The End of (a) Generation: A Brief Note on Jean-Luc Nancy’s Passing

Today, Jean-Luc Nancy passed from our midst.

To be sure, he had a lot to say about death, sickness, the body, faith, touch, presence, and nothingness. He also had a lot to say about language and being. He was a master of phenomenological descriptions. Jean-Luc Nancy brought in a kind of poetics into phenomenology. His readings of Maurice Blanchot, Martin Heidegger, and Geroges Battaile set him apart from our generation, which didn’t grow up reading these thinkers and breaking new ground with insight into the paths of Continental Thought.

Many of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, the founders of deconstruction, feminist theory, postmodernism, etc such as Jacques Derrida, JF Lyotard, Alain Badiou, Avital Ronell, Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, and many more thinkers (who are involved in the expansion of Critical Theory and Continental Philosophy into academia) were influenced and conversant in his work. Many of his ideas started trends in academia that, to this day, are still resonating.

He was also a major force behind the European Graduate School and one of its original founders.

There is much work to be done by Schlemiel Theory on his readings of wit and comedy as well as on his readings of smallness and faith.

Here is a piece on that very topic from our archive.

Menachem Feuer, the author of Schlemiel Theory has learned with and been mentored by Christopher Fynsk (who currently teaches at EGS and is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Aberdeen). Fynsk was very close to Jean-Luc Nancy. In many ways, these teachings of Nancy came through Fynsk’s readings of Derrida, Heidegger, Celan and others. For that reason, the power of Nancy’s thought, in some “small” way, touches Schlemiel Theory.

The important thing is to think carefully, to read slowly, to listen to the ripples of language and to experience wonder. After all, as Aristotle and Plato noted, philosophy starts with the experience of wonder, but it doesn’t end with knowledge. Nancy wanted us to experience that wonder and translate it into words that others could see, hear, and touch.

In a way, with Nancy’s passing, it is the end of a generation of thought that came out of Heidegger, Blanchot, et al (via Derrida, Kristeva, Lyotard). But it is also the end of generation; of all the thoughts, discourse, and communities that were generated out of his living presence.

But, then again, as Walter Benjamin once said, the work has an “after life” and will keep on generating things after its death. Language lives on. Although he has passed and will no longer generate any new books or ideas, his discourse will. His words will live on in those who he (metaphorically) touched.

Rest in peace, Jean-Luc Nancy.

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