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Accademia Editoriale

Blanchot and the Death of Virgil


Author(s): Michle Lowrie
Source: Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici, No. 52, Re-Presenting Virgil:
Special Issue in Honor of Michael C. J. Putnam (2004), pp. 211-225
Published by: Fabrizio Serra editore
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Michle Lowrie
BUnchot and the Death
ofVirgil*
Qu'est-ce que Virgile pour
nous?
Et
qu'est-ce que
Rome?
Blanchot,
Le livre venir
153
Maurice Blanchot is a committed modem. He asks the
ques-
tions cited above in an
analysis
of Hermann Broch' s Der Tod des
Vergil1
Are thse
questions
his,
or do
they represent
the
skepti-
cal modem reader? He marvels that Broch has written un rcit
capable
de nous
parler
de nous
partir
d'un monde
qui
nous fut
la fois
proche
et
tranger
(153).
2
Virgil
is,
of
course,
dead. The
question
is how dead.
Mais
Virgile
est-il,
aujourd'hui,
encore assez vivant
pour porter
la
gravit
de notre destin? S'il fut au
Moyen Age
un
mythe que
Dante sut
veiller,
n'appartient-il pas
une tradition littraire si lointaine et si
puise qu'elle
n'est
plus capable
de nous dire mme notre
propre
puisement?
(144)3
The classic
gesture
of the modem is the break with the
past.
This
gesture always
has a
past,
and the
rcognition
of the
inability
to
make a
break,
when
every
break
repeats past
breaks,
allows for
the
peculiar
character of the modem as a locus for
negotiation
between the new and the
exhausted,
where the exhausted re-
turns as a
ghost.4
Blanchot attributes to Broch a sensibilit la-
tine that invites him to waken les ombres of a Roman her-
*
This
paper
owes much to Anselm
Haverkamp
and Ziad
Elmarsafy.
1.
Tod,
Zrich
1958,
hrst
published
1945.
2. M.
Blanchot,
Le livre a
venir,
Pans
1959.
3.
But is
Virgil, today,
still
sufficiently
alive to bear the
weight
of our
destiny?
If
he was in the Middle
Ages
a
myth
that Dante knew how to awaken,
does he not be-
long
to a
literary
tradition so remote and so exhausted that it is no
longer capable
of
telling
us even our own exhaustion?
Translations of French and Latin are
my
own,
except
for L'instant de ma
mort,
where I use
Rottenberg (below,
n.
6).
For
Broch,
I use
J.
S.
Untermeyer's
translation,
The Death
ofVirgil,
New York
1995,
first
published
1945.
4.
P. De Man,
Blindness and
Insight, Minneapolis
1983 ,
Literary Htstory
and Lite-
rary Modernity;
I discuss Horace and the modem in similar terms in
Spleen
and the
Monumentum:
Memory
in Horace and
Baudelaire,
Comparative
Literature
49, 1997,
pp.
42-58,
and
Beyond Performance Envy:
Horace and the Modem in the
Epistle
to Au-
gustus, Rethymnon
Classical Studies
1, 2002,
pp.
141-171.
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212 Michle Lovme
itage
that was
faltering
in th Second World
War,
when Der Tod
des
Vergil
was
composed.5
Blanchot's awareness of his own
ghosts
is more
questionable.
Jacques
Derrida
analyzes
th
Latinity
of th
European
institu-
tion of literature in a discussion of a
piece by
Blanchot about an
incident that also occurred in th Second World War.6 Neither
Blanchot nor Derrida shows
any
awareness that L'instant de ma
mort
neatly
reverses th fates of a man and a
manuscript
from
those in or about
Virgil.7
Aeneas hsittes over
killing
Turnus,
but kills him
nevertheless;
Blanchot's
protagonist
faces a death
squad,
but due to an
interruption,
is released.
Virgil
decided to
bum th
incomplete
Aeneid,
yet
th text
survived,
while Blanchot
teils of a
manuscript
stolen and never recovered. The distance
between
Virgil
and Blanchot is one
text,
Broch's Der Tod des
Vergil,
a
lyric
novel
spanning
the time between
Virgil's certainty
of his
upcoming
death and the death itself. A
large proportion
of
this novel has to do with the dcision first to
destroy,
then to save
the Aeneid. Both L'instant de ma mort and Blanchot's book of criti-
cism,
Le livre
venir,
revolve around
gaps
that
open
in time and
the
things,
ideas
mostly,
but also shifts in
reality,
that inhabit
thse
gaps.
While Broch focuses on th fate of
Virgil's
manu-
script
and the
poet's
own
death,
Blanchot's veiled
autobiographi-
cal account
brings
back Aeneas' hsitation and transfers Turnus'
death to the author. The shift from
clemency
denied to a contin-
gent escape
marks Blanchot as modem. His death sentence is
never
annulled,
and we cannot
imagine
Turnus in the
resulting
position
of the
Irving
dead.
Blanchot instantiates the modernist break from
antiquity.
He
apprcites
the value for Broch of a
myth symbolizing
le savoir
et le destin de toute la civilisation
occidentale,
and cites
Joyce's
Ulysses
as a
parallel
to Broch's
mythic appropriation
of
antiqui-
ty.8
In L'instant de ma
mort,
Blanchot
overtly
cites a modem
myth
instead. The concidence of the date inscribed on the
pro-
5.
