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L'Esprit Créateur, Volume 47, Number 3, Fall 2007 , pp. 80-92 (Article)

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DOI: 10.1353/esp.2007.0052

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http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/esp/summary/v047/47.3landes.html

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Le Toucher and the Corpus of Tact:
Exploring Touch and Technicity with
Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy
Donald A. Landes

Moins de vingt ans plus tôt, on ne greffait pas, et surtout pas avec recours à la
ciclosporine, qui protège contre le rejet du greffon. Dans vingt ans, il est certain
qu’il s’agira d’une autre greffe, avec d’autres moyens. On croise une contingence
personnelle avec une contingence dans l’histoire des techniques. Plus tôt, je serais
mort, plus tard, je serais autrement survivant. Mais toujours “je” se trouve étroite-
ment serré dans un créneau de possibilités technique.1

W
HEN JACQUES DERRIDA offers a reading, we should be
reminded of his suspicion of any such endeavor that pretends to
“regarder le texte sans y toucher, sans mettre la main à l’‘objet’,
sans se risquer à y ajouter, unique chance d’entrer dans le jeu en s’y prenant
les doigts, quelque nouveau fil.”2 For in Le Toucher—Jean-Luc Nancy, Der-
rida follows and adds threads in and to Nancy’s corpus, weaving together
concepts and themes such as partes extra partes, “there is no ‘the’ X”
(Nancean deconstruction), and exscription. Derrida risks reading Nancy
alongside the tradition of which the latter’s texts can be nothing other than an
interruption, for according to Nancy, even a corpus resists unification and
essential taxonomies.
Yet despite Derrida’s discussion of the paradoxical logic of touch as both
the foundational and the most aporetic sense, or his exploration of Nancy’s
deconstruction of Christianity and Western haptocentrism, Derrida does not
engage with Nancy’s explicit reflections on touch developed in “Pourquoi y
a-t-il plusieurs arts, et non pas un seul?” in Les Muses.3 Confessing in an
extended aside that this collection of Nancy’s essays on aesthetics “revient
avec force sur la question du toucher et du ‘primat du toucher’,” Derrida
nonetheless limits his inquiry to only those texts appearing prior to 1993.4 A
close reading, however, of Nancy’s rethinking of touch in the mentioned essay
is essential to understand fully the question of technicity and Nancy’s distance
from phenomenology in his rejection of the immediacy of touch. Without the
supplement of Nancy’s aesthetics, it becomes difficult to recognize the sig-
nificance of Nancy’s deconstruction of the ars/technē binary and the ethical
implications of his subsequent post-deconstructive ectopic ontology of bodies
as developed in Corpus.5

© L’Esprit Créateur, Vol. 47, No. 3 (2007), pp. 80–92


DONALD A. LANDES

Touching, Technicity, and la force des Muses


After surveying traditional philosophical determinations of the plurality of
the arts, Nancy brings into question the typical separation of art from technē.
What is more intriguing, however, is Nancy’s critique of the position that the
material differences among the arts reflect the different senses these arts stimu-
late. Nancy reverses this causality, suggesting that the arts produce the differ-
ences between the senses. If one adopts the intuitive identification of the differ-
ences between the senses and the differences between the arts, Nancy observes:

on se trouve très vite conduit à un autre genre de considération: la différence des sens, c’est-à-
dire celle des cinq sens et la ou les différences supplémentaires qu’y introduit toujours un désir
de groupement et/ou de hiérarchisation, cette différence elle-même plurielle et depuis longtemps
attestée comme un  n’est peut-être, en fin compte, que le résultat d’une opération “artiste,”
ou l’artefact produit par une mise en perspective “technique” de la perception. En un mot, non
pas la sensibilité comme telle, mais la ou les distributions des sens seraient elles-mêmes les pro-
duits de l’“art.” (“Pourquoi” 25-26)

Yet despite his claim that the distribution of the senses is an effect, Nancy does
not embark on an archeological inquiry into this production, a production
which is neither ever complete nor reducible to a guiding principle. Rather,
Nancy’s inquiry attempts to establish a place between archeology and specula-
tive or phenomenological logic. Operating on a deconstructive level, he shows:
1) that the heterogeneity of the senses is not identical to the differences among
the arts; 2) that the necessity of discovering a fixed division of the senses is an
illusion of philosophy and common sense; and 3) that any division would
require a principle of reunification that would itself be arbitrary.
For a long tradition, touch has been thought of as the “paradigme, voire
comme essence des sens en général” (“Pourquoi” 27), and yet Nancy begins
to unravel the classical division of the five senses upon which this primacy
naturally depends:

