Jean-Luc Nancy Singular Plural

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Transcript of Jean-Luc Nancy Singular Plural

BEING SINGULAR PLURAL

M E R I D I A N

Crossing Aesthetics

W e r n e r Harnacher & D a v i d E. Wellbery Editors

BEING S I N G U L A R PLURAL

Translated by Robert D. Richardson and A n n e E. O'Byrne

Jean-Luc Nancy

Stanford University Press

Stanford California 2000

Contents

S t a n f o r d U n i v e r s i t y Press Stanford, California 2 0 0 0 by the B o a r d of Trustees o f the L e l a n d S t a n f o r d J u n i o r U n i v e r s i r y Being Singular Plural'was o r i g i n a l l y p u b l i s h e d as Etre singulier pluriel 1996, d i t i o n s G a l i l e . A s s i s t a n c e for t h e t r a n s l a t i o n w a s p r o v i d e d b y the F r e n c h M i n i s t r y o f C u l t u r e . P r i n t e d i n the U n i t e d States o f A m e r i c a o n a c i d - f r e e , a r c h i v a l - q u a l i t y paper. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Nancy, Jean-Luc. [Etre singular p l u r i e l . English] B e i n g singular plural / J e a n - L u c N a n c y ; translated by R o b e r t D. R i c h a r d s o n and A n n e E. O'Byrne p. c m . ( M e r i d i a n , c r o s s i n g aesthetics) I n c l u d e s b i b l i o g r a p h i c a l references a n d i n d e x . ISBN 0-8047-3974-9 ( ' k - paper) ISBN 0-8047-3975-7 ( p b k . : alk. paper)a

Preface

XV

O f B e i n g Singular P l u r a l War, R i g h t , S o v e r e i g n t y T e c h n E u l o g y for the Mle T h e Surprise of the Event H u m a n Excess

1IOI

145 159 177 185

C o s m o s Basel ius

Notes

193

I. O n t o l o g y . (Stanford, Calif.) B 2 4 3 0 . N 3 6 3 E8713 194dc2i

2. Philosophical anthropology.

I. Title.

II. M e r i d a n

2000 00-057326

Original printing 2000 L a s t f i g u r e b e l o w i n d i c a t e s year o f t h i s p r i n t i n g : 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02 01 00

Typeset by James P. B r o m m e r i n 10.9/13 G a r a m o n d a n d L i t h o s d i s p l a y

Lead, as I do, the flown-away virtue back to e a r t h yes, back to body and life; that it may give the earth its meaning, a human meaning! M a y your spirit and your virtue serve the meaning of the earth. . . . M a n and man's earth are still unexhausted and undiscovered. Nietzsche

T h i s epigraph is chosen quite deliberately. I r u n the risk of its seeming to l e n d itself to a certain C h r i s t i a n , idealist, a n d humanist tone, a tone in w h i c h it is easy to recognize those w e l l - m e a n i n g virtues a n d values that have loosed u p o n the w o r l d all the things that have driven the h u m a n i t y of our century to despair over itself, where these values are b o t h b l i n d to a n d c o m p l i c i t in this letting loose. In his o w n way, Nietzsche h i m s e l f w o u l d have u n d o u b t e d l y participated in this dubious, moralizing piety. At any rate, the w o r d " m e a n i n g " rarely appears in his w o r k , a n d still more rarely in any positive sense. O n e w o u l d do w e l l , therefore, not to give any hasty interpretations of it here. T h e above excerpt appeals to a " h u m a n m e a n i n g , " but it does so by a f f i r m i n g that the h u m a n [l'homme] remains to be discovered. In order for the h u m a n to be discovered,1

a n d in order for the phrase " h u m a n m e a n i n g " to acquire some meaning, everything that has ever l a i d c l a i m to the t r u t h about the nature, essence, or e n d of " m a n " must be undone. In other words, n o t h i n g must remain of what, under the title of m e a n i n g , related the earth [la terre] and the h u m a n to a specifiable horizon. A g a i n , it is Nietzsche w h o said that we are n o w "on the h o r i z o n of the i n f i nite"; that is, we are at that p o i n t where "there is no more ' l a n d , ' " and where "there is n o t h i n g more terrible than the i n f i n i t e . "2

A r e we finally g o i n g to learn this lesson? A r e we perhaps finally able to hear it, or is it n o w i m p o s s i b l e for us to learn a n y t h i n g

Xll

Xlll

else? C a n we t h i n k an earth a n d a h u m a n such that they w o u l d be o n l y w h a t they arenothing but earth a n d h u m a n a n d such that they w o u l d be n o n e of the various horizons often harbored u n d e r these names, none of the "perspectives" or "views" in view of w h i c h we have disfigured humans [les hommes] a n d driven them to despair? " T h e h o r i z o n of the i n f i n i t e " is no longer the h o r i z o n of the whole, but the " w h o l e " (all that is) as put on h o l d everywhere, pushed to the outside just as much as it is pushed back inside the "self." It is no longer a line that is d r a w n , or a l i n e that w i l l be d r a w n , w h i c h orients or gathers the m e a n i n g of a course of progress or n a v i g a t i o n . It is the o p e n i n g [la brche] or d i s t a n c i n g [lecartement] of h o r i z o n itself, a n d in the opening: us. We happen as the o p e n i n g itself, the dangerous fault line of a rupture.

