File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 146

Subject: RE: [Fwd: re:  Ethics as a figure of nihalism]
Date: Sat, 24 Nov 2001 09:28:17 -0600

> Diane
> It's true we are reading Nancy's work differently - the difference
> to be that I believe that one can directly apply, perhaps even
> understand the practically existing communities within which we live,
> through the work. 

No argument; of course this is one way to read/interpret/understand
"practically existing communities."  But I'd still argue that
"practically existing communities" are not what N is talking about. And
defining community by or as their work is precisely what N is
challenging throughout the "inoperative community" piece. Example:

"This is why community cannot arise from the domain of work. One does
not produce it, one experiences or one is constituted by it as the
experience of finitude. Community understood as a work or through its
works would presuppose that the common being, as such, be objectifiable
and producible (in sites, persons, buildings, discourses, institutions,
symbols: in short, in subjects). Products derived from operations of
this kind, however grandiose they might seek to be and sometimes manage
to be, have no more communitarian existence than the plaster busts of

Community necessarily takes place in what Blanchot has called
'unworking,' referring to that which, before or beyond the work,
withdraws from the work, and which, no longer having to do either with
production or with completion, encounters interruption, fragmentation,
suspension. Community is made of the interruption of singularities, or
of the suspension that singular beings *are.* Community is not the work
of singular beings, nor can it claim them as its works, just as
communication is not a work or even an operation of singular beings, for
community is simply their being--their being suspended upon its limit.
Communication is the unworking of work that is social, economic,
technical, and institutional." (31). 

I don't know what else would need to be said here, Steve. Already on
page 5, Nancy states: "The relation (the community) is, if it is,
nothing other than what it undoes." The experience of community, if/when
it takes place, takes place within "practically existing communities,"
yes: in friendships and families and neighborhoods and cities, etc. But
it is not a function of them, as such. It takes place *as* their
interruption. N does more with this in the next essay, "Myth

> This is especially feasible because of  Nancy's use of
> existing real-world examples to justify and expand his theoretical
> perspective. He takes the notion of community and attempts to
> a new extended figure of secular resistance - but does not deny the
> real problems that constitute a community.  '...Community means,
> consequently, that there is no singular being without another singular
> being, and that there is therefore, what might be called an orignary
> ontological  "sociality"  that in principle extends far beyond the
> simple theme of man as a social being... for on the one hand it is not
> obvious that the community of singularities is limited to "man"  and
> excludes for example, the animal... On the other hand if a social
> is always posited as a predicate of man, community would signify on
> contrary the basis for thinking only something like "man". But this
> thinking would at the same time remain dependent upon a principal
> determination of community, namely that there is no communion of
> singularities in a totality superior to them and immanent to their
> common being...' (see page 40 of the inoperative community)

This long quote is actually from page 28, and .? It seems to work
against precisely what you're trying to argue. What am I missing?  It's
funny b/c what N *is* talking about on page 40 appears to directly
contradict you, or at least it seems to contradict what *I* am hearing
you say:

"The political, if this word may serve to designate not the organization
of society but the disposition of community as such, the destination of
its sharing, must not be the assumption or the work of love or of death.
... If the political is not dissolved in the sociotechnical element of
forces and needs (in which, in effect, it seems to be dissolving under
our eyes), it must inscribe the sharing of community. The outline of
singularity would be 'political' --as would be the outline of its
communication and its ecstasy. 'Political' would mean a community
ordering itself to the unworking of its communication, or destined to
this unworking: a community consciously undergoing the experience of its

 > In these terms it is possible to maintain the recognition that in a
> society, whilst the community is constituted out of the consumption of
>  social - it is in turn constituted out of  the 'finitude of singular
> beings'.  In other words the reading we are differing on is founded
> differently (a singular being is always already social) - but the
> starting point remains the consciousness of death/finitude. 

The starting point, as I understand nancy, has nothing to do with
consciousness but precedes it. There is an "originary sociality" from
which any I-dentity must extract itself. This originary sociality is the
community of finite singularities. Every work as such, including the
work that is "the subject," effaces this originary community that always
already is. (The subject is not the architect or the cornerstone of
community: it is community's bloody nightmare.) At the moment of the
unworking of the work, at the ecstatic limit of my "I," "I" experience
community. Sharing (that is: community) takes place not among similarly
positioned subjecthoods-subjects share no/thing as subjects-but (only)
at the extreme and exposed limit of subjectivity, where (a finite) being
irrepressibly exceeds itSelf.

> Identities
> do not unravel, they are not singular as such but split, forever
> fissured.  The initial definition of singularity (p6) reads like a
> redescription of Deleuze and Guattari's BWO - it is the subject as
> says of 'ecstasy' - of passion - with the introduction of such terms
> desire is implicitated.  

