Tag Archives: Jean-Luc Nancy

Coexistentialism: the reviews, the description, the ride

Coexistentialism and the Unbearable
Intimacy of Ecological Emergency

Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series, Lexington Books, 2016

Coexistentialism cover

The philosophy of existentialism is undergoing an ecological renewal, as global warming, mass extinction, and other signs of the planetary scale of human actions are making it glaringly apparent that existence is always ecological coexistence. One of the most urgent problems in the current ecological emergency is that humans cannot bear to face the emergency. Its earth-shattering implications are ignored in favor of more solutions, fixes, and sustainability transitions. Solutions cannot solve much when they cannot face what it means to be human amidst unprecedented uncertainty and intimate interconnectedness. Attention to such uncertainty and interconnectedness is what “ecological existentialism” (Deborah Bird Rose) or “coexistentialism” (Timothy Morton) is all about.

This book follows Rose, Morton, and many others (e.g., Jean-Luc Nancy, Peter Sloterdijk, and Luce Irigaray) who are currently taking up the styles of thinking conveyed in existentialism, renewing existentialist affirmations of experience, paradox, uncertainty, and ambiguity, and extending existentialism beyond humans to include attention to the uniqueness and strangeness of all beings—all humans and nonhumans woven into ecological coexistence. Along the way, coexistentialism finds productive alliances and tensions amidst many areas of inquiry, including ecocriticism, ecological humanities, object-oriented ontology, feminism, phenomenology, deconstruction, new materialism, and more. This is a book for anyone who seeks to refute cynicism and loneliness and affirm coexistence.


“With refreshing style and intellectual forcefulness, Sam Mickey widens the scope of existentialism and shows how it offers important resources to address our urgent ecological situation. Here existentialism becomes coexistentialism, and through it we glimpse a chance to strengthen our existence together on a fragile planet. Make this book part of your coexistence!”
— Clayton Crockett, author of Deleuze Beyond Badiou and Radical Political Theology


“Is there an ecological style of engaging with things that aren’t me, yet share and even overlap with my being in some sense? The paradoxes and absurdities of existence have only become heightened as we have entered an ecological age, and it’s about time a writer committed to existentialism took up the challenge of working with those paradoxes. This book is up to speed with the ethical implications of our growing understanding of the symbiotic real and with what the author, quoting Björk, calls its necessary sense of ’emergency.’ In trenchant and engaging prose, not to mention deep engagements with philosophy, Sam Mickey lays it out for you.”
— Timothy Morton, author of Dark Ecology and Hyperobjects





Coexistentialism: Unbearable Intimacy, Ecological Emergency. The manuscript is finished and off to the publisher. It’s around 110,000 words. The best thing about coexistentialism is the “co-,” indicating an ecological redistribution of Heidegger’s Mitsein (being-with) to include all beings, human, nonhuman, and otherwise. The worst thing is the “ism,” which is no doubt risky; it can degenerate into a lazy substitute for thinking along with other “isms,” but it could (I hope) facilitate solidarity, shared struggle, shared suffering, and shared feasting.  Existence is not the best or the worst, neither optimus nor pessimus. It just is: existence.  Continue reading

The Thing, Withdrawn, Asleep

Jean-Luc Nancy’s tiny book The Fall of Sleep (Fordham, 2009) is simply a pleasure to read.  When I read it, I just read it, no note-taking, no intentions.  But one passage stuck out so much that I feel compelled to make a note about it.  Here’s the passage:

The thing in itself is nothing other than the thing itself, but withdrawn from any relation with a subject of its perception or with an agent of its manipulation.  The thing, isolated from all manifestation, from all phenomenality, the sleeping thing at rest, sheltered from knowledge, techniques, and arts of all kinds, exempt from judgments and prospects.  The thing not measured, not measurable, the thing concentrated in its indeterminate and non-appearing thingness. (p. 14)

By describing the thing in itself in terms of withdrawal from relations, Nancy’s remarks resemble a key feature of Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy: that real objects are non-relational.  Nancy’s sleeping thing and Harman’s dormant objects have a lot in common.  Nancy and Harman are both Heideggerian, so these connections are not particularly surprising.  What really interests me about this passage is that it shows the similarity between Nancy and Harman while also exemplifying an important difference between them: Nancy considers withdrawal indeterminate, whereas Harman’s objects are still determinate even in their withdrawal.  For Harman, a chair in itself is still a chair, not merely a non-appearing whatever.  Furthermore, Harman is clearly a pluralist about objects, whereas Nancy’s reference to “the thing” in the singular indicates that he is more ambiguous about the singular/plural difference (as his Being Singular Plural indicates).  I’m not sure whose side I take.  They’re like my children: I love them both equally.

