On Open Community: Nancy, Laruelle and the un-determination of the real

— by Ian James

Jean-Luc Nancy is one of the most important and indispensable contemporary thinkers of community and without any doubt one of the most important thinkers of human co-existence after Heidegger. His collaboration with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe around the relation of the philosophical to the political in the early 1980s is decisive, as is the work that emerged from this collaboration in 1986: La Communauté désoeuvrée, translated into English in 1991 as The Inoperative Community.1 Of all Nancy’s books this work has perhaps proved to be one of his most influential and controversial texts and has enjoyed a rich afterlife, most notably in the context of the response given by Maurice Blanchot in 1983 in The Unavowable Community and two subsequent texts by Nancy which in turn respond to Blanchot, The Confronted Community from 2001 and The Disavowed Community from 2014. The debate opened up between Nancy and Blanchot is at once highly subtle or nuanced and highly specific to the intellectual and political trajectories of both Blanchot himself and of their shared interlocutor Georges Bataille in the years before and after the Second World War.

The detailed ins and outs of the Blanchot-Nancy debate will are beyond the scope of this discussion and have been the subject of quite extensive debate amongst the readers and scholars of both thinkers.2 Yet Nancy’s reflections on this debate in 2014 in The Disavowed Community offer a very clear schematic outline of what is at stake philosophically and politically in his thinking of community. At the very centre of his formulations on human co-existence “after Heidegger” is the fairly straightforward recognition of “the common character of our existence in which we are not distinct atoms but rather exist in accordance with the relation, ensemble and sharing, in which discrete entities (individuals, persons) are only as facets or punctuations.”3 Put simply: relational, shared existence precedes any separation or individuation into discrete entities or identities on the level of either the individual or the collective. This thought is derived primarily from Nancy’s radicalization of Heideggerian Mitsein and his engagement with the Bataillian thinking of shared finitude that was presented in The Inoperative Community in 1986. However, it also has its roots in the anti-foundationalist readings of Kant and of Kantian reason that are developed in his deconstructive commentaries of the 1970s and most pre-eminently in his pivotal work published in 1988, The Experience of Freedom, a work which opens the way for the mature thinking of being-with, co-existence and ontological sharing which is developed in the 1990s in texts such as The Compearance, The Sense of the World and Being Singular Plural.

So what we have here in Nancy’s philosophy of co-existence is a relational ontology or thinking of being-with which arises out of his deconstruction of traditional forms of metaphysics, the metaphysics of reason, of substance and of presence, and which arises also out of the specific articulation of the limits of philosophy that accompanies this deconstruction. In Nancy’s thinking we have a fundamental experience of ontological groundlessness and of a singular plural existence which lies in excess of philosophical and ontological disclosure or foundation. To this extent his ontology must always be seen as a quasi-ontology of excess and not as a philosophical discourse which is able to circumscribe being or secure any foundation or ground for being as such. And as such the question of being-with or of finite co-existence in Nancy also by definition exceeds “all politics, ecclesiology, nationalism, or communitarianism, as well as all types of solidarity, mutual assistance, or collective care.”4

It is in this sense that we need to understand the conceptual force of “unworking” or “inoperativity” [désoeuvrement] in Nancy’s discourse on community. For, as an excess over philosophical disclosure or grounding, being-with, co-existence or ontological community cannot be “put to work” or be made operative as the founding principle of a political project, of any ecclesiology as Nancy says, or any nationalism, communalism, or any ethics or politics of solidarity. In a manner which engages all of his thinking in the wake of transcendentalism, speculative idealism and phenomenology, and his deconstructive readings of Kant, Hegel and Heidegger in particular, Nancy affirms that finite shared existence, as unworked and unworkable in philosophical conceptuality, cannot be put in the service of, or assimilated as a founding principle for, a determinate politics or political project. “Unworking,” “inoperativity” or “désoeuvrement” designates, Nancy writes,

“the movement of the work which opens it beyond itself, which does not leave it to accomplish itself in the sense of completion but which opens it to the absenting of its sense or of sense in general. Unworking is that through which the work does not belong to the order of the achieved or the unachieved; it lacks nothing while being nothing accomplished.”

