Literary and Critical Theory Jean-Luc Nancy
Ian James
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0049


Jean-Luc Nancy (b. 1940) is one of France’s foremost living philosophers. His work spans several decades, from the 1970s through to the present day. Closely associated with Jacques Derrida, his close friend and major influence, Nancy’s key philosophical engagements are with the legacy of speculative idealism, Romanticism, and existential phenomenology, taking in key figures such as Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and, less explicitly perhaps, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He also engages very closely with immediate predecessors and contemporaries such as Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. His work is preoccupied with philosophical thinking as it may unfold in the wake of the deconstruction of Western metaphysics (after Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida), in the absence of philosophical foundations, and at the limits of philosophical potentiality and possibility per se. Its central concerns turn around the untying of the logic of the traditional philosophical subject, the question of community, and the possibility of thinking existence, beyond the scope and limits of strictly human existence, in terms of a shared or relational singular plurality of being. On this basis his thought opens onto a broad range of engagement with questions of embodiment, world disclosure, politics, justice, and art, including very specific and sustained encounters with the visual arts, with poetry, and with the relation of philosophy to literature and to the aesthetic in general. His interest in the trajectory and historical development of the Western philosophical tradition from its Greek origin onward has also engaged him in an important project of thinking of the Christian and monotheistic traditions as historical forms that have the seeds of their own overcoming or deconstruction sown into their inner structure and into the very moment of their inception. Nancy’s thinking of ontological sense, of the singular plurality of being, or of co-existence, and his philosophical account of embodiment sense and world, or art politics and community, have proved to be widely influential both in Continental philosophy in and beyond Europe, but also across various disciplines within the wider humanities and social sciences, including postcolonial literary studies, art theory and practice, film studies, critical geography, critical legal studies, and politics. Interest in Nancy’s philosophy continues to grow and expand as the philosopher himself heads toward his eightieth year.

General Overviews and Introductory Accounts

The three major single-authored introductions listed here each provide accounts of Nancy’s thinking that differ according to their time of publication in relation to the development of Nancy’s career, and according to some differences in emphasis. So, although Hutchens 2005 and James 2006 are roughly contemporaneous, the former is more preoccupied by the political dimension of Nancy’s thinking and the latter offers a more comprehensive and panoptical overview. This is shared by Morin 2012, which differs from James 2006 in that it was published six years later, and so takes in a slightly greater sweep of Nancy’s philosophical trajectory.

  • Hutchens, Benjamin C. Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy. Chesham, UK: Acumen, 2005.

    Provides an introductory overview of the key themes of Nancy’s philosophy, including an account of his indebtedness to Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Bataille. The book offers a particular focus on those areas of Nancy’s thinking related to politics and the political, including questions of freedom, community, the arts, and the media.

  • James, Ian. The Fragmentary Demand. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

    Covers all the major areas of Nancy’s philosophical thought, from the works of the 1970s through to 2006. With an emphasis on the phenomenological background of Nancy’s thinking (Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty), on its relationship to Derridean thought, and on its irreducibly fragmentary nature, the discussions are divided into chapters on philosophical subjectivity, space, embodiment, community, and art.

  • Morin, Marie-Eve. Jean-Luc Nancy. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2012.

    A full introduction to the broad scope of Nancy’s philosophy as it develops up until 2012, with chapters covering the themes of ontology, Christianity, community, politics, and art. The discussion focuses on the question of the divided self and its exposure to others such as it is developed by Nancy across his work.

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