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Jean-Luc Nancy

Jean-Luc Nancy
Nancy in 2006 at European Graduate School.
Born (1940-07-26) 26 July 1940
Caudéran (near Bordeaux), France
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Main interests

Jean-Luc Nancy (born 26 July 1940) is a French philosopher.

Nancy's first book, published in 1973, was Le titre de la lettre (The Title of the Letter, 1992), a reading of the work of French Maurice Blanchot and Friedrich Nietzsche.


  • Biography 1
  • Major works 2
    • Les Fins de l'homme 2.1
    • La Communauté désœuvrée 2.2
    • L'Expérience de la liberté 2.3
    • Le sens du monde 2.4
    • Être singulier pluriel 2.5
  • Artistic analysis 3
  • Cinema 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
    • Titles in French 7.1
    • English translations 7.2
    • Secondary literature 7.3
  • External links 8


Jean-Luc Nancy graduated in philosophy in 1962 in Paris. He taught for a short while in Colmar before becoming an assistant at the Strasbourg Institut de Philosophie in 1968. In 1973, he received his doctorate with a dissertation on Kant under the supervision of Paul Ricœur. Nancy was then promoted to Maître de conférences at the Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg. In the 1970s and 1980s, Nancy was a guest professor at universities all over the world, from the University of California to the Freie Universität in Berlin. He has been invited as a cultural delegate of the French Ministry of External Affairs to speak in Eastern Europe, Britain and the United States. In 1987, Nancy received his Docteur d'état from the Université de Toulouse-Le-Mirail under the supervision of Gérard Granel and a jury including Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. It was published as L'expérience de la liberté (1988).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nancy suffered serious medical problems. He underwent a heart transplant and his recovery was made more difficult by a long-term fight with cancer. He stopped teaching and quit participating in almost all of the committees with which he was engaged, but continued to write. Many of his best known texts were published during this time. An account of his experience, L'intrus (The Intruder), was published in 2000.

Nancy is Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School and at the University of Strasbourg.[1]

Filmmaker Claire Denis has made at least two movies inspired by Jean-Luc Nancy and his works. Many other artists have worked with Nancy as well, such as Simon Hantaï, Soun-gui Kim and Phillip Warnell. Nancy has written about the filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami and featured prominently in the film The Ister.

Major works

Les Fins de l'homme

In 1980, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe organized a conference at Centre culturel international de Cerisy-la-Salle on Derrida and politics entitled "Les Fins de l'homme" ("The Ends of Man"). The conference solidified Derrida’s place at the forefront of contemporary philosophy, and was a place to begin an in-depth conversation between philosophy and contemporary politics. Further to their desire to rethink the political, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe set up in the same year the Centre de Recherches Philosophiques sur la Politique (Centre for Philosophical Research on the Political). The Centre was dedicated to pursuing philosophical rather than empirical approaches to political questions, and supported such speakers as Claude Lefort and Jean-François Lyotard. By 1984, however, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe were dissatisfied with the direction work at the centre was taking, and it was closed down.[2]

During that period Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy produced several important papers, together and separately. Some of these texts appear in Les Fins de l'homme à partir du travail de Jacques Derrida: colloque de Cerisy, 23 juillet-2 août 1980 (1981), Rejouer le politique (1981), La retrait du politique (1983), and Le mythe nazi (1991, revised edition; originally published as Les méchanismes du fascisme, 1981). Many of these texts are gathered in translation in Retreating the Political (1997).

La Communauté désœuvrée

Nancy’s first book on the question of community, La Communauté désœuvrée (The Inoperative Community, 1986), is perhaps his best-known work. This text is an introduction to some of the main philosophical themes Nancy continued to work with. Nancy traces the influence of the notion of community to concepts of experience, discourse, and the individual, and argues that it has dominated modern thought. Discarding popular notions, Nancy redefines community, asking what can it be if it is reduced neither to a collection of separate individuals, nor to a hypostasized communal substance, e.g., fascism. He writes that our attempt to design society according to pre-planned definitions frequently leads to social violence and political terror, posing the social and political question of how to proceed with the development of society with this knowledge in mind. La Communauté désœuvrée means that community is not the result of a production, be it social, economic or even political (nationalist) production; it is not une œuvre, a "work of art" ("œuvre d'art", but "art" is here understood in the sense of "artifice").

