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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.3 (2002) 23-36
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FOR REASONS I BEGIN TO APPROACH IN THE FIRST SECTION OF THIS PAPER, MY remarks on L'Intrus have remained partially fragmentary. Respecting this experience of reading, I present three separate paths of questioning: three "tacks" toward what calls for thought in Nancy's astonishing work.
How shall we read L'Intrus? Can we take it as a philosophical meditation, or is it more testimonial and literary in character, anchored in an individual experience whose singularity requires that we suspend, or at least hold in abeyance, any theoretical generalization? Nancy's own prior work on the fiction in philosophy, and his extensive exploration of the possibility of thinking as a singular being, suggest we seek something between these two categorizations. While much of L'Intrus recounts a personal experience, it starts with a theoretical definition and offers itself, in part, as a kind of philosophical investigation. Following Nancy, we could easily explore this book as a kind of singular philosophical testimony, and even move on to [End Page 23] consider how this experiment brings into question its own possibility by questioning the conditions of its enunciation. Reading the estrangement of the narrating voice from itself, its interrupted and uncertain course, we would necessarily undertake a powerful meditation on method.
But even this distinctly "Nancian" approach would fail what is peculiar to this book, namely, a testimony to suffering, and something like a protest—a personal testimony to something unreconciled. Any theoretically oriented study that failed to honor that protest would simply bypass what speaks in this book. But how do we give this testimony its due? How do we honor the irreconcilable?
For those who know Jean-Luc Nancy, the question is particularly acute. I find it impossible (and I am sure I share this experience with many others) to separate the narrating voice and the history it recounts from knowledge of the individual to whom this narrative belongs. Of course, the nature of this belonging is one of the central questions of the text, but for anyone who is acquainted with Jean-Luc Nancy, it is probably irreducible. For a friend of Jean-Luc, there are phrases in this book that come like blows, and the suffering described is difficult to bear. I cannot read this short little book—and this is true each time—without putting it down in distress at some point. Perhaps I can never be, for this reason, the proper reader of L'Intrus. But there we return to my question: what would be a proper reading of L'Intrus?
I would venture to say first (and here I feel as though I echo a moral pronouncement in the volume that will be the object of my third set of remarks) that a proper reading could not take the form of a critical commentary in the manner dictated by academic scholarship. I have already alluded to two possible paths for such commentary. A first would link L'Intrus to Nancy's prior meditations on the structure of subjectivity and finitude (particularly his later work, devoted to the subject's exposure), reading those prior meditations into this latest volume, or perhaps even reading the prior work in its light, showing how an extreme experience of mortality weighs upon earlier statements regarding the experience of finitude. The exercise would be rich and valuable, particularly if it were then broadened and situated in relation to the philosophical and theoretical movements with which Nancy is in dialogue. Perhaps we will learn today some of the ways in which L'Intrus [End Page 24] challenges and disturbs contemporary critical thinking, like an unsettling guest. Indeed, I hope we will.
Another important path would be one that is more literary in character. It would link the testimony of L'Intrus to that of other testimonial or fictional works that confront the evolving meaning of sickness and dispossession in the modern era. This path of inquiry might lead us back to Dostoievsky and Nietzsche, and pass by way of...