soit qu’on s’interroge sur la douleur comme sens spécifique, soit encore qu’avec la physiologie
contemporaine on déborde largement les cinq sens pour envisager, au-delà des sensibles com-
muns d’Aristote, les sens de l’accélération ou de la tension d’organes, et que par ailleurs, pour
embrasser l’ensemble du règne animal, on envisage des distributions par “mécanorécepteurs”
(pression, contact, vibration, étirement, etc.), “thermorécepteurs,” “photorécepteurs,” “chimio-
récepteurs,” “électrorécepteurs,” ou bien encore, selon d’autre critères, par “extétorécepteurs,”
“propriorécepteurs” (actions du corps sur lui-même), “intérorécepteurs” (digestions, pression
artérielle, sensations urogénitales, etc.). (“Pourquoi” 27)

Although the usefulness of a taxonomy of the senses—whether they be five


or any finite and essentially defined fixed distribution—becomes question-

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L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR

able, the “receptive” quality of this list perhaps suggests that touch retains
something of its traditional essential status.
In pursuing a different model and taking a cue from Freud, Nancy con-
siders the contingent and flexible nature of erogenous zones. Rather than
focusing on the function or object of a particular sense, the motif of the sen-
suous “zone” allows Nancy to stress the quasi-heterogeneity and discreteness
of “zones” emerging from their self-touching and touching each other. We
find Nancy hinting that “touch,” though not in a classical sense, is going to
ground the sensuous as such:

Or le toucher […] n’est pas autre chose, pour toute la tradition, que “le sens du corps tout entier,”
comme le dit Lucrèce. […] Mais le toucher lui-même, en tant que sens et par conséquent en tant
qu’il se sent sentir, et plus encore, en tant qu’il se sent se sentir, puisqu’il ne touche qu’en se
touchant aussi lui-même, touché par ce qu’il touche et parce qu’il le touche, le toucher présente
le moment propre de l’extériorité sensible, il le présente comme tel et comme sensible. […] Le
toucher fait corps avec le sentir, ou il fait des sentirs un corps, il n’est que le corpus des sens.
(“Pourquoi” 34-36)

Touch presents both the proper moment of sensuous exteriority and the indi-
viduation of each sense. By playing across the senses, touch provides the body
with the unity proper to a corpus.
Nancy thus begins to rethink the senses as zones of sensing, at root haptical,
if not immediate. Since sensing is simultaneously “sensing-oneself-sense,”
when a zone is sensing its “object,” it is also “sensing” other zones currently
being left unattended: “[c]haque sentir touche au reste du sentir comme à ce
qu’il ne peut pas sentir” (“Pourquoi” 36). There is no pure sense zone. The “set”
of sensing zones can be formulated in many ways, and art is what accomplishes
the dislocations and interruptions of the world, as it touches by means of the
“hétérogénéité principielle du ‘sentir’” (“Pourquoi” 36). Art makes or activates
a certain zoning of sensing, and in this “forced” self-touching of a zone of sens-
ing, the world is revealed in its irreducible plurality. It would be impossible to
provide a complete archeological or historical account of this production, but
without the discreteness of zones and the distancing that allows for self-touch-
ing, there would be no “world.” The plurality of the arts does not reflect a nat-
ural plurality of sense (organs), but rather an active production of a distribution
of sensing through the dislocation, isolation, and interruption of sensibility as
such. The contingent corpus of the arts is a collection of the traces of the possi-
bilities of sensing, and the passing of the worlds opened by those interruptions.
Four main consequences can be drawn from this analysis. First, art iso-
lates a zone of sensing from “l’unité vivante de la perception ou de l’action”

82 FALL 2007
DONALD A. LANDES

(“Pourquoi” 42), forcing it to se toucher, to touch itself at its proper limit


where it no longer is the sense that it is. The zone is not merely a set or selec-
tion of sense-data, but rather organizes a multiplicity of relations into a
“world”: “non pas ‘visuel’ ou ‘sonore’, mais, précisément, ‘pictural’ ou ‘musi-
cal’. Par exemple, de la région ‘sonore’ ou ‘auditive’ il fait un monde composé
de valeurs, de hauteurs, de gammes, de rapports harmoniques, de successions
mélodiques, de tonalités, de rythmes, de timbres, etc.” (“Pourquoi” 42). As
such, art makes a new world within the plurality of the world, and this power
is “la force des Muses: elle est à la fois de séparations, d’isolement, d’inten-
sification et de métamorphose” (“Pourquoi” 43).
Second, if this account of zoning is correct, then neither synaesthesia, as
a crossing of well-defined senses or the general condition of lived perception,
nor common sense, as the unification of the senses through common objects,
can explain the multiple shades and pulsations of sensing. Rather, art causes
common sense to “se toucher elle-même en une infinité de points ou de
zones.” (“Pourquoi” 44). As such:

