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First of all, it is perhaps nothing other, nothing more than this: what comes is what images show us. Our billions of images show us billions of bodies— as bodies have never been shown. Crowds, masses, melees, packages, files, troupes, swarms, armies, gangs, disbanded particles, panics, tiers, processions, collisions, massacres, mass graves, communions, dispersions, full to the brim, overflowing with bodies always both in compact masses and pulverizing divagations, always collected (in streets, ensembles, megalopolises, banlieues, centers of transit, surveillance, care, or forgetting) and always 114 Penumbra abandoned to a stochastic mixture of these same places, to an agitation that structures them, an incessant generalized departure. This is the world of worldwide departure: the spacing of partes extra partes, with nothing that overarches it or upholds it, without Subject of its destiny, taking place only as a prodigious press of bodies.27 The world overflows right on itself, one body against another; difference compacts, compresses itself.
While rereading Heidegger, I understood that the destiny of ontological difference was indeed “carnation,” the name given to what should become an effect of a real—of another real, of course, but still a real—beings and Being together, which does not limit itself to the existence of Dasein, but enters into presence everywhere, always, there, like the root of the chestnut tree, viscous paste, night without sleep, body in departure, areola. And Nancy taught me much; for, he never sought to ontologize the body or to affirm it as an onticoontological bastard child. This body does not give itself “in flesh and blood;” it arealizes itself. And, in a film about Sartre, I found something that he says very profound: “It is not a matter of being an idealist or a materialist, but rather a realist.” Ontological realism thus appears as the future of a certain phenomenology.
Forging a real alliance between the work of three thinkers, whose differences I have decided not to exhibit, I have insisted upon the fantastic dimension of this objectivity, this materiality, or this reality, which confronts philosophy with a new challenge and obliges thought to economize otherwise the distinction between existent and non-existent, between “this exists” and “this does not exist.” Heidegger made possible this fantastic dimension of the real; and this opening of philosophical thought to strange phenomena of Being; but he did not undertake their analysis—which thus becomes our task.
I have elsewhere elaborated how what I call “plasticity” could designate this place of an always already “psychicized” being, as Sartre says, where philosophy encounters itself; where metaphysics and an other thought cross and organize the modalities of their exchanges; where, for example, the trace of ontological difference forms itself, materializes itself in forms: forms of the real, but also artistic forms, heretofore unknown forms of philosophical writing—a writing evidenced in texts such as Nausea, certain passages from Being and Nothingness, Existence and Existents, or Corpus, the first examples of a fantastic philosophy.
Pierre Loves Horranges Lévinas-Sartre-Nancy How could one not think, finally, of Nancy’s L’Intrus, where the fantastic is born from the impossibility of distinguishing between “the organic, the symbolic, and the imaginary”?
From the moment that I was told that I must have a heart transplant, every sign could have vacillated, every marker changed: without reflection, of course, and even without identifying the slightest action or permutation.
There is simply the physical sensation of a void already open [déjà ouvert] in my chest, along with a kind of apnea wherein nothing, strictly nothing, even today, would allow me to disentangle the organic, the symbolic, and the imaginary, or the continuous from the interrupted—the sensation was something like one breath, now pushed across a cavern, already imperceptibly half-open and strange; and, as though within a single representation, the sensation of passing over a bridge, while still remaining on it.28
I become like an android from science-fiction, or rather one of the living dead, as my youngest son said to me one day.29 To conclude, I turn to Roger Caillois, a great thinker of the fantastic, who has silently accompanied me throughout this exposition and whom I admire very much. In Cohérences aventureuses, Caillois excludes from the category of the fantastic all pictural or poetic works that deliberately intend to produce the fantastic: “The first rule that I give myself is to exclude what I call the fantastic that tries too hard: those works of art purposely created in order to surprise”30: the marvels of fairy tales, legends and mythology, the painting of Hieronymus Bosch, “delusions of the demented mind, indulgent fancies, the masks of Tibetan demons, the avatars of Vishnu,”31 skeletons, hells, sorcerers.
“I let myself entertain,” he pursues, “the dream (unreasonable, I am afraid) of a permanent and universal fantastic.”32 What Caillois calls the “permanent and universal fantastic” closely resembles what I have here tried to approach under the name of the philosophical fantastic. This fantastic, Caillois says, is a “coherent and unavoidable” fantastic that is always born from the intrusion of a foreign element at the heart of the familiar—this element not coming from outside, but from within being. “The fantastic in my sense does not come from an element outside the human world: composite monsters, infernal fauna, the irruption of demonic, grotesque or sinister creatures. It emerges from a contradiction that bears upon the very nature of life and that obtains nothing less than the appearance of momentarily abolishing, by means of its vain but troubling prestige, the border that separates life from death.”33 Translated by Steven Miller – The essay translated here originally appeared as “Pierre aime les horranges: Lévinas-Sartre-Nancy—une approche du fantastique en philosophie,” in Sens en tous sens: autour des travaux de Jean-Luc Nancy, eds. Francs Guibal and Jean-Clet Martin (Paris: Galilée, 2004), 39-57.
