The Language Economy: Literature, Violence, Ethics in Sartre, Blanchot, and Said

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 1-1-2004


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Eleanore Holveck

Committee Member

Jim Hatley

Committee Member

Jonathan Arac

Committee Member

Bettina Bergo


hyperdifferentiation, representation


My project, The Language Economy: Literature, Violence, Ethics in Sartre, Blanchot, and Said, examines the significance of theories of writing and reading to the construction of ethical discourse. I begin by bringing together Sartre's and Blanchot's work on literature. I show that for Sartre and Blanchot the very possibility of representation mandates the voluntary self-sacrifice of both writer and reader. Considering Blanchot and Said, I show that the possibility of responsible representation is complicated by the violence of representation, evident in ordinary approaches to language. In addition to analyzing how Sartre, Blanchot, and Said understand the relationship between language and power, I evaluate their suggestions for how to resolve this problematic. I argue that Blanchot's refusal of traditional notions of subjectivity, while critical to representations of otherness, is ultimately inadequate to responsible representation, as hyperdifferentiation disables the obligatory force of the other's call to responsibility. I turn to the work of Said in order to begin to provide an alternative approach to representation sensitive to both the critique of subjectivity and the inadequacies of hyperdifferentiation. Ultimately, I suggest Sartre's work on the gift as key to understanding and resolving contemporary difficulties with theories of representation. I propose that a shift from metaphors of difference and distance to metaphors of the gift may provide the ground for the possibility of a post-structuralist ethics by reintroducing notions of community and relation between self and other.





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