Livre
(above,
n.
2), p.
153.
6. M.
Blanchot,
L'instant de ma
mort,
bilingual
dition,
trans. E.
Rottenberg,
Stanford
2000,
originally published
1994;
in the same
volume, J. Derrida,
Demeure:
Fiction and
Testimony,
trans. E.
Rottenberg, pp.
20-25.
7.
1
suggest
some
parallels
at Literature is a Latin
Word,
Vergilius
47, 2001,
p.
29.
8. G.
Steiner,
Homer and
Virgil
and
Broch,
review of S.
J. Harrison,
Oxford Readings
in
Virgil's
Aeneid,
Oxford
1990,
London Review of Books
i2july
1990,
p.
10,
levtes
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Bfonchot and the Death
ofVirgil
213
tagonist's
chteau with the battle of lna
spurs
reflection on
Hegel's ability
to
distinguish
between
l'empirique
et l'essen-
tiel: he called
Napoleon
Tarne du monde even
though
he
pil-
laged Hegel's
own house
(6).
This citation
aligns
Blanchot with
modern
philosophy
and occludes his
literary
debts,
as if
merely
empirical.
This
piece,
however,
itself
exemplifies
a
myth
of
Western civilization
through
reversai: the
protagonist
survives
and the work of art does not. He internalizes the
question
he
poses ofVirgil
-
is he still alive
enough?
The modern
negotiation
with the ancient can take diffrent
shapes,
and I will
argue
that
Virgil
returns in diffrent
guises
to
Broch and Blanchot. Broch remembers
Virgil,
while Blanchot
forgets
him. Blanchot's intertextual
engagement
with
Broch,
however,
suggests
a latent
Virgilian prsence. Remembering
or
forgetting Virgil helps
define thse modems' relation to tradi-
tion,
but it further assists their formulation of an
argument
about
the work of art within th
politicai sphre.
When life is at
stake,
why worry
about the aesthetic? What constitutes
understanding?
Ail three authors are concerned with the survival of
persons
and
of
manuscripts,
and the terms of their survival.
The relative
degrees
of
reality
entailed in whether
people
or
manuscripts
live or are
destroyed
renders the fictional status of
the
literary
text itself
part
of the
argument
over the value of
the aesthetic in the face of
politics
and death. Derrida decon-
structs the distinction between fiction and
testimony
in his anal-
ysis
of Blanchot's rcit
,9
which is a
literary
account of an au-
tobiographical exprience.
This
conjunction
of fiction and tes-
timony
stands at the culmination of a tradition that
keeps
them
apart. VirgiTs
narration of the death of Turnus in the Aeneid is
clearly
fictional,
while the ancient testimonia of th Vita Donati
aneti are the source for
VirgiTs
dlibration over
destroying
his
epic poem.
Such
testimony
about ancient
authors, however,
can
hardly
be taken as historical truth. For
Virgil,
Broch,
and Blan-
chot,
the Unes
demarcating reality
-
within both texts and lives
-
shift
according
to their valuation of the work of art. A formai
feature
linking
thse texts is the
temporal gap
that
opens
when
a man confronts
impending
death. This
space
allows for the con-
templation
of art as a matter of life and death.
Joyce
and Broch to two
competing twentieth-century principles:
the Homeric and
the
Virgilian.
9.
Demeure
(above,
n.
6)
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214
Michle Lovme
Aeneas' hsitation before
killing
Turnus is such a
gap.
Turnus*
plea
for
mercy gives
him
pause
(cunctantem,
Aen.
12.940),
10
until
he sees the baldric Turnus has
despoiled
from Pallas. Aeneas is
then overcome
by fiiry
and
avenges
Pallas in a
metaphoric
sacri-
fice
(immolt, 12.949).
The baldric is a work of
art,
described in a
brief
ekphrasis
when Turnus took it from Pallas' dead
body
(10.495-509).
Its
beauty
is
apparent:
it is embossed in
gold;
its
craftsman has a
significant
name,
Clonus
Eurytides, suggesting
wide
confusion;
it
depicts
the Danaids'
morally reprehensible
(nefas,
10.497)
slaughter
of their husbands on their
wedding night.
The narrative
pause
of
ekphrasis
does not
belong
in the
rapid
ac-
tion of book
12,
n
but the
emphasis
in book 10 on Turnus' future
regret
and hatred of thse
spoils joins morality
with aesthetics.
Since
seeing
this
object
tilts the balance from
clemency
toward
vengeance,
the
question
is the effect of the work of art. Aeneas'
perception
of
it,
though
visual,
is not aesthetic
contemplation.
He rather sees it as
spoils
and a reminder of
pain
(oculis postquam
saeui monimenta doloris /
exuuiasque
hausit, 12.945-946).
Its mean-
ing
for him is
strictly personal.
The reader must infer the monu-
ment's commemorative
fonction,
as well as the
symbolism
of the
Danaid
myth
for Pallas and
Turnus,
young
men eut down before
marriage.12
For
Virgil,
the baldric's aesthetic
quality yields
to its
moral
significance.
Turnus committed
nefas
in
despoiling
Pallas,
and the
object
reminds Aeneas of his moral
obligation
of
vengeance.
The
object
retains its
beauty
and its
capacity
to
sig-
nify
-
it is an
insigne (12.944),
mark of honor and emblem
-
but
thse
aspects
are a
surplus
and do not contribute to Aeneas'
dcision.