[l]a différence prolifère, non seulement entre de grands registres sensoriels, mais à travers chacun
d’eux: couleur, nuance, pâte, éclat, ombre, surface, masse, perspective, contour, geste, mouve-
ment, choc, grain, timbre, rythme, saveur, parfum, dispersion, résonance, trait, duction, diction,
articulation, jeu, coupe, longueur, profondeur, instant, durée, vitesse, dureté, épaisseur, vapeur,
vibrations, tournure, émanation, pénétration, effleurement, tension, thème et variation, et cætera,
c’est-à-dire à l’infini des touches démultipliées. (“Pourquoi” 44)6

In the isolation and folding of zones of sensing, we discover a proliferation of


difference that is irreducible to the continuity of synaesthesia or to the unity
of common sense.
Third, all zones “se promettent la communication de leurs interrup-
tions, chacun fait toucher à la différence de l’autre (d’un autre ou de
plusieurs autres, et virtuellement de tous, mais d’une totalité sans totalisa-
tion)” (“Pourquoi” 45). The communication involved takes place as a
“response,” and thus each zone “[a] lieu dans l’élément du hors-de-soi,
d’une ex-position de l’existence” (“Pourquoi” 46). We find Nancy sug-
gesting a rhythm of the “coming and going” of presence—art is the forced
syncopation of the sensible as such. The general rhythm of the sensuous is
affected as every other element answers the call. The “players” adjust to
each other, and the ensemble manages to communicate and play together
across the incommunicable.
Finally, we find art to be first and foremost technical. The arts do not just
rely upon a basic technicity, they install the technical, and thus are insepara-

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L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR

ble from the very essence of technics. This co-implication emerges as Nancy’s
deconstruction of the ars/technē binary:

La technique, c’est de savoir s’y prendre pour produire ce qui ne se produit pas de soi-même. La
technique est un écart et un délai, peut-être infinis, du producteur au produit, et ainsi du produc-
teur à lui-même. C’est la production dans l’extériorité à soi et dans la discrétion de ses opérations
et de ses objets. À ce compte, le singulier pluriel de l’art s’étend aussi bien à l’incessante démul-
tiplication de la décision technique de l’artiste. (“Pourquoi” 49)

The mediation and multiplicity of techniques is the essence of technicity


and the root of the haptical zoning of sensibility as such. But there is no
one technique, no unity or form of the technical.7 As production itself, the
production of the non-self-produced, technicity is a ground that is neither
ultimate nor solid, but a ground paradoxically at the whim of the technics
of its own production. The zoning of sensing reveals that each spacing
or opening of a world implies an innumerable multiplicity of worlds, het-
erogeneous and discrete, and yet in communication across the incommuni-
cable that divides them. Touch is not one sense among the five, nor (in any
classical sense) the ground of the other four senses. Nancy’s analysis
instead reveals zones self-touching and touching each other in a dis-loca-
tion and spacing of sensibility as such that opens the cascading production
of the plurality of worlds.

Touching Bodies: Nancy’s Tactile Corpus


Nancy’s rethinking of the senses as zonal suggests the possibility of non-
classical configurations of sensibility as such, and this possibility brings
together the notions of corps and corpus, as in a passage quoted above: “Le
toucher fait corps avec le sentir, ou il fait des sentirs un corps, il n’est que le
corpus des sens” (“Pourquoi” 36). Inevitably, this raises the question of the
body and its materiality, and thus leads us to the “Corpus du tact” (Corpus 82)
at the heart of Nancy’s material ontology. Since we are denied the unification
of essential taxonomies, we might think of corpus in a literary sense: a col-
lection of the various contributions of a singularity, not unified by an inten-
tional self-aware cogito, but produced as the loose collection of the traces of
a lifetime. The moments of this corpus “communicate,” but are not reducible
to a single pure voice. They rethink each other in a paradoxical temporal
logic, touching each other at their limits, each coming as a reconfiguration of
the whole, while remaining discrete heterogeneous events in the field. Per-
haps the concept corpus offers a post-deconstructive strategy for understand-
ing experience, bodies, and subjectivity.

