by Jean-Luc Nancy

The feminine body is mythical—“admirable body” as in the perfection of the story that is offered to us, the body given, abandoned in such a way that this gift itself comes about as myth (non-“arbitrary” writing) and that, by the same stroke, “passes beyond the mythic and the metaphysical.”

What is meant by this paradox of a myth that goes beyond the mythical? The mythical in association with metaphysics can designate the order of fictional “back-worlds,” to speak like Nietzsche, and therefore is myth in the current sense of a fable.[1] But “the truth of the mythical body” is of a different order. So much so that one will have to renounce the “too facile symbolism” of “pagan Aphrodite.” This epithet gives an indication of the direction that follows this mythic, outra-mythic and spiritual ascension: in an unexpected and even more remarkable way, it is going to culminate in the figure of Christ.

The admirable body of the female abandons itself, “up to the possibility of immediately ceasing to be […] by her own desire.” She can, to her own liking, desire to disappear, desire conforming to the “fragility of the infinitely beautiful, of the infinitely real” (how can we not think of the traditional catholic formulas that speak of an infinitely great, good, and powerful God?). The same infinity renders “uninvolved” its identification with mythological persons, whose figures have been named [in an earlier chapter]. “In every way, […] she belongs to the community.” The return underlined by this term, which gives the theme here, is followed by the motif of foundation: “through her fragility, she makes her inaccessibility sensible, and through her magnificence, that the foreignness of what cannot be common is what founds this community.”

At this decisive point—decisively ultra-dialectical—and before coming to the ultimate identification or (trans)figuration of the female, one final variation is consecrated to man. Blanchot reminds us that he is the one held, “outside the circle of love,”  and therefore the one for whom the feminine abyss represents at once attraction, threat and loss. However, he makes clear that the story does not stop at “these abrupt affirmations” and that, in spite of everything, man enters into this, “surprising relationship […] which shows the indefinable power of the feminine over even that which wants or believes itself to remain foreign to it.” I won’t pause here anymore than before on what concerns man because his role is delimited by what was just been said: he is the homogeneous that shies away from the heterogeneous, while worrying about it nonetheless and relying on it in the end despite himself, “changed more radically than he believes.” And his sickness[2] comes not only from a “lack of love” but “also (or first of all) stirs itself up in she who is there,” and in whom, or through whom life (“existence itself”) is opened to its own abyss.

In other words, at least death will be communicated from one to the other and in both senses. Excessive death of the woman, sickly death of the man, perhaps passing one to the other, double form of incommunication, in excess of or in default on love. Death or dying, in reality or in imagination, as we’ll see.

Right when this “surprising relationship” is affirmed, it is also affirmed that “existence apart from” the woman “has something sacred about it”—“without there being any trace of profanation”: no more than one assists or spectates a rape does it have to do with a sacrifice. This “sacred,” whose excess does not call for transgression and whose access is created through abandon (a consent in which even the idea of a victim disappears), is one in which sacrifice is overcome or relieved in the gift of self. Blanchot writes: “she offers her body, like the eucharistic body was offered through an absolute, immemorial gift.”

It’s a comparison, but it’s a comparison that’s going to be shadowed in such a way that it’s worth assimilation or identification. If Blanchot kept his distance from formal identifications under mythic names, it was to get away from that which harbors the danger of idolatry, and no doubt he is anxious to keep at bay a definite name like “Jesus-Christ.” But at the same time, he proceeds to a sort of incorporation that is even more audacious, because the offering of the “eucharistic” body is not an image here, it is not a representation or a symbol: this body “was offered”—it’s written in the indicative, it’s a reality. Of course not the reality that Christians (and more precisely Catholics) recognize in the story of the Last Supper (which is nothing but the reprisal or sublation of the Pascal meal already twice evoked), but the “immemorial” real, which we know is that of a “transport that overwhelms and disturbs every possibility of remembering it.”[3] Not lived experience (Erlebnis, psychology, sociology…), but an experience the same text authorizes us to call “mystical”—this controversial term with regard to Bataille and in Bataille himself, this term that also comes up in the expression, “mystical body,” through which theology designates the assembly of all, the community in Christ, in other words, the entire unfolding of that for which the eucharist is the founding gesture.

