2 September 2021
Jean-Luc Nancy in his living room, Strasbourg, February 2008; Image credit: Julien Daniel, Antinomie.it
This article was first published as “Per Jean-Luc” in Antinomie.it on 25 August 2021
Ah, yes? well... This was one of Jean-Luc's most frequent expressions. Usually, the phrase was pronounced by decisively opening his eyes, as a sign of astonishment, and then accompanied, at the height of well, by an opening of his whole body towards a new direction. Jean-Luc Nancy was a man full of wonder at the world and curiosity about the other. Whenever something or someone challenged the idea he had formed, his first reaction was astonishment, the suspension of his own pre-judgment and the consequent opening up to a new path, a new possibility, inaugurated by the other. It was the other that moved him. Jean-Luc was curious about other human beings, indeed about other living beings. He loved to listen, to observe, to take photographs. He loved video calls, to have the presence of the other in front of him, to observe his body. I used to tease him good-naturedly about this reckless openness to others. He was able to talk to anyone, listen to anyone, find common ground with anyone. I still remember how much I laughed when I saw a video of a conference where someone in the audience gave a speech lasting several minutes in incomprehensible French. I could see Jean-Luc's face and he had the look of someone who did not understand anything (as was normal on that occasion) and at the end of his interlocutor's intervention, without getting upset, he said something like "thank you for your question and your excellent French, but I am not sure I understood correctly..." and then answered at length, trying once again to make the thought take place in the interval that separates us from others and makes us be with others.
Jean-Luc's thought – to which I will return when the pain of his death has subsided, and on which many others have written and will write excellent things – moved between different poles. Certainly, for him, Bataille's heterology had been fundamental. The other, that which is other, was at the centre of his thinking. He was able to find this other everywhere. In philosophy he had, from time to time, scrutinised it in the Hegelian negative, in the Nietzschean Dionysian, in the Heideggerian ontological difference, in the Derridean différance and certainly in the metaphysical otherness embodied in the Christian god. His thought was but the embodiment of this infinite curiosity for otherness. I do not believe that Nancy was a thinker of deconstruction, unless by reading deconstruction as a continuation of heterology, as a discourse on the other and the other that never closes in on the self, on a monolithic and defined identity.
Jean-Luc was interested in the world, in the whole world, in tout le monde. He loved to share, with an incomparable generosity. He was a real man and, if this expression makes sense, he was more real than most. He knew no tragic spirit. He lived the reality of the world, he welcomed it. Yes, he was a very welcoming man. He let people in and out; he gave them the freedom to be. In other words, he was a man of love.