Maurice Blanchot (22 September 1907 – 20 February 2003) was a French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist. His work had a strong influence on post-structuralist philosophers such as Jacques Derrida.
Blanchot's work is not a coherent, all-encompassing 'theory', since it is a work founded on paradox and impossibility. The thread running through all his writing is the constant engagement with the 'question of literature', a simultaneous enactment and interrogation of the profoundly strange experience of writing. For Blanchot, 'literature begins at the moment when literature becomes a question' (Literature and the Right to Death).
Blanchot draws on the work of the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé in formulating his conception of literary language as anti-realist and distinct from everyday experience. 'I say flower,' Mallarmé writes in Poetry in Crisis, 'and outside the oblivion to which my voice relegates any shape, insofar as it is something other than the calyx, there arises musically, as the very idea and delicate, the one absent from every bouquet.' In the everyday use of language, words are the vehicles of ideas. The word 'flower' means flower that refers to flowers in the world. No doubt it is possible to read literature in this way, but literature is more than this everyday use of language. For in literature 'flower' does not just mean flower but many things and it can only do so because the word is independent from what it signifies. This independence, which is passed over in the everyday use of language, is the negativity at the heart of language. The word means something because it negates the physical reality of the thing. Only in this way can the idea arise. The absence of the thing is made good by the presence of the idea. What the everyday use of language steps over to make use of the idea, literature remains fascinated by, the absence that makes it possible. Literary language, therefore, is a double negation, both of the thing and the idea. It is in this space that literature becomes possible where words take on a strange and mysterious reality of their own, and where also meaning and reference remain allusive and ambiguous.
Blanchot's best-known fictional works are Thomas the Obscure, an unsettling récit ("[récit] is not the narration of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that event is made to happen") about the experience of reading and loss; Death Sentence; Aminadab and The Most High (about a bureaucrat in a totalitarian state). His central theoretical works are "Literature and the Right to Death" (in The Work of Fire and The Gaze of Orpheus), The Space of Literature, The Infinite Conversation, and The Writing of Disaster.