Against the background of intellectual and political debates in France during the 1950s and 1960s, Daniel Just examines literary narratives and works of literary criticism arguing that these texts are more politically engaged than they may initially appear. As writings by Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Albert Camus, and Marguerite Duras show, seemingly disengaged literary principles - such as blankness, minimalism, silence, and indeterminateness - can be deployed to a number of potent political and ethical ends. At the time the main focus of this activism was the escalation of violence in colonial Algeria. The poetics formulated by these writers suggests that blankness, weakness, and withdrawal from action are not symptoms of impotence and political escapism in the face of historical events, but deliberate literary strategies aimed to neutralize the drive to dominate others that characterized the colonial project.
Daniel Just is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University, Ankara. He has published a number of articles in journals including the Modern Language Review, New Literary History, MLN, the Forum for Modern Language Studies, and Philosophy and Literature.
1. Introduction: literature and engagement; 2. Neutral writing and Roland Barthes's theory of exhausted literature; 3. Maurice Blanchot and the politics of narrative genres; 4. Literary weakness: Maurice Blanchot, commitment, and decolonization; 5. The poverty of history and memory: Albert Camus's Algeria; 6. Albert Camus and the politics of shame; 7. Marguerite Duras, war traumas, and the dilemmas of literary representation; 8. Literary void: ethics and politics in Marguerite Duras's hybrid stories; 9. Conclusion: the literature of exhaustion, weakness, and blankness; Bibliography.