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Vol. 31 | No. 2 | December 2022


Religious Distinctions: Rethinking Said on Religion, Criticism, and the Secular
Philip Balboni

This essay works to clarify Edward Said’s writings on religion, criticism, and the secular, arguing that this clarification has serious implications not only for Said’s project of “secular criticism” but also for understanding the workings of what he called the “critical consciousness” within a “purely secular view of reality.” The essay holds that there are not one but two concepts of the religious operative in Said’s work and maintains that most commentators on Said have ignored the second concept and have therefore misconstrued secular criticism’s relationship to what it nominates as religious. By reexamining Said’s writings on religion, criticism, and the secular, as well as his early studies of modern literature, this essay contends that a secular criticism aware of its commitment to both concepts of the religious allows for a more nuanced and powerful account of the manner in which such criticism can call itself secular. It suggests, furthermore, that this account not only clarifies the workings of Said’s own critical consciousness but also provides a likewise more nuanced view of the “method” or “rationality” such a consciousness deploys in making sense of human life, ingenuity, and history. 

Read now at Duke University Press

Reorienting Visual Reading: From Colonial Visions to the Subtexts “Facing Us”
Liron Mor

This essay explores visual reading and its colonial aspects by analyzing the novel Ze ʿim ha-panim elenu (The One Facing Us, 1995), by Ronit Matalon, an Israeli Jewish author of Egyptian descent. In this novel Matalon displaces the dramas of Mizrahi Jews (Jews originating from the Arab and Muslim world) to Cameroon, thus stressing her protagonists’ uneasy positioning within the colonizer-colonized, West-East divides and connecting Zionist racialization to broader, global processes of colonial capitalism. By exploring her elaborate readings of photographs in the novel, the essay reveals two rival traditions of reading the visual: the first involves what might be described, following Matalon, as a certain “intending toward” the photograph—a colonial reading practice through which a subject converts her absence from the photographic moment into a visionary, intentional presence. In this Barthesian tradition, the image is an empty land to be colonized, and Oriental subjects are racialized by being fetishistically associated with both authentic matter and theological aura. The second tradition, typified in the novel by the protagonist’s Egyptian mother, is a laborious collective practice of reading photographs that is attentive to subtext, nonverbal communication, and social codes. The essay argues that this reading practice has nothing to do with postcolonial or Levantine hybridity or with a “migratory state of mind”—concepts that govern scholarship on Matalon—and that its subsistence requires in fact a solid, counterdiasporic sense of home.

Read now at Duke University Press

An Afropessimist, Antidisciplinary Rejoinder to History, Its Human, and Its Anti-Blackness

David Ponton, III

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds have been critical of history’s vision of itself as grounded in empiricism, its function as a secularist theodicy, and its commitment to humanism. Meanwhile, Black studies has exposed the Human as a sociopolitical construction masquerading as mere ontological fact. Yet historians remain committed to the fiction as if it were fact, occluding the ways that narrating the Human requires evading full recognition of the ubiquity and permanence of anti-Blackness in the modern world. Indeed, this article argues, this is the unstated function of history, conceived here as a discipline, or constraint, on what it is possible for historians to think and register as significant as they bring order to chaos in the form of narrative. Against empiricism and the humanist compulsion to explain suffering rather than abide in its meaninglessness, this article suggests an embrace of antidisciplinarity. By shifting perspective through Afropessimism, embracing methods such as critical fabulation, and inventing the past through cross-disciplinary borrowing, autobiography, and explicit empathy, the article demonstrates the implications of an antidisciplinary approach to historical inquiry. It engages the historiography and archives related to the Houston Police Department’s attack on Texas Southern University students in 1967 and in doing so exposes the incoherence of historiography that speaks of peace in an anti-Black world and that relies on an ontological certainty of the Human as a simple fact of existence, alongside its attendant codes, specifically those of linear time, gender subjectivity, and agency.

Read now at Duke University Press

        Dossier: A Farewell to Sufficiency (In Memory of Jean-Luc Nancy)

Introduction: A Farewell to Sufficiency (In Memory of Jean-Luc Nancy)
William Morgan

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

To speak of life, of life in the context of death, is to speak of too little and not enough. As you know, Jean-Luc Nancy died in August 2021 at the age of eighty-one. Nancy’s celebrated academic career is a matter of record; his many works are widely available in both French and English, among other languages. From 1968 until 2004, Nancy was professor of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. During that time he published The Experience of Freedom (1988), his dissertation for his doctorat d’état, adjudicated by two individuals familiar to readers of so-called French theory, Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard. Nancy’s close relationship with Derrida is commemorated in Derrida’s On Touching (2000), one of a select few manuscripts penned by the philosopher on the subject of a living contemporary. The vastness of Nancy’s philosophical contribution is inarguable, to say nothing of his esteemed art...

