Theory, Culture and Society 37 (7-8):355-366 (2020)

‘We are before Dante’: In this interview, held via email in March 2020 amid the massive outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jean-Luc Nancy leads us on a brief but far-reaching foray through his thought. He succeeds in providing an overview of the subjects that he has raised since the beginning of his career as a philosopher, while maintaining a focus on their pertinence for what we are currently facing in the world today. He supplements his insight that ‘we are before Dante’ with the equally remarkable conclusion: ‘Desire is what is born par excellence’. In between these two propositions, and in between the lines and words documented here – touching upon topics as diverse as the moai statues of Easter Island, the music of Schumann, Wagner, and techno, as well as the writing of Artaud, Proust, and Verlaine – we find an exciting, up-to-date treatment of the question of how to ‘deal with the world intellectually’ without, in doing so, participating in the modern claim to ‘master’ it. Instead, Nancy suggests, we ought to be attentive to what escapes us by its very principle, with philosophy, literature, and art serving as witnesses of what has always been absent from our mind, that is, the sensibility of meaning, in order to become aware that, since we are always already before and after birth, ‘we come from nowhere and everywhere’. This realization enables us to understand the political consequences that it has for our understanding of a world in metamorphosis, including for highly controversial issues such as colonialism, anti-Semitism, the far right, neo-liberalism, and other totalitarian forms that supposedly manifest a return of the myth, as well as its consequences for the insurmountability of Marx.
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DOI 10.1177/0263276420962200
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