"ethnic," or "historical"; whether they are legitimate or n o t n o t to m e n t i o n the question about w h i c h law w o u l d provide such leg i t i m a t i o n ; whether they are real, m y t h i c a l , or imaginary; whether they are independent or " i n s t r u m e n t a l i z e d " by other groups w h o w i e l d p o l i t i c a l , e c o n o m i c , a n d ideological power. . . . T h i s is the "earth" we are supposed to " i n h a b i t " today, the earth for w h i c h the name Sarajevo w i l l b e c o m e the m a r t y r - n a m e , the testimonial-name: this is us, we w h o are supposed to say we as if we k n o w what we are saying a n d who we are t a l k i n g about. T h i s earth is a n y t h i n g but a sharing of humanity. It is a w o r l d that does not even manage to constitute a w o r l d ; it is a w o r l d l a c k i n g in w o r l d , a n d l a c k i n g in the m e a n i n g of w o r l d . It is an enumeration that brings to light the sheer n u m b e r and proliferation of these various poles of attraction a n d r e p u l s i o n . It is an endless list, a n d everything happens in such a w a y that one is reduced to k e e p i n g accounts but never t a k i n g the final t o l l . It is a litany, a prayer of

I w a n t to emphasize the date on w h i c h I am w r i t i n g this. It is the s u m m e r of 1995, a n d as far as specifying the situation of the earth a n d h u m a n s is c o n c e r n e d , n o t h i n g is more pressing (how c o u l d it really be avoided?) t h a n a list of p r o p e r names s u c h as these, presented here in no particular order: B o s n i a - H e r z o g o v i n a , C h e c h n y a , R w a n d a , B o s n i a n Serbs, Tutsis, H u t u s , T a m i l Tigers, K r a j i n a Serbs, Casamance, Chiapas, Islamic J i h a d , Bangladesh, the Secret A r m y for the L i b e r a t i o n o f A r m e n i a , H a m a s , K a z a k h s t a n , K h m e r s Rouges, E T A m i l i t i a , K u r d s ( U P K / P D K ) , Montataire, the M o v e m e n t for S e l f - d e t e r m i n a t i o n , S o m a l i a , C h i c a n o s , Shiites, F N L C - C a n a l H i s t o r i q u e , L i b e r i a , G i v a t H a g a d a n , N i g e r i a , the League o f the N o r t h , Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sikhs, H a i t i , R o m a gypsies o f Slovenia, T a i w a n , B u r m a , P L O , Iraq, Islamic F r o n t Salv a t i o n , S h i n i n g P a t h , V a u l x - e n - V e l i n s , N e u h o f . . . . Of course, it w o u l d be difficult to b r i n g this list to an end if the a i m was to i n clude all the places, groups, or authorities that constitute the theater of b l o o d y conflicts a m o n g identities, as w e l l as what is at stake in these conflicts. These days it is not always possible to say w i t h any assurance whether these identities are i n t r a n a t i o n a l , infranat i o n a l , or transnational; whether they are " c u l t u r a l , " "religious,"

pure sorrow and pure loss, the plea that falls f r o m the lips of m i l lions of refugees every day: whether they be deportees, people besieged, those w h o are mutilated, people w h o starve, w h o are raped, ostracized, excluded, exiled, expelled. W h a t I am talking about here is compassion, but not compassion as a pity that feels sorry for itself a n d feeds on itself. C o m - p a s s i o n is the contagion, the contact of being w i t h one another in this turm o i l . C o m p a s s i o n is not altruism, nor is it identification; it is the disturbance of violent relatedness.

W h a t does the above-named proliferation require of us, this proliferation that seems to have no other m e a n i n g than the i n d e t e r m i nate m u l t i p l i c a t i o n of centripetal meanings, meanings closed in on themselves and supersaturated w i t h significancethat is, meanings that are no longer meaningful because they have come to refer o n l y to their o w n closure, to their h o r i z o n of a p p r o p r i a t i o n , a n d have begun to spread n o t h i n g but destruction, hatred, and the denial of existence? W h a t if this autistic m u l t i p l i c i t y , w h i c h tears o p e n a n d is t o r n

XIV

o p e n , lets us k n o w that we have not even begun to discover what it is to be many, even t h o u g h " l a terre des h o m m e s " is exactly this?3

Preface

W h a t if it lets us k n o w that it is itself the first l a y i n g bare [mise nu] of a w o r l d that is o n l y the w o r l d , but w h i c h is the w o r l d absolutely a n d unreservedly, w i t h no m e a n i n g b e y o n d this very Bei n g of the w o r l d : singularly p l u r a l a n d p l u r a l l y singular?

T h e first a n d p r i n c i p a l essay of this book, w h i c h gives it its title