Biography[ edit ] Jean-Luc Nancy graduated in philosophy in in Paris. He taught for a short while in Colmar before becoming an assistant at the Strasbourg Institut de Philosophie in In the late s and early s, Nancy suffered serious medical problems. He underwent a heart transplant and his recovery was made more difficult by a long-term cancer diagnosis. He stopped teaching and participating in almost all of the committees with which he was engaged, but continued to write.
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References and Further Reading 1. When exactly the philosopher Nancy emerged is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that his first philosophical interests began to arise during his youth in the catholic environment of Bergerac. Shortly after he obtained his graduate in philosophy in in Paris, Nancy began to write explicitly philosophical texts.
This engagement with various different types of thinkers also came to be characteristic of his later work, which is renowned for its versatility. After his aggregate in philosophy in Paris and a short period as a teacher in Colmar, in Nancy became an a assistant at the Institut de Philosophie in Strasbourg—he lives and works in Strasbourg. In , he obtained his Phd under the supervision of Paul Ricoeur, via a dissertation on Kant.
As a professor in philosophy, he was also involved in many cultural delegations of the French ministry of external affairs, particularly in relation to Eastern Europe, Great Britain and the United States of America. Together with his ever-growing publication list, this began to procure Nancy an international reputation.
The quick translation of his work into several languages enhanced his fame Nancy mastered, besides his mother tongue, also German, Italian and English. This hyperactivity suddenly came to an end when he became gravely ill at the end of the eighties. He was forced to undergo a heart transplant which Derrida talks about in his recently released book on Nancy, Le Toucher and his recovery from this was inhibited by a long-term fight with cancer. These diseases marked his career fundamentally.
Out of sheer necessity, he put an end to all of his courses at the beginning of the nineties and quit his membership of almost all of the committees that he participated in. He has recently restarted most of his activities, but it is surprising that during these troubles Nancy never stopped writing and publishing. A lot of his main works, most of which are related to social and political philosophical topics, were published in the nineties and he even wrote a text on his disease.
For the moment, now over sixty, he is a very active philosopher. He travels around the world as a popular speaker and thinker on many philosophical congresses and writes one text after another. Nancy is more alive than ever, both as a man and as a philosopher. He wrote it with his philosophical partner Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Up until now, it has frequently been described as a critical study on the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Without working this through here, it is worth mentioning that Nancy quite consistently refers to Lacan, or to psychoanalysis in general, and most of the time in quite a critical way.
That, in a nutshell, is what he had already said in The Title of the Letter: Nancy argues that Lacan questions the metaphysical subject, but does this in a metaphysical way. Since then, Nancy has continued to formulate his reservations against psychoanalytic concepts like Law, Father, Other, Subject, etc. While he contends that psychoanalytic jargon still bears some theological remnants, Nancy also thinks that a lot of its concepts are worth thinking through. Deconstruction Nevertheless, Lacan is not the author that Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe explicitly study or look up to.
It is the other Jacques, Jacques Derrida, who makes an enormous impression on both of them. With Derrida, Nancy affirms in several interviews, he had the impression that, after Sartre, something new and very contemporary was born in philosophy. For Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe, this conference on Derrida and politics served as the starting point to deal with more politics. In the same year, they set up a philosophical platform to investigate the political. The Centre had too often been the mere successive reception of speakers, rather than a common space with common concerns.
Nancy is, of course, much more than a pupil of Derrida. Besides offering an excellent analysis of the problem of community, this volume is an interesting introduction to the author Nancy.
One can learn to read Nancy in it, and this is not always an easy job because he starts mostly from a commentary on the work of other authors and develops his own thesis out of this commentary. Besides revealing his strategy of thinking, in this text one can also discover the main philosophical themes that Nancy is concerned with in his later work.
These often circle around social and political philosophical problems, like the question how to develop our modern society with the twentieth century knowledge that political projects that start by trying to build society according to a well-defined shape or plan have frequently led to political terror and social violence. In this respect, Nancy is obviously thinking of the former socialist states, as well as the nazi and fascist states of the twentieth century.
He looks for the place where thinking stumbles. It is the longing for an immediate being together, out of the idea that we once lived in a harmonious and intimate community, but that this harmony has declined throughout history. The modern society, the Gesellschaft, stands for the opposite of the warm and cosy pre-modern community, the Gemeinschaft. According to this line of thinking, we live now in an anonymous society full of selfish individuals and the close communal ties are no more than memories.
This leads not only to the disintegration of society, but also to violence, the decline of norms and values, and so forth.
The only solution to fight disintegration is to turn back to the period where the communal ties were present, or to strive for a future community where the former ties are restored. This historic-philosophical scheme is not only used by a large number of philosophers or social and political thinkers, it is also a central theme within western society and culture in general.
Nancy is thinking largely of the period of the German romantics, of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who left us a mythical natural community as a counterpoint to modern society, but the target of his analysis is also of contemporary communitarianisms, like Alasdair MacIntyre, who speak of the need for a return to pre-modern communities. The nostalgic thought that the past or the old days were better, that we have lost something that was present in the past, is a recognizable paradigm within our everyday life.
