The (Im)possibility of Literature as the Possibility of Ethics

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Once upon a time, Orpheus promised he would make Eurydice live again. Once upon a time, in a book, I promised I would prove I exist. Only literature is capable of fulfilling such promises. Nemanja Mitrović writes diligently and convincingly about how these promises prove that the birth of ethics is possible from the spirit of literature. Like Orpheus, who is guided by his art in the presence of the one who is absent, Mitrović is guided by the intuition that literature does not describe morality but actually makes it possible.

— Sreten Ugričić

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This book attempts to show that it is precisely in the indeterminacy of literature that we can find the possibility of ethics. Thus, it starts with the examination of a work that clearly is paradoxical in nature — Sreten Ugiričič’s Infinitive. The paradox of Infinitive consists in the fact that it is a monograph, but a monograph about a non-existent book. The examination of the paradox on which Infinitive is based will be associated with Maurice Blanchot’s analysis of the (im)possibility of literature from his essays “Orpheus’s Gaze” and “Encountering the Imaginary.” This study will claim that two most important features of the (im)possibility of literature are: the passage from je to il and the temporal paradox of the time of time’s absence. These two features are interconnected: a loss of personality (and the inability to subsume the work of art under terms of decision and intention) leads to a strange realm that is governed by the time of time’s absence. This is the realm of imaginary or a place where, to paraphrase Blanchot, language becomes its own image.

Through the analysis of specific literary works (Infinitive, Marbot: A Biography and The Lost Estate) this book will try to describe the most important paradoxes of literature. In its final part, through a dialogue between Maurice Blanchot and Emmanuel Levinas, two theses will be formulated: first, the passage from je to il will be associated with the impossibility of death and close reading of Blanchot’s reworking of Levinas’s concepts will open a perspective according to which art is capable of offering the experience of fundamental alterity; second, the time of time’s absence will be described as the temporality of artwork, but also as the temporality of the other.