Catalogue of Bodies: Corpus-Oriented Ontology

In his Corpus (Fordham, 2008), Jean-Luc Nancy develops something like an object-oriented ontology.  Instead of an object or actor as the primary focus of his orientation, it is a body, a corpus, and instead of Latour litanies, he develops a catalogue.

Hoc est enim: this world-here, stretched out here, with its chlorophyll, its solar galaxy, its metamorphic rocks, its protons, its deoxyribonucleic double helix, its Avogadro number, it’s continental drift, its dinosaurs, its ozone layer, the stripes of its zebra, its human beast, Cleopatra’s nose, the number of petals on a daisy, the ghost of a rainbow, the style of Rubens, a python’s skin, André’s face in this photo taken on January 16, this blade of grass and the cow that grazes on it, the nuance of an iris in the eye of the one reading this very word, here and now? (p. 33).

…we’d need a corpus: a catalogue instead of a logos, the enumeration of an empirical logos, without transcendental reason, a list of gleanings, in random order and completeness, an ongoing stammer of bits and pieces, partes extra partes, a juxtaposition without articulation, a variety, a mix that won’t explode or implode, vague in its ordering, always extendable… (p. 53)

A corpus of tact: skimming, grazing, squeezing, thrusting, pressing, smoothing, scraping, rubbing, caressing, palpating, fingering, kneading, massaging, entwining, hugging, striking, pinching, biting, sucking, moistening, taking, releasing, licking, jerking off, looking, listening, smelling, tasting, ducking, fucking, rocking, balancing, carrying, weighing … (p. 93)

A corpus of the weighings of a material, of its mass, its pulp, its grain, its gulf, its mole, its molecule, its turf, its trouble, its turgidity, its fiber, its juice, its invagination, its volume, its peak, its fall, its meat, its coagulation, its paste, its crystallinity, its tightness, its spasm, its steam, its knot, its unknotting, its tissue, its home, its disorder, its wound, its pain, its promiscuity, its odor, its pleasure, its taste, its timbre, its resolution, its high and low, right and left, its acidity, its windedness, its balancing, its dissociation, its resolution, its reason … (p. 99)

A world where the body is squeezed, febrile, fibrillated, engorged, engorging on its own proximity, all bodies in a promiscuity thick with microbes, pollutions, defective serums, excessive fat, and grinding nerves, obese, emaciated, ballooning, vermin-mined, cream-smeared, burning, gleaming, toxin-stuffed, losing their materials, their waters, turning to gas in the vomit of war or famine, nuclear infection or viral irradiation. (p. 103)

…places are just so many spasms, rubbings, viral and bacterial swirls, gasolating bodies, immunitary bodies, immuno-depressors, in an indefinite reticulation of sequence-bodies, message-bodies, dissolving, coagulating, contaminating, replicating, cloning, breaking, streaking, biting, the whole chemical, archi-chemical corpus, an overpopulation of acidic, ionized psyches, bristling with the blind signals of a world of bodies in which bodies, identically, decompose the world. (p. 105)

Hoc est enim corpus meum

Adoration, Anniversary

My first post on this blog went up one year ago today.  It had something to do with thinking after postmodernism and postsecularism.  Today, that’s still what my practice of thinking is after.  Today, I’m in the middle of Jean-Luc Nancy’s second installment in his deconstruction of Christianity, Adoration.  It follows an opening of Christianity, exposing its various theisms to the open sense of the world, and sheltering its exposure without replacing it with another “-ism” (including atheism, humanism, rationalism, irrationalism, etc.).  It warms my heart, opens my body…   