This understanding of unworking is consistent with Nancy’s thinking of finite shared existence as always fragmentary and disseminated in the singular plural sharing of that existence itself. Shared, finite existence therefore always radically exceeds the logic of accomplishment or fulfilled sense and meaning that political activity, projects and programmes will necessarily seek to attain. One of the conclusions Nancy comes to in The Disavowed Community, at the end of his long debate with Blanchot, is that “‘Politics’ for us has become a much less graspable term and motif than we have been led to believe.”6 Given the difficulty of transition between philosophy and politics that has been one of Nancy’s central preoccupations of his writing since the early 1980s, the very sense or meaning of the term politics itself has become refractory and opaque. This is because, since Plato perhaps, and more predominantly throughout the modern period, politics has arguably always in one way or another appealed to philosophy in order to acquire legitimation, direction and determinate meaning. Nancy’s thinking of being-with, of relational ontology or of finite shared co-existence leads him to conclude in 2014: “Any ontology that cannot be traced back to relation prior to being is too limited. And all politics that seeks to found itself ontologically is too much.”7

So Nancy offers a powerful thinking of ontological community or of finite co-existence. It describes a fundamental but irreducibly excessive order of relationality which articulates all being or existence as interdependent, interconnected, and co-implicated prior to its constitution in individual entities or identities. This is in no way to deny the specificities of individuation or identity, but rather to indicate that identity is never self-sufficient, autonomously self-creating, substantial or essential. Rather it is without foundation or ontological ground, and only co-constituted in and through relationality and through the multiple connectivity or contact of singularities exposed each to the other in their most fundamental existence as singularities. One might think that such a philosophically cogent idea would be a powerful resource for the renewal of politics in the wake of a certain historical failure of Marxism, say, and in the face of what appears to be an ongoing crisis or possible collapse of political, economic and social liberalism, with all its philosophical underpinning in an, arguably delusional, metaphysics of the individual rational subject and in the figure of the self-interestedly calculative homo economicus. This cogent philosophical idea of co-existence should be a powerful resource also in combatting the resurgence of post-secular political identities, of nationalism, nativism or exclusive and exclusionary communalism. Yet with this opportunity of renewing, politics in its most fundamental conception also comes up against a fundamental problem: such a thinking, however powerful, cannot, for Nancy, be made into, or put in the service of, a specific politics or political programme. In terms of political effectivity it appears to be entirely powerless.

That this is necessarily the case is open to question of course. Despite Nancy’s comments cited above, his ontology of shared finite existence might appear easily to yield, or perhaps even to demand, a politics and a political project which would speak and act in the name of unworked community. A return to the text which opens this debate, The Inoperative Community, and specifically a return to the question of immanence such as it is posed there, reveals that the passage from ontology to politics in Nancy is, as he so often insists, far from straightforward.

Nancy’s argument in The Inoperative Community turns around the idea that in both the concept and the experience of community itself, what is traditionally at stake is the immanence, or indwelling, of the human with the human, that is to say the sharing of an identity or essence in a communal fusion. It is the real or total instantiation of that essence or identity in a fusional existence which leaves no remainder or vestige of otherness and alterity. Thus Nancy writes that it is “precisely the immanence of man to man, taken absolutely, considered as the immanent being par excellence, that constitutes the stumbling block to a thinking of community.”8 Whenever we think of a particular community it is on the basis of the way in which the humans that make it up can be said to be immanent to each other, and, in this, accomplishing a figure or identity of the human per se. This conception or experience of community is brought to its apotheosis when, in humanism, we come to think of all of humanity as forming a community on a universal level. And, Nancy argues, the idea of community has been brought to an apotheosis more concretely when in modern history societies have attempted to articulate themselves either as a universalist gathering of humans supposedly transcending their particularities, as has been the case with the various historical forms of communism, republicanism and liberalism, or, conversely, as a gathering of a particular national identity which is then elevated into an idealised universal, as is the case with fascism, national socialism and any other form of absolutized communalist politics.

