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image of Journal of Arabic Literature

Jean-Luc Nancy's provocative second chapter of The Inoperative Community, "Myth Interrupted," sets to redefine the relationship between myth and literature. This paper puts Nancy's new perspective to test through juxtaposing Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati's myth of Orpheus with Maurice Blanchot's. The assumption is that when literature stages myth and presents it from various perspectives, it does so not to invoke or allegorize its content through the letter, but rather to interrupt it. This new discovery of the "untraceability" of myth leaves us with a different perspective of literature as that language which cuts across myth and exposes its limit and as a language that inhabits myth only to interrupt it. Blanchot's interest in Orpheus, as it is articulated in his novel/story Thomas l'obscur (the 1950 New Version) and in his chapter on "Orpheus's Gaze" in The Space of Literature, and al-Bayati's reference to Orpheus in his poetic collections He Who Comes and Does Not Come, Death in Life, and Writing on the Mud thematize this playful staging of the myth of Orpheus. Both seem to follow a different path with the same myth. Blanchot disregards the ending of the Orpheus story, and al-Bayati disregards the gaze. However, it is not just selection, but modification that is at work here: both shape their chosen materials in conformity to a specific need. The logic that binds the two writers together in relation to myth and literature expresses itself not only in the choice of the same myth, but they also have in common the shared debt to this classical material and more importantly in their (re)definition of this material. The point of departure between the two of them in their treatment (reinterpretation) of Orpheus is that Blanchot is looking at the effect of death on writing, while al-Bayati is exploring the effect of writing on death.


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