Farewell to Jean-Luc Nancy

We were sorry to learn of the death of philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy on August 23. Nancy, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg was the author of numerous books, most recently, Sexistence. He was 81 years old when he passed Monday evening.

Nancy studied with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida, both of whom influenced his scholarship. In their obituary, Le Monde said that one way to characterize his work was its abundance. He wrote about many topics, from literature to politics, to the history of philosophy, psychoanalysis, art, religion, sexuality and even the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to writing many successful books, Nancy was Program Director at the International College of Philosophy between 1985 and 1989.

In October, we will publish Nancy’s final book The Deconstruction of Sex, co-written with Irving Goh. They discuss how a deconstructive approach to sex helps us negotiate discourses about sex and reconsider our relations to ourselves and others through sex. Nancy also contributed to Jacques Rancière (2009).

Goh said, “I had the immense fortune to have worked rather closely with Jean-Luc, from my doctoral dissertation to several translations of his papers, journal special issues and edited volumes dedicated to his work, and finally to The Deconstruction of Sex. There can be not enough words to say how generous he was both intellectually and as a person, and of course, his generosity extended not only to me but also to a bunch of other younger scholars and more. I have said/written lately that he possessed an indefatigable force: a force that seemed to fuel that generosity, a force that perhaps also accounted for his incredible prolificacy and unrivaled energy in engaging in philosophical dialogues whenever asked, a force that also no doubt enabled to live on for many, many years after a heart transplant. Naively, I thought that force inextinguishable in him (and stupidly, I chided him for not speaking enough about weak/waning forces…). But he was clearly the wiser, way much wiser, to respond by saying that if there were such a force, it was one that he had no control in summoning, of which he had no way of knowing either. He knew that that force was beyond human determination, one with its own momentum, rhythm, duration, etc. That force has now decided to leave Jean-Luc. But that does not mean that I’ll miss him any less. In fact, it makes me miss him even more.”

Claire Colebrook, author of the afterword to The Deconstruction of Sex, said, “You didn’t have to work closely with Jen-Luc to experience a generosity of spirit and intellect that was singular and remarkable for someone whose writing possessed such range and originality. Unlike many of the European great names of his generation, Jean-Luc was genuinely self-effacing, less interested in his own ideas than he was in the next generation of thinkers. He was less concerned with maintaining legacies (and certainly not his own) than he was with forms of collaboration that would open a future. His specific use of the term ‘deconstruction’ was not to mark a brand, but to mark a dissolution and dispersal of the present for the sake of something other than the tradition that he knew so well.”

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