So, put simply, the attempt to build a political project which would instantiate a community of humans, whether this be a project on the revolutionary left or right, is always bound up with a logic of effectuation; the effectuation, or making effective, of an essence or identity and with this the fulfilment of human essence. On this Nancy is very explicit. The community of humans, he writes, “presupposes that it effects, or that it must effect, as such and integrally, its own essence, which is itself the accomplishment of the essence of humanness.”9 Herein lies the risk of any politics of community per se, namely that in the effectuation of an identity or essence such a politics becomes a gesture of totalisation, one in which, as a community tries to gather itself in the production of an immanent identity, it seeks to achieve a seamless and homogeneous whole in which all that is other to that identity must be cancelled, expelled or otherwise negated.

This logic of effectuation is understood by Nancy in Hegelian terms as dialectical labour or work, a process of negation and synthesis which seeks to produce a unity, totality or absolute. In historical attempts to produce an “immanentist community,” Nancy suggests, “The presupposition remained that of a community effectuating itself in the absolute of the work, or effectuating itself as work.”10 So the language of working and unworking in Nancy, translated alternatively as operativity and inoperativity, although more immediately borrowed from Blanchot’s formulations around literature and “désoeuvrement,” is ultimately derived from the language of Hegelian dialectical thought. And it is in the context of this critique of political communitarian projects in the twentieth century on the one hand and his critical assimilation of Hegelian conceptuality on the other that Nancy diagnoses the risk and danger of the politics of community. Rightly or wrongly many French intellectuals working in the post-war period in the wake of Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger came to associate Hegelian dialectics with the inner logic of totalitarianism. Hegel, as the thinker of the absolute and of totality, the assumption went, was at best retroactively tainted by the experience of totalitarianism in the twentieth century and at worst provided the philosophical template and deep logic of legitimation for the historical emergence of totalitarian forms themselves.

The equation Nancy makes between immanentism and totalitarianism means that any and every form of project seeking to establish a political community, whether a community of abstract universal human subjects or a community based on particular national, ethnic or religious identities, runs the risk of enacting the logic of effectuation or totalization that immanentism presupposes. It is this logic of totalization which on a fundamental level is arguably the shared condition of possibility, if not the effective historical cause, both of totalitarian state formations themselves and of diverse forms of institutional or collectivised violence: the terror of the French revolution, the genocides of European diaspora settler communities, the violence of colonialism, the atrocities of Stalin, Pol Pot and others carried out in the name of communism as well as, pre-eminently no doubt, the genocide of European Jews carried out by Hitler and the Nazi regime in the name of a pure Volksgemeinschaft. Interestingly, the attempt by the neoliberal political project to saturate all social institutions and relations and all human cultures with the operations of economic calculation and exchange need not be exempt from this logic of immanentist community and its totalising or totalitarian aspiration. Nancy speaks about this in his short work The Nazi Myth, co-authored with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. To the extent that he perceives a risk that liberal societies may also seek to create themselves as an absolute production of a communal essence or identity, that of the human understood as homo economicus, he, like Hannah Arendt before him, understands very well that “totalitarian solutions may well survive the collapse of totalitarian regimes.”

So the overwhelming imperative of Nancy’s thinking of unworked or inoperative community is to try and rethink the fundamental meaning of community in such a way that it would no longer be a project of the “organic communion with its own essence.”12 Community must no longer be understood as a communal fusion and nor is it “in any general way a productive or operational project – nor is it a project at all.”13 Community in Nancy’s sense of being-with, co-existence or shared finitude cannot be objectified or made producible as such insofar as it is no more nor no less than “the presentation of finitude and of the irredeemable excess that make up finite being.”14 One might ask once again then how and whether Nancy’s thinking of co-existence can be connected with politics of any kind whatsoever.

