The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking Maurice Blanchot on the Death of the Friend

The French literary theorist and philosopher Maurice Blanchot wrote after the death of his friend George Bataille, another luminary of 20th-century French letters and philosophy, a short piece titled “Friendship” (“L’amitié”). In this text, he talks about what one says about a friend after his death. Despite essential differences between the two, many of Blanchot’s crucial insights resonate with Didion’s insights, perhaps not the least because both were cases of writers writing about the loss of another writer.

Similar to Didion’s realization at the end of the book that her “magical thinking” has been an attempt to keep John with her, an attempt that she must ultimately give up, Blanchot writes: “Vainly do we try to maintain, with our words, with our writings, what is absent; vainly do we offer it the appeal of our memories and a sort of figure, the joy of remaining with the day, life prolonged by a truthful appearance” (Blanchot 289). Whereas Didion is concerned with the way that memory intrudes into her life during the year after her husband’s death, Blanchot interests himself first and foremost in the absence of his friend Bataille as absence. He maintains that there is always between friends “an infinite distance, the fundamental separation on the basis of which what separates becomes relation” (291), meaning that it is precisely the unknowability and unapproachability of the friend that makes them a friend. Specifically, he means someone to talk with: “It is the unpredictable that speaks when he speaks” (290).

For Blanchot, as with Didion, no matter how close we are to a friend (and husband, in Didion’s case) and how familiar their person may be to us, what makes them a friend is precisely the distance and unpredictability that always separates us from them, a sometimes painfully paradoxical aspect that may only become apparent through the death of the friend.