links of transnational friendship

This looks like a book that is full of horizon-expanding pages. You can sample substantial chunks of it using Amazon or Google Books (which is what I've been doing).

A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Verbal Arts: Studies in Poetics), Fordham University Press, 2012

Publisher's web page:

In A Common Strangeness, Jacob Edmond exemplifies a new, multilingual and multilateral approach to literary and cultural studies. He begins with the entrance of China into multinational capitalism and the appearance of the Parisian flâneur in the writings of a Chinese poet exiled in Auckland, New Zealand. Moving among poetic examples in Russian, Chinese, and English, he then traces a series of encounters shaped by economic and geopolitical events from the Cultural Revolution, perestroika, and the June 4 massacre to the collapse of the Soviet Union, September 11, and the invasion of Iraq. In these encounters, Edmond tracks a shared concern with strangeness through which poets contested old binary oppositions as they reemerged in new, post-Cold War forms.

The book is organized around studies of six writers: Yang Lian, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Lyn Hejinian, Bei Dao, Dmitri Prigov, Charles Bernstein.

Author's web page:

Detailed review by Lisa Samuels, here:

She says:

I might wish the book had been titled something like Estranging Poetries: Avant-Garde Dialectics in a Transnational Era, especially given the distancing Edmond wants to achieve from the uses to which Blanchot’s phrase ‘common strangeness’ can be put. We can imagine more dynamism in dialectics than the advice to speak to rather than speak of, so I am certainly sympathetic to Edmond’s resistance to Blanchot’s cited stance. Such a stance arguably encourages identitarian siloing, and Edmond’s book is invested in building bridges across those silos, in this case avant-garde poetry and comparative literature on one hand and U.S. Russian, and Sinophone literatures on the other.

The title comes from Maurice Blanchot's Friendship (L'Amitié, 1971, pp. 328-29)

... the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only to speak to them ...

Nous devons renoncer à connaître ceux à qui nous lie quelque chose d’essentiel; je veux dire, nous devons les accueillir dans le rapport avec l’inconnu où ils nous accueillent, nous aussi, dans notre éloignement. L’amitié, ce rapport sans dépendence, sans épisode et où entre cependant toute la simplicité de la vie, passe par la reconnaissance de l’étrangeté commune qui ne nous permet pas de parler de nos amis, mais seulement de leur parler, non d’en faire un thème de conversations (ou d’articles), mais le mouvement de l’entente où, nous parlant, ils réservent, même dans la plus grande familiarité, la distance infinie, cette séparation fondamentale à partir de laquelle ce qui sépare devient rapport. Ici, la discrétion n’est pas dans le simple refus de faire état de confidences (comme cela serait grossier, même d’y songer), mais elle est l’intervalle, le pur intervalle qui, de moi à cet autrui qu’est un ami, mesure tout ce qu’il y a entre nous, l’interruption d’être qui ne m'autorise jamais à disposer de lui, ni de mon savoir de lui (fût-ce pour le louer) et qui, loin d’empêcher toute communication, nous rapporte l’un à l’autre dans la différence et parfois le silence de la parole.  

Edmond's perception of the relevance of this passage to comparative literature might lead into difficulties but I think it is also illuminating.  When all is said what thrills in Blanchot's writing is its sociopathic romanticizing. (Besides, he then wrote articles, rather frequently, that spoke of Bataille, the friend in question.) It is most definitely uncertain if this is the best template for transnational friendship. For Edmond that requires a commitment to moving beyond Blanchot's binary terms. Nevertheless it seems to me that a tacit challenge persists when the Blanchot passage is invoked in this context: the siloing is there all right, but in principle its exclusivities run right across the imaginary boundaries of nation and culture.


I was interested at the mention of Georges Bataille—an odd coincidence as I yesterday downloaded, printed and bound a facsimile of his posthumous Theory of Religion. What is it with French intellectuals? They are manifestly untranslatable into meaningful English, though I had a shot at it with Camus’ Le mythe de Sisyphe. In Bataille’s case, I think he is untranslatable into ordinary sense. But I’ve been fascinated with this book since I came across his simile “every animal is in the world like water in water”. I have to find out if he reaches the same conclusion about this as I do. I really don’t think he will.

And if he became my friend, with benefit of time machine, for him or me, I would prefer to speak of him rather than to him, in order to ask his other friends what he’s about.

Have you read anything by him?
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