The
temporal gap
of hsitation
pertains
not
only
to Aeneas as
killer,
but to Turnus as he realizes he will die
(cunctatur, 12.916).
His hsitation makes him vulnrable
(cunctanti, 12.919).
Strong
motions inhabit both characters at this moment. For
Turnus,
it
is confusion
(12.914-915).
Aeneas rather
pauses
in the midst of
frenzy
and then
passionately
rsumes his
anger
(12.938-939;
funis
10. M. C.
J. Putnam,
The Hsitation
of
Aeneas,
in
Virgis
Aeneid.
Interpretation
and
Influence, Chapel
Hill
1995,
p.
166 n.
3,
calls this moment a tense
pause
for contem-
plation
of words before action.
11. M. C.
J. Putnam,
Virgil's Epie Designs: Ekphrasis
in the
Aeneid,
New Haven
1998,
p.
190
suggests
time
nearly stops
in the balteus
ekphrasis.
12. S.
J. Harrison,
Virgil:
Aeneid
10,
Oxford
1997,
corrected
dition,
ad Aen.
10.497-
499-
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Blanchot and the Death
of Virgil
215
accensus et ira /
ternbilis, 12.946-947).
The
plea
for
mercy
(12.934-
935)
and for a cessation of hatred
(ultenus
ne tende
odiis, 12.938)
only temporarily
calms
passion. Virgil, though psychologically
acute,
does not know the
interiority
of the modems. These mo-
tions are
told,
not shown.13
When
Virgil
faced his own
death,
according
to
legend,
his con-
cern was with the work of art. The most
expansive
of the ac-
counts in the Vitae
Virgilianae
attributes
VirgiTs
desire to burn
the Aeneid
strictly
to aesthetics:
At which
time,
when he feit himself
weighed
down with
illness,
he of-
ten and with
great
insistence
sought
his scroll cases in order to bum the
Aeneid. When thse were refused
him,
he ordered it to be bumed in his
will,
as a
thing
not corrected and unfinished. But Tucca and
Var[i]us
wamed that
Augustus
would not allow that. Then he
bequeathed
his
writings
to this same
Var[i]us
and also to Tucca on this
condition,
that
they
not
publish anything
which had not been edited
by
him and that
they
leave even the unfinished
Unes,
if there were
any.
(Vita
Donati aneti
52-53)
M
Brodi follows this
version,15
with two
important exceptions.
In
addition to aesthetic
concerns,
Broch's
Virgil recognizes
the
Aeneid's moral
failings,
and
Augustus
himself
persuades
him to
change
his mind. Where
Virgil separates
the aesthetic from the
moral and
politicai aspects
of the work of art in the face of
death,
Broch
brings
them
together.
Broch's
Virgil upbraids
himself for a moral failure: he has not
helped
humankind as a
person
or
through
his art. He
rpudites
beauty
for its own sake
(wenn
... die Schnheit sich als Selbst-
zweck
vordrngt,
die Kunst in ihren Wurzeln
angegriffen
wird
154).
His Aeneid is
merely
beautifi and should therefore be de-
stroyed.
war er nun selber zum Wachen bestellt? Nimmermehr! nimmermehr
war er dazu
fhig,
er,
der
Hilfsunfhige,
der
Dienstunwillige,
der
Wortemacher,
der sein Werk vernichten
musste,
weil das
Menschliche,
weil menschliches Tun und menschliche
Hilfsbedrftigkeit
ihm so
13.
Putnam
(Hsitation,
above n.
10)
sees Aeneas' hsitation as a rvlation of in-
ner doubt and
uncertainty (155),
and
emphasizes
inwardness
(156, 158).
We observe
this inwardness, however,
from without.
14.
G.
Brugnoli
and F. Stok
(eds.),
Vitae
Vergilianae Antiquae,
Rome
1997,
pp.
100-101.
15.
For Brocn s
knowledge
of the ancient
biographical
sources,
T. Ziolkowski,
Virgil
and the
Modems,
Princeton
1993,
pp.
211-213, 217-218.
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2i6 Michle Lowne
wenig
bedeutet
hatten,
dass er davon nichts hatte liebend festhalten
oder
gar
dichten
knnen,
und alles
unaufgeschrieben geblieben
war,
lediglich
unntz zur Schnheit verklrt und verherrlicht.
(248)16
The debate between
Augustus
and
Virgil
in the third
part,
Erde
-
Die
Erwartung,
revolves on whether art can achieve the same
moral status as
politicai
action. In
VirgiTs
view,
Augustus
has
achieved a true
figure
(Gleichnis 418,
metaphor 379),
while his
own is false.17 A
metaphor
for
what,
he does not
say.
Broch's
highest
aim is to achieve
understanding;
this would
help
human-
ity,
and hre
Augustus
falls short. The
merely politicai,
like the
merely
aesthetic,
is insufficient. Broch craves
something
fiirther
that would raise human endeavor to a
higher
level.
Virgil
in the
Aeneid marks the
major ekphrases
with some
sign
of
incompr-
hension or
incompletion.18
The most famous is of Aeneas as he
lifts
up
the shield
prophesying
Roman
history: rerumque ignarus
imagine gaudet
(8.730).
Broch attributes to
Virgil rsignation
about
his
capacity
to
join
the beautiful to
understanding,
but a desire to
transcend this limitation.