Adoration is addressed to what exceeds address.  Or rather: it is addressed without seeking to reach, without any intention at all.  It can accept to not even be addressed: to be unable to aim, or designate, or recognize the outside to which it is dispatched.  It can even be unable to identify it as an outside, since it takes place here, nowhere else, but here in the open.  Nothing but an open mouth, or perhaps an eye, an ear: nothing but an open body.  Bodies are adoration in all their openings. (20) 

There is not even “atheism”; “atheist” is not enough!  It is the positing of the principle that must be emptied.  It is not enough to say that God takes leave, withdraws, or is incommensurable.  It is even less a question of placing another principle on his throne–Mankind, Reason, Society.  It is instead a question of coming to grips with this: the world rests on nothing–and this is its keenest sense. […] Let there be no more place for God–and in this way, let an opening, which we can disucss elsewhere whether to call “divine,” open. (32-33)


Five Theses for Emancipatory Music

Music is the art of the hope for resonance: a sense that does not make sense except because of its resounding in itself.
Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening (Fordham UP, 2007), p. 67

No music has the slightest esthetic worth if it is not socially true, if only as a negation of untruth; no social content of music is valid without an esthetic objectification.
Theodor Adorno, Introduction to the Sociology of Music (Seabury Press, 1976), p. 197.

Percussion music is revolution. Sound and rhythm have too long been submissive to the restrictions of nineteenth-century music. Today we are fighting for their emancipation. Tomorrow, with electronic music in our ears, we will hear freedom.
John Cage, Silence (Wesleyan University Press, 1961), p. 87.

In music the hegemony of the 2/4 & 4/4 beat must be overthrown. We need a new music, totally insane but life-affirming, rhythmically subtle yet powerful, & we need it now.
Hakim Bey, “Post-Anarchism Anarchy” (AOA Plenary Session, 1987).

You really should be able to feel the higher power of music and be moved by it, rather than listening to me waffle on and having to explain it.
Maynard James Keenan, quoted in Steve Morse, “Sonic Evolution With the Use of Tool,” Boston Globe (11.15.96), p. D14.


Integral Dabbling

The word “integral” connotes wholeness or completeness, like an integer.  What interests me is that, etymologically, integral also means un-touched.  The prefix “in” has a negative force (like “un-“ or “non-“), and “teg” comes from the Latin tangere (“to touch”).

An integral philosophy would be a philosophy of untouched unity or untouched units.  How, then, can we philosophize about that which exceeds the limits of our touching, grasping, and reaching.  Theorizing the untouched is a way of paradoxically touching the untouched.  Jean-Luc Nancy has a lot to say about touching, including the way touch makes contact with that which is intact, untouched.  If you touch too much, then the intact is no longer intact.  If you touch too little, then you haven’t made contact.  The question is how to touch with tact, making contact in such a way that a connection is made without assimilating the intact core of the other.  It’s important to note that I am not referring to human touch exclusively, but to all kinds of contact, human, nonhuman, and otherwise.  I’ll have a lot to say about this in the future, as the name of this blog indicates.  For now, I want to talk about a kind of light touch, dabbling.

Dabbling touches without penetrating the depths.  The dictionary definition of dabbling describes it as an act of moving one’s hands or feet around in water.  In other words, it is an act of getting partially wet.  It also refers to movement in shallow water (ducks that feed in shallow water dabble therein).    

From this basic definition comes the extended definition of dabbling as any kind of partial involvement in something.  Like dabbing or daubing, dabbling is a partial touch, a slight and light touch.  That partial involvement connotes superficiality in some cases, as if one is “merely” dabbling and not “really” doing it, like a hobby as opposed to a career.  However, dabbling is not necessarily superficial.  It might be a very effective way to forge connections with the untouched cores of things.  Perhaps touching things any deeper would just slow down the process of making and breaking connections.  Even worse, it could do violence to the one touching or to the one touched, or to both of them.

What is this effective kind of dabbling?  Integral dabbling.  I think Jean-Luc Nancy practices integral dabbling, but it is not to be found only among philosophers.  I think you can also find integral dabbling in pop culture.  I’ll post more later on a pop analysis of integral dabbling.