In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Disavowed Community by Jean-Luc Nancy
  • Matthew Ellison
The Disavowed Community. By Jean-Luc Nancy. Trans. by Philip Armstrong. (Commonalities.) New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 144 pp.

This is the first translation into English of La Communauté désavouée (Paris: Galilée, 2014), Jean-Luc Nancy's response to Maurice Blanchot's La Communauté inavouable (Paris: Minuit, 1983), itself a response to Nancy's influential essay on community, 'La Communauté désœuvrée', originally published in the journal Aléa (4 (1983), 11–49). Early in the book, Nancy speaks of having been astonished not only by the fact that a figure as eminent as Blanchot should have written an entire book in response to an essay by such a young and relatively obscure philosopher, but also the apparent urgency with which he did so. (Blanchot's book was published just months after Nancy's essay.) During the thirty years that have passed since the publication of Blanchot's response, relatively little has been written on the exchange between the two thinkers, and Nancy dismisses the few texts that have appeared on the subject as failing to grasp the importance of the construction and economy of Blanchot's text. As for Nancy's own work, save for a handful of short texts on Blanchot, the absence of an engagement with La Communauté inavouable is conspicuous. In The Disavowed Community Nancy repeatedly acknowledges the long interval between Blanchot's response and his own, which he ascribes to his own intimidation and inability to comprehend fully the stakes of Blanchot's book. In his Introduction to this volume, Armstrong writes that 'Nancy has been doing nothing else over the past thirty years than preparing himself to write The Disavowed Community' (p. xxi). While this claim is surely an exaggeration, the book nevertheless testifies to the formative effect of Blanchot's text on Nancy's subsequent work. This volume touches on many of the principal questions that have occupied Nancy in the intervening thirty years: the sexual relation [End Page 611] and the ontology of the body; the 'deconstruction of Christianity' (in Nancy's discussion of Blanchot's reading of Marguerite Duras's 1982 novella La Maladie de la mort); literature and the practice of writing; and the relation between politics and 'the common'. However, the theme that emerges most strikingly from this dense and at times impenetrable book revolves around Blanchot's response to Nancy's use, in his original community essay, of the former's concept of désœuvrement. While in his preface to this volume Nancy insists that his use of désœuvrement had sought to understand community as '"escaping the work" [échappant à l'œuvre] and not "out of work" [en manque d'ouvrage]' (p. ix), he also accepts that he had neglected the lesson of the second part of Blanchot's text, which reminds him that désœuvrement is only thinkable in relation to some kind of œuvre, some instance or presentation of community. For Blanchot, and indeed for many subsequent commentators on Nancy's work, particularly outside France, the latter's conception of community, by insisting on the exteriority and exposure of community, remains overwhelmingly negative in character. Addressing the relationship between œuvre and désœuvrement in Blanchot constitutes much of the task of this book. Nonetheless, as Nancy points out, such a task opens onto the more general preoccupation with the common character of our existence and the necessity of its presentation.

Matthew Ellison
University College London