This nostalgia is not only present in the programs of conservative political parties. It is, of course, remarkable that every generation seems to go back to the same criticism again and again. Therefore, Nancy says, the longing for an original community is not a reference to a real period in our history. It is rather a mythical thought, an imaginary picture of our past.
As such, this nostalgic imagination is innocent, but when it becomes the starting point for a politics of community, the innocence disappears. We should be suspicious of this consciousness first of all because it seems to have accompanied the Western world from its very beginnings: at every moment in history, the Occident has rendered itself to the nostalgia for a more archaic community that has disappeared, and to deploring a loss of familiarity, fraternity and conviviality.
Our history begins with the departure of Ulysses and with the onset of rivalry, dissension, and conspiracy in his palace. Let us take a contemporary example. If we take this moral inclination for a community of people with the same identity as a political longing, one is not that far removed from the logic of many nationalisms that are still present in Western Europe today.
Of course, the intentions are manifestly different but the international political scene shows that the longing for a pure social identity can still lead to violent conflicts. The Balkan wars of the nineties, which erupted one by one, are a sad example of that. Whatever the motives of these wars, the belonging to an ethnic group has been the criterion in making the difference between good and evil, between us and them, between authentic Serbs or real Croats and others.
What was sought after was a pure and undivided social identity, no longer soiled by the stains of other blood. In other and fortunately less violent contexts, it is a certain culture of shared values and norms which delivers the foundations for social identity. Flemish people are defined as different from Dutch people, although they are neighbours, speak the same language and have almost everything in common.
Symbols like the headscarf of Muslim females, for example, play an important role in that debate and are at the basis of hot political discussions on the identity and the values of many European nations. Immanentism Nancy summarises the communal desire for a closed and undivided social identity with his concept of immanentism.
He points at two examples. On the one hand, he is thinking of the way that communities, nations or ethnics try to protect their identity from the influences of others, so that they are united around their undivided selfhood, culture or values. On the other hand, immanentism is also present in the way that the former socialist regimes in Eastern Europe understood the communist form of constitution as the final destination of humanity.
There too, you can discover a desire for the annihilation of social alienation and for an immediate and transparent being together. The ultimate goal of human acting is to reach the transparent communist way of life. Once that goal has been realised, the idea is that all alienation of the capitalist way of life would disappear and society would finally be harmoniously present with itself.
Nevertheless, he never elaborated a theory of community, just like he has not done so with the other main themes from his work. Far more often, he launches a few theses, offers fragments and traces of thinking, which he then develops further in later texts. This fragmentary character of his work sometimes makes it difficult to come to grips with, but on the other hand, you get in every book or text a lot of new perspectives and stimulating insights on contemporary political, philosophical and ontological problems.
So, one has to think freedom from its existential ground, its finite being. My freedom, says Nancy, does not end where that of the other starts, but the existence of the other is the necessary condition to be free. There is no freedom without the presupposition of our being-in-the-world, and of our being thrown into the existence.
From Heidegger, Nancy learnt that our being in the world with others determines us, before we can speak of a division between and individual and a community. We are always already thrown into the world, but this contingent positioning can never be the basis to speak of a natural or original community.
Contrary to Aristotle or Plato, we can no longer fall back on a fixed metaphysical or natural phusis ground. Neither is the world an entity created by God, wherein we occupy a well-defined place. To Nancy, Heidegger is the philosopher who handles this question in a quite ambiguous way and that makes him controversial, still today.
Everyone who drops the name Heidegger in philosophical circles, knows of the controversy he still evokes. Nancy does not deny this ambiguity. On the contrary, he takes it as the starting point of his reorientation of Heidegger. On the one hand, Nancy argues that Heidegger makes it clear, in the most radical way, that every human being Dasein as he calls it is always being opened unto a world. Being in the world is being with others, and this being-with is an essential trait—if one can still speak of essence; rather it is the unsubstantial essence, the being of every being-there.
So, being-there is being-with, to exist is to coexist. According to Nancy, there is no more radicalised point of view to think community in a modern, contingent way.
We are always being-with, but this being-with is no longer a substantial being-together out of a shared trait, identity of race. On the other hand, he realises very well that Heidegger is the author who at a certain moment speaks of a true German community and leaves behind the openness and radical point of view he himself had postulated.
Only this community, so Heidegger says in his famous rectoral speech, can lead to a proper existence. Heidegger was convinced the national-socialist movement would guarantee a collective escape from an improper existence. It seems quite preposterous that an author like Nancy who announces the end of every immanent community, appeals to a philosopher who puts forward a true German community.
How can Nancy, who explicitly writes against all nostalgia for provincialism, refer to Heidegger who withdrew into his hut in Todtnauberg? On the other hand, he wants to question fundamentally every claim that Heidegger makes regarding a proper or original community. In this respect, think again of the important role that the communitarians are playing nowadays, with very influential authors like Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre.
In his interest in Heidegger, Nancy is touching the problem of community at its deepest core. This is a fundamental analysis of the way that we stand to each other and to the world and how this can be the basis for a thinking of community.
Ontology a. Nancy is not only very familiar with a large part of the history of philosophy see his books on Kant, Descartes, Hegel, and so forth , but he also discusses in his work political themes like justice, sovereignty and freedom, and how they may apply in our increasingly global world.
He always maintains a very singular voice and perspective.
Jean-Luc Nancy (1940—)