84 FALL 2007
DONALD A. LANDES

The text Corpus involves a rejection of the unity required by discourse. A


corpus of the body, for instance, would be a passive recording or collection of
“des entrées du corps: entrées de dictionnaire, entrées de langue, entrées ency-
clopédiques, tous les topoi par où introduire le corps, les registres de tous ses
articles, l’index de ses places, postures, plans et replis” (Corpus 50). In a
corpus of impenetrable bodies (partes extra partes), there is “nothing to dis-
course about, nothing to communicate. A community of bodies” (Corpus,
Eng. 190). Nancy is offering a new dislocated locus for philosophy—phe-
nomenology would seem to fall silent without the “immanence to” that is
capable of isolating the object of inquiry and defining the scope of evidence.8
And with another partial yet interminable list, Nancy begins this registry:
“pied, ventre, bouche, ongle, plaie, frapper, sperme, sein, tatouage, mange,
nerf, toucher, genou, fatigue...” (Corpus 52).
In this early formulation of his deconstruction of Christianity, Nancy
identifies the existing “philosophical-theological corpus of bodies” (Corpus,
Eng. 192): the “glorious-body” (image of God); the “cave-body” (Plato’s
prison for the soul); the “body-proper” of phenomenology; the “body-
machine” (perhaps Descartes, perhaps the medical-body, and interesting in
that the future of the body-writing-Corpus would one day be in a position to
write L’Intrus). Resting on forms of representation or the projection of sense,
these body-discourses are attempts to establish a normative or dominant
account, usurping the corpus and making the body the site of a contradiction:
“Le corps signifiant—tout le corpus des corps philosophiques, théologiques,
psychanalytiques et sémiologiques—n’incarne qu’une chose: l’absolue con-
tradiction de ne pas pouvoir être corps sans l’être d’un esprit, qui le désin-
corpore” (Corpus 62).
In finding sense shared immanently between bodies, Nancy begins to shift
his language from the body to bodies:

Body is the total signifier, for everything has a body, or everything is a body […] and body is the
last signifier, the limit of the signifier, if what it says […] is nothing other than the interlacing,
the mixing of bodies with bodies, mixing everywhere, and everywhere manifesting this other
absence of name, named “God,” everywhere producing and reproducing and everywhere absorb-
ing the sense of sense and of all the senses, infinitely mixing the impenetrable with the impene-
trable. (Corpus, Eng. 195)9

Yet although Nancy rejects discourses that find the value of the body in its sig-
nification or projection of sense, he is certainly not proffering a completely
reductive materialism. Addressing this opposite danger, and foreshadowing
his political use of ecotechnics,10 Nancy recognizes that the practices of

VOL. 47, NO. 3 85


L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR

modern war, torture, capitalism, and subjugation are forms of violently reduc-
ing bodies to the merely partes extra partes:

It is the deported, massacred, tortured bodies, exterminated by the millions, piled up in charnel
houses. Here too, the body loses its form and its sense—and sense has lost all body. These bodies
are not even signs any longer, nor are they at the origin of any sign. These bodies are no longer
bodies, spiritualized into smoke, as an exact reversal of, and response to those who evaporate into
spirit. Similar, even though different, are the bodies of misery, the bodies of starvation, battered
bodies, prostituted bodies, mangled bodies, infected bodies, as well as bloated bodies, bodies that
are too well nourished, too “body-built,” too erotic, too orgasmic. (Corpus, Eng. 195)11

This interminable list is of bodies sacrificed to nothing. Nancy’s engage-


ment with Elaine Scarry’s work on the disarticulation of the world of the
tortured body,12 the “dissolution of the world, de-creation of the created
world,” calls for us to rethink the created world that can suffer this de-
creation as nothing other than a “world of bodies, a world in which bodies
come to presence. That is, a world in which bodies are the bodies they are”
(Corpus, Eng. 196).13
Nancy poses the question: What is the space opened up between our 6 bil-
lion bodies? “Humanity is becoming tangible, and also tangible in its inhu-
manity” (Corpus, Eng. 196).14 And yet, “[t]out est possible. Les corps résis-
tent, dures partes extra partes. La communauté des corps résiste” (Corpus
73). Bodies are always calling again for their birth as the bodies they are, not
grace, but merely le partage des corps:

Non plus des corps employés à faire du sens, mais du sens qui donne et qui partage des corps.
Non plus le pillage sémiologique, symptomatologique, mythologique et phénoménologique des
corps, mais de la pensée, de l’écriture livrées, adonnées aux corps. L’écriture d’un corpus en tant
que partage des corps, partageant leur être-corps. (Corpus 73)