Sacrifice and the law are areas of
incomprhension touching
on
art and
morality
for both
Virgil
and Broch. Aeneas and Broch's
Virgil
hve
greater respect
for the law than the
authority figures
in either work. Aeneas welcomes a duel with Turnus and calls
the
treaty pads leges
(12.112);
he is
dismayed
when thse laws are
broken
(12.314-315). Juno,
however,
takes
advantage
of fate's
omissions
(nulla
fati quod lege
tenetur, 12.819)
until
Jupiter
forces
her to
yield.
In
Broch,
Virgil
raises the law to
transcendence,
while
Augustus
takes it as
merely
mortai.
das Unendliche ist
es,
von dem aller
Zusammenhang
im Seienden
ge-
tragen
wird,
von dem das Gesetz
getragen
wird und die Form des
16. Was he now
placed
on
guard?
Never! Never would he be fit for
it,
he who
was
incapable
of
any help, unwilling
for
any
service,
he th mere word-maker who
must needs
destroy
his work because the
humane,
th round of human action and
the human need for
help,
had meant so little to him that
everything
which he should
have retained and
depicted
in love was never written
down,
but
simply
and useless-
ly transfigure!
and
magnified
to
beauty...
.
(225-226).
17.
See F.
Cox,
Envoi: the Death
of Virgil,
in The
Cambridge Compatitoti
to
Virgil,
ed.
C.
Martindale,
Cambridge 1997, pp. 331-332
for
Virgil's
moral failure in Broch.
18. See A.
Barchiesi,
Virgilian
Narrative:
Ecphrasis,
in The
Cambridge Compatitoti
to
Virgil,
ed. C.
Martindale,
Cambridge
1997,
pp.
275-276
and
Rappresentazioni
del dolore
e
interpretazione
nell'Eneide,
Ant. u. Abend.
40, 1994,
pp.
109-124;
and Putnam
(De-
signs,
above,
n.
11), passim.
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BUnchot and the Death
ofVirgil
217
Gesetzes,
ja
ebendarum auch das Schicksal selber: das unendliche Ver-
borgensein
der
Unendlichkeit,
dennoch die Menschenseele.
(VirgiTs thoughts
357)
19
Die
Ordnung
wird die des Menschen sein ... die des menschlichen
Gesetzes.
Gesetze? als ob wir damit nicht berreichlich
gesegnet
wren! In
nichts ist der Senat so fruchtbar wie in der
Erzeugung
schlechter
Gesetze ... das Volk will
Ordnung,
doch sicherlich keine
hinterhltigen
Gesetze,
durch die es mitsamt seinem Staat zerstrt wird ... aber davon
verstehst du wirklich nichts.
(Virgil speaks
first,
Augustus
second, 416)
20
The
Augustus
of th Vita Donati aucti
similarly disregards
the
law. A sets of verses attributed to him
argues
that
preserving
a
work of art is
good
reason for
breaking
the law
(frangatur potius
legum
ueneranda
potestas,
58).
Broch's
Virgil
would
obey
a
higher
law and sacrifice the
poem.
In
killing
Turnus,
Aeneas makes the classic
gesture
of human sac-
rifice
(12.948)
in the foundation of a state.21 For
Broch, however,
the sacrifice is of the work of art and the foundation that of a new
religion.
His
proto-Christian Virgil,
himself
incapable
of
per-
forming
the
redeeming
act,
would
prepare
for the
coming
of 'the
bringer
of salvation and rvlation'
(382)
with the Aeneid's sacri-
fice.
Augustus'
reaction shows how this idea
boggies
the
pagan
mind.
Ich kann und darf sie nicht
fertigstellen
... ich darf es um so
weniger
tun,
als dies die
unrichtigste Vorbereitung
wre.
Und wie wre die
richtige
zu
bewerkstelligen?
Durch das
Opfer.
Opfer?
So ist es.
Wofr willst du
opfern?
Wem willst du
opfern?
Den Gttern.
19.
it was the infinite which bore all the connotations within existence,
bearing
the law,
bearing
the form of the
law,
and
precisely
for this reason
bearing
faith
itself;
the infinite forever hidden,
but for all that the soul of man
(325).
20. The order will be a human one ... the order of human law.'
'Laws? As if we were not more than blessed with them! In
nothing
is the Senate
so fruitful as in the enactment of bad laws ... the
people
wish for order but
certainly
not for insidious laws
by
which
they
and their state are
endangered
...
you speak
of
things you
do not understand.'
(377)
21. H. Arendt traces th link between violence and
beginning
to both bibhcal and
classical traditions,
On Revolution,
London
1963,
p.
20.
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2i8 Michle Lowrie
Die Gtter haben die ihnen
genehmen Opfer geregelt,
sie haben sie
dem Staate zur Obhut
bergeben,
und ich
sorge
dafr,
dass sie im
ganzen Reichsgebiet pnktlich vollzogen
werden,
wie es ihre
Ordnung
verlangt.
Ausserhalb der Staatshoheit
gibt
es keine
Opfer.

(422-423)"
Augustus' circumscribing religion
within the state's
purview
is
another instance of his lack of vision. For
Broch,
the
problems
with
VirgiTs
sacrifice are neither
moral,
nor
politicai,
but aes-
thetic. When
Virgil
first conceives of
burning
the
Aeneid,
he wor-
ries about the act's
purity.
