- The Opposite of the Concentration Camp:Nancy’s Vision of Community
Jean-Luc Nancy's difficult and exhaustive exposition of community as presented in The Inoperative Community provides us with a tremendous opportunity to consider community in radically new ways. Such an endeavor is crucial, given that the frameworks that dominate literary criticism devoted to community are generally restricted and reduced by a traditional and largely unrecognized formulation of the individual as a point of departure. Accordingly, community as outside of a guiding principle of the individual remains to be seriously considered. As Nancy rightly notes, there is an imperative to expose the erroneous and limiting conceptualization of the individual insofar as it can and does lead to what might be called impoverished "relations" within the empirical world, most dramatically exposed in his analysis of the logic of the concentration camp. Although generally Nancy does not make direct links between his philosophical observations and concrete existence within The Inoperative Community, it will, nonetheless, become clear that there is, indeed, such a connection. In addition to elucidating the ideas within The Inoperative Community, it is our task to inquire into and extrapolate upon the precise [End Page 167] nature of the relationship to be found between the philosophical and the empirical.
Any attempt to present systematically a description of the ideas that comprise The Inoperative Community is necessarily difficult. Although what follows is indeed such an attempt, it is marked by an understanding of the manner in which these ideas resist systematization. Because the events, moments, or ruptures which constitute being (and community) happen from a place of groundlessness, there is no base or substance from which one can proceed in a chronological fashion and explain the manner in which being is constituted. Everything that makes being be occurs as in a flash. Specific and distinct characteristics and contexts of such a flash do exist; however, the terms that describe it tend to overlap and the (nonprocessional) processes indicated are fundamentally dependent on the others for their meaning. So while I attempt to explain the concept of the singular being, or the being for whom community is ultimately a question, I must necessarily delve into the problematics of, for example, finitude and ecstasy. It, therefore, becomes impossible to define each term distinctly and separately, discuss their chronological relationship, and thereby unravel their connection. All of the ideas happen simultaneously, and in a sense, each describes a different piece of the same moment.
The structure of The Inoperative Community is contiguous with the ideas Nancy conveys, which pertain to understanding outside a context of foundation and chronological ordering. In other words, the essay unfolds without a point of origin and a corresponding development or progression, as do the concepts he explores. Rather Nancy moves fluidly from one terminological exposition to another and unravels the complexity of community accordingly. For the sake of clarity and accessibility, the presentation that follows departs from his structure insofar as there is an institution of a kind of progression. The manner in which the concepts that he presents defy such an ordering becomes elucidated as we gain an ever-increasing understanding of their meaning.
The beginning of the essay attempts to provide a clear context from which to understand the fundamental issues and stakes involved in a thinking of community. When possible, I have separated the key terms of The [End Page 168] Inoperative Community but only insofar as they permit such separation. Certainly, particularly toward the end of the essay, the terms utterly come to resist clear distinction. At these points, I define them provisionally and subsequently allow them to reveal themselves in Nancian fashion. My hope is that throughout the essay the central issues of community, its imperative, and the stakes involved will be exposed. The final portion of the essay will examine Toni Morrison's Beloved in an attempt to identify the opposite of the concentration camp within a literary text. Herein the connection between the world of experience and the philosophical conception of community Nancy posits will become more clearly visible.
The Individual and The Absolute
Nancy suggests that by definition the individual is the indivisible atom, a necessarily totally...