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Dictionnaire testimonial et mémoriel

The Writing of Disaster

L’écriture du désastre
Schrijven over de ramp
Éric Hoppenot
Traduction de Sarah Voke
p. 193
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’écriture du désastre [fr]

Texte intégral

1If the notion of disaster evokes apocalyptic literature as a genre and the tradition of Lamentations (Jeremiah), on the other hand, these references don’t fully pertain to the writing of disaster which, as such, goes back to Maurice Blanchot. This writer particularly developed it in his eponymous collection, composed of fragments, The Writing of the Disaster (1980) published seven years after The Step Not Beyond thus creating a sort of diptych. Emerging then at this point in time within the intellectual field, this category makes its way into testimonial texts on concentration camps and on the genocide.

2Disaster cannot be reduced to viewing events as a cataclysm of History, but to make writing itself a place where disaster manifests itself as such. More than a writing of survivors, disaster is the place where revenants express themselves. A ghostly language that has incorporated the voice of those who disappeared. The writing of the disaster is where the ashes of those who remain without a grave are buried. Testimonial and testamentary literature, testamentary because it is testimonial.

3The notion of disaster is a particularly complex movement of thinking, because as is often the case with Blanchot, concepts unfold in paradoxes, or even in aporias. The notion of disaster firstly challenges our representation of time in so far as it includes at the same time what has already taken place and, also, what is most near. Thus, there is neither a precise space, nor a time that can welcome disaster. But the present is the time of the return of disaster, that moment when time itself can come back, but as if pulverized by the disaster. Thus the apocalypse “has always already” occurred even if it is still yet to come.

4The writing of disaster stages a true poetic, that privileges the form of the fragment, as Primo Levi already announced in his few words of introduction to If This Is a Man. The form of the fragment imitates breaking, debris, bursting, it escapes all desire for chronology, all sense of coming together, it tells the immeasurability of the loss and its reiteration. It deconstructs the very possibility of every narrative. In this regard, the work by Charlotte Delbo is particularly significant. Through her poetic and fragmented writing, she expresses the overwhelming change of language, wrought with horror, confronted to muteness or to its opposite, as an infinite stammering. To give every disappearance, every ash, a voice at the same time anonymous and singular, this could be the task of the writing of disaster.

5It should be mentioned that philosophically, disaster, as inferred by Blanchot, finds its place in its proximity to the concept of passivity as expressed by Levinas in Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, in that disaster is what escapes all forms of experience. Disaster is pure “suffering” according to the neologism forged by Blanchot.

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Celan, Paul, Choix de poèmes, translated from the German by Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, Paris: Gallimard, 2014.

Delbo, Charlotte, Aucun de nous ne reviendra, Paris: Minuit, 1970.

Ertel, Rachel, Dans la langue de personne? Poésie yiddish de l’anéantissement, Paris: Seuil, 1993.

Kofman, Sarah, Paroles suffoquées, Paris: Galilée, 1987.

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Éric Hoppenot, « The Writing of Disaster »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 118 | 2014, 193.

Référence électronique

Éric Hoppenot, « The Writing of Disaster »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [En ligne], 118 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2015, consulté le 23 avril 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Éric Hoppenot

ESPE Paris IV La Sorbonne.

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