- Corpus and EvidenceOn Jean-Luc Nancy's Style
Jean-Luc nancy's reflections on the body occupy a singular place in contemporary philosophy. In texts such as Corpus, his reflections cannot be dissociated from a particular practice of writing. This writing consists of a manner and a style that allow him to think about the relation between philosophical discourse and the singularity of bodies. In his book On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy, Derrida pays tribute to his friend by saying that Corpus is the Perì Psuchês of our time. Derrida also states that Nancy's thought on the body is, "more than a style, or a manner (things having to do with fingers or hands), … a moving of the body, a syntax that reckons without reckoning, with its whole body, 'in the flesh' [en chair et en os], to tackle things, be in the world, and be in touch with it without touching or tampering with it" (Derrida 2005, 219). [End Page 83]
This movement and this syntax respond to Nancy's "discursive tactics" regarding the singularity of bodies. In fact, if it were possible to speak about Nancy's "style," it would be necessary to say that the place where it becomes most singular is precisely where this movement en chair et en os aims to approach the singular. Or better, to the singulars, which he calls the "singular plural," that is to say, a being-with not subordinated to Being and, therefore, a singularity defined by alterity (Nancy 2002, 30-31). This becomes especially patent in Corpus. This book contains a powerful reflection on the body—although we should rather say bodies—that is not based upon a univocal and universal concept. Nancy's reflections, with their style, their manner, and their movement, must be distinguished from the notion of "body proper," privileged by French phenomenology. Instead of proposing a concept of the body, Nancy tries to give an account of bodies and their singularity. As there is no science of the accidental (Aristotle Metaphysics 1026b), the movement of this reflection cannot consist in knowing, understanding, or finally stating what a body is. For this same reason, when we consider Corpus's own textual body, we can hardly recognize any figure that corresponds with the body in a classical sense. Corpus is not one of those logoi that, according to Plato, should have a head and feet (Plato Phaedrus 264c). If Nancy's book has a model, this is precisely the Corpus Juris Civilis compiled under the Empire of Justinian and characterized as a catalog or list of particular cases: "The corpus obeys a law that passes from case to case, a discrete continuity of rules and exceptions, of demands and derogations. Jurisdiction consists less in enunciating the absolute of the Law, or in unfolding its reasons, than in saying what the law can be here, there, now, in this case, in this place" (Nancy 2008, 53).
Nancy's Corpus partially follows this model. A corpus seems to be fit to receive the "singular plural," that is to say, neither an individual nor a finished entity but, rather, a singular whose fragmentation continuously takes place. A corpus leaves room for the infinite number of aspects of a body, acknowledging that a body is not a principle of unification but rather the finite coexistence of this infinity of aspects. Hence the fragmentary appearance that Nancy's style sometimes presents: his rejection of an argument leading to the demonstration of a thesis. Instead, Nancy's writing seeks to do justice to singularity in passages whose style probably has no equivalent in any other philosophical [End Page 84] text. We might quote as an example the last paragraph of Corpus, although it should be specified that the passage should not be an example of anything. Instead of paying attention to its content, it is instructive merely to appreciate its unforeseeable and singular style:
A body is an image offered to other bodies, a whole corpus of images stretched from body to body, local colors and shadows, fragments, grains, areolas, lunules, nails, hairs, tendons, skulls, ribs, pelvises, bellies, meatuses, foams...