It cannot be done in his furien-
verseuchten Zimmer
(203)
-
we
wonder,
is Aeneas' sacrifice of
Turnus
fiinis
accensus
(12.946)
also contaminated? But his rumina-
tions on
purity yield
to aesthetic concerns:
so sollte es
geschehen
am
Meeresstrande,
verzehrt das Gedicht in der
bebenden Flamme
-,
und
doch,
war solches Vorhaben nicht verruchtes
Wiederaufleben
jenes glatten Schnheitsspieles
mit Worten und
Geschehnissen,
das schicksalhaft den Eidbruch des Lebens bestimmt
hatte?
(203)23
Sacrifice
initially appears
as an
escape
from the snare of the aes-
thetic,
but hre
Virgil
becomes
entangled again.
Broch
consistently
sublates some
Virgilian
limitation,
whether
his
Separation
of aesthetics from
morality, dismay
at the insuffi-
ciency
of
law,
or horror at foundational sacrifice. His
Virgil's
drive to the transcendent
encapsultes
the diffrence between
pagan
and
Christian,
and this diffrence also inhabits the ancient
and the modern author's treatments of hatred. Turnus asks Ae-
22. cannot and I dare not finish it ... I cannot do it because this would be
just
the
wrong
sort of
prparation.'
'And how would
you accomplish
the
right
one?'
Through
sacrifice/
'Sacrifice?'
'Just
so.'
'To what end will
you
sacrifice? whom?'
' the
gods.'
'The
gods
hve
stipulated
the sacrifices which are
acceptable
to
them,
they
have
given
them over to th care of the
state,
and I see to it that
they
are
punctiliously
car-
ried out in th whole
empire.
There are no sacrifices outside the state's sove-
reignty.'(383).
23.
thus it should corne to
pass
on the
seashore,
the
poem
consumed in the
trembling
flame
-,
but was such an intention not th
grievous
revival of that
slick,
aesthetic
playing
with words and events that had constituted the fateful
treachery
of
life?
(183).
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Bfonchot and the Death
ofVirgil
219
neas to
give up
his hatred: ultenus ne tende odiis
(12.938).
Authorial
comment reveals that Turnus would one
day
himself hte
(pderit,
10.505)
th
spoils
he took and th
day
he took them. But Aeneas
does not
give up
his
hatred,
because of Turnus' own hatred in de-
spoiling
Pallas
(10.490-500).
Broch's
Virgil,
however,
cannot tol-
erate
Augustus'
accusation of hatred.
Vergil...
Ja, Augustus.

Du hassest mich.
Octavian!
Nenne mich nicht
Octavian,
da du mich hassest.
Ich ... ich hasse dich?
Und wie du mich hassest! Schrill vor Schrfe war des Csars
Stimme.
(426-427)
M
Virgil
soon
capitultes
(430-432). VirgiTs susceptibility
to
Augus-
tus' accusation forms the heart of Broch's criticism of the Aeneid.
The ancient
poet
views
people
from the
outside;
his vehicles for
expressing
motion are
metaphor,
simile,
and the
speech.
He has
not
yet
attained the
interiority
first found in
Augustine.
Brodi' s
Virgil
criticizes himself for lack of
feeling: unbewegt
hatte er
Menschenleid beobachtet;
nichts waren ihm die Menschen
(168-169).
When he
yields
to
Augustus
and
spares
the
Aennd,
he
achieves a
clemency beyond
the
powers
of
Aeneas,
because it is
Christian.
Broch, however,
fiilly
understands the aesthetic neces-
sity
of the death of Turnus.
Virgil
muses that if Aeneas had
spared
Turnus,
er wre
keineswegs
zu einem
Beispiel
nach-
strebenswerter
Milde,
vielmehr zu dem eines
langweiligen
Un-
helden
geworden,
den darzustellen kein Gedicht htte
wagen
drfen
(149).
Art' s concern is to maintain a balance: Milde und
Grausamkeit
vereinigt
im
Gleichgewicht
der Schnheits-
sprache
(150).
Broch's new aesthetics is a Christian
one,
where
the moral status of the work of art
brings
fulfillment to what
would otherwise be
empty beauty.
24.
'Virgil
...'
'Yes,
Augustus?'
'You hte me.'
'Octavian!'
'Cali me not Octavian since
you
hte me.'
... I hate
you?'
'And how
you
hate me.' Caesar's voice was stirili with bitterness
(387).
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220 Michle Lowne
If Broch's
critique
lends th ancient author
life,25
Blanchot in
Vinstant de ma mort would
definitively
kill him
-
if he could
pre-
vent his return as a
ghost.
Blanchot turns his
modernity contrary
to Broch's. Where Broch fills five hundred
pages
with
VirgiTs
thoughts
and
words,
Blanchot writes a rcit of under five. This
spareness
accords with a modernist occlusion of sources. His ear-
lier criticai work on Broch in Le livre
venir, however,
shows he
understood th stakes in th destruction of lives and
manuscripts.
Broch is a direct
predecessor
to L'instant de ma
mort,
Virgil
a latent one.
Unlike
VirgiTs
Turnus or Broch's
Virgil,
th character con-
fronting
death does not
literally
die in Blanchot. The moment of
suspension
that
opens up
never
ends,
but extends
infinitely.
