Jean Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy

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Transcript of Jean Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy


McGill-Queen's University Press Montreal & Kingston Ithaca

B. C. Hutchens 2005

ISBN 0-7735-2982-9 (hardcover) ISBN 0-7735-2983-7 (paperback)

Legal deposit third quarter 2005 Bibliotheque nationale du Quebec

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention. No reproduction without permission. All rights reserved.

Published simultaneously outside North America by Acumen Publishing Limited

McGill-Queen's University Press acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Development Program (BPIDP) for its activities.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Hutchens, B. C. (Benjamin C.) Jean-Luc Nancy and the future of philosophy / B.C.


Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-7735-2982-9 (bound).ISBN 0-7735-2983-7 (pbk.)

1. Nancy, Jean-Luc. I. Title.

B2430.N364H87 2005 194 C2005-900995-0

Designed and typeset by Kate Williams, Swansea. Printed and bound by Cromwell Press, Trowbridge


Abbreviations Preface

vii ix

Introduction 1

Nancy's influences 24

Immanentism 33

Libertarianism 63

Post-secular theology 85

Communitarianism 103

Social contractarianism 125

Ecotechnics 141

Conclusion: The future as openness to uncertainty 156

Interview: The future of philosophy 161

Glossary Notes Bibliography Index

167 169 173 177



BC "Of Being in Common" (1991). BP The Birth to Presence (1993).

BSP Being Singular Plural (2000). C "La Comparution/The Compearance" (1992).

CMM La creation du monde ou la mondialisation (2002). DC "La Deconstruction du christianisme" (1998). EF The Experience of Freedom (1993). FT A Finite Thinking (2003). GT The Gravity of Thought (1997).

HRN Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative (2002). IC The Inoperative Community (1991). L "LTntrus" (2002).

LA The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism (1988).

M The Muses (1996). MMT "An Interview with Jean-Luc Nancy", M. Gailiot (ed.) (1998).

NM "The Nazi Myth" (1990). OP Loubli de la philosophie (1986).

P "Is Everything Political? (A Brief Remark)" (2002). R "Responding for Existence" (1999).

RP Retreating the Political (1997). SDC "The Self-Deconstruction of Christianity: A Discussion with Jean-Luc

Nancy" (2000). SR The Speculative Remark (One of Hegel's Bon Mots) (2001). SV "Sharing Voices" (1990).

SW The Sense of the World (1997). TL The Title of the Letter: A Reading ofLacan (1992).



. . . parallel lines meet at infinity, an infinity that must be truly vast to accommodate so many things, dimensions, lines straight and curved and intersecting, the trams that go up these tracks and the passengers inside the trams, the light in the eyes of every passen-ger, the echo of words, the inaudible friction of thoughts . . .

Jose Saramago1

Jean-Luc Nancy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg, co-founder of the former "Centre for Philosophical Research on the Polit-ical" and author of numerous influential books about meaning, freedom, community, art and politics. However, he is not merely another academic celebrity seduced by the allures of pedantry. His ideas not only bear on social realities; they also stem from them. For approximately a decade, he has endured the suffering of both a heart transplant and cancer, and written profoundly about both in such works as "The Heart of Things" and "L'Intrus". It is from Nancy that we learn that, if each part of a body could take over or spread over the body itself, then there is no such thing as body at all, only a sharing out of bodies and their relations (BP: 207). His misfortunes have inspired a relentless enquiry into the meaning of the body's fragility and fragmentation, the tenuous connections of a commu-nity of such bodies, and the plurality of voices that express their sense. The single heart of all things, their sense, he writes, "never stops coming into presence, and putting us in its presence, the presence of this concre-tion of being, always unique and always 'whatever'" (BP: 188). Clearly, not even the grievance against human finitude that he could so naturally possess has forced him to lose his spirited fascination with the incertitude and undecidability of discourses that incessantly fail to acquiesce in comprehension. One can only admire the fortitude of a thinker whose thoughts are not swayed by misfortune, but encouraged, deepened and



even vindicated by it. Perhaps not since Pascal has a thinker's pained mus-ing been more stirringly apt to the human condition.

