Related Content

Related Overviews

Martin Heidegger (1889—1976) German philosopher

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1940—2007)

Georges Canguilhem (1904—1995)

Paul Ricoeur (1913—2005)

See all related overviews in Oxford Reference »


More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Literature
  • Literary theory and cultural studies


Show Summary Details


Jean-Luc Nancy

(b. 1940)

Quick Reference


Frenchpost-structuralist philosopher. A prolific author of books on the German Romantic tradition in philosophy, including its 20th century adherents such as Martin Heidegger.

Born in Caudéran, near Bordeaux, Nancy studied at lycées in Baden-Baden and Bergerac, before pursuing university studies in Toulouse, then the Sorbonne. At the Sorbonne, he studied with Georges Canguilhem and Paul Ricoeur, the latter directing his thesis on Hegel's philosophy of religion. After graduating from the Sorbonne he was given a position at the University of Strasbourg, where he intended to complete a doctorate in theology, though in the end he wrote on Kant. For his Doctorat d'Êtat, which he completed at Toulouse in 1987, he wrote on the problem of the experience of freedom in Kant, Schelling, and Hegel (Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard were both on the examining committee).

Often seen as fellow traveller of Jacques Derrida, the latter in fact saw Nancy as ‘postdeconstructionist’, which is a backhanded way of acknowledging the originality of his work while stipulating that deconstruction nevertheless conditions it. Nancy's work is primarily concerned to develop philosophical critiques of political concepts such as community, freedom, and indeed humanity. The principal purpose of these critiques—which is consistent with Derrida's deconstructionist project—is the identification of an ontologically ‘pure’ form of political concepts, freed from their contamination by the philosophically suspect interests of party and ideology. Purity is, however, impossible in Nancy's view because unity is impossible; for Nancy ontology is only ever a matter of fragments whose relation to one another is at best uncertain. In the years since his heart transplant, Nancy's focus has shifted away from commentaries on other thinkers towards the development of a philosophy of his own, albeit one guided by the conviction that philosophical systems are impossible. It is in this phase that he has produced what are widely regarded as his most important works: La Communauté désoeuvrée (1986), translated as The Inoperative Community (1991), Être singulier pluriel (1996), translated as Being Singular Plural (2000), and La Création du monde; ou, La Mondialisation (2002), translated as The Creation of the World or Globalization (2007). Nancy is also widely known outside of academia for his bestselling account of his heart transplant operation, L'intrus (2000) which was made into a film of the same name by Claire Denis. He has also written several books in collaboration with his University of Strasbourg colleague Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe.

Further Reading:

J. Derrida Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy (2000), translated as On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy (2005).B. Hutchens Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Philosophy (2005).I. James The Fragmentary Demand (2006).D. Sheppard et al. (eds.)On Jean-Luc Nancy: The Sense of Philosophy (1997).

Reference entries