This
moment is
empty.
For
Broch,
such
temporal gaps
are transitional
spaces
of
potentiality,
characterized
by
th
phrase
no
longer
and
not
yet.
Nicht mehr und noch nicht
-,
der Csar
wog, unangenehm
berhrt,
die Worte ab
-,
dazwischen klafft der leere Raum...
(368)26
Broch traces such
gaps
back to
Virgil
and has his
Virgil
cite Geor-
gias
1.32-35,
where the constellations make room for
Augustus
as a
future
god
(419-420).
27
The
joining
of the ruler with the heavens
is an act in
prparation;
the new order is imminent. For Blan-
chot,
the
gap
is rather th
very
nature of death. Faced with the
firing squad
of the Nazi
army,
his
protagonist expriences
death
without
dying.
The alination involved is not
just
the distance
that
separates
the
speaking
I from his
memory
of himself as
young
-
th
piece opens
with
Je
me souviens d'un
jeune
homme
(2)
-
but a
lasting
division within the self: we are never
sure of the
speaker's identity
with the
young
man.
Je
sais
-
le
sais-je
-
que
celui
que
visaient
dj
les
Allemands,
n'attendant
plus que
Tordre
final,
prouva
alors un sentiment de
lgret
extraordi-
naire,
une sorte de batitude
(rien
d'heureux
cependant),
-
allgresse
souveraine? La rencontre de la mort et de la mort?
25.
Ziolkowski
(above,
n.
15), pp.
219-222
argues
that Broch was not
profoundly
interested in
Virgil,
but I
hope my analysis
shows otherwise.
26. 'No
longer
and not
yet',
-
Caesar,
much
dismayed,
was
weighing
thse
words
-
'and between them
yawns
an
empty space'

(335).
27.
See Ziolkowski
(above,
n.
15), pp.
214-215
for Broch's
adaptations
of Voss's
translations.
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BUnchot and the Death
ofVirgil
221
A sa
place, je
ne chercherai
pas

analyser
ce sentiment de
lgret.
Il
tait
peut-tre
tout
coup
invincible. Mort
-
immortel. Peut-tre l'ex-
tase. Plutt le sentiment de
compassion pour
l'humanit
souffrante,
le
bonheur de n'tre
pas
immortel ni ternel.
Dsormais,
il fut li la
mort,
par
une amiti
subreptice.
(4)8
Hre the
exprience
of th
gap
is
resolutely
internai;
it is a feel-
ing
of death
permanently
within. The
difficulty
of
describing
this
exprience gives pause.
The
speaker questions
his
knowledge,
offers
alternatives,
analyzes
from a distance the
unanalyzable.
The
exprience
is unknowable because it fuses death with life.
Demeurait
cependant,
au moment o la fusillade n'tait
plus qu'en
at-
tente,
le sentiment de
lgret que je
ne saurais traduire: libr de la
vie? l'infini
qui
s'ouvre? Ni
bonheur,
ni malheur. Ni l'absence de
crainte et
peut-tre dj
le
pas
au-del.
Je
sais,
j'imagine que
ce senti-
ment
inanalysable changea
ce
qui
lui restait d'existence. Comme si la
mort hors de lui ne
pouvait
dsormais
que
se heurter la mort en lui.
"Je
suis vivant.
Non,
tu es mort".
(6, 8)29
This careftil reader of Broch reduces
important
thmes to a mini-
mum. Sacrifice leaves its trace
only
in the slowness of the
protag-
onist's walk: he advanced d'une manire
presque
sacerdotale
(2).
The
sovereign
control of Broch's
Augustus
becomes a feel-
ing, allgresse
souveraine
(4).
The soldiers
letting
the
young
man
escape
are Russian and
disobey
the commands of their Ger-
man leaders.
Any sovereign
dcision
dissiptes.
Law and moral-
ity
are a sham. The
young
man is saved
by
the accident of inter-
ruption
and
peut-tre
Terreur de
l'injustice (2).
The
killing
of
28. I know
-
do I know it
-
that the one at whom the Germans were
already
aim-
ing, awaiting
but the final
order,
experienced
then a
feeling
of
extraordinary light-
ness,
a sort of batitude
(nothing happy,
however)
-
sovereign
dation? The encoun-
ter of death with death?
In his
place,
I will not
try
to
analyze.
He was
perhaps suddenly
invincible. Dead
-
immortal.
Perhaps ecstasy.
Rather th
feeling
of
compassion
for
suffering
human-
ity,
the
happiness
of not
being
immortal or eternai. Henceforth,
he was bound to
death
by
a
surreptitious friendship. (5).
29.
There remained, however,
at the moment when the
shooting
was no
longer
but to
come,
th
feeling
of
lightness
that I would not know how to translate: freed
from life? the infinite
opening up?
Neither
happiness,
nor
unhappiness.
Nor the ab-
sence of fear and
perhaps already
the
step beyond.
I
know,
I
imagine
that this unana-
lyzable feeling changed
what there remained for him of existence. As if the death
outside of him could
only
henceforth collide with the death in him. am alive.
No,
you
are dead.'
(7, 9).
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222 Michle Lovme
farm
boys
and
burning
of their farms contrasts with th
sparing
of th manor house and th nobles such that th
young
man,
who
feels the
injustice, gives up
his
ecstasy
for survivor
guilt
(6).
