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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.3 (2002) 37-56
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University of Southern California
THIS ESSAY WOULD ATTEMPT TO DO SOMETHING THAT SOUNDS VERY MODEST; indeed, it sounds like almost nothing at all. This direction or indirection was taken from some language in a message to the invited contributors for this issue of CR: The New Centennial Review. "Dear all," wrote David Johnson,
I have attached two documents: "Tout est-il Politique?" by Nancy and an English translation of the same, "Is Everything Political," which was done by Philip Adamek and which CR will publish along with L'Intrus in the issue devoted to Nancy. It will be interesting to see in what ways "Is Everything Political?" can read alongside L'Intrus.
Doubtless I was not alone in receiving this message as a sort of addendum or appendix to the invitation to write something about L'Intrus, the extraordinary text Jean-Luc Nancy dated January 1999, almost a decade after he received another's heart (through that operation the French more commonly call a "greffe," a graft, rather than, using another horticultural metaphor, a transplant). The addendum suggested that "Is Everything Political?" which [End Page 37] calls itself a "simple note" and is dated April 2000, forms an interesting appendix to L'Intrus. More precisely, it makes a prediction that "it will be interesting to see in what ways 'Is Everything Political?' can read alongside L'Intrus." Nothing could be more discreet than this language, which commands or obliges no one actually to go and see how, as it is worded here, the appended, attached text "can read alongside" the other. As if no one himself or herself were being called upon to do what happens by itself, one text reading/being read alongside another. And yet, by its very action of attaching the document in question, this predictive message urges one to go and see for oneself, or at the very least to do what is called "open the attachment," click on one of the blue lines at the bottom of the script (for there are two of them, this addendum itself coming with the appendix of a translation).
Hence an essay, an attempt to follow paths between these two, apparently very different texts: the one an unsparing reflection on an experience that, it seems, could not be more "personal" (but it is the non-viability of the category of the "personal" that is experienced here, like everywhere else), the other a most impersonal, general address to the question in its title: "Is everything political?" As a superficial index of this appearance, one could inventory the use of personal pronouns and possessive adjectives in both texts: in L'Intrus these are, of course, very frequently in the first person singular, whereas "Is Everything Political?" contains not a single pronoun or possessive in the singular first person, and uses only rarely a general first person plural (we, our). But such a grammatical scansion of the division between "the personal and the political," or private and public, is more than ever inadequate to account for what Nancy has elsewhere titled "singular plural being." Nancy's practice of grammar (of writing) is full of de-antinomizing turns like this, which suspend or unpose a distinction and use grammar to unmake grammar's illusion of division: among "persons," "subjects," "objects," and so forth. The suspension of this writing under or at the sign of Singular Plural Being (or, to take another title, Le Partage des voix) situates every reading, from the outset, in a space no longer demarcated by common markers of division.
How then, in such a space, might L'Intrus and "Is Everything Political?" be seen to read beside each other? Without a doubt, in endless or at least a [End Page 38] non-finite number of ways, the evidence being right here for any reader to go see for herself, himself. Indeed, a prior reading of these two texts is presumed in what follows, which will go no further than to let one or two possible paths open between them. What is...