In fact he does appear to leave some opening for a connection between ontological community or co-existence and some kind of order of the political through an appeal to the figure of experience and the notion of a shared experience of shared finitude. So, for instance, he states: “community does not arise from the domain of work. One does not produce it, one experiences or one is constituted by it as the experience of finitude.”15 What appears to be at stake here is not a logic of foundation, production, effectuation or operativity but rather something that would be other than such a logic and alignable with some as yet unspecified understanding of experience. Such an experience will not be experience as traditionally understood, as the content of a subject – all of Nancy’s deconstruction of the subject in his readings of Heidegger, Bataille, and earlier of Kant, Descartes and Lacan mitigate against the return to such a traditional figure of the subject in his thinking more broadly. The understanding of experience here is no doubt that which is elaborated at great length two years after the publication of The Inoperative Community in the 1988 work The Experience of Freedom. So in relation to this experience Nancy is quite clear: “It is not a question of making, nor of producing nor of installing a community […] it is a question of the incompletion of its sharing.”16 Rather than a logic of effectuation, production or completion the experience of community as being-with or finite co-existence must obey a logic of an open-ended and non-determined sharing which cannot be gathered into any kind of reserve or posed as any kind of foundation.

So if such an experience of community is to be understood as political or in any way compatible with politics as such, it is clear that what will emerge here is necessarily going to be rather different from politics as we understand it. Nancy goes some way to sketching out, or pointing towards, this different understanding of the political in The Inoperative Community. The political, he writes, “must not find nor recover nor make operative a community which would supposedly have been lost or which would be to come […] it must inscribe the sharing of community. The political would be the tracing of singularities, of their communication and of their ekstasis: a community consciously undergoing the experience of its sharing.”17 So on the one hand finite co-existence in Nancy cannot be put to work as the foundation for a determinate political project, for a determinate form or programme of politics. And yet on the other hand, the experience of finite co-existence as sharing, as incompletion, and as an undetermined ekstasis or opening of singular plural existence onto and as singular plural existence is political through and through. This is the problem, ambivalence or equivocation that Nancy’s thinking of community bequeaths to his readers and to all the critical thinkers, philosophers and scholars who, in the wake of this thinking, have sought to tease out its implications for politics and for its renewal or re-invigoration in the wake of anti-foundationalist thinking after Heidegger and deconstruction.

One might cite in this context key works such as Philip Armstrong’s Reticulations: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Networks of the Political. Martin Crowley’s L’Homme sans: politiques de la finitude is a work which seeks to conceive of a novel politics of finitude which would take as its imperative, or be otherwise motivated by, shared finite existence understood as such. Jean-Luc Nancy wrote an afterword to this book where he explicitly affirms once again the disjunction between ontology and politics and the imperative that one should not seek to ground the latter in the former. Crowley’s work and Nancy’s response to it provides an fine example of the ambivalence and equivocation of the thinking of finite co-existence which both appears to demand a politics of finitude and, in the very same stroke, render such a politics either impossible or deeply problematic. More recently in 2015 Irving Goh published a book inspired, in part at least, by Nancy’s thought entitled The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject. This work aims to rethink the interplay between ontological un-groundedness and politics in the context of contemporary post-secularism and in relation to Nancy’s singular plural understanding of being-with through the figure of the reject, a figure which would succeed or “come after” the subject and any foundational metaphysics of the subject.

All these books have responded brilliantly to the equivocation or ambivalence of Nancy’s thinking of community and of the political. And yet in many ways they also exacerbate the challenge of a thinking which seems to both simultaneously demand and forbid a politics which would respond to a quasi-ontology of shared finite existence that emerges in the wake of the deconstruction of philosophical and metaphysical foundations. Given Nancy’s critique of immanentism, and of traditional community as a logic of the effectuation or putting to work of an identity or essence, the passage from philosophical thinking to any kind of political project or determinate form of politics appears irrevocably blocked. This is because such a passage would transform the experience of shared finite co-existence in excess of philosophy into the operativity of a philosophical principle “put to work” as a ground or foundation for politics and thus betray the very experience of finite co-existence that it would seek to make politically effective in the first instance. The question that poses itself at this point, insistently and urgently, relates to the possibility of moving from the experience of co-existence to a determinate politics of community without passing through philosophy even if it be, as in the case of Nancy, a post-metaphysical philosophy of deconstructed foundations, a philosophical thinking at the limit of philosophy itself affirming a sense of existence which is always an excess over any order of the complete, the finished and the accomplished.