There is no Christian
rdemption.
The most decisive diffrence from Broch and from
Virgil
is the
absence of
any
dcision. Aeneas' hsitation over
killing
Turnus
makes his action a dcision.
Virgil
revokes his dcision to burn
the Aeneid. Blanchot's
young
man is dismissed
by
accident: battle
breaks out
nearby,
the lieutenant needs to
investigate,
the sol-
diers
aiming
at him
happen
to be Russian. One waves him
away
without th
authority
to do so.
Being targeted by
the
firing squad
was as much an accident as his dismissal. He was
saved,
his
manuscript
lost,
both for reasons
similarly contingent.
The lieu-
tenant took the
manuscript
on the mistaken
assumption
it
per-
haps
contained war
plans
(6).
Aesthetics and
morality
are
equally
beside the
point.
Blanchot's self-alienation results in other divisions. The lost
manuscript's importance merges only
in a second section of
text. The two
narratives,
one about a
person,
the other a work of
art,
is a
Virgilian ghost.
A division between criticism and art dif-
ferentiates Blanchot from
Broch,
who units them. In the second
section,
Blanchot's
protagonist
visits
Malraux,
who also lost
work in the war and whose comments establish the diffrence:
"Ce n'taient
que
des rflexions sur
Tait,
faciles
reconstituer,
tandis
qu'un
manuscrit ne saurait l'tre."
(io).
The contrast
identifies the
manuscript
as itself a work of
art,
not mere reflec-
tions on it. In the
tradition,
Virgil's
scholiast has
Augustus
con-
template breaking
the law to save the labor of a work of
art,
con-
demned
by
its author on aesthetic
grounds;
Broch's
Virgil
hallu-
cinates for hours on the aesthetic
object's inability
to answer to
morality
's
higher
daims. Blanchot
sweeps away
such
agonizing:
Qu'importe. (io).
His own reflections on
art, however,
show
he had
already given
considrable
thought
to books within
books.
The
projected
books Blanchot
analyzes
for
Proust,
Joubert,
Ar-
taud,
Broch et
al,
in Le livre venir are deferred to the future or to
nowhere,
a
significant
diffrence from L'instant de ma mort: his
manuscript
existed,
but was lost. When Blanchot identifies as
modem th desire to
destroy
an
incomplete manuscript,
a mo-
ment of indistinction blends
Virgil
with Broch.
Il se
rappelle
la
lgende
selon
laquelle,
au moment de
mourir,
le
pote
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Blanchot and the Death
ofVirgil
223
voulut dtruire
l'Enide,
ce
pome
rest inachev. Voil une
pense
moderne.
(143)30
Blanchot
puts
several turns in the traditions he outlines in Le livre
venir: unlike the authors who would
destroy
their
works,
he
wanted to
recuperate
his
manuscript.
His desire to
publish
is
per-
haps only possible
in the
manuscript's
absence: authors resist
publication
and the forces that drive them
against
their will. He
crdits Mallarm with
calling
the Book the force
beyond
the
reader,
society,
the
state,
and culture that drives authors to
pub-
lish. In th face of its
power,
les vivants sont bien faibles
(Livre
281).
The
power
of the Book drives the
production
of Blanchot's
rcit of his
manuscript's
loss half a
Century
later. The
story
makes
partial good
of the loss
by inscribing
it into a tradition where
death
hangs
over
people
and
manuscripts
alike. Minimalist r-
duction,
ngation,
and reversai are marks of the modem work's
fruitless
struggle against intertextuality.
VirgiTs
shadow extends into the twentieth
Century,
but Blan-
chot asks not
only
What is
Virgil
to
us?,
but What is Rome?.
In
suggesting
that Rome's
unifying hritage
weakened
during
the
Second World War
(Livre 153),
he follows Ernst Robert
Curtius,
an Alsatian who wrote his
Europische
Literatur und hteinches
MitteUlter
(Bern 1948)
at this time
partially
as a
politicai gesture
to
remind
Europeans
of this shared
hritage.31
Derrida
brings up
Latinity
and the institution of literature as understood
by
Curtius
in his
analysis
of L'instant de ma mort
(Demeure 43).
He decon-
structs the distinction between
literature,
a Latin
word,
and
testimony.
Blanchot's
rcit, however,
occupies
not
only
a
literary
zone of
indistinction,
but a
politicai
one. The institution of litera-
ture in ali its
Latinity
was
supposed
to hold
Europe together.
Vir-
30.
He remembers th
legend according
to
which,
at th moment of
dying,
th
poet
wanted to
destroy
th
Aeneid,
this
poem
which remained
incomplete.
There is
a modern
thought.
He
explores
this notion in Mallarm
(280
.
). Compare
Ovid's
burning (a copy
of)
th
Mtamorphoses
at Tristia
1.7.16
and th
legend
of Rimbaud's
attempt
to bum his
papers,
W.
Mason,
The Elaborations: Rimbaud at th
Mercy ofthe
Biographers, Harper's Magazine
October 2002,
p.
92.
31.
R.
Brague, Europe:
la voie
romaine,
Paris
1993 ,
p.
23: Quant
a 1
Europe
au sens
troit,
il
y
a un trait
qu'elle
est
peut-tre
seule
possder,
seule
revendiquer,
et
qui
est en tout cas ce
que personne
ne lui
dispute.