"The community that becomes a single thing (body, mind, fatherland, Leader...) ...necessarily loses the in of being-in-common. Or, it loses the with or the together that defines it. It yields its being-together to a being of togetherness. The truth of community, on the contrary, resides in the retreat of such a being." (Preface, xxxix).

La communauté inavouable (The Unavowable Community, 1988), a short work by sovereignty is discussed in La communauté désoeuvrée). The dialogue between Nancy and Blanchot would continue until Blanchot's death.

L'Expérience de la liberté

Nancy's dissertation for his doctorat d'état looked at the works of Kant, Schelling, Sartre and Heidegger, and concentrated on their treatment of the topic of freedom. It was published in 1988 as L'Expérience de la Liberté (The Experience of Freedom). Since then, Nancy has continued to concentrate on developing a reorientation of Heidegger’s work. Nancy treats freedom as a property of the individual or collectivity, and looks for a "non-subjective" freedom which would attempt to think the existential or finite origin for every freedom. Nancy argues that it is necessary to think freedom in its finite being, because to think of it as the property of an infinite subject is to make any finite being a limit of freedom. The existence of the other is the necessary condition of freedom, rather than its limitation.

Le sens du monde

Nancy addresses the world in its contemporary global configuration in other writings on freedom, justice and sovereignty. In his 1993 book Le sens du monde (The Sense of the World), he asks what we mean by saying that we live in one world, and how our sense of the world is changed by saying that it is situated within the world, rather than above or apart from it. To Nancy, the world, or existence, is our ontological responsibility, which precedes political, judicial and moral responsibility. He describes our being in the world as an exposure to a naked existence, without the possibility of support by a fundamental metaphysical order or cause. Contemporary existence no longer has recourse to a divine framework, as was the case in feudal society where the meaning and course of life was predetermined. The contingency of our naked existence as an ontological question is the main challenge of our existence in contemporary global society.

All of these themes relating to world are taken up again by Nancy in his 2002 book La création du monde ou la mondialisation (The Creation of the World or Globalization), where he makes the distinction between globalization as a deterministic process and mondialisation as an open-ended "world-forming" process. Here, he connects his critique with Marx's critique of political economy, which saw "free labour" as what produces the world. Nancy argues that an authentic "dwelling" in the world must be concerned with the creation of meaning (enjoyment) and not final purposes, closed essences, and exclusive worldviews. The present system of expanding cities and nodes in the planetary techno-scientific network (tied to capitalism) leads to the loss of world, because the world is treated as an object (globe), even though the self-deconstruction of ontotheology increasingly made it the "subject" of its own creation.

Être singulier pluriel

In his book Être singulier pluriel (Being Singular Plural, 2000), Nancy tackles the question of how we can speak of a plurality of a "we" without making the "we" a singular identity. The premise of the title essay in this book is that there is no being without "being-with," that "I" does not come before "we" (i.e., Dasein does not precede Mitsein) and that there is no existence without co-existence. In an extension from his thoughts on freedom, community, and the sense of the world, he imagines the "being-with" as a mutual exposure to one another that preserves the freedom of the "I", and thus a community that is not subject to an exterior or pre-existent definition.

“There is no meaning if meaning is not shared, and not because there would be an ultimate or first signification that all beings have in common, but because meaning is itself the sharing of Being.”

The five essays that follow the title piece continue to develop Nancy’s philosophy through discussions of sovereignty, war and technology, identity, the Gulf War and Sarajevo. Nancy’s central concern in these essays remains the "being-with", which he uses to discuss issues of psychoanalysis, politics and multiculturalism, looking at notions of "self" and "other" in current contexts.

Artistic analysis

Nancy has also written for art catalogues and international art journals, especially on contemporary art. He also writes poetry and for the theatre and has earned respect as an influential philosopher of art and culture. In his book Les Muses published in 1994 (The Muses, 1996), he begins with an analysis of Hegel’s thesis on the death of art. Among the essays in The Muses is a piece on Caravaggio, originally a lecture given at the Louvre. In this essay, Nancy looks for a different conception of painting where painting is not a representation of the empirical world, but a presentation of the world, of sense, or of existence. Nancy has published books on film and music, as well as texts on the problem of representation, on the statute of literature, on image and violence, and on the work of On Kawara, Charles Baudelaire, and Friedrich Hölderlin.


Nancy's text L'intrus formed the basis for French director Claire Denis's film of the same name.

He has written extensively on film, including The Evidence of Film, a short work on Abbas Kiarostami.

