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 Responses to “On writing about Jean-Luc Nancy”

  1. Nic D'Alessio Says:


    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. Nic D'Alessio Says:

    and here’s the link to above cited book by Ian James


  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    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.”

  4. Nic D'Alessio Says:

    Yes, the James book isn’t “comprehensive” in that manner, but I agree that its really the best thing out there. I also agree that the Hutchens book is horrendous.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Browsing on Amazon, there appear to be a couple other books on Nancy: Reticulations: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Networks of the Political by Philip Armstrong and Between Myth and Nihilism: Community in Jean-Luc Nancy’s Philosophy by Oleg Domanov. From what I can tell, both seem to follow the “non-comprehensive” and “completing” approaches.

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