17
Feb
09

Danse Joyeuse, Danse Macabre

… le bonheur et l’innocence de la lecture, qui est peut-être en effet une danse avec un partenaire invisible dans un espace séparé, une danse joyeuse, éperdue, avec le «tombeau». Légèreté à qui il ne faut pas souhaiter le mouvement d’un souci plus grave, car là où la légèreté nous est donnée, la gravité ne manque pas … — Maurice Blanchot, L’espace litteraire

Via This Space, I came across the above quote by Maurice Blanchot, whose life, according to his publisher Gallimard, “was devoted entirely to literature and its peculiar silence”. Blanchot describes reading as a “joyful, frenzied dance with the grave”, a “lightness” that needs no greater sorrow, for where there’s lightness, “there’s gravity”.

The Scholar

I cannot quite decipher Blanchot’s paradoxical notions about the act of reading, and death never figures prominently in my reading experiences (not my own death, anyway, or at the very least not a conscious fear of death). Yet in accounts from other, more seasoned readers, the idea that the reader wrestles with death through the very act of reading crops up again and again. Unfortunately, I haven’t been taking notes along the way, being too young and too lucky to have been bothered by the spectre death. I do, however, know that once I pass away, I would very much like to have the epitaph of the young Benjamin Franklin written on my tombstone:

The body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.

(The woodcut is from Totentanz, by Hans Holbein the Younger.)

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5 Responses to “Danse Joyeuse, Danse Macabre”


  1. 1 k
    February 17, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    this has inspired me to find some others, though mr. franklin’s may be the pinnacle.

    [sir arthur conan doyle:]

    STEEL TRUE, BLADE STRAIGHT

    [winston churchill:]

    I am ready to meet my Maker.

    Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal
    of meeting me is another matter.

    [william shakespeare, creepily:]

    GOOD FREND FOR JESUS SAKE FORBEARE TO
    DIGG THE DUST ENCLOASED HEARE.
    BLEST BE YE MAN YT SPARES THES STONES AND
    CURST BE HE YT MOVES MY BONES

    [john keats, dramatically:]

    THIS GRAVE CONTAINS ALL THAT WAS MORTAL OF A YOUNG ENGLISH
    POET WHO ON HIS DEATH BED IN THE BITTERNESS OF HIS HEART
    AT THE MALICIOUS POWER OF HIS ENEMIES DESIRED THESE
    WORDS TO BE ENGRAVEN ON HIS TOMB STONE

    “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”

    [oscar wilde, awesomely:]

    ALIEN TEARS WILL FILL FOR HIM
    PITY’S LONG-BROKEN ERN,
    FOR HIS MOURNERS WILL BE OUTCAST MEN,
    AND OUTCASTS ALWAYS MOURN.

  2. December 28, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    je veut danse avec arthur

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