Sunday, July 13, 2008

JEAN-LUC NANCY'S ONGOING CRITIQUE OF IMMANENCE RESUMES

Those of us wretchedly situated as monoglots in the Anglo-phone world have the privilege of reading three new Nancy titles this year, two of them published in April and the third to be published in October — all of them brought to us, somewhat surprisingly, by Fordham University Press.

For me the most exciting title of the three is Dis-Enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity. Nancy visited Buffalo two years ago, shortly after this title was published in France and, naturally, in French. He addressed many of the issues raised in the book and I've been waiting since for it to come to those of us without French. At long last, here 'tis:

Perhaps democracy, since Athens, has been nothing other than the renewed aporia of a religion of the polis, capable of renewing the succession of or indeed replacing (if either of these words is appropriate …) those religions from before the polis, those religions that, by themselves, created both social bonds and government. Athens itself, then Rome, and then the sovereign modern state have, each in turn, renewed this aporia (4).


Nancy's work has been immensely useful to me in the past, particularly his work around finitude. But I often find myself unsatisfied with his critique of Marx, a critique which, each time I read it, comes to me as somewhat reductive and incomplete. But there is the following crucial passage from Innoperative Community which leans heavily on Marx:

... the totality of community — by which I understand the totality of community resisting its own setting to work — is a whole of articulated singularities. Articulation does not mean organization. It refers neither to the notion of instrument nor to that of operation or work. Articulation has nothing to do, as such, with an operative system of finalities — although it can no doubt always be related to such a system or be integrated into it. By itself, articulation is only a juncture, or more exactly, the play of the juncture: what takes place where different pieces touch each other without fusing together, where they slide, pivot, or tumble over one another, one at the limit of the other — exactly at its limit — where these singular and distinct pieces fold or stiffen, flex or tense themselves together and through one another, unto one another, without this mutual — which always remains, at the same time, a play between them — ever forming into the substance or the higher power of a Whole. This is why a whole of singularities, which is indeed a whole, does not close in around the singularities to elevate them to its power: this whole is essentially the opening of singularities in their articulations, the tracing and the pulse of their limits.
Here I would ask precisely if and how these singularities shape one another through their articulations — that is, across time and as they encounter one another over and over again, do they not change? Are they not transformed and perhaps even constituted as subjects (if they are singular beings) by way of this play, through their articulations? And this movement across time, the temporal dimension of this play, isn't this the movement of history itself?

What runs throughout the entire body of Nancy's work is an ongoing critique of totality, immanence, the absolute. As ever, good times.
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