The Family of Philosophy: Jean-Luc Nancy
5 September 2021
Early Spring in Åsgårdstrand, Edvard Munch, 1905: Image Credit: Wikimedia
"We must inaugurate and continue – always knowing how to reinvent it – the inauguration until its end," he said in "The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thought." It is in this way that Jean-Luc Nancy can live, and live again, in the body of this "we". It is indeed, "self-deconstruction", as he said in a lecture last year. He still speaks to us, still and always, "d’une voix vive"(as a living presence). I can only salute him for this gift, the only one that deserves to be called by this name, the fact that this initial "speaks to me" is today an endless "speaks to us" and that I can, again and again, always and already, meet his body in ours.
To begin with, I would say that I have only encountered Jean-Luc Nancy's body once. Only once have I heard him speak – and speak to me – "de vive voix" (in presence).
This happened in 2019 at Balliol College, Oxford, on the occasion of a colloquium consecrated to him. But if this colloquium was consecrated to him – according to a practice that is quite common in the academic world – he never ceased to consecrate us – which, alas, is a much less common practice in the same world. He consecrated us both by consecrating himself to us, either by giving himself "with all his body" – without any limit – and by consecrating this "us" – beyond any limit.
On the occasion of a brief stroll, during which I asked him, probably too soon, to participate in another colloquium on the subject of the archive – eager as I was to have the assurance of a new consecration to come and, perhaps, not eager enough for the coming, that is to say, for the absence of any assurance – he replied more or less as follows to my proposal: "A priori, I am not interested. You know, I am a philosopher of life. One day, I burned all the writings I had in the cellar... by the way, I probably burned things that were not mine".
He had burned everything. At least, that is what I remember hearing from his "vive voix"(in presence), which at that moment also appeared to me as a "voix vive"(as a living presence).
I don't really remember what I felt right after that conversation, but afterwards, today, I tell myself that I, 30 years old at the time, was talking to him about archives, about things "to be burned", while he, 79 years old at the time, was talking to me about life.
Perhaps I needed this "afterwards" to talk about life? What was I missing before in order to talk about it? I was missing this body, the body of this "us", the body of this philosophical family through Divya and Shaj to which I now feel I belong, since the encounters made in that place which was, for me, the place of attachment to all these births which had begun long before this "us" and which will continue to be born, in this "us", after this "us". The promise of "another beginning", as Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan would say.
After the encounter with this body teeming with life, Jean-Luc Nancy's body, but also this plural body that both preceded and followed him – "corps", in French, is always in the plural, he wrote – it was necessary to decide to engage in the outgrowth that this body, irreparably, could not stop creating. Soon, with Divya, Shaj and Jean-Luc Nancy, we, this family, were explosively at work, beginning with a long project on rethinking evil, which included a conference on it, then a book. Within this outgrowth, Philosophy World Democracy was born co-founded by Jean-Luc Nancy, Divya Dwivedi, Shaj Mohan, Achille Mbembe, Zeynep Direk, Shaj Mohan and Mireille Delmas-Marty and I am its associate editor and a member of the editorial board in which Nancy was an active presence.
Jean-Luc Nancy planted a seed, the one he himself had plucked from a luxuriant plant – the very plant that, from Husserl to Derrida, via Heidegger and Levinas, never ceased to generate its flowers – in the knowledge, indeed in the wish, that other plants – other lives, therefore – might be born. But this is not a desire to ensure posterity. A seed needs a ground from which it can receive nourishment, and if this ground were to coincide with the world, this seed would then be destined to proliferate outside the hereditary data it carried: an outgrowth that generates other outgrowths. "We must inaugurate and continue – always knowing how to reinvent it – the inauguration until its end," writes Jean-Luc Nancy in an article entitled "The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thought", published in Philosophy World Democracy on 15 July 2021, (1) which is the first step in a project titled "The Other Beginning of Philosophy" planned while he was in hospital.
It is in this way, and only in this way, that Jean-Luc Nancy can live, and live again, in the body of this "we". Indeed, when I used the word "self-deconstruction", taken from one of his lectures on the occasion of the Webinar entitled "Is it possible to talk about evil in the time of pandemic? " in June 2020 (now forthcoming in a book), (2) he insisted on stressing that "in the end, deconstruction is always deconstruction of the 'self'". Life is exhausted in the "self", that is, when it remains in itself. In the "we", it flourishes. The philosophical family I referred to earlier is this life itself which is open to other lives and the non-living always exchanging one kind of regularity for another.
I would say, then, in order (not) to conclude, that if he no longer speaks to me "de vive voix"(in presence), Jean-Luc Nancy still speaks to us, still and always, "d’une voix vive"(as a living presence).
I can only salute him for this gift, the only one that deserves to be called by this name, the fact that this initial "speaks to me" is today an endless "speaks to us" and that I can, again and again, always and already, meet his body in ours.