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The honey which slides off my spoon on to the honey contained in the jar first sculptures the surface by fastening itself on it in relief, and its fusion with the whole is presented as a gradual sinking, a collapse which appears at once as a deflation (think, for example, of children’s pleasure in playing with a toy which whistles when inflated and groans mournfully when deflated) and a spreading out—like the flattening of the full breasts of a woman who is lying on her back.16 Honey upon honey: as in Lévinas, this image translates ontological indifference; it comes on stage as the very reality of the commonality of being and beings, existing and existents. What meets up in this indifferent sugared difference, in this ontological difference at once annulled and revealed by the honey, is, Sartre tells us, the “there is” and “the facticity of being-thrown.” Things thus literally take part in finitude. And I remain persuaded, contrasense or not, that the genius of Sartre’s writing and its fantastic power consist in the way in which it makes ontological difference exist; that is, the way in 110 Penumbra which it invites things to bear witness to the question of Being.
Psychoanalysis must resolve all of these problems if it wants to understand someday why Pierre loves oranges and has a horror of water, why he gladly eats tomatoes and refuses to eat beans, why he vomits if he is forced to swallow oysters or raw eggs.17 In this text, a language is sought that would attain this very particular level of ontico-ontological reality, the level on which philosophical analysis has neither to do with beings or with being, but with both at the same time, different-indifferent, soldered together in the matter of existence. This text resonates as an echo of the famous scene in Nausea when the root of the chestnut tree, flesh of Being and beings, fantastically appears in a public park,
much like the unreal cities that Lévinas speaks of:
And then all of a sudden, there it was, clear as day: existence had suddenly unveiled itself. It had lost the harmless look of an abstract category: it was the very paste of things; this root was kneaded into existence. Or rather the root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer.
This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder— naked, in a frightful, obscene nakedness.18 One must be attentive here to the motif of unveiling: “existence was suddenly unveiled.” Sartre’s novel envisages the effects in the real of the Heideggerian unveiling of existence; aletheia comes on stage, the effective unveiling that calls ontological difference to come into appearance, to enter into existence. It is as if the real underscores its own deconstruction, modifies itself in service of this deconstruction; as if it were ready to bend to its new philosophical and phenomenological destiny, taking ontico-ontological form, giving itself to be differently seen, letting existing difference be seen as the very matter of this form, at once existence become “paste” and nothing.
Pierre Loves Horranges Lévinas-Sartre-Nancy For this reason, existence, for Sartre, as for Lévinas, does not ultimately have much to do—despite what they both affirm—with the existence of Dasein. It is something other than what comes into play when the two authors retranslate the couple Being-beings into “existing-existents.” Existence appears in their work as the real effect of ontological difference and not simply as the mode of being of an entity that is not a thing. And it is paradoxically this real effect that is fantastic, to the extent that this real exceeds the real, as it is generally understood. At stake is the incursion of existence into things, the incursion of difference into the night or the sadness of a garden, surreality or hypermateriality of being after Heidegger: a post-Heideggerian real.
The academic character of my exposition so far—firstly Lévinas, secondly Sartre, thirdly Nancy (I could not find a better method for what I intended to present here)—masks the fact that it was through reflection on the work of Nancy that I came to see a unity—an unsettled and perhaps contestable unity, he will say to me—between the thought of these three authors. I am currently in the process of writing on Heidegger and I have had to confront, like so many others before me, the unavoidable question of the changes in his work after Being and Time, and to reflect upon the fact that the category of existence very quickly loses the central role that it obviously played at the heart of the analytic that bears its name. Accordingly, it has always struck me that existence remains, in the thought of Nancy who is a great reader of Heidegger, a major concept, and that it continues to insist, to exist after its ontological disinheritance, after the failure of existentialism, and finally, after the work of Derrida—within whose work, to my knowledge, existence is not a fundamental philosopheme. I thus began with this question: why does existence resist and what is existence for Nancy? While I was rereading his texts, I noticed a certain “family resemblance” between his analyses and those of Lévinas and Sartre. If the context of his analyses is very different, something, within existence conceived as an ontological effect, remains deeply identical—which raises, once again, the question of the fantastic.
Existence is not thinkable, for Nancy, outside of a double structure, that of the “right on” (à même)—“an” in German—and that of the “being-caughtwithin.” To exist is being-right-on, like Sartre’s honey is right on the honey when its ecstasy takes it from the spoon to the pot. “The being of existence takes place right on existence,” Nancy declares in “The Decision of Existence,” one of the articles that make up Une pensée finie. He continues: “There is no existentiale that is not immediately and as such caught in the existentiell.”19 “The Decision of Existence” presents itself as a reading of Being and Time that attempts to understand how Dasein passes from improper existence— everydayness, the “One”—to proper or authentic existence. It is this passage itself that is the “decision of existence.” However, once again, this reading of Heidegger displaces Heidegger; and existence acquires, as it were, a new existence.
