Tag Archives: Jean-Luc Nancy

“The Separated Gesture: Partaking in the Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade” an essay to be published in: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Political. Edited by Sanja Dejanovic, Critical Connections Series, Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming, 2014.

My essay is about the ways in which Jean-Luc Nancy has conceived of the relation between the political and the aesthetic. It is in large part based upon my reading of his essay important recent essay, “The Truth of Democracy,” in order first to underline that the aesthetic, art and the artistic are not political as such, meaning that they are neither the ground upon which a “politics” can be articulated, nor are they the materialized product and result of some political determination. Instead, I am guided by what Nancy argues to be a political necessity, namely: “to think the manner in which these spheres [art, friendship, knowledge, etc.] are heterogeneous to the properly political sphere” and yet, without which, the space opened up by the political would not be affirmed.

To do so, I turn to the work of the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and argue that his work (quoting from my essay) “enables the affirmation of the political as a spacing that is not a pre-given readymade ground, but instead is always the taking place—or better, a partaking place—that is already-unmade.” Meaning: kept open and sustained as an exposure to the infinite, which is the space formed by the political.

“A Space Formed for the Infinite” is the title of one of the chapters of Nancy’s text on democracy, and it opens with the following statement:

The condition of nonequivalent affirmation is political inasmuch as politics must prepare the space for it. But the affirmation itself is not political. It can be almost anything you like—existential, artistic, literary, dreamy, amorous, scientific, thoughtful, leisurely, playful, friendly, gastronomic, urban, and so on: politics subsumes none of these registers; it only gives them their space and possibility.

In stating that the condition of nonequivalent affirmation is not political, I understand Nancy to mean that it is not an archē/ground/origin and rule/law/principle, upon which any or all subsequent action (praxis) is determined and dictated.

For unlike the ancient Greek conception of the condition of the political (and the space of the polis), in which the architect and the legislator “make” (poietically) the walls and laws of the polis, by simply executing the model or blueprint created and provided by the “philosopher-king” (master planner), such that this poietic production is not political but is understood as prior to political praxis, for Nancy, the political is—as Nancy makes clear in this chapter—this very drawing and sketching of the outline and contour of space. A sketching that as drawing is poiesis that is also praxis, and a praxis that is also poietic.

In other words, the political for Nancy, as I understand him, is a praxis that is as much mise-en-scene as mise-en-acte, in which the political act is staging the scene of nonequivalence (the non-mimetic, non-productive fabrication of model) that is affirmed by art, friendship, knowledge, etc. as the sharing in this incommensurability.

Yet as I argue, to affirm this nonequivalence, and to sustain and stand in this (political) space formed for the infinite, calls for a non-poietic aesthetic praxis, the manner and technique of which is inoperative, and as such, affirms that that which is taken to be readymade, is already-unmade. It is the separated gesture (and gesture of separation) that is the gesture that affirms the political by underlining the patency of the political. Patency, which literally means: the condition of being open, expanded and unobstructed. A patency that we might further qualify, as infinitely open in its exposure as finite—right on the contour and outline that is the spacing of finitude.

Abstract of a Paper in-progress

The first half of my paper is a reading of texts by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy on religion, the divine and the sacred, art and aesthetics, and specifically on the attention that he has given to questions of place within philosophical and theological discourses. For as early as 1985 in his essay “Of Divine Places,” Nancy has argued that the question of God is not (or no longer) a question of being, essence, and presence (what is God?) nor of temporality, messianicity, and the infinite (when is God?), but a question of place and distinct location (where is God?), and what Nancy has more recently named “dis-enclosure.”

                  Given that in the philosophical and religious history of the West, the gods and God have always been departing, a divine place is not a taking place but a place of withdrawing and retreating (in absconditum). According to Nancy, if there is a divine place, it is at/from the step, less a footprint than a footfall or tread, where the latter is understood to be nothing other than the separated touching of sole and ground. As Nancy writes toward the end of “Divine Wink” (2003): “The step is the divine place, the only one, the place in which the power of the passing manifests and transcends itself” (119).  In addition to finding one of its homologies in “wink,” (based upon a reading of Heidegger on “the last god”), the step is, as Nancy explicates via a recourse to etymology, a vestige (vestigium) and as such is the remains of a step, not as image or perhaps even as indexical sign, but in terms of the touch of the step, its operation and its place. The latter used here by Nancy “in the strong sense of the word is always the vestige of a step” (“Vestige of Art,” 98), and hence a divine place.

                  In the second half of the paper, I turn to the recently opened National 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, in order to ask whether its deep recesses—exactly coinciding topographically with the two so-called “footprints” of the World Trade Center towers, might not be understood as a monumental securitization of the site, a hollowing out of the ground to its purported zero degree and that, less as profanation than divinization, renders it as hallowed and perhaps sacred ground, distinct from Nancy’s conception of divine place.

