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Maurice Blanchot papers acquired by Harvard

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Houghton Library has acquired the archive of French writer, literary theorist, and philosopher Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) from his daughter, Cidalia Blanchot. Christie McDonald, Smith Professor of French Language and Literature at Harvard University, said, “I am thrilled by Houghton’s acquisition of this important archive.  Scholars will have unprecedented access to material that will give us a deeper understanding of his work.”

Blanchot’s writings influenced a generation of postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers, and the Blanchot papers provide an incredibly rich research resource not only on Blanchot himself, but also the intellectual life of France in the twentieth century. His political thought was complicated and is still debated today: shifting from the extreme right in pre-World War II France to the extreme left in his opposition to the war in Algeria in the 1950s and support for student protests in 1968. Over the last 30 years of his life his written output was infrequent, and although he remained an important figure for many, he became reclusive.  This has perhaps contributed to the intense interest in the unpublished writings he left behind.

Declaration signed

In extent, the archive fills approximately 20 cartons (ca. 25 linear feet). It includes his working manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs of books, essays, and reviews; extensive notes on and translation of Friedrich Nietzsche, Georg Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Karl Marx, and Franz Kafka; reading notes (including notes on Paul Valéry, Françoise Sagan, Marcel Brion, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault); some ephemera from the May 1968 Paris student protests, of which he was an active supporter; twenty-six spiral-bound notebooks containing drafts of letters, reading notes, interview notes, lists of books, etc.; substantial correspondence with Robert and Monique Antelme, Dominique Aury/Anne Desclos, Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabès, Henri Lefebvre, and with Gallimard and magazine publishers, as well as letters from Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Lacan, Emmanuel Levinas, and other philosophers and writers of the period; family correspondence; and hundreds of letters by Denise Rollin, Blanchot’s lover in the mid-1940s.

Houghton’s acquisition of the corrected proofs of L’Entretien infini in 2009 attracted much scholarly attention, as the writer’s papers have been inaccessible following his death. An article about that earlier acquisition, by Harvard’s Smith Professor of French Language and Literature Christie McDonald and Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts Leslie Morris, is available online on Espace Blanchot and The Romance Sphere. This second, much larger and significant acquisition awaits full description, but the archive is now available for research in the Houghton Reading Room (see the preliminary box list).

The Blanchot papers complement Houghton’s strong holdings in printed French literature of the twentieth century, recently augmented by the addition of the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection and its extensive holdings in French popular culture, and May 1968 Paris student protest posters and flyers.

Espace Litteraire

The acquisition was made possible by funds from the Amy Lowell Trust, the Bayard Livingston and Kate Gray Kilgour Fund, and the Class of 1952 Manuscript Fund.


Top: Three of the 26 notebooks containing reading notes, drafts of letters, and much other material. Houghton Library, Maurice Blanchot papers (MS Fr 662, box 4) © Maurice Blanchot

Middle: A selection of pages from drafts of writings on the war in Algeria. Houghton Library, Maurice Blanchot papers (MS Fr 662, box 2, folder 24) © Maurice Blanchot

Bottom: Heavily revised typescript for L’espace littéraire. Houghton Library, Maurice Blanchot papers (MS Fr 662, box 2, folder 43) © Maurice Blanchot

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