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  • Expectation: Philosophy, Literature by Jean-Luc Nancy
  • Matthew Ellison
Jean-Luc Nancy, Expectation: Philosophy, Literature. Trans. by Robert Bononno. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018. 296 pp.

The question of the relationship between philosophy and literature has figured in Jean-Luc Nancy's work since the 1970s, when he published L'Absolu littéraire (Paris: Seuil, 1978), an influential study of German Romanticism, with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. For Nancy, philosophy has traditionally maintained a fraught relationship with literature: he claims that the former in a certain sense invented the latter, but by the same stroke excluded it via names such as 'myth' or 'fiction' or, later, absorbed it into its systems. At the same time, as Nancy's readings of philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, and Hegel show, there exists an irreducible but disavowed literariness in philosophy's own mode of presentation. This new translation, a slightly slimmer version of what first appeared in French as Demande: philosophie, littérature (Paris: Galilée, 2015), contains twenty-seven texts that interrogate this tension, spanning a period of more than thirty years. Nancy's notion of 'demande' names the complex relation — at once an encounter, a sharing, and a division — between philosophy and literature. As he claims in the volume's Introduction, both philosophy and literature 'expect' truth, but must also accept that their truth lies in the other. It is this reciprocal, if not symmetrical, relation between philosophy and literature that Nancy investigates here, guided by the principle that 'the realization of the first would be the complete narrative of the second, while the infinite pursuit of the second would be the realization of the first' (p. 3). Nancy claims that without this stance of expectation, this tension, philosophy is reduced to mere dogmatic 'wisdom', while literature becomes the total and interminable narrative of myth. The split Nancy articulates between philosophy and literature is another way of formulating his central concept of 'sense', a word that for him, as for Hegel, names its own opening or fissure, a division between the intelligible and the sensible. The idea of expectation drives this volume's essays on narrative and the novel, the notion of work and the book, theatre and tragedy, as well as texts on his friends and collaborators Lacoue-Labarthe and Maurice Blanchot. Of particular interest in the context of Nancy's thought as a whole is the section of the book devoted to poetry, which contains two important texts on Friedrich Holderlin, as well as the closing section entitled 'Parodos', where one finds a number of Nancy's own literary works. One example of these is 'The Young Carp', a 1979 parodic rewriting — parody, Nancy insists, is not a mere pastiche but 'para-ôdè', 'the discrepant moment of song' (p. 204) — of Paul Valéry's 1917 poem 'La Jeune Parque' (often translated into English as 'The Young Fate'). That Nancy should place his own forays into the world of literature at the end of this volume of broadly philosophical texts is significant, and testifies to his desire to think across the two registers, to seek 'the pure meter by which all thought thinks itself ' (p. 205). In Robert Bononno's excellent translation, this volume represents a valuable addition to Nancy's writings on literature. [End Page 633]

Matthew Ellison
Université Paris-Sorbonne


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