- Prepositional Thoughts
Jean-Luc Nancy today is duly acknowledged as one of the central figures of twentieth- and twenty-first-century French thought. Following and going beyond the legacy of Derridean deconstruction, and through a vast corpus of works published across almost forty years, Nancy has proven to be an original thinker in his own right, providing critical “post-deconstructive” insights that are always pertinent to the contemporary concerns of philosophy, political thought, religion, psychoanalysis, literature, and aesthetics.1 As guest coeditors of this special issue (and a second to follow in volume 43) of diacritics, a leading journal for scholarship on continental thought, and therefore a journal, I dare say, theoretically most hospitable to special issues on Nancy, both Timothy Murray and I are proud to reaffirm Nancy’s status as one of the most important thinkers in the field. But we go further too, as we seek to recognize, through these two issues, Nancy as a thinker of prepositions. After all, at the center of the singular phrase that underlies or even weaves together the plural topics such as the subject, community, the world, and sense, to which Nancy provides his “post-deconstructive” takes, is none other than a preposition: “being-in-common” (être-en-commun). Reiterating the subject, community, the world, and sense as “being-in-common” is not sufficient, though. As Nancy makes clear, the real task or challenge for thought is to precisely think that preposition, that is, “of exposing the inexposable ‘in,’” by which the “in” will come to be an exposition on how an existent, organic or inorganic, human or nonhuman, is first “received, perceived, felt, touched, managed, desired, rejected, called, named, informed (communiqué)” by the world as it presents itself in and to that world, through and in its very fact of existence.2
There is, however, another preposition closer to the heart of Nancy’s thought, and that is the French preposition à, or “to” in English. Indeed, the preposition is already there in his thinking of the beginning of existence, which he argues should be more adequately conceptualized as “birth to presence” (naître à la présence).3 Presence here should not be reduced to the dialectical enterprise whereby it is narrowly understood as the constitution of one’s presence to-oneself, for-oneself. Delimiting presence as a dialectical relation with oneself only results in missing out, if not negating, what presence [End Page 3] really offers: the presence of others—again, organic and inorganic, human and nonhuman—that come before, alongside, and after oneself. Presence, therefore, must be more properly understood as openness to others, an openness that is different at each time (à chaque fois) because one is always exposed to the presence of different others at every moment.4 In other words, it is through such presence or openness that each of us senses one another in the world, that all of us come to make sense in and of the world, and that each and every one of us come to constitute the sense of the world. Presence, simply put, is sense, or that which is always already there, before and beyond all human endeavors to render it intelligible or common; it is sense that we can never be done with, for it is always opening itself to other senses. It is indeed in terms of openness (ouverture) that Nancy speaks of sense in The Forgetting of Philosophy (L’oubli de la philosophie). And in a passage in that text, a passage that Murray also quotes in his contribution to this issue, underscoring for us the importance of the thought of prepositions in relation to sense in Nancy’s work, Nancy writes that sense as opening is “us as exposed, to (à) a space and to ourselves as a space, to (à) a time and to ourselves as a time, to (à) language, to (à) ourselves, that is, to (à) us other than our-selves (nous autres).”5
It could be said then that à is the critical preposition for sense. Nancy affirms this in that same passage: sense is “the movement of a presentation to (à) . . . ,”6 the ellipsis reiterating how sense has no pre-programmed destination at the end of...