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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.3 (2002) 189-201
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The Intimacy of Jean-Luc Nancy's L'Intrus
Philip M. Adamek
State University of New York at Buffalo
IF I BEGAN BY STATING THAT L'INTRUS IS AN INTIMATE WORK, WOULD I NOT find universal consensus for my claim? If I described the book as a personal account of a traumatic experience, would anyone find this description strange?
Beyond the obvious, perhaps completely misleading, impression that L'Intrus seems to be mixing 'genres' or 'modes of discourse' such as those of philosophy (including ethics, epistemology, philosophy of language) and autobiography, one confronts a voice that unrelentingly questions itself, its unity, location, and legitimacy. The 'narrative identity' at times detaches itself from the body whose experience it recounts. (The "body" [le corps] is spoken of where one would normally say "me" or "I," and so the narrator seems to abandon the narrator's privilege of pronoun and veer towards the role of an exterior observer.) 1 The "I" is assumed as often as it is shirked or discussed as being split, abandoned, or dispersed. This elusive narration, coupled with the dislocated, anachronized, and pluralized expropriated body [corps] or heart that it describes, is reason enough for resisting recourse to the category of the autobiographical. If L'Intrus exemplifies the [End Page 189] writing of one's life, or an event of one's life, it does so by explicitly compromising the notions of both oneness or the self and life (as self-sufficient and self-legitimizing), as well as the privilege of the bios (as life-defining). 2 Thus, if autobiographical, it attains this status only by way of practicing the impossibility of autobiography.
If L'Intrus is clearly not exactly autobiographical in any conventional or etymological sense of the word, what would give the impression that it is an intimate work? What are the signs by which one recognizes intimacy? If one senses an 'intimacy of tone' (but this would hardly be a sufficient reply), it is nonetheless true that intimacy, while neither exactly thematic nor operative, is named repeatedly and lends itself to analysis (that is, you've guessed, where I'm headed). A surface reading alone reveals that intimacy is in trouble (notwithstanding the universal consensus that I hoped to have achieved from the outset).
Perhaps the troubled state of intimacy that is marked in several places in Nancy's text can itself be taken as an expression of intimacy, or in a different way, as an invitation to offer intimate responses or readings, such as anecdotes relating personal experiences with the author. But anecdotes that would speak of him, Jean-Luc Nancy, and of personal encounters that would appear to aspire to reach behind the complex multiplicity of strangeness that marks his identity and to discover him, Jean-Luc Nancy, standing apart from his narrative, untouched, intact, would carry a certain risk. Such anecdotes alone would risk making L'Intrus appear as a conceptual exercise bearing little relationship to its author's experience of undergoing a heart transplant, since they would seem to imply that the emphasis on the estrangement and expropriation of the author's identity (rather than its loss or dissolution) can be neutralized by insight gained through the reader's intimate (personal, close) relation to the author. Or conversely, the anecdotes alone would make the work appear to be something less than a work and more a simple update on the author's life, destined to interest no more than a circle of friends. One wonders, in short, how to address a voice that gives an account of its own disarray.
"Intimacy" [l'intimité] touches, as does so much in Nancy's text, on questions of the intruder [l'intrus] or foreigner/stranger/strangeness [l'étranger/ [End Page 190] l'étrangeté], and of what is proper. Intimacy has always, in one of its senses, related to the proper, where this implies something's essential or intrinsic, inmost nature. But intimacy traditionally refers, ambiguously or alternately, both to a type of...