The existential communism of Jean-Luc Nancy

Même le chaos n’est pas entièrement chaotique ;
même le compact laisse passer la lumière ;
même l’individu contient encore une part de nuit

Frédéric Neyrat, Le communisme existentiel de Jean-Luc Nancy, éditions Lignes.

From Lundi matin (#302, 30/08/2021, in translation), a reflection on Jean-Luc Nancy’s communism, by Emmanuel Moreira, inspired by the essay quoted above, by Frédéric Neyrat.

Without an outside, there is no communism

It was necessary to fight against two fronts. Transcendence with its hinter worlds, its essences and its Gods. Immanence with its desire for absolutism, its determinism, its in itself and its humanism. It was necessary to fight against two exhaustions, the exhaustion of ontology, the exhaustion of politics. We had to find a force, an impulse. Something had to take place, that the nothing be open onto itself so that nothing exists.

It was necessary to fight against equivalence, the generalised interconnection of everything with everything. It was necessary to ward off the transformation of the singular into the particular and the transformation of relationships into networks. It was necessary to foil the oppositions between philosophy and anti-philosophy. It was necessary to start again, to find an outside.

What is first is not the principle, the ark that we would unearth at the most remote point of time, as at the furthest summit of the hierarchy of beings, it is existence. It is existence that is to be thought first and foremost.

And first, what exists does not exist alone. It is always with. Existence co-exists. Because existence is an interval, a distance [écart] that opens it up to the world, that puts it in relation, that makes it exist. A tear in the same immanence. An outside inside.

So already, from this, we understand that the outside is not supra-exteriority and the inside is not closed in on itself. The immanence is torn and the existent is penetrated by freedom, a freedom that dissolves all essence. Freedom absolves being in the sharing of existence. It is an unleashing; there is nothing except through it.

In other words, everything begins with the original position of an outside, of an ex-position which means that being is always more than one [plus qu’un/something that is more than itself]  (open, in excess) and more than one [plus d’un/something that is plural] (never alone, in co-presence). Communism is therefore first, it is already there, it is not to be done or made, it is not a project. Unless one wants to produce an essence with it, an essence of man, for example. Such was its attempt, its failure, its error, its preclusion.

No, hell is not other people who prevent being from becoming. Freedom is not the essence, the identity to be produced. Hell is the enclosure and freedom is the impulse, the thrust that ceaselessly brings about singularities in what can never be completely closed, finished. Without an outside, without an opening, there is nothing, nothing but death.

Is it still possible to think of an outside? Is it not an urgency to think it? An infinite even within the finite. An outside which cannot, which must not, be mobilised by the technosphere. An outside which remains beyond all projection. Since the death of God, it is said that there is no more outside. Since Marx, a globalised world is described without an outside. Is not everything just interconnections without any remainder?

This outside that it is a question of thinking here, this outside inside, which sets aside, distances [écarte], and makes ex-istence, which tears and makes appear, states the equivalence of being to itself. And one could name ideology not that which masks human alienation, but that which seeks to fill the abyss of the gap [écart] with images and slogans; and nihilism which seeks to eradicate at the same time these stop-gaps and every interval … Against ideology and nihilism, it can be said that the objective of Nancy’s philosophy is to let the interval be.

The gap is therefore neither the ultimate nor the original meaning. The gap is an empty signifier. Neither God nor master. Neither origin, nor end. And each time that this void is experienced as absurd, whenever it is fought in the name of meaninglessness, it is but indecency. It is called project, God, Nation, essence. Ultimately, “God will only have been the figurehead of pure excess” and Humanism the rejection of the absence of ultimate or primary meaning. All of Dostoyevsky stands there. The whole communist adventure stands there. All fascisms stand there. If it is necessary still to worship something, it is excess over every being, and to hold to this adoration without investing it.

So here is where we are. There is simultaneously being and what exceeds it; and the with, its appearance; and an openness that thwarts the equivalence both of being to itself and of beings to each other; and the freedom that dissolves the essence, the identity, the preclusion. Everything will therefore have been dynamited and restarted. The in-common is first, but it is open. Communism is not a humanism but a freedom that singularises.