116 Penumbra Notes
1. One could also say it in this way: existence, that is the fantastic, is what returns even when the category of “existence” has disappeared from Heidegger’s thought—which happens very quickly, right after Being and Time.
2. Emmanuel Lévinas, Time and the Other, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh:
Duquesne University Press, 1987), 44.
3. Ibid, 46.
4. Ibid, 45.
5. Ibid, 45.
6. Ibid, 45-6.
7. Ibid, 46-7.
8. See in particular, Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 283: “Now we see that, if the productive power of the imagination plays a leading role in the structure of human finite knowledge, nay, if the power of imagination is the very unifying root of intuition and thinking, then in finite knowledge too there is something original in the sense originarium. But this original faculty does not concern beings themselves, as does intuitus originarius, which is ontically creative and brings things as such into extantness. By contrast the exhibito originaria of the productive synthesis of the power of imagination is merely ontologically creative, in that it freely ‘figures’ the universal horizon of time as the horizon of a priori resistance, i.e., of objectness” [Translation slightly modified].
9. Émmanuel Lévinas, Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1988), 54-5.
10. Ibid, 56.
11. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York:
Washington Square Press, 1956), 768.
12. Ibid, 769.
13. Ibid, 770 [Translation slightly modified].
14. Ibid, 779 [Translation slightly modified].
16. Ibid, 775.
17. Ibid, 770.
18. Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Lloyd Alexander (New York: New Directions, 1964), 127.
Pierre Loves Horranges Lévinas-Sartre-Nancy
19. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Birth to Presence, trans. Brian Holmes et. al.
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 99.
20. Ibid, 99.
21. Ibid, 85.
22. Ibid, 91.
23. Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus (Paris: Métailié, 2000), 17.
25. Ibid, 18.
26. Ibid, 39.
27. Ibid, 37.
28. Jean-Luc Nancy, L’Intrus, trans. Susan Hanson, CR: The New Centennial Review 2.3 (Fall 2002): 3.
29. Ibid, 3.
30. Roger Caillois, Cohérences aventureuses (Esthétique généralisée; Au cœur du fantastique; La Dissymétrie) (Paris: Gallimard, 1962, 1965, 1973), 72.
31. Ibid, 74.
32. Ibid, 74.
33. Ibid, 173.
THINKING DIFFERENTLYThis passage, from Foucault’s introduction to the second volume of The History of Sexuality, captures exactly what contemporary criticism values about difference. To think differently is to think beyond or against the status quo; the political significance of philosophy consists in its thinking otherwise, its refusing to authorize the “already known,” and thus its functioning as something other than a discourse of legitimation or conservation. According to this logic, critical thinking cannot hope to solve the crises of legitimation that characterize modernity, but instead must intensify them by persistently questioning that which is “already known.” Philosophical activity assumes its political dimension by functioning at certain historical moments, certain “times in life,” as an avant garde. At such moments the challenge lies in resisting the lures of self-authorization and self-consolidation; it is a question not of developing but of changing, of “dispers[ing] one toward a strange and new relation with himself,” as Foucault puts it in his original preface to The Use of Pleasure.2 With the practice of thinking differently comes the promise—or, depending on one’s point of view, the threat—of change.
120 Penumbra In the passage above Foucault is explaining why the second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality appear so discontinuous with the first. During the course of establishing how individuals recognize themselves as subjects of something called sexuality, Foucault found it necessary to return to the more basic question of how individuals come to recognize themselves as subjects in the first place; hence his decision to “reorganize the whole study around the slow formation, in antiquity, of a hermeneutics of the self.”3 What draws Foucault to the period of antiquity is the disjunction between its techniques of the self and our hermeneutics of desire—the fact that for the Greeks one exercises an elaborate relation to himself without concern for deciphering one’s own truth, much less tending to locate that truth specifically in desire.
Another way of putting this would be to say that while in his introductory volume of The History of Sexuality Foucault attempts to think sexuality outside the framework of psychoanalysis (which he tacitly identifies with the repressive hypothesis), in subsequent volumes he commits himself to the more basic project of trying to think subjectivity non-psychoanalytically. Or, more accurately yet, The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self represent Foucault’s most sustained attempts to think subjectivity apart from psychology; and in so doing he refused to countenance psychoanalytic antipsychologism as a viable method for this project.
Thus in “thinking differently” Foucault is doing two things at once. First, he is measuring his distance from conceptualizations of subjectivity and sexuality that, at the time of his writing the preface, had dominated the Parisian intellectual landscape since the 1950s. Lacan remains central to the status quo against which Foucault is thinking, because from the latter’s perspective psychoanalysis represents the “already known,” the taken-for-granted paradigm of subjectification. No doubt this positioning of psychoanalysis involves misrecognizing what Lacan was doing, as suggested by Foucault’s reductive critique of the concept of repression. More significantly, however, in “thinking differently” Foucault is measuring the distance from his own conceptualizations of subjectivity and sexuality too. The “already known” that the second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality refuse to legitimate should be understood as encompassing the first volume. Thinking differently entails being deliberately discontinuous with oneself. And this discontinuity involves more than simply changing one’s mind or backtracking; it is a matter not of self-contradiction but of becoming other than what one was.