C'est la romanit. Ou
plus prcis-
ment la latinit. La romanit a t
revendique par Byzance
...,
puis par
Moscou ...
Elle l'a mme t
par l'Empire
ottoman,
... Mais de la
latinit,
personne
d'autre
que
l'Europe
n'a voulu.
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224
Michle Lowne
gii
in
particular
offers a model of th resolution into cultural
unity
of
warring
factions.32 When Blanchot at th end of his life
gives
an account of his
exprience
in th Second World War and
th rsultant internai division he has suffered ever
since,
Virgil
and th
European
tradition of his
reception
return as
ghosts
re-
minding
us of what was
falling apart.33
The
hritage
meant to
unify Europe,
let us
remember,
is of a Christianized
Rome,
but
another
figure
haunts L'instant de ma
mort,
and this is th
Jew.
Again,
Broch dwells in th
gap,
and here aesthetics meets
poli-
tics.
When Blanchot wrote his narrative of near-death at th end of
th
War,
he had been attacked for anti-semitism in his nationalis-
tic
writings during
th
i93o's,34
in which he
critiqued
French re-
publicanism
from th
right.35
Blanchot dfends himself
against
th accusation of
complicity by showing
that he too suffered
from German
oppression,
and th
contingency
of his
escape
matches that of
many Jews
who survived. He too
experienced
Irving
death. The indistinction between literature and
testimony
matters for
politicai
as well as aesthetic reasons. We cannot tell
how much Blanchot is
making up
to exonerate himself. But if lit-
erature in the Christianized Latin tradition binds
Europe
to-
gether,
can the
beauty
and
literarity
of Blanchot' s
story36
win
him
forgiveness?
Broch's
biography
shows that Der Tod des
Vergil
is not
only
about the relation of aesthetics to
politics,
but served as their in-
tersection in its author's life. His conversion to Catholicism ac-
cords with the novel's
strong
use of the tradition of a
proto-
Christian
Virgil,
but Broch was born
Jewish.
He worked on an
early
version of the
project
while
imprisoned by
the Nazis for
32.
1 discuss Curtius and
Virgil (Literature, above,
n.
7), pp.
33-35.
33.
S.
Ungar,
Scandai and
Aflereffect:
Blaniot and France Since
1930, Minneapolis
1995
pp
85-93
examines Blanchot's
critique
of
Curtius,
whose model he
rejects
as a
misunderstanding
of France and French literature.
Ungar
and Blanchot
ignore
the
Latinity
of Curtius'
project.
34. J. Mehlman,
Legacies of
Anti-Semitism in
France,
Minneapolis
1983,
pp.
6-22;
Blanchot at Combat:
Of
Literature and
Terror,
treated with nuance
by Ungar (above,
n.
33), pp.
84, 96, 116, 153, 162-164.
35.
Ungar (above,
n.
33), p.
97.
36.
D.
Cahen, Qui
a
peur
de la
littrature?,
Paris
2001,
pp.
275-276
examines how
Blanchot,
here as
elsewhere,
always
returns to the
topic
of literature.
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Bfonchot and the Death
of Virgil
225
three weeks at Bad Aussee in
1938.
37
He later describes in a letter
his work on the novel
during
his
imprisonment.38
The book was written not as a
book,
but as a kind of
private diary,
that
is,
it
began
as a
book,
was continued as a
diary
and then the final
part
was written as a book
again.
While I was
writing
it as a
diary
I believed I
would never
publish anything again
and that I would end
my days
in a
concentration
camp;
it was therefore a
personal
confrontation with the
exprience
and
reality
of death.
Fiction or
testimony?
Blanchot
equates
Broch's character with
Broch himself:
Virgile,
c'est Broch
(Livre 153).
Both Blanchot
and Broch write
poorly disguised autobiographies;
the diffrence
is in their
politics.
Broch was a committed
anti-fascist,
and his
prsentation
of
Augustus supports
thse commitments.39 The
politicai question
in the Aeneid is whether Aeneas will show
demency
to Turnus. He does
not,
and this failure has been read
as a
critique
of the
Augustan ge.40
Broch's
Virgil eventually
shows
demency
to his own work. Art will in the end overcome
its own limitations.
Blanchot, however,
shifts the
question away
from
demency
-
a dcision
-
to random circumstances. This shift
more than
anything
else marks Blanchot as modem and in it he
kills off
Virgil.
Is he dead? No more than Blanchot.
New York
University
37.
P. M.
Ltzeler,
Hermann Broch: A
Biography,
trans.
Janice
Furness,
London
1987,
pp.
155-174.
38.
Ltzeler
(above,
.
37), p.
157.
39.
Virgil
was used
during
this
period
to
support
both tascist and anti-lascist
posi-
tions,
Cox
(above,
n.
17), pp.
327-328.
Steiner
(above,
n.
8), p.
10 sums
up
twentieth-
century assumptions
about
Virgil,
whether
pro-
or anti-fascist: Above
all,
Virgil
is
European,
or so we take him to be. In the
twenty-first Century, Virgil might
turn
out to be American.
40.
M. C.
J.
Putnam,
The
Poetry ofthe
Aeneid,
Cambridge
ma
1965,
pp.
192-194;
W.
R.Johnson,
Darkness Visible: A
Study ofVergil's
Aeneid,
Berkeley
1976,
eh.
4.
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