While “impasse” in politics implies deadlock or standstill, this essay examines how a counter-tradition, exemplified by Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community, treats impasse as the condition of possibility of a new form of community. Focusing on Blanchot’s conception of the “community of lovers,” the essay examines why Blanchot associates this with the events of May 1968. This association centers on the notion of an “impossible community” that challenges the very structure of the state as the realization of the community’s sovereignty. The essay then turns to Kleist, mentioned briefly in Blanchot’s treatise, as a paradigmatic case of the literary dimension of impossible community. Focusing on Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas, the essay argues that the novella articulates the episodic and insurrectional element of Blanchot’s conception of community. Rather than understand the titular character’s revolt in terms of his fanatical adherence to the universality of law, the essay argues that Kohlhaas’s insurrection is predicated on the death of his wife, Lisbeth, whose post-mortem appearance in the novella introduces a promise that is structurally prior to the state’s constitution. This promise transforms impasse into enactment, impossibility into actuality.

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