Let us see then what this existentialism has to tell us about politics, democracy, capitalism, communism and finally power?

1. Of politics, this first: that everything is not political. That whenever the sphere of politics diffuses itself into the whole body of society, it is nothing more than the fantasy of an arch-politics, the will to produce a Total Community. “Any politics anchored to a finality commits the fatal error of wanting an absolute Subject, a complete community, a pure identity”. This then: that politics must guarantee heterogeneity as such.

2. Of democracy, this: “Democracy forces us to think the dis – [of] the distance, the gap [écart], ontologically before thinking in political terms. (…) Democracy is not a political form, but the name of what must make law, in politics, for what is not political “. Democracy is what keeps the sphere of politics separate. “Neither God nor master. Democracy equals anarchy”.

3. Of capitalism, this: what it exploits is ex-posure. Its network of commodity circulation is relations reduced to interconnection. What it produces by its operations of reduction (from the singular to the particular, from relationships to networks) is equivalence. However, where there is only interconnection and equivalence, there is no longer a relationship. “The relation implies distance and absolute difference from what is completely other”. The gap, the distance, can be called incommensurable. Against equivalence, it is not a matter of “rebuilding a hierarchy, but an equality open to and by the incommensurable. This equality of incommensurables can also be called the communism of inequality.”

4. Of communism: as we have said, it is not a hypothesis to be verified by political action. The in-common calls for no production, no incarnation. “The truth is not a programme, it is what escapes every programme”. However, the politics of democracy is to make an existential communism possible. The we is not to be produced, it first designates the being-with. The “we” must “dis-identify itself from any kind of ‘we’”. It is about a “we/us” in overarching indecision in which this collective or plural subject stands, condemned (but this is its greatness) to never find its own voice”.

5. Of power: that it is “what a separate politics requires in order to make itself effective, the only way to ensure that democracy is not only the democracy of capital”. The source of this power is not the People, but what in them is more than themselves. The antagonism is not incommensurable. The incommensurable is that which resists immanentism and equivalence. Antagonism is what resists exploitation. Antagonism assumes a “communist horizon as the truth of antagonism.”

So this is where we are. Democracy as that which must keep politics as separate. Antagonism as that which must dismantle capitalism with communism as a horizon, to the extent that it is the truth of what exists. The torn immanence, the outside inside, is an non-production [improduction] to be maintained as such, in the sense that it only produces the emptiness that has it that being is always in excess of itself, in non-equivalence to itself. Maintaining this void as such, isn’t that what is at stake, in a world where all living things are called to the aid of Humanity? The flight into the Above Ground [Hors Sol] that Latour spoke about in his little book Où aterrir? may well be the flight into a new idea of ??the community of all living things, a headlong flight forward in interconnection, in equivalence, the fatal project of a new terminal meaning. Let us put it simply, the Anthropocene calls for no new community, no new project, no new connection, but a dismantling of capitalism and an acceptance of the void, of emptiness, of what exceeds being, which does not have as a last resort any meaning to receive from politics. Communism has no meaning. It is existence to the degree that it does not allow itself to be reduced and remains unthinkable.

“It is not enough to say that existence tears apart what is common; it must be added that being-in-the-world, as a practice, questions existence. Art, love, politics: these practices of being-in-the-world, these experiences of the surplus, these forms of life penetrated by the outside are the bringing into play of existence insofar as it is not only theoretical. (…) To say that there is something unthinkable in existence first means that it cannot be preceded by thought alone. As Kierkegaard writes, existence is “the reef where pure thought must be shipwrecked.” Reef and shipwrecks name by excess the place where existence takes place, to use a central term in Michel Surya’s thought, experience – traversed of peril. (…) On the reverse side of the outside internal to philosophy, existence is experienced as the expressly free fact that only an outside-knowledge can accommodate “.

Emmanuel Moreira

Emmanuel Moreira, along with Amandine André, are responsible for an excellent online magazine La Vie Manifeste, where one may also find a very rich radio interview with Jean-Luc Nancy entitled “La communauté, le mythe, la politique. Rencontre avec Jean-Luc Nancy”.

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