Nancy appears in the film The Ister, based on Martin Heidegger's 1942 lectures on Friedrich Hölderlin's poem "Der Ister" (published as Hölderlin's Hymn "The Ister"). The film focuses on the relation of politics, technology and myth.

Nancy appears in Phillip Warnell's 2009 film Outlandish: 'Strange Foreign Bodies', which also features a text he wrote specifically for the project, Étranges Corps Étrangers. Nancy also contributed a poem, 'Oh The Animals of Language' to Warnell's 2014 film 'Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air'.

See also


  1. ^ See: Jean-Luc Nancy Faculty profile at European Graduate School
  2. ^ For more detail on the reasons for the closure, see Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy, "Chers Amis: A Letter on the Closure of the Political," in Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy, Retreating the Political (London & New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 143–47.


Titles in French

  • La Remarque spéculative (Un bon mot de Hegel). Paris: Galilée, 1973.
  • La titre de la lettre. Paris: Galilée, 1973 (with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe).
  • Le Discours de la syncope. I. Logodaedalus. Paris: Flammarion, 1975.
  • L'absolu littéraire. Théorie de la littérature du romantisme allemand. Paris: Seuil, 1978 (with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe).
  • Ego sum. Paris: Flammarion, 1979.
  • Les Fins de l'homme à partir du travail de Jacques Derrida: colloque de Cerisy, 23 juillet-2 août 1980. 1981 (ed., with Lacoue-Labarthe).
  • Rejouer le politique. 1981 (ed., with Lacoue-Labarthe).
  • Le partage des voix. Paris: Galilée, 1982.
  • La retrait du politique. 1983 (ed., with Lacoue-Labarthe).
  • La communauté désoeuvrée. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1983.
  • L'Impératif catégorique. Paris: Flammarion, 1983.
  • L'oubli de la philosophie. Paris: Galilée, 1986.
  • Des lieux divins. Mauvezin: T.E.R, 1987.
  • L'expérience de la liberté. Paris: Galilée, 1988.
  • Une Pensée finie. Paris: Galilée, 1990.
  • Le poids d'une pensée. Québec: Le griffon d'argile, 1991.
  • Le mythe nazi. La tour d'Aigues: L'Aube, 1991 (with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, revised edition; originally published as Les méchanismes du fascisme, 1981).
  • La comparution (politique à venir). Paris: Bourgois, 1991 (with Jean-Chrisophe Bailly).
  • Corpus. Paris: Métailié, 1992.
  • Le sens du monde. Paris: Galilée, 1993.
  • Les Muses. Paris: Galilée, 1994.
  • Être singulier pluriel. Paris: Galilée, 1996.
  • Hegel. L'inquiétude du négatif. Paris: Hachette, 1997.
  • L'Intrus. Paris: Galilée, 2000.
  • Le regard du portrait. Paris: Galilée, 2000.
  • Conloquium, in Roberto Esposito, Communitas. trad. de Nadine Le Lirzin, Paris: PUF, 2000.
  • La pensée dérobée. Paris: Galilée, 2001.
  • The evidence of film. Bruxelles: Yves Gevaert, 2001.
  • La création du monde ou la mondialisation. Paris: Galilée, 2002.
  • Nus sommes. La peau des images. Paris: Klincksieck, 2003 (with Federico Ferrari).
  • Noli me tangere. Paris: Bayard, 2003.
  • "L'extension de l'âme". Metz: Le Portique, 2003.
  • "Lil y a' du rapport sexuel". Paris: Galilée, 2003.
  • La déclosion (Déconstruction du Christianisme 1). Paris: Galilée, 2005.
  • Sur le commerce des pensées: Du livre et de la librairie. Paris: Galilée, 2005.
  • Iconographie de l'auteur. Paris: Galilée, 2005 (with Federico Ferrari).
  • Tombe de sommeil. Paris: Galilée, 2007.
  • Juste impossible. Paris: Bayard, 2007.
  • À plus d'un titre: Jacques Derrida. Paris: Galilée, 2007.
  • Vérité de la democratie. Paris: Galilée, 2008.
  • Le poids d'une pensée, l'approche. Strasbourg: La Phocide, 2008.
  • Je t'aime, un peu, beaucoup, passionnément.... Paris: Bayard Centurion, 2008.
  • Démocratie, dans quel état ?, with Alain Badiou, Daniel Bensaïd, Wendy Brown, Jacques Rancière, Kristin Ross and Slavoj Žižek, La Fabrique, 2009.
  • L'Adoration, Paris, Galilée, 2010.
  • Atlan : les détrempes, Paris, Hazan, 2010.
  • À Vengeance ? de Robert Antelme, in Robert Antelme, Vengeance ?. Hermann, 2010.
  • La Ville au loin. Strasbourg: La Phocide, 2011.
  • Maurice Blanchot, passion politique. Paris: Galilée, 2011.
  • Politique et au-delà. Interview with Philipp Armstrong and Jason E. Smith, Paris: Galilée, 2011.
  • Dans quels mondes vivons-nous?, with Aurélien Barrau, Paris: Galilée, 2011.
  • L’Équivalence des catastrophes (Après Fukushima), Paris: Galilée, 2012.
  • La Possibilité d'un monde, Paris: Les petits platons, 2013

