Skip to main content

The Dark Gaze

Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred

Maurice Blanchot is among the most important twentieth-century French thinkers. Figures such as Bataille, Deleuze, Derrida, and Levinas all draw deeply on his novels and writings on literature and philosophy. In The Dark Gaze, Kevin Hart argues that Blanchot has given us the most persuasive account of what we must give up—whether it be continuity, selfhood, absolute truth, totality, or unity—if God is, indeed, dead. Looking at Blanchot’s oeuvre as a whole, Hart shows that this erstwhile atheist paradoxically had an abiding fascination with mystical experiences and the notion of the sacred.

The result is not a mere introduction to Blanchot but rather a profound reconsideration of how his work figures theologically in some of the major currents of twentieth-century thought. Hart reveals Blanchot to be a thinker devoted to the possibilities of a spiritual life; an atheist who knew both the Old and New Testaments, especially the Hebrew Bible; and a philosopher keenly interested in the relation between art and religion, the nature of mystical experience, the link between writing and the sacred, and the possibilities of leading an ethical life in the absence of God.


"Hart’s formidable knowledge of the complex, internally variegated history of Christian mysticism and theology yields many fascinating insights into Blanchot’s language and thought. . . . [The Dark Gaze] tells with admirable patience and insight the story of how insistently the sacred has insinuated itself into the heart of modern thought, even in the wake of its apparent disappearance."

Josh Cohen | Times Literary Supplement

"Hart definitively reorients understanding of Blanchot’s key notions. . . . This is a major achievement and it will long be regarded as a landmark in the study of Blanchot."


"Hart offers a fascinating reading of Blanchotian philosophy of literature and being. . . . This study shows how modern secularism has remained ’haunted by the sacred,’ and disrupts traditional intellectual genealogies sharply separating the secular and the religious in accounts of the French ’repubic of letters.’ It provides a refreshing and engaging approach for those impatient with the ways Blanchot has been recently reduced by some intellectual historians to a lineage of thinkers (from Nietzsche to Heidegger) involved in ’an intellectual romance with Fascism.’"

Sandrine Sanos | H-France Review

"With a poet’s sensibility, Hart recognizes how metaphor can do the work of criticism and The Dark Gaze is a beautiful rendering into English of the metaphor at the heart of Blanchot’s thought. . . . Combining impeccable scholarship with a lightness of touch, The Dark Gaze ably demonstrates Blanchot to be an exemplary thinker of sacrifice and the sacred."

Chris Danta | Colloquy

"This is a simply outstanding book. . . . Theology is bound up in the end with a mysterium that cannot even be attempted to be qualified, and those who lead us . . . to where we are now in terms of theological, and thus sacred, knowledge . . . should be viewed as an irreducible part of this holy and ultimately secret knowledge."

Kenneth Surin | Modern Theology

"I think there is a profoundly Blanchot-like operation underwriting this work; something akin to prayer, even intercession; something akin to entering the dark night of the soul. There is an act of courage in this undertaking that is not simply intellectual. It is a journey into exile that might become a pilgrimage."

Graham Ward | Journal of Religion

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Introduction: The Dark Gaze
1. Art or the Mystical?
2. Blanchot’s Primal Scene
3. The Impossible
4. Losing the Power to Say "I"
5. Blanchot’s "Trial of Experience"
6. "The Nearness of the Eternal"
7. The Human Relation
Conclusion: The Counterspiritual Life

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press