112 Penumbra Nancy thus insists upon the fact that the decision of existence takes place right on existence. This signifies, and paragraph 38 of Being and Time affirms, that “existence in its ownness is not something which floats above falling everydayness; existentially, it is only a modified grasp (ein modifiziertes Ergreifen) in which such everydayness is seized upon.”20 In other words, decision, the passage from the improper to the proper takes place as a kind of slippage— “without changing ground,” Nancy says; it is very much existence that modifies itself, right on itself. Nancy thus asks how there can be decision, a pure cut—Entscheidung—where there is precisely nothing to cut, since existence remains caught in itself, flows from itself toward itself, as it were, without rupture. Nancy’s insistence upon this existential paste and this existential vice grip deports the Heideggerian definition of existence toward something other than itself, toward another future. How can there be a decision, therefore, if decision always implies the cutting edge of an opening? How to open and what is opening when one is caught? To cut, Nancy responds, can only signify this: to open existence upon its incision. “The essence of the decision [of existence]… is itself cut, exposed, opened—on its very incision, so to speak.”21 What begins to appear here is, indeed, the slice of existence—that is, a thickness that lets itself be sliced, or cut, to the quick. A reality, here again, of ontico-ontological being: “nothing that is—but only of Being-delivered-over to beings, which is existence.”22 The “modified grasp” of existence by itself— which, Nancy mentions, Heidegger tells us “nothing more” about—implies a mutability, and thus a certain malleability, and thus a certain materiality, or plasticity, of existence. The double structure of existence’s relation to itself, the structure of the “right on” and that of “being-caught-in,” marks the upsurge of an understanding of existence as the reality of difference. Difference starts to exist.
This existence of existence is not night, nor is it the viscous or the root of a chestnut tree; it is all that at the same time; it is the body. The body is the existence of existence; it is the existence of the body. “The body,” Nancy writes in Corpus, “is the being of existence.”23 With this word, “the body,” so simple and so old, Nancy gives a name to the simplest apparatus of onticoontological materiality. This body is indeed the “ontological body,” the body of ontico-ontological difference.
Does that mean that it is the incarnation of ontico-ontological difference?
No. Nancy says that the ontological or ontico-ontological body is not the “incarnation” of difference, but its “carnation,” or rather its “local color.” … another name for local color is carnation […] Not incarnation, where the body is filled with the breath of Spirit, but simple carnation, like the scansion, color, frequency and nuance, of a place, of the event of existence.24 “Incarnation” and “carnation” are analyzed as two “versions of coming to presence.” The one is metaphysical, traditional; the other is the apparition, Pierre Loves Horranges Lévinas-Sartre-Nancy real and recent, of difference. But how would this carnation, this ontological body, be apprehended if not as fantastic phenomena? The singular body can be seen, as in Lévinas, at once detached and attached, delivered and redeemed, inseparable and separated from the ontological body that is the basis of existence, this “compact thickness,” this “continuity of sense”: the body “does not inhabit either the ‘spirit’ or the ‘body.’ They take place at the limit [upon the cutting edge], as the limit itself: limit—outer edge, fracture and intersection of the foreign within the continuity of sense, within the continuity of matter. Opening, discretion.”25 The being of existence and existence itself are at once united and separated, soldered together, right on one another, both caught up in one another and strangers, each an intruder for the other. There again, the community of this foreignness takes place, bodies forth, makes space, time, and matter, and produces vertigo. Nancy does not speak literally of horror, or of the fantastic, but he does have his own word, a very beautiful word: areality.
The ontico-ontological real is “areal.” “Areality” is also the title of one of the slices of Corpus:
“Areality” is an old word that signifies the property of having an air (area).
By accident, the word can also suggest a lack of reality, or rather a tenuous, light, or suspended reality: that of the distance that localizes a body, or within a body. The paucity of reality, indeed, which is at the “basis” of substance, matter or the subject. But this paucity of reality makes up the entire areal real in which the architectonic of the body (as it has been called) articulates itself and plays itself out. In this sense, areality is the ens realissimum, the maximal potentiality of existing, within total extension of its horizon. Simply put, the real as areal unites the infinite of the maximum of existence… to the absolute finitude of the areal horizon.26 Areality—this beautiful word speaks of space, space as reality. At the same time, it speaks of this reality as the “paucity of reality,” as non-thing (the a being understood as a privative prefix); a-real as the contrary of the real, but still appearing right on the level of things. Areality is also a form of the schematism. An “air” renders bodies homogeneous with the concept. There is no apprehension of bodies without the mediation of an air. At the same time, the schema itself comes on stage, assumes a body itself, and thus provokes the effect of a real, a surreality, the maximum of the real—a fantastic image.
“Comes the world of bodies,” Nancy writes. But what comes with this world?