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy is a book addressing what this philosopher has written about the future of philosophy and the concept of "the future". It surveys Nancy's timely insights about the unsta-ble conditions under which existence is always endured and fleetingly understood. Philosophical thoughts are master only of those domains they imagine for themselves; they are as vulnerable to the exigencies of a coming future as all human bodies are. It is with that in mind that Nancy writes of the "corpus" of philosophy, the catalogue of the ways that bodies have sense only because sense itself is bound to corporeal states and activi-ties open to their own improvidence. Just as philosophy is troubled by the coming of sense, so are bodies in contiguity with and invaded by strange-nesses that never "cease being a disturbance and a perturbation of inti-macy" (L: 2). There is something foreign in us all, and in this respect we are each equally exposed to our shared strangeness. When the invader exposes bodies' strangeness to themselves, then the philosopher is exposed to what Jose Saramago calls the "inaudible friction of thoughts" (see epigraph). But if there are only bodies, then every reader of this corpus should recognize the sharing in the community of bodies this necessarily brings to presence. Despite the cacophony of voices in which we philoso-phers share, we are nonetheless answerable to this "inaudible friction" between "our" thoughts of what is to come for "our" bodies and what "we" represent "our" bodies to be.

It is appropriate, then, to dedicate this book in gratitude to Jean-Luc Nancy himself. It is as much about the man as it is the stimulations his ideas have undoubtedly provided to appreciative readers.

In this book, it has been my objective to survey the relevance of Nancy's expansive vision to many contemporary philosophical concerns, all of which relate to the question of the future of our time and the status of the concept of the "future" today. I have chosen to present Nancy's critiques of various prevailing contemporary presuppositions: in particular, the substantialist, transcendentalist and immanentist metaphysics are discern-ible in the context of libertarianism, post-secular theology, communitar-ianism, contractarianism and specific, timely questions about technology and globalization. There are gaping holes in coverage, some of which are scandalous: literature, the visual arts, love, joy, and justice are some of the concepts that figure only glimmeringly in this book, if they figure at all. Nancy's voluminous work on the visual arts alone would require an inde-pendent study I must confess would be beyond my abilities. Nevertheless, I hope that the reader will find what follows to be at least a suitable primer for the study of this fascinating contemporary thinker.



It is hoped that the reader will find this book more accessible than Nancy's own daunting composition. I advise the reader to examine the introduction, interview and conclusion of the book, as well as to consult the glossary for clarification of the meanings of terms as I have used them. Bulleted conclusions are to be found at the end of each chapter.

Special thanks are owed to Tristan Palmer of Acumen, who has guided and encouraged this production from its troubled origins. I am grateful for his faith in the pertinence of the project when many editors would have been incapable of suspending their "ecotechnical" incredulity. Professor William Hawk of James Madison University and Professor Duncan Richter of the Virginia Military Institute deserve thanks for providing ample and desirable teaching opportunities. Above all, warmest thanks to Karen Hutchens, whose inquisitive mind and capacity for wonder have been not only an inheritance, but an inspiration.




What will become of our world is something we cannot know, and we can no longer believe in being able to predict or command it. But we can act in such a way that this world is a world able to open itself up to its own uncertainty as such. (RP: 158)

All that we transmit to ourselves . . . has begun to transmit itself in front of us, toward or coming from a "we" that we have not yet appropriated, and which has not yet received its name, if ever it should have one. (C: 384)

Our time is the time that, as it were, exposes exposure itself: the time for which all identifiable figures have become inconsistent (the gods, the logoi, the wise, knowledge), and which therefore works toward (or which gives itself over to) the coming of a figure of the unidentifiable, the figures of opacity and of resistant con-sistency as such. "Man" thus bec