecher, ntmplri n irealitatea imediat, pp. 934; Blecher, Vizuina luminat,
p. 303; Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 176; p. 178.
115

See Bicu, Max Blecher, pp. 16973.
116

Balot, De la Ion la Ioanide, p. 171.
117

eposu, Suferinele tnrului Blecher, p. 18.
118
See Encounters with Kierkegaard: A Life Seen by His Contemporaries, ed. by Bruce
H. Kirmmse, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1996, p. 118; p. 119.
114

Bibliography
I. References to or Uses of Kierkegaard in Blechers Corpus
Conceptul repetiiei la Kirkegaard [sic], Vremea, vol. 9, no. 431, March 29, 1936.
Exegeza ctorva teme comune, Azi, vol. 5, no. 23, MayJune, 1936.
II. Sources of Blechers Knowledge of Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard, Sren, La Rptition. Essai dexprience psychologique par Constantin
Constantius, trans. by Paul-Henri Tisseau, Paris: Alcan 1933.
La puret du coeur, trans. by Paul-Henry Tisseau, Bazoges-en-Pareds: privately
published 1936.
III. Secondary Literature on Blechers Relation to Kierkegaard
Bicu, Iulian, Max BlecherUn arlechin pe marginea neantului, Bucharest:
Editura Universitii Bucureti 2004, pp. 323; pp. 389; p. 79; pp. 812; p. 112;
pp. 197204.
Iversen, Karsten Sand, Kdets fortvivlelse, in Max Blecher, Hndelser fra den
umiddelbare uvirkelighed, trans. by Erling Schller, Copenhagen: Basilisk 2010,
pp. 14255.