Jean-Luc Nancy: in whose wild heart immortality sleeps homeless.

23 August 2021

Jean-Luc Nancy: in whose wild heart immortality sleeps homeless.

IMtV-Jan Jean-Luc,

This is the English version of the French text written on Jean-Luc Nancy’s eightieth birthday in July 2020, and forthcoming under the editorship of Jérôme Lèbre.

Your English is better than my French. For a long time, you laboured to extend towards me, to return to me, your words and to receive mine in English, a language which you say is “inexistent” for you. In it you have always taken the pain of ex-propriating your own language in order to share with everyone in a foreign language your thinking in lectures, unfailingly reply to each mail however phatic, read texts and comment, you put yourself through this (“torture”) for the sake of the ease of others, generously fragmenting your flow of speech. In it you have sent me advice and even devised pranks, inscribed new legends on classic paintings, tagged wicked speech balloons on the serious figures of medieval tapestries, distorted the lyrics (and grammar) of the Beatles and Joyce (you show it’s possible!), proliferated the verses for the sake of verse. You make me laugh every other day – the mark of a kind of success in another’s language which is more delightful than proficiency!

Perhaps because this is driven by the force that makes children ignore their toys and restlessly seek out the unamenable, dangerous, useless things, makes them exist through exorbitance. You perpetually are in statu nascendi with a force and freedom that turns and returns – versus – as in one of your own poems:

I will write the bad and the good. Best and worst. Beautiful and ugly. You and zsqhyzai.

And who knows better than you that both verse and love go to the other by divesting the present of presence and interrupting sense interminably like the place of the turn-to-come, the expectant syncope marked at your last word, das ungeheure zsqhyzai?

Everyone who knows you knows that you do. You exert yourself in all directions. You are incensed by the evil developing in politics no matter that so many seas separate them from you – you had already sketched the contours of a great number of the present problems in politics in The Truth of Democracy, La Création du monde ou la mondialisation, and Being Singular Plural – you had foreseen them, and yet your recent texts are the eyes trying to survive the dismemberment of the body – “a blind touching or a multiple seeing”. You scrutinise them without rediscovering in them the “destiny” of the “west”, two terms whose meaning you have been hollowing out in text after text: as you say, “occident orient accident”. You have seen and shown how “no one word can be used today without transforming the whole semantic” – and you are ready to do it once again with democracy and philosophy, with the world without pre-given orientations.

You honour lavishly the bonds – strong and without need of names – with the nearest and the most distant friends in the world. You collect accidents because you can see them weaving themselves into the skin of the indestinacy of the world. You take photos for “remembering the day, the month, the year, the century, the aiôn,” and make their montages with special effects, the celebrating the melange, the folding of space-time. And equally you often forget that something I did which you end up criticising was done at your suggestion in the first place! You can receive from me the surprise of a new interpretation of Aunque de Noche by Rosalia, an old interpretation of L'Héautontimorouménos by Léo Ferré, and you introduced me to Dalida and Youn Sun nah, and a Sinead O’Connor song I had never heard before.

Heidegger understood teaching to be learning, “what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than learning”. I learn from you that to teach is to share. I learn from the way you learn. You are inquisitive, thirsty to learn about the most distant, most miscellaneous things. Even though you are often unwell. Even though you hardly ever leave Strasbourg (on one visit, I ended up with coffee accidently spilt on me by the young student-waitress at the hotel’s breakfast buffet when she dropped her carafe out of excitement on learning that I was about to see you. She said, “Welcome to the Königsberg of the 21st century!”).

Once you had placed your very large men’s hat on my head, leaving your fevered head exposed briefly to the cold amidst the medieval rock. And so, we agreed that I must get one of my own from the shop across the square. Well, I am now making my own the hat of yours – although it is huge and I exist in it quite lost – your language, French, which I have no good reason to acquire than to put my fingers in electric sockets, to watch the sparks where sense breaks; which I know barely and always use improperly, but you always correct mercilessly after divining my meaning patiently. So, immense, magnificent and very venerable French professor, please tolerate the linguistic insolence of your errant student in making this present for your birthday – a gift of words – the first ever formal text I compose in French. At the least, it makes up for irritating the language by being a gift-without-use which uses up a long time to make. At the most it touches doubly (and this drive itself indicates the need – beyond the logic of giving/le don – for another thinking of gifts which are inventions of joy, explosions like witz, without use yet necessary like literature and philosophy). In your words: “To create concepts, to manhandle languages, to polish styles, to punch holes in thought—that’s the work that must be done. And it is also a festival, we must not forget that: not a matter of lanterns but a matter of impetuosity and a getting outside oneself”.

You are not touch, but you would feel a lot like it if it were someone or something. This is truer than what Derrida said about Socrates and khora. Because touch, is more than khora, it is that which I should rather call khorogenesis. Whatever touches and is touched is already become something else reaching out for still other ways to be. The touching lights up future passages in its trail, chasing in every direction to steal or bestow new hearts for new bodies. Four times twenty, eighty times one, a million times a fraction, there are infinite ways you arrive at 80 this year, Jean-Luc, you who always insist on the good infinity. Du, in deinem wilden Herzen nächtigt obdachlos die Unvergänglichkeit.

Divya Dwivedi August 2020

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