                  Finally, by drawing together Nancy’s recent writing on the empty tomb as distinct from the temple/cave, and the question that Derrida posed at the end of his 1968 lecture “The Ends of Man:” “Is there an economy of the eve?” I speculate towards a sense of spacing, aesthetics and archi-ethics as the withdrawal and retreat of architectural limits or the eves of the temple and the oikos (perhaps neither to nor from the temple but at and on its eve, that is to say, its threshold, opening, offering and infinitely finite access). And of temporality less in its coming than its passing by, like the step of the Gods, the departed, and perhaps even the ones who, in stepping from the heights of the towers on that September morning, caused so many of us witnesses to exclaim “my god!”

                  Following Nancy, I contend that this is the utterance of freedom as freedom unto nothing—nothing but the withdrawal and retreat from absolute destination or resurrectional return. This is at once the freedom of those who stepped out from the precipitous edge of the towers, and the utterance of those looking up at the sky and at the instant of witnessing each body falling. This is what I take it to mean when Nancy writes of “an utterance, and as ‘my’ utterance to the precise degree that it comes to me from the other who, in passing, gives me a sign, and whose Wink I respond to with ‘my god!’—without my having actually to say this word, whose ‘sense’ is to name or rather to mark, to remark, and to exclaim the passing itself and the passing not as a state but as a passerby whom I call to address, having perceived his step and the signal of that step” (“Divine Wink,” 116, original emphasis).

                  The economy, archi-ethics and aesthetics of the eve that I wish to think and present here, is an attempt to understand how the National 9/11 memorial, rather than staging the “zero mystery” (“Divine Places,” 140) and zero plan at ground zero, is a securitizing of the footprint, which is also to say—with a view of the water that endlessly flows into the memorial’s seemingly bottomless depths: “the baptizing [of] our abysses” (“Divine Places,” 113). Not a temple per se, but like every temple, the memorial is an attempt to guard against the departing, desertion and destitution of this kenosis from being an absolute abandonment in the form of a bare and empty place. For the “temple,” whether Greek, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, monumentalizes destitution and desertion, and provides shelter and protection not from these forces, but for them, in the finite form of architectural enclosure and spatial detention. Indeed it is remarkable to realize that the memorial at Ground Zero can be understood as a condensation of the four figures of the temple, as outlined by Nancy in his essay “The Indestructible:” Greek (contemplation of ruinous destruction and artistic metamorphosis); Jewish (twice destroyed and source of diasporic meaning, the latter in this case perverted for the purposes of waging a global war on terror); Christian (infinite construction, dome and spire, technology contemplating itself); Islamic (heart as black rock, reserved space, impenetrable and indestructible thing).  Indeed, as Nancy states, this remains the current four-fold of the world, and with no small sense of regret we might agree with Martin Filler who, in his rave review of the memorial, bestows on Michael Arad, its designer, the status of “one of the signal placemakers of our time” (“A Masterpiece at Ground Zero,” New York Review of Books, October 27, 2011).

                  Throughout the paper, I will attend to many of the structuring tensions that Nancy’s work has focused on, including what he retains and refuses in notions of the sacred and divine (and how more recently he has thought this difference in terms of the image and the distinct); the difference in earlier work between bare place and bare thing (the latter of which will be theorized as “vestige”); tomb/grotto as opposed to temple/cave; resurrection versus the raising of the body; the ob-scene and the fore-scene; and the empty and what I have come to call the already un-made.



(Fordham University Press, 2008)

Multi-session workshop on Jean-Luc Nancy’s
On the Commerce of Thinking: Of Books and Bookstores,
as facilitated by John Paul Ricco.
Realized in coordination
with the exhibition Sediment at G Gallery, Art Metropole
and Of Swallows, Bookshop.

The three sessions of this workshop will cumulatively
involve a close and direct reading of this short book by
Jean-Luc Nancy. Each session will begin with 3-4 sections
of On the Commerce … being read aloud by workshop
participants with subsequent group discussion of the text,
led by John Paul Ricco.

Details for the three sessions are as follows:

Session 1: January 26 2012 at G Gallery, 7-9pm (sections 1-3)
On the Commerce of Thinking, Of Books and Bookstores
The Idea and Character of the Book
The Book’s End in Itself

Session 2: February 2 2012 at Art Metropole, 7-9pm (sections 4-6)
The People of the Book
Interminable Reading
The Publication of the Unpublished

Session 3: February 16 2012 at Of Swallows, Bookshop, 7-9pm (sections 7-10)
Book Open and Closed
The Scents of the Bookstore
The Commerce of Thinking
The Matter of Books

Those interested in attending the workshop are asked to
RSVP as soon as possible as there will be a limited number
of spots. Individuals that wish to RSVP are asked to
do so with the intention of attending all three sessions in
order to provide continuity and depth to the discussions.

To RSVP and for other information, please contact
Shane Krepakevich at skrepakevich(at)gmail(dot)com

134 Ossington Street (Entrance on Foxley Pl, rear of building)
Toronto, Ontario M6J 2Z5

Gallery Hours: Friday to Sunday 12 – 5pm

G Gallery location

G Gallery and are generously supported by the College of Arts
and the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Guelph.

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