It is here that the non-philosophical thought of François Laruelle offers an original, albeit experimental, resource for taking up the challenge of rethinking and renewing a politics. As non-philosophical, however, Laruelle’s thought bypasses, or stands outside of, philosophy and the problems of foundation, effectuation, operativity, or of putting to work that philosophy brings with it. A Laruellian non-philosophical approach allows the thinking of the political, and of political community, to step outside of the logic of the production of an absolute or totalised identity that (still philosophical) immanentist community articulates.

In many ways Laruellian non-philosophy has striking similarities with Nancean thought whilst at the same time sharply differentiating itself from it. Both agree that philosophy, in Nancy’s words, “misses without fail the real of existence.”18 The conceptual operations of philosophy can never, both thinkers agree, capture the real of existence. Yet where Nancy takes philosophy up to the limit of philosophy itself, in an experience of its limits, its exhaustion of possibilities, and affirms the real of existence as an excess over philosophy, Laruelle roundly rejects this logic of limits and of excess as still all too philosophical and as being still implicated within, or recuperated by, philosophy’s aspiration to determine and conceptually master the real.

What is of key concern here in relation to Nancy’s thinking of community is Laruelle’s very different understanding of immanence. For, Laruelle, the term immanence does not describe the indwelling of the human with the human, that is to say the self-identity of human essence in a communal fusion. Rather Laruelle thinks of immanence as the radical immanence of the real or what he calls the ‘One of the real’.19 The One here, though, is precisely not a fusion or any kind of accomplished philosophical totality. The One of the real, for Laruelle, is immanent to the differentiation of all that exists, and therefore to all phenomena and instances of world or of lived life. It is that dimension which, like the Lacanian Real, is beneath or which indwells within the realm of phenomenal appearance and within all that is accessible via the transcendence of consciousness and world. At the same time the One of the real is One because it is absolutely autonomous, undivided, and indeed indivisible, and therefore in and of itself entirely indifferent and resistant to conceptual transcendence, to any possibility of its reflection into conceptual determination or representation. In Kantian terms the One could be aligned with the noumenal realm in the sense that it is inaccessible to both experience and pure understanding. Put in quasi-Hegelian terms, the One of the real, in its autonomy and indivisibility, resists, absolutely and without remainder, the labour, work or operativity of the concept; it resists all negation, splitting or scission by the dialectical operations of conceptual determination, and does so in such a way that immanence remains radically undetermined by all human categorization and cognition. The One of the real, then, is absolutely unknowable and philosophy, the operation of conceptual division and determination par excellence, cannot ever grasp the real nor touch upon it, nor affect it in any way. This Laruellian account of the real sounds very much like Nancy in The Inoperative Community when he says that philosophy “misses without fail the real of existence.”

Yet one of Laruelle’s core arguments is that philosophies of difference and alterity from Hegel onwards, through to Nietzsche and Heidegger and to their apotheosis in Levinas, Derrida, Deleuze and so on, remain deeply philosophical. The arguments once again are detailed and complex, and are rehearsed at length in Laruelle’s 1986 work Philosophies of Difference. The essence of his argument though is that philosophies of difference, insofar as they variably affirm, articulate or otherwise deconstruct being in terms of difference, of alterity, or of excess, nevertheless continue to conceptually determine being as difference, alterity or excess. They continue the work of philosophy insofar as they differentiate between the immanence of the real and the transcendence of concepts and produce an image or concept of being and existence as Other. So, for Laruelle, the language of being singular plural that one finds in Nancy, the practice of philosophy thinking at it limits and of affirming singular plural existence as an excess over those limits, is simply more philosophy. That language of excess, alterity and otherness cannot help but conceptually determine the real just like any other form of philosophy.