This corpus will not be a normative prescription for bodies, but a passive reg-
istration of the configurations of bodies, which are “first to be touched. Bodies
are first masses, masses offered without anything to articulate, without any-
thing to discourse about, without anything to add to them” (Corpus, Eng.
197). Although Nancy seems to be precluding any discourse resting on the
essential dignity or value of bodies as a rhetorical weapon against oppression
and torture, he is also removing the scapegoat of an elsewhere of sense that
would justify suffering or sacrifice. If Nancy is correct, then the real suffering
of bodies cannot be explained away, but demands a response even more insis-
tently. The difficult starting point for an ethics post-deconstruction must be
the complicated nature of the corpus of bodies.

86 FALL 2007
DONALD A. LANDES

Beyond his deconstruction of sense and Christianity, Nancy begins the


registration of bodies through the very weight and weighing of their inter-
relations, what he calls the corpus du tact: “effleurer, frôler, presser, enfoncer,
serrer, lisser, gratter, frotter, caresser, palper, tâter, pétrir, masser, enlacer,
étreindre, frapper, pincer, mordre, sucer, mouiller, tenir, lâcher, lécher, bran-
ler, regarder, écouter, flairer, goûter, éviter, baiser, bercer, balancer, porter,
peser…” (Corpus 82). Body is “first the experience of its own weight”
(Corpus, Eng. 200), and so the question of consciousness or interiority must
be continually displaced. There is no “concentration” of spirit or experience
in the body, but the body is the “ex-centration of existence. Existence does not
presuppose itself and does not presuppose anything: it is posited, imposed,
weighed, laid down, exposed” (Corpus, Eng. 200). And weight and touch are
reconnected in the quasi-metaphysics of Corpus:

Le corps jouit d’être touché. Il jouit d’être pressé, pesé, pensé des autres corps, et d’être cela qui
presse, et pèse, et pense les autres corps. Les corps jouissent et sont jouis des corps. Corps,
c’est-à-dire aréoles retirées, partes extra partes, de la totalité indivise qui n’existe pas. Corps
jouissable parce que retiré, étendu à l’écart et ainsi offert au toucher. (Corpus 102)

Nancy continued this thought in the English version as follows: “Touching


one another with their mutual weights, bodies do not become undone, nor do
they dissolve into other bodies, nor do they fuse with a spirit—this is what
makes them, properly speaking, bodies” (Corpus, Eng. 203). Through this
connection between touch, bodies, and weight, Nancy opens the possibility of
an open ontology that is always in motion:

Nothing ever becomes the sum or the system of the corpus. A lip, a finger, a breast, a strand of
hair are the temporary and agitated whole of a joy that is each time temporary, agitated, in a hurry
to enjoy again and elsewhere. This elsewhere is all over the body, in the corpus of the parts of all
the body, in the body of all the parts, and in all other bodies, which each can be a part for another,
in an indefinitely ectopic corpus. (Corpus, Eng. 203)

The indefinitely ectopic corpus, infinitely displaced, refuses a center of unifi-


cation or a total account of its parts. As a consequence, “Il n’y a pas ‘le’ corps,
il n’y a pas ‘le’ toucher, il n’y a pas ‘la’ res extensa. Il y a qu’il y a: création
du monde, techné des corps, pesée sans limites du sens, corpus
topographique, géographie des ectopies multipliées—et pas d’u-topie”
(Corpus 104). Just as the senses were interruptions in sensibility as such, self-
touching zones touching all others as that which they are not, bodies are
moments of materiality as such, interruptions in the continuity of being, self-
touching and in communication in an open quasi-metaphysics of bodies.

VOL. 47, NO. 3 87


L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR

Le Toucher—Jean-Luc Nancy
We have now seen the importance of establishing Nancy’s thinking of
touch for properly delineating his concurrently developed material ontology.
Touch, in its non-classical sense, initiates a rethinking of the senses and of
bodies. Yet Derrida’s silence on Nancy’s specific analysis of touch explored
above does not render his reading obsolete. It does, however, lead him to stay
on the level of Nancy’s paradoxical logic rather than reaching the insights
Nancy offers for the post-deconstructive exploration of experience and sense
in a shared materiality. The value of Derrida’s text is his emphasis on exteri-
ority (without interiority) and his placing Nancy into conversation with the
tradition. Thus, let me draw out Derrida’s analysis of interiority/exteriority
(and the paradoxical logic of tact) and his own “Nancean” deconstruction of
phenomenology. As we shall see, Nancy’s rethinking of aesthetics through
technicity and the zoning of sensing and sensibility as such is an essential sup-
plement to the deconstruction of phenomenological immediacy.
Derrida begins by exploring Nancy’s repeated use of one of Freud’s
posthumously published notes, “Psyche ist ausgedehnt, weiss nicht davon.”
Psyche is stretched out, out-stretched, extended, and yet she knows nothing of
it (Le Toucher 21-31). This introduces Derrida’s understanding of exteriority
in Nancy, through Psyche’s impassiveness:

Cette impassibilité ne tient pas seulement à l’extériorité pure de son être. Elle ne tient pas seule-
ment au dehors absolu où elle se tient: “tout est au dehors d’un autre dehors,” dit-il, formule d’un
pli qu’il faut prendre en compte: l’être au-dehors d’un autre dehors forme la pliure d’un devenir-
dedans du premier dehors, etc. D’où, en raison de ce pliage, les effets d’intériorité d’une struc-
ture qui n’est constituée que de surfaces et de dehors sans dedans. (Le Toucher 26)

Even though the notions of folding and interiority effects do not occupy many
of Derrida’s pages, he recognizes that if “everything is outside another out-
side,” then partes extra partes is the condition of the technical relations
between bodies. As Derrida rightly suggests, Nancy’s reflections on Psyche
and technical mediation resist any tradition that pretends to discover a pure
interiority properly prepared by incarnation, while “la technè des corps, l’éco-
technie ou l’intrusion de L’Intrus” are the Nancean corpus of responses to this
tradition (Le Toucher 31).
Through his exploration of the paradoxical logic of touch and the Law of
tact, Derrida begins to reveal why touch has perplexed the tradition, a tradi-
tion that cannot decide if touch is a proper sense or the foundation of the
senses. The law or the commandment comes to be both “conjunctive and dis-
junctive,” that is, it brings into touch whatever it commands not to touch. Lan-

88 FALL 2007
DONALD A. LANDES

guage finds itself contorted in the shadow of the law of tact, for “il est certes
toujours possible de produire et de reproduire sans peine ces formules para-
doxales.” Derrida goes on to explain as follows:

Par Loi, avant toute autre détermination (religieuse, éthique, juridique ou autre), nous entendons
ici le commandement, à savoir l’interruption du contact ou de la continuité avec ce qu’on a appris
à appeler “nature.” Or on ne peut parler de tact (par exemple), et de contact sans contact, que là
où une loi vient dicter ou prescrire, enjoindre ce qui n’est pas (naturel). Et cela se produit dans la
“nature,” bien avant l’homme, toujours avant la distinction entre des étants et des vivants. (Le
Toucher 83-84)

The continuity of what we will later call nature is broken by the law, and this
tactfulness is a know-how that is born in this nature that never existed.
Nancy’s rethinking of the zoning of sensing explored above sustains this
paradoxical logic, for touch is the interruption of the continuity of being that
only is after it has been interrupted. Since this logic resists unification, we must
always return to “le ‘qui’ et le ‘quoi,’ le touchant ou le touché […]. Il n’y a pas
d’abord le toucher, et ensuite des modifications secondaires” (Le Toucher 84).
Rather than a phenomenology of touch, we ought to remain in pursuit of a
corpus of touch, never closing off the passive recording of its entries, which
are the proliferation of self-touching and folding that produce such important
effects. Indeed, even though Nancy seems to be speaking to us about experi-
ence, and “peut-être de l’expérience en général” (Le Toucher 129), this is nei-
ther the constituting nor passive experience of individual consciousness. To
self-touch is to feel oneself touching, to touch oneself at one’s own limit, and
“l’expérience en général commencerait par là: elle commencerait à se sentir
toucher une limite, à se sentir touchée par une limite, et sa propre limite” (Le
Toucher 129). Experience becomes a placeholder for the relations between
self-touching bodies touching each other in the ectopic corpus.
Self-touching, which immediately suggests the impropriety of masturba-
tion, “se toucher le sexe” (Le Toucher 129), is to lose both the proper object
and the propriety of touch, to lose the proper at the moment of touching what
is most proper, le corps propre:

Et sur le fond sans fond de cette originarité sans âge, c’est l’histoire césurée des événements, des
irruptions, des mutations sans mesure, sans commune mesure, les singularités incommensurables
dont nous parlons depuis le début. Mais plus jamais l’intrusion dite “technique” de l’autre, l’éco-
technie des autres corps ne se laissera réduire. (Le Toucher 131)

