On writing about Jean-Luc Nancy

When applying for postdocs last year, my stated research project was a study of Jean-Luc Nancy. His notion of “being-with” plays a significant role in my dissertation, and I’ve also thought about doing something on Augustine’s De Trinitate that would use Nancy, so really getting a handle on him seemed like a good idea — and it was also what my advisor suggested as a next step.

As time has gone by, however, my enthusiasm for the idea has flagged somewhat, and I think it might actually be because something like a “study of Jean-Luc Nancy” just isn’t a viable project. For me, Nancy is a source of great ideas or motifs: often very suggestive, and yet always needing to be “completed” somehow. Perhaps the model for a “study of Nancy” is Derrida’s Le Toucher: Jean-Luc Nancy, in which Nancy’s work provides a starting point and lens for a study of the philosophy of touch.

Of course, one might say the same of Zizek, and I managed to do a fairly systematic study of his work — but before beginning research for Zizek and Theology, I already had a presentiment that it would be possible to find some kind of guiding thread by periodizing his work. With Nancy, though, it seems as though it’s irreducibly fragmentary.

5 thoughts on “On writing about Jean-Luc Nancy

  1. Adam:

    I, too, am much enthralled by Nancy’s admittedly fragmentary works, although I wouldn’t describe them as “irreducibly” such. I think Ian James does a very nice job of taking the fragmentary as such (what he terms, for his book’s title, the “fragmentary demand”) and utilizing it for something like a comprehensive reading. Again, the qualifications are important, since you’re obviously correct in your “presentiment” that there isn’t anything “systematic” in Nancy, if by that one means a consistently sustained elaboration of arguments based on first principles. I think Nancy’s work is also complicated because, just as Deleuze does with Guattari, he also writes collaboratively with Lacou-Labarthe. Still, there seem to emerge in Nancy certain consistently held, if different(ially) articulated, claims. So, perhaps writing about Nancy means producing less a systematic overview of an intrinsically unsystematic thinker than it is of reading Nancy prismatically or globally.

  2. I’ve read the James book, as well as the (terrible) book on Nancy by BC Hutchens — the only two book-length treatments of Nancy in English that I know of. I do think James takes a good approach, but it’s (by design) not a comprehensive work, which is what I suppose I meant by a “study of Nancy.”

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