English translations

  • The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism. With Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Albany: SUNY Press, 1988.
  • The Inoperative Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
  • The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan. With Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.
  • The Birth to Presence. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • The Experience of Freedom. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • The Muses. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.
  • The Gravity of Thought. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1997.
  • Retreating the Political. With Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe; edited by Simon Sparks. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • The Sense of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
  • Being Singular Plural. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • The Speculative Remark: One of Hegel's Bons Mots. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
  • Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
  • A Finite Thinking. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003
  • The Ground of the Image. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.
  • Multiple Arts (The Muses II). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.
  • The Creation of the World or Globalization. Albany: SUNY Press, 2007.
  • Listening. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.
  • The Discourse of the Syncope: Logodaedalus. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007.
  • Dis-Enclosure: The Deconstruction of Christianity. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.
  • Philosophical Chronicles (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy). New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.
  • Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.
  • Corpus. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.
  • On the Commerce of Thinking: On Books and Bookstores. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009.
  • The Fall of Sleep. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009.
  • The Truth of Democracy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.
  • God, Justice, Love, Beauty: Four Little Dialogues. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.
  • In Place of Utopia. In Existential Utopia: New Perspectives on Utopian Thought. New York & London: Continuum, 2012.
  • Adoration: The Deconstruction of Christianity II. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.
  • The Pleasure in Drawing. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.

Secondary literature

  • Alexandrova, Alena, ed. Re-treating Religion: Deconstructing Christianity with Jean-Luc Nancy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.
  • Armstrong, Phillip. Reticulations: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Networks of the Political. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
  • Derrida, Jacques. On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.
  • Hörl, Erich. 'The Artificial Intelligence of Sense. The History of Sense and Technology After Jean-Luc Nancy (by way of Simondon).' In: Parrhesia, no. 17, 2013, pp. 11–24.
  • Hutchens, B.C. Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005.
  • Hutchens, B.C., ed. Jean-Luc Nancy: Justice, Legality, and World. New York: Continuum, 2012.
  • James, Ian. The Fragmentary Demand: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.
  • Kamuf, Peggy, ed. On the Work of Jean-Luc Nancy: A Special Issue of Paragraph. Nov. 1992.
  • Morin, Marie-Eve. Jean-Luc Nancy. Cambridge: Polity, 2012.
  • Sparks, Simon, ed. On Jean-Luc Nancy: The Sense of Philosophy. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Tuppini, Tommaso. Jean-Luc Nancy. Le forme della comunicazione. Roma: Carocci 2012.
  • At the Heart: of Jean-Luc Nancy. A Special Issue of The New Centennial Review, Vol. 2, no.3, Fall 2002.

External links

  • Jean-Luc Nancy Faculty profile at the European Graduate School, includes bibliography, quotations, and video lectures.
  • Jean-Luc Nancy article at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • On Communism, by Nancy.
  • Jean-Luc Nancy. Between Story and Truth. In: Little Mag. July / August 2001.
  • Emmanuel Alloa. The real outside is at the heart of the inside. Interview. Atopia. 2007.
  • Jean-Luc Nancy. The Technique of the Present. Lecture. Nouveau Musée. January 1997.
  • David Patrick. Review of The Sense of the World at the Wayback Machine (archived April 30, 2003).
  • Adam Kotsko. Already, Not Yet. Review of La Déclosion: Déconstruction du christianisme. Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 87–95, Fall 2005.
  • Jean-Luc Nancy. Interview with Jean-Luc Nancy in two parts, by Florian Forestier (French)
  •  — Second part of the interview (French)
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