By choosing the word “eucharist”—which in Greek means grateful joy—, Blanchot expresses himself in the most proper sacramental lexicon, and at the same time he avoids using the word “communion,” in its normal catholic usage. We know that this word was set aside early on for a reason that Nancy brought up: its proximity to a fusion similar to that of “one single individual, closed in his immanence.” With the Eucharist and the Last Supper, we return nonetheless to communion, but only by virtue of what one could call an other theology or an other spirituality: of a mystical body that would not be a superior individuality but a plurality in the mysterious unity of a body essentially offered and open, dispersed. One could say: Jesus-Christ en femme, which also implies the woman in Jesus-Christ—woman remaining woman in this transcendental, holy, and “solemn” assumption. Transubstantiated woman, we can say, in reference to the catholic theology of the Eucharist: this offered sensible body possesses mystical reality, the suressential femininity of a subject absent to himself and to the other in his gift, as his gift—his communication.

The christic scene does not stop there. It’s completed with two other episodes, thanks to which we can reconstitute the path of what we call the passion of Christ. The first holds to a single remark: returning to Duras’ story, Blanchot cites the words of the woman that echo the “Take and eat” of the Gospels— “Take me so that it’s done”—, and then he continues: “After that, having consumed everything, she is no longer there.”

Consummatum est: another one of Christ’s words, the last he uttered on the cross. The Latin translates the Greek tetelestai: it has come through to the end, to the goal, it’s finished. Life is at its term, its telos, God’s design is carried out.

Finally the last episode comes in support of “the memory of lost love,” which we can assume is revealed in man. “Just like the disciples at Emmaus: they were only persuaded of the divine presence once it had left them.” The whole cycle of the Passion was traveled: Last Supper, death, resurrection and departure from this world. Thus is fulfilled the work of salutation (salvation) of a god who is abandoned in and to human existence. And woman also “did her work” and “changed” man “more radically than he believes” (by creating a new man, according to the Christian formula?).[4]

The christic equivalence— to remain reticent before the temptation to employ terms like “identification” or “assimilation”—is developed here with a breadth and precision that leave no doubt about its importance. In it comes to be perfected the ensemble of motifs in religious and spiritual resonance that were presented throughout the text. In it takes effect a mythic and mystical force whose form is very recognizable even if it is withdrawn, along with the name, the determination of the figure (which was accorded to Aphrodite). But the absence of the name rightly belongs to the God of Jesus-Christ, inheriting the biblical god or rather, as we have understood it, relieving, if not even preceding it here according to the logic of the immemorial. (Several times in other texts, Blanchot came back to the unnameable name of God.) At the same time, the common name of passion will have discretely but surely guided the insinuating penetration of the evangelical story into Duras’, their conjunction giving shape to Blanchot’s text.



[This text is my translation of chapter 19 of Nancy’s book, The Disavowed Community, published March 2014, Galilée. It is a work in progress.]

[1] Although it is not about keeping to this current sense in its most heavy-handed value (fairy tales, dupes), one must no less hold on to the fact that nothing makes secondary the fictive character of Duras’ story, and those by Bataille.  In a context where ’68 could have been called a direct, “lived” story, the recourse to fiction is only more eloquent.

[2] Whose name, “may have come from Kierkegaard,” as Blanchot pointed out (ibid., p. 58), which is quite likely indeed and makes a gesture toward the other mention of this name by Blanchot, apropos the “mortal leap.” (Kierkegaard wrote The Sickness unto Death in the sense of “that which leads to death,” borrowing from the Gospel of John, verse 11:4).

[3] This real is also, no doubt about it, that of the “real presence” in the transubstantiation of cash.

[4] How can we not think that Blanchot kept from the catechism of his childhood the formula not long ago well known for designating the sexual relationship: “work of the flesh”?

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2 Responses to Eucharist

  1. livingoutsidetime says:

    Hi Tim,

    You ok? Good work on the translations. Hope Berlin is sgood


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  2. antepurgatory says:

    Reblogged this on Desirestudies.

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