Laruelle’s solution to this is to articulate a series of axioms which would define a non-philosophical practice, a practice which, unlike philosophy, would not begin from a structure of thought which conceptually determines the radical immanence of the real. The foremost amongst these axioms is that the real is One, indivisible, autonomous, undetermined and indeterminable by the conceptual splitting and transcendence of philosophy. As important is the axiom that the real is the unilateral and immanent cause of all thought and concepts, of all phenomena, and all instances of worldly transcendence. This logic of unilateral causation is decisive. For the real is the immanent cause or determination of all thought and of all that is. Laruelle will say, following Marx, that the real is the determination-in-the-last-instance of all thought and all that is or can be, but that it is never determined in return by thought. It remains untouched by the transcendence of thought and therefore remains radically undetermined and indeterminate. This is the key theoretical premise of Laruelle’s non-philosophical practice: the real as One is the immanent and unilateral cause of all that is, but as such is always anterior, and entirely indifferent, to the work or labour of conceptual transcendence and determination.

How, then is this of use, in the context of Nancy’s thinking of finite co-existence and the question of how it may be articulated with a form of politics or political practice? The key point is that Laruelle treats all philosophies equally insofar as they all equally have no purchase on the real and are all just as equally determined-in-the-last-instance by the real. They are, if you like, all parts of the real without in any way being able to image, conceive or reflect the totality of the real into their own philosophical formulations. It is from within this perspective that Laruellian non-philosophical practice uses, adopts or takes up different philosophies as materials. A particular philosophy or philosophical framework is subjected by non-philosophical practice to a logic of unilateralization; it is unilataralized insofar as it is viewed as being determined or caused by the immanent real but in no way able to determine, divide or affect the real in return.

In the context of the problem of the relation of ontology to politics that has been sketched out above, Laruellian non-philosophy offers a solution of startling simplicity and force. Taking up the Nancean thinking of community as the experience of finite co-existence and then treating that experience according to the axioms of non-philosophical practice allows the whole problem of effectuation, putting to work, operativity and immanentist totalisation to be viewed in entirely different terms.

Remember that Nancy explicitly forbids any recourse to the thinking of unworked community or the ontology of shared finite existence as a foundation for a political project or practice. To do so would mean putting finite co-existence to work and making of it a project of an immanentist or fusional community, understood in Nancy’s sense, with all the risks of totalisation that such a project entails. Yet if we substitute the Nancean language of being-with as excess for the Laruellian language of the radical immanence of the real and if, in so doing, we uni-lateralize the Nancean experience of ontological community then, in an important and decisive manner, everything changes. The immanence of the real thought theoretically and non-philosophically and also experienced according to Laruellian axioms can never be put to work or rendered operative in any labour of the concept or project of thought. The possibility opened up here is that of thinking an immanently real community that is experienced immanently, prior to any philosophical logic of existence, of being or ontological excess, as the unilateral but radically undetermined and indeterminate cause of inoperative community as it is thought still philosophically by Nancy. Before or anterior to its opening as co-existence and, as Nancy would say, the trans-immanence of a shared sense of the world, community must have its immanent cause in the undetermined and indeterminate real lived as such prior to all philosophy.

It is in the name of this albeit rather strange experience of the undetermined and indeterminate lived real of community that some kind of truly global politics of community may come to articulate itself. Radical immanence in Laruelle is not the closed immanence of an effectuated identity and essence as it is in Nancy. Rather it is an open immanence. This is an immanence which must be understood axiomatically in the Laruellian manner as the real cause-in-the-last-instance of any and all opening or coming to presence of a finite shared world or worlds. It is an immanence which will never and can never be closed off by the determinations of philosophy, thought or representation. It will always be in an autonomous identity with itself and forever foreign to the identity of philosophical concepts or the positioned and positionable identities in the world as we can know it. A determined and determinate politics that acts in the name of the lived real of community understood according to Laruellian axioms does not and cannot put that real to work because such a community will remain irrevocably undetermined and indeterminate, but no less an immanent real and real cause of all that lives and comes to be in our shared world.