Hmm. I'm not sure where we disagree or if we disagree on this point. I
would argue (with nancy) that I-dentity, the illusion of a stable Self,
does unravel (or, pick another word if you wish) precisely when it
touches the limit. It is an experience of declension, de-situation,
depropriation. But I don't think we're really disagreeing about this.
Am I wrong? Ecstasy defines the impossibility of absolute immanence.
Ek-stasy: the experience of standing outside of oneself, outside of
one's "proper" I-dentity.  Passion or love can be involved--but so, for
instance, can thinking and thanking, which are both experiences of
ek-stasy, of exposure.  I hear nancy simply pointing to the experience
of standing *outside* oneSelf...and so experiencing the limit, the
originary exposure (to the other), the "contamination" that always
already is. He addresses this most directly in "Shattered Love." Desire
may indeed be implicated in the phenomenon of the clinamen, the
inclination toward the other, but this would already be an *effect* of
or response to this originary community, not a cause. 

Singularity is a complicated term for nancy, and I don't think "split"
quite cuts it, nor do N's intro remarks cover what he ends up doing with
it. Obviously I agree that it certainly shouldn't be mistaken for
"individual," which is what my students tend to want to do with it. But
in this piece and in several of his other works he does bring it up with
some kind of reference to Deleuze, so I think you're onto something when
you bring the two together up there. In a footnote to The Experience of
Freedom, here's what N says about singularity:

"'Singularity' should be understood at once according to the value
Deleuze gives to the 'ideal event' or to 'essentially pre-individual,
non-personal, a-conceptual' punctuality, and according to the value that
common language gives to the word when it makes it mean 'strangeness,
anomaly," as well as according to the value of 'surprise'... . For us,
existence is above all what is singular. It happens singularly and only
singularly. As for the existent, its own existence is above all
singular, which means that its existence is not precisely its 'own' and
that its 'existing' happens an indefinite number of times 'in' its very
individuality (which is for its part a singularity). Singularity is what
distinguishes the existent from the subject, for the subject is
essentially what appropriates itself, according to its own proximity and
law. Yet the advent of a subjectivity is itself a singularity."

> Community is always revealed through death and
> extreme events, it is only at these moments that community is revealed
> to others,  it always instantiates itself through others and for

Okay. And even in the event of a birth, as Nancy observes. Community is
exposed in these moments, which are all moments of unworking; community
is communicated in the instant that the little circus gets interrupted,
hesitates, stops working smoothly, effecting a radical rupture, a
rrrrrip in the fabric of meaning, exposing the very fine and now
snapping threads by which everything is held together. 

>  The 'loss of community' which he links to the nostalgia for communion
> is the illusion that somehow our communities have suffered a greator
> loss than other societies. 

Hmm? Can you locate this idea in the text for me? It's interesting, but
it doesn't register for me...don't remember it in N.

> It is not a  question of communion but the
> impossibility of community, the communal loss, which is understood as
> nostalgic desire for a communion which is forever non-existent, except
> in the nostalgiz for belonging to a singular community.  The 'reversal
> of the nostalgia for a lost community into the consciousness of an
> immense failure of the history of communities' is continued in the
> failure of the communties of 911 as they began to bomb those they had
> refused to save and of course are continuing to refuse to save...

I guess I lose you here. I'm not sure what you're getting at. 

> The enormous specular and emotional reaction to the event, the
> reestablishing of a nation-state-sized-community.... 'My fellow
> Americans...' The exclusion of the other, a fascinating
> ecstatic and desirous. 

Yes, of course. It is precisely what N is *not* talking about, precisely
what the experience of community comes to *interrupt.* And what it did
interrupt on 911, I think, however briefly--it was experienced--and/but
then, backlash, re-scramble for totality:  the shrub declared "infinite
justice"...and soon began bombing the shit out of "them," in part firmly
to re-establish the "us." Within the "us," other re-scrambles: Lynn
cheney's goons start rounding up, mccarthy-style, the dissenters, Shrub
& co. basically chunk the bill of rights... Etc.  

> Haunted endlessly by torrid christian desires and
> genocide. This is why the implosion 'in the face of finitudes
> exposition' was impossible to imagine... The being-in-common that
> emerged was the renewed saftey of the spectacle of American
> . (as it crumbles)

I think they were two different movements or gestures, and I think this
is exactly what N is talking about. The tension between the experience
of finitude/community (being-in-common), an experience the gigantic
interruption/suspension/implosion that was 911 sparked--and then the
overwhelming desire to stabilize again (the most important thing you can
do for America is get back to work, go about your normal, daily lives,
spend your money, shop, etc), to nail a social essence (common-being:
"ours" vs. "theirs") that would reinstate all the categories that make
the little circus work again. N maintains a distinction between
being-in-common and common-being--an extreme and differential
distinction--and describes the tension between the experience of the
former and the desire for the latter.

> The spectacles our societies produce represent our societies dangerous
> desires - 007, the full monty, middlemarch, victoriana, stories of the
> english working classes, the endless fascination with india, africa,
> emotions and cuddly stories of animals we exterminate by the millions.
>  I do not believe  a "just" politics is possible, just politics...

Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe have a wonderful collection, Retreating the
Political, that addresses this. I don't think a just politics is
possible, either. But I think it is im-possible; not achievable but
always on its way, coming, imminent (as opposed to immanent)--sort of
like the democracy to-come. 

Best, ddd


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