Touch, or the partage des corps, is experience in general, an endless play of


haptical isolations and incommunicable communications, an endless intrusion

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of the technical relations of the body in its being shared, and a passive record-
ing of these contingent events of the production of experience in the interrup-
tion and spacing of technical mediation.
The importance of Nancy’s exploration of the technical becomes clear if
we consider Derrida’s consideration of immediacy:

elles éclatent de rire, ces singularités, sur une limite. Mais cette limite-ci fait se toucher le toucher
et les autres sens, confirmant ainsi le privilège quasi transcendantal du tact, en vérité de l’espace-
ment. Et de l’espacement comme ce qui donne lieu à la tekhnè et au substitut prothétique. Car le
contact alors n’opère ni fusion, ni identification, ni même contiguïté immédiate. Nous devons une
fois de plus dissocier le toucher de ce que le sens commun et le sens philosophique lui accordent
toujours, comme l’évidence même, comme le premier axiome d’une phénoménologie du toucher,
à savoir l’immédiateté. (Le Toucher 137)

Rejecting the first axiom of a phenomenology of touch amounts to rethinking


phenomenology altogether. Bodies are related to other bodies, and even to
themselves in self-touching, through a folding back that implies this quasi-
transcendental of mediation, which is touch itself. In the midst of the decon-
struction of Husserl’s understanding of touch in Ideas II, Derrida suggests that
even the most “solipsistic” reduction of phenomenology finds that it must
pass through the other, and thus through the “technical,” in order to secure its
illusory pure interiority. In phenomenology,

cette expérience n’est pas déjà hantée, au moins, mais constitutivement hantée, par quelque
hétéro-affection liée à l’espacement, puis à la spatialité visible […] ne faut-il pas distinguer plutôt
entre plusieurs types d’auto-hétéro-affection sans aucune auto-affection pure, purement propre,
immédiate, intuitive, vivante et psychique? Il y aurait sans doute des “effets” d’auto-affection
mais leur analyse ne peut pas, nous semble-t-il, esquiver l’hétéro-affection qui les rend possible
et continue de les hanter même là où cette hétéro-affection en général (celle qui vient de la chose
transcendante ou de l’autre vivant) semble s’effacer. (Le Toucher 205-06)

This deconstruction of the “reification” of auto-affection is the heart of both


Nancy’s rejection of phenomenology and his deconstruction of Christianity. If
we follow Derrida in drawing together Nancy’s deconstructive gestures into
the logic of “there is no the X,” then the role of recognizing the seemingly
transcendent or universal as merely the produced effects of some spacing pro-
vides a link from Derrida’s understanding of Nancy’s Corpus to Nancy’s own
particular exploration of touch.
Nancy’s general haptology (or the ectopic Corpus, or the proliferation of
differences between sensing zones, or the paradoxical logic of tact) would be
grounded not on the classical sense of touch, but on a sense of the tactile as it
comes to suggest the technical or mediated relations between bodies and the

90 FALL 2007
DONALD A. LANDES

senses as the contingent interruptions of contact and continuity. Thus,


although Derrida arrives at the rejection of immediacy through a deconstruc-
tion of phenomenology, this rejection also follows from Nancy’s analysis of
touch and the installation of the technical in the tactile. As Derrida phrases it:

La constitution du corps propre ainsi décrite supposerait déjà le passage par le dehors et par
l’autre […] et par “l’écotechnie” et par la “techné des corps.” Elle supposerait l’interruption en
général, un espacement d’avant la distinction entre plusieurs espaces, entre “déploiement ou
propagation” psychique (Ausbreitung, Hinbreitung) et extensio de la chose réale. On devrait alors
réintroduire tout ce que cette réduction phénoménologique à la sphère d’appartenance pure du
corps propre “solipsiste” tente de maintenir au-dehors, le dehors même, l’autre, l’inanimé, la
“réalité matérielle”—et la mort, le non-vivant, le non-psychique en général, le langage, la rhé-
torique, la techniqe, etc. (Le Toucher 206)

Perhaps this notion of a general haptology, an ecotechnics of bodies that is not


related to an elsewhere of sense or a pure interiority but is rather sense shar-
ing bodies, brings us back to the folds. The auto-affection that grounds phe-
nomenological inquiry is constitutively haunted and invaded by all that the
phenomenological reduction tries to bracket. What is needed is an ontology of
bodies open to the production of experience as the interruption of the conti-
nuity of sensibility, and as such, the passive recording of the ectopic corpus of
tact and its many folds.

