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On the Commerce of Thinking

Of Books and Bookstores

Jean-Luc Nancy

Publication Year: 2009

Jean-Luc Nancy's On the Commerce of Thinking concerns the particular communication of thoughts that takes place by means of the business of writing, producing, and selling books. His reflection is born out of his relation to the bookstore, in the first place his neighborhood one, but beyond that any such perfumery, rotisserie, patisserie,as he calls them, dispensaries of scents and flavors through which something like a fragrance or bouquet of the book is divined, presumed, sensed.On the Commerce of Thinking is thus not only something of a semiology of the specific cultural practice that begins with the unique character of the writer's voice and culminates in a customer crossing the bookstore threshold, package under arm, on the way home to a comfortable chair, but also an understated yet persuasive plea in favor of an endangered species. In evoking the peddler who, in times past, plied the streets with books and pamphlets literally hanging off him, Nancy emphasizes the sensuality of this commerce and reminds us that this form of consumerism is like no other, one that ends in an experience-reading-that is the beginning of a limitless dispersion, metamorphosis, and dissemination of ideas. Making, selling, and buying books has all the elements of the exchange economy that Marx analyzed--from commodification to fetishism--yet each book retains throughout an absolute and unique value, that of its subject. With reading, it gets repeatedly reprinted and rebound. For Nancy, the book thus functions only if it remains at the same time open and shut, like some Moebius strip. Closed, it represents the Idea and takes its place in a canon by means of its monumental form and the title and author's name displayed on its spine. But it also opens itself to us, indeed consents to being shaken to its core, in being read each time anew.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispieces

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pp. iii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Translator's Foreword

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pp. xiii-xxi

The French title of Jean-Luc Nancy’s book on books is Sur le commerce des pensées. I found myself obliged to render the plural pensées, with its echoes of Pascal and the rest (although perhaps...

Author's Introduction

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p. xxii-xxii

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On the Commerce of Thinking Of Books and Bookstores

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pp. 1-7

The veritable property of the book, its virtus operativa or vis magica, or what we would have to call its librarity, is to be found nowhere if not in the relation it establishes and maintains between its opening and...

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The Idea and Character of the Book

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pp. 8-12

If the Idea, in the acceptation that Plato conferred on the term, designates the veritable and intelligible Form — accomplished in its essence — of such and such a thing or reality (the Idea of man, of...

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The Book’s End in Itself

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pp. 13-15

That is why, if the book is printed, the essence of its impression consists in the communication, resonance, and dissemination — all the way to dispersion, metamorphosis, and reinterpretation — of a...

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The People of the Book

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pp. 16-21

“Read me!” “Read me!” — that order or proposition occupies a major place in our culture, for we are those who, in one of our holy books, have designated ourselves people of the Book. “Read!” is what...

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Interminable Reading

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pp. 22-26

For that reason, painting has, during its history, given such a privileged place to the subjects of the book and reading. The man reading, the woman reading, the male or female bookworm, reciter, or...

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The Publication of the Unpublished

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pp. 27-30

As a matter of principle, the book is illegible, and it calls for or commands reading in the name of that illegibility. Illegibility is not a question of what is too badly formed, crossed out, scribbled: the illegible is...

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Book Open and Closed

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pp. 31-37

That is why the book opens and closes, why its being a(s) book, its precarious and dazzling truth, resides in the internal conjunction and disjunction of that alternation: it opens and closes on the...

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The Scents of the Bookstore

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pp. 38-42

Once opened, the book reveals how insubstantial it is. The substance, subordinate, or subject doesn’t really disappear, but rather is unfolded and disassembled, although continuing to hold together...

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The Commerce of Thinking

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pp. 43-45

But the book that is thrown into the depths of such a bookstore, magazine of traces, imprints and reminiscences — the bookstore whose other, the shop on the street, is in sum nothing but an inverted...

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The Matter of Books

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pp. 46-48

Perhaps what we name thus is only the name and the idea, its ideal, its ideality, the pure scription of an available truth sealed with a clasp of ink and paper. Perhaps there is never anywhere, all...

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Electronic Supplement, Binary Reprise, Digital Counterpoint

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pp. 49-57

Liber: membrane occurring between bark and wood, between cortex and lignum, between exposed thought and knotty intimacy, interface between outside and inside, itself neither outside nor inside, turned toward...


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pp. 58-59

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247127
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230365
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230368

Page Count: 84
Publication Year: 2009