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  • On Rodolphe Gasché:A Letter
  • Jean-Luc Nancy (bio)

March 7, 2008

Dear David Johnson,

Unfortunately, in the time that remains, I don’t have the time to write a text devoted to Rodolphe Gasché’s thought. It’s not simply that the time for such a work—however sagaciously marked out its borders might be—would extend beyond the deadline, but I would be in need of even more time, in spite of my very bad knowledge of English, to familiarize myself withRodolphe’s texts, of which I only have a rough sense.

That being said, I have no doubt that his work will have commentators, exegetes, and successors of a very high quality, thanks to this tribute that you’ve had the great idea of consecrating to him. In short, I know that Rodolphe is read—well read—just as he is and has been listened to—indeed, well listened to—by a very respectable number of students today. Without a [End Page 291] doubt, due to the linguistic reason I’ve mentioned, I would not have been at the level of his best readers.

On the other hand, it is impossible for me not to be present in one way or another in this tribute. How could I fail to pay tribute to one of my oldest friends?

It is thus, above all, beyond or on the side of friendship that I want to offer this testimony: for nearly 40 years now, Rodolphe has been for me one of those necessary markers that, long ago, one put alongside the coastline to aid the ships. The English called it “seamark” and the French called it amer from the same origin in Old Norse, merki: mark, distinguishing feature. Rodolphe is a distinguishing feature of distinction itself: he knows how to distinguish, and he knows how to do so according to the two senses of the word. That is, on the one hand, he knows how to differentiate precisely where distinctions must be made, and on the other hand, in the distances, he discerns what others are unable to identify.

It’s in this way that, a very long time ago, I saw Rodolphe working on Bataille in a spirit that was entirely distinct from the one that was then predominant, when people were being dizzied by the author’s erotism and heresy. Through the motif and the texts of the heterology, he knew how to pinpoint the essential axis around which he could organize an approach to Bataille that, to my mind, had not been preceded by anyone other than Derrida. And, though one often thinks of him as having situated his studies in Derrida’s wake, there too he knew how to distinguish himself, never playing the part of an epigone.

It was on Derrida next that, withthe most remarkable vigilance, he will have known how to put his distinctive—that is, quite simply, his critical (separating and differentiating)—faculty to work. He knew how to separate what he should endeavor to understand, determine, and elaborate further under the name of “deconstruction” (to the extent that Derrida had there proposed the index, the incitement, the invitation) from what was produced in the confusion of a “deconstructionist” inflation.

But, to this critical work worthy of the tribunal of Reason—before which one must always, and not simply since Kant, appear and plead anew—Rodolphe has always added a supplementary turn: his ability to discern is likewise [End Page 292] mischievous, the acuteness of his look is also deft in spirit, his knowledge is also wisdom—and wisdom in the sense where this word must always evoke a spirit of distance and humor, one similar to the spirits of wine that can intoxicate and catch fire, then pass away in discreet laughter.

Rodolphe’s laughter is quite remarkable in its discretion, and it too has a double value: it is not a noisy or spectacular laughter—though it may, on occasion, come out in bursts, and it is then a laughter that comes out haltingly, in a discontinuous series, and is thus restrained, hesitant of beaming fits, reflective in short. It is a laughter that is savored, one that is...


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