By returning to Nancy’s rethinking of touch as it develops in the context


of his aesthetics, we have been able to understand better the logic underlying
his deconstruction of the haptocentric tradition, and specifically the technical
mediation he discovers located in the very moment of the production of expe-
rience. Further, the structure of the self-touching zones of sensing, and their
role of interruption and isolation, reemerges in Nancy’s ectopic ontology. This
emphasis on touch and the real bodies coming in and out of technical relations
refuses to let us keep aesthetics, ontology, and ethics on separate registers, and
puts us in a position to take Derrida’s contribution as having more than merely
academic scope. With Derrida’s emphasis on the interiority effects and his
recognition of Nancy’s interruption of the Western tradition, the ethical impli-
cation of Nancean aesthetics and of deconstruction begins to emerge.
Let me return to the epigraph of this article, drawn from L’Intrus, where
Nancy reflects on the contingent and technical elements of the survival of his
own body in light of his heart transplant surgery. The technē of bodies is in no
way an abstract metaphysics, but a real attempt to think the crossing of the
contingent personal, local, and global histories of bodies. As such, mediation
and technicity emerge from aesthetics and ontology as a call for an ethics after

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L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR

the deconstruction of Christianity and phenomenology. The “je” of the pas-


sage is an effect of the proliferation of these differences, an effect tightly
woven into the crevice or gap of technical possibilities. This “je” is an effect
of the contingent and elusive play of the interruptions and mediations of
bodies-sharing-meaning. There is no “the” je, there is only thinking, healing,
hurting, underestimating, relief, sensing, surviving, sleeping, wanting. . . , an
interminable and open list of the ectopic corpus.15

State University of New York at Stony Brook

Notes

1. Jean-Luc Nancy, L’Intrus (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2000), 14.


2. Jacques Derrida, La Dissémination (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1972), 71.
3. Jean-Luc Nancy, “Pourquoi y a-t-il plusieurs arts, en non pas un seul?,” Les Muses (Paris:
Éditions Galilée, 2001), 9-70.
4. Jacques Derrida, Le Toucher—Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2000), 63.
5. Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus (Paris: Éditions Métailié 2000), 78. Although an earlier version of
this text was published in 1992, an English essay of the same name (originally presented in
1990) appears as Jean-Luc Nancy, “Corpus,” The Birth to Presence, Claudette Sartiliot,
trans. (Stanford: Stanford U P, 1993). Entire passages from the English text appear in the
French text, but the French text is a more developed statement of Nancy’s understanding of
bodies in relation to his deconstruction of Christianity. All quotations in French are from the
French text, and I occasionally quote the English text when materials there are helpful but
omitted, greatly altered, or not located by this author in the French text.
6. Nancy is a master of these registries of bodies or ectopic experiences. This particular list
continues ad infinitum, as Nancy clearly intends for them all (even though occasionally we
find a typographical period rather than suspension points. . .). The importance of this prac-
tice of registration will be explored below in relation to the concept corpus.
7. Although it would be impossible to explicate fully Nancy’s particular deconstructive ges-
tures, it might be noted that this logic of “there is no the X” can be discovered in many
places in his texts. This practice allows Nancy to make quasi-ontological claims as to the
“essence” of things while continuing to operate in a post-deconstructive and hence open
metaphysics. For Derrida’s analysis and suspicion of this Nancean deconstruction, see Der-
rida, Le Toucher, 322-25.
8. This mirrors the logic behind what Leonard Lawlor identifies as Gilles Deleuze’s challenge
(to a phenomenology) of immanence. See Leonard Lawlor, “The End of Phenomenology:
Expressionism in Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze,” Thinking Through French Philosophy: The
Being of the Question (Bloomington: Indiana U P, 2003), 80-83, and passim.
9. Similar passages can be found at Nancy, Corpus, 66.
10. It would be important to sort out the political and the quasi metaphysical uses of ecotech-
nics in Nancy’s work, a project important for avoiding a misreading of Nancy that collapses
his project into phenomenological technoscience or Heideggerian reflections on technology.
This, however, is beyond the scope of the present text.
11. Similar passages can be found at Nancy, Corpus, 68-69.
12. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford
U P, 1985).
13. Similar passages can be found at Nancy, Corpus, 77-78.
14. Similar passages can be found at Nancy, Corpus, 72-73.
15. I would like to thank Hugh J. Silverman for comments on an earlier version of this paper, and
the Social Studies and Humanities Research Council of Canada for their continued support.

92 FALL 2007