Read now at Duke University Press

Under Construction: Interventions
Jean-Luc Nancy; Patrick Lyons

Jean-Luc Nancy published four times in Qui Parle during his lifetime: once in 1987, once in 1989, and twice in 2017. “Under Construction: Interventions” marks the first English translation of his first publication in this journal, in its second-ever issue. In this short piece, written five years after his groundbreaking La communauté désoeuvrée, Nancy takes up the question of teaching and its inherent entwinement, as he argues, with “the work of thought.” Teaching is here understood much like Nancy’s community: not as what stems from collaboration but as comprising a series of mimetic displacements, reproductions, gestures. Teaching thus magnifies the possibilities at “the limit of sense.” As Nancy puts it: the reconfiguration of those listening students will continue its reach where a teacher’s mastery has reached its finitude. Amid contemporary conversations about collaborative learning and pedagogical missions, Nancy’s brief missive offers a compelling intervention—an alternative model to that of master and pupil—but envisions a classroom community built on layers of displacement.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Commencement of Jean-Luc Nancy
Divya Dwivedi

Jean-Luc Nancy was concerned with commencement at several levels, of several kinds, in several senses, because he could speak of commencement with affirmation, which means with audacity. From the hospital in July 2021 he completed his last essay, which was intended to commence the project of “the other beginning of philosophy” envisaged by him, Shaj Mohan, and Divya Dwivedi, and he titled it “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking.” In and through it are gathered all of Nancy’s critical reflections on destiny, on the antisemitic components of the Heideggerian history of being, on the ends of philosophy that we must reckon with, on origins and archaeophilia, on the an-archique essence of philosophy and democracy—and this means for us, on another sense of commencement than arche, which could allow us to prepare another beginning of philosophy than the Heideggerian one, and to respond to Nancy’s wager “Pourquoi pas en finir?” Nancy has not left us; rather, we are only now commencing with Nancy. 

Read now at Duke University Press

Nancy’s Prophetic Voice
Ian James

This article gives a personal recollection of discussions with Jean-Luc Nancy and offers a reflection on these together with a philosophical analysis of texts written by him that were published in 2020 in the volume La peau fragile du monde (The Fragile Skin of the World). It engages with Nancy’s novel understanding of prophecy to understand his own writing as a form of “prophetic voice” receptive to the emergence of the present and its opening onto the future. A meditation on time, the loss of history, and on the need to be receptive to what comes to us as the real and from the real, the article outlines Nancy’s singular, generous, and open praxis and ethos of thought.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Surprise: Of the Event
François Raffoul

In his ontology of the singular plural, Jean-Luc Nancy makes the claim that nothing preexists the event of being: no principle, arche, or prior substance. With such a statement, a thinking of the event emerges: not preceded by any principle or ground, and no longer referred to any prior substance, being is nothing but the event of itself. Thus preceded by nothing and grounded in no essence, the event of being can only come as a surprise. This essay explores Nancy’s thinking of the event as surprise. Indeed, for Nancy, far from being an occasional accompaniment of an event, the surprise is a constitutive feature of the event. An event, he states, is surprising, or it is not an event. In the end, as Nancy puts it, thinking the event, the surprise of the event or the event as surprise, will amount to thinking being surprised, or “over-taken” (sur-prise) by the event, for the event always exceeds thinking while also each time happening to it.

Read now at Duke University Press

Deconstruction and Anastasis
Shaj Mohan

Deconstruction was the beginning of a disassembly of metaphysics that now proceeds toward anastasis through the openings created by Jean-Luc Nancy. Deconstruction remained classical in the sense of its reliance on classical laws of thought, of which it remained the self-critique. With Nancy, however, the rejection of the classical laws of thought emerged. Anastasis is the other beginning that opens philosophy to the experiences covered over by the classical laws.

Read now at Duke University Press

Sense, Orientation, and World Creation: A Dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy and Sara Ahmed
Kevin Inston

This article stages a dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy’s postphenomenology and Sara Ahmed’s queer phenomenology to examine the conditions, ethos, and politics of world creation as well as the habits, obstacles, and inequalities that resist it. It argues that Nancy’s understanding of sense as the event of the mutual exposure of bodies reveals what exceeds dominant worldviews, how bodies extend the world beyond prevailing spatializations, but that it does not sufficiently examine what prevents us from sensing that event as a call to world creation. Conversely, Ahmed analyzes how the spatial orientation of bodies restricts exposure, causes uneven access to the world, and suppresses Nancean sense. Her account of disorientation illuminates how we could experience the world as ungrounded and susceptible to creation but struggles to explain what would enable the sharing of this event so that it does not reconfirm the dominant orientations of whiteness and heterosexuality. Reframing disorientation in terms of Nancy’s relational ontology and its spatial conception of justice rethinks the nonalignment of bodies and spaces as freeing the circulation of sense so that alternative worlds could appear. In this way, disorientation can be read as potentially opening the passage from injustice to justice, from orientation to creation.

Read now at Duke University Press

Indices of Departure
Joseph Albernaz

This text on Jean-Luc Nancy engages his interest in the motif of departure to reexamine and register the importance of some of his central contributions. Along with returning to Nancy’s singular rendering of key concepts like finitude, sharing, communism, and resurrection, the essay stages a passing encounter between Nancy’s thought of parting and the poetry of Walt Whitman.

Read now at Duke University Press

Les Amours Partagées
Phillip Warnell; Jean-Luc Nancy

This is a creative dialogue between artist-filmmaker Phillip Warnell and author-philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. It explores, among other things, their film, text, and research collaborations spanning more than a decade.

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Ming of Harlem: Twenty-One Storeys in the Air (dir. Phillip Warnell, 2014). Image courtesy of Big Other Films. More info

Volume 31.2 is available at Duke University Press. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.