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  • Sexistence
  • Jean-Luc Nancy
    Translated by Irving Goh

[End Page 110]

There is love in its endless applications: love without limits, the love of humanity, of the world, of music, of the sea and the mountains, of poetry. There is the love of philosophy, which is called love of wisdom, which, in turn, seems to consist only in loving what one cannot judge, know, or reject: the totally other as other, the wholly outside as outside, death, and love itself, this fierce impulse to die in the arms of the other or to make the other die in our arms.

There is this limitless, inexorable, unbearable, crazy, impossible love, and there is the love we make and for which “to make love” is really the only expression we have (otherwise we could say “to sleep with someone,” which lacks elegance and masks all the vulgar, coarse, obscene, dirty, shameful, unspeakable words, or words that are reserved to be articulated, cried out, or murmured only in the act of love itself). The latter love is typically called eros while in the former case, the vocabulary oscillates between philia, agapē, and caritas.

These two loves have in common an élan, a surge, a rush without reserve and without horizon: the goal is not defined, the outcome is not described; it is a matter of us being carried there, knowing that it is not a question of arriving. Perhaps we might claim to trace the contours of a possible finality: if the totally other is my neighbor, his proximity seems to legitimize and even appeal to my predilection, the choice that I make with regard to him, and the immense value that I attribute to him; or else, my impassioned desire is supposed to reach a level of satisfaction where it is appeased. But we know perfectly well that proximity is never given without immediately being withdrawn in an infinite strangeness. We also know that there is no “satisfaction”—no satis, no “enough” for that which desires less to satiate itself than to desire anew constantly.

In these two disparate manifestations, love offers the same demand for the infinite: it never ends because it is fueled by never ending, by not limiting itself to what I can be, possess, and do. To make love is to undo my being, my possession, and my work; it is to make an absolute nonwork. Where it seems most complete, that is, in the harmonious oppositions and movements of the one to the other in Eastern thought, it is no less infinite—unless “love” is understood to be a disorder, an agitation, which, for all that, is no less infinite.

Reproduction figures at the horizon of each of these kinds of love, whether it takes the form of the group’s preservation through a communitarian peace, or the form of the species’ (and/or the group’s) preservation through the generation of new individuals. In either case, though, the task is exceeded: both the new individual and the group constitute a renewal of desire on their own behalf rather than a mere product of that desire.

Sex perhaps suggests a sum, if not the sum, of this renewal of desire, which is in fact the very definition of desire. As we are learning, the diversification of genomic characteristics is not necessarily the surest benefit of sexuality even if it is a compelling force. Through mutations, asexual reproduction is no less exempt from diversification, possessing moreover the advantage of speed. In addition, it is possible that sexuality contributes largely to the restoration of genes affected by various accidents, hence to preservation more than diversification. For these and other reasons, biology struggles [End Page 111] to give a “sufficient reason” for sex. Perhaps it is necessary to consider that sex matters just as much in terms of relation (rapport): diversifying or not, sexual relation (le rapport sexuel) introduces a supplementary dimension—diversifying in its own way—within the species, or even, in some cases, at the limits with other species. Yet how might this relation as such offer a sufficient reason (ratio sufficiens)?

The asexual individual that reproduces itself through self-division does not enter into a relation. Relation...