One might wonder at this stage why it has been necessary to travel through so much philosophical and non-philosophical thinking to get to such a bare and minimal affirmation of a politics as that which is carried out in the name of the (non-philosophically) lived immanent real of community understood (philosophically) as finite co-existence. Remember, though, that the whole thrust of Nancy’s thinking turns around the need for politics to untie itself from the illusory grounds and foundations of philosophy, identity and essence. If politics has always in one way or another been haunted by the possibility of its foundation in mythical, theological or philosophical forms then the task of separating it from such illusory foundations will be no easy thing. In Laruelle’s non-philosophical thinking the task is, precisely, to leave the illusory foundational grounds of philosophy entirely in favour of the sole real ground, that of the radically undetermined real itself. In short, and on this Nancy and Laruelle agree, politics, and so many other practices, need to cure themselves of the philosophical desire for an image, reflection or philosophical concept of the real with which they would legitimate themselves as practices.

It is in this context that the formulation of “open community” needs to be understood. “Open community” is the name which can be given to the immanent experience of the unknowable real of community, understood according to the thinking of what has been called “open immanence” in Laruelle. If we think and act politically in the name of open community, understood as the lived immanent real and real cause-in-the-last-instance of inoperative community and finite co-existence, then we act in the name of a real, which undetermined, indeterminate and undivided by the identity of philosophical concepts, is the real cause of everything that presents itself in our shared world, of all human, and non-human being, of all that exists both locally and globally. Now for those unfamiliar with, or otherwise entirely unconvinced by, Laruelle’s non-philosophical, axiomatic and unilateralizing practice, these formulations might appear at best perplexing, or at worst hopelessly self-contradictory. But what is at stake here is the possibility of naming something, “open community,” in such a way that it more radically and rigorously resists appropriation by philosophical and conceptual representation (and therefore the operation of “putting to work”). Naming something from the perspective of its immanent real axiomatically understood as indivisible One, and according to the non-philosophical logic of the determination-in-the-last-instance by the real, means that the real as so named does not become a philosophical foundation or conceptual work, nor still a project. Crucially, however, the real is maintained and retained uniquely and solely as the immanent and unilateral cause of that which is named only. The radical indeterminacy of the real is therefore also maintained, as is its irreducibility to any kind of conceptual work or operativity.

Perhaps most importantly however, what is at stake here is a defence of the immanent real of open community itself. A politics that would enact itself in the name of open community would do so in defence of the real. This is a defence against the hallucinatory images of the real that are imposed upon it by philosophy, ontology and representation in general and then offered up to politics as its legitimating and totalising foundation or ground. Above all it would be a defence of the real against the deluded and destructive images of communal essence, identity, or fusion that provide the motivating principles for nationalist, nativist, communalist and sectarian forms of politics. However abstract, abstruse and theoretical all this might sound, it is once again and above all a matter of responding to a simple and straightforward imperative: that of abandoning the illusory philosophical foundations of politics in favour of the only real base of politics, that of the real itself. Such a politics should be as radically militant in its defence of the immanent real of open community as the real itself is radically undetermined, indeterminate and entirely unknowable – but in the end no less real for all that.


1 All references to French texts will be to the original French followed immediately by the published English translation where available.

2 See for example James, “Naming the Nothing.”

3 Nancy, La Communauté désavouée, 11; The Disavowed Community, 1.

4 Nancy, Communauté désavouée, 12; Disavowed Community, 2.

5 Nancy, Communauté désavouée, 27; Disavowed Community, 8.

6 Nancy, Communauté désavouée, 129; Disavowed Community, 59.

7 Nancy, Communauté désavouée, 160; Disavowed Community, 75.

8 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 15; Inoperative Community, 3. 5

9 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 15; Inoperative Community, 3.

10 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 27; Inoperative Community, 8.

11 Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 459.

12 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 30; Inoperative Community, 9.

13 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 42; Inoperative Community, 15.

14 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 43; Inoperative Community, 15.

15 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 78; Inoperative Community, 31.

16 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 87; Inoperative Community, 35.

17 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 100; Inoperative Community, 40.

18 Nancy, Communauté désoeuvrée, 216.

19 François Laruelle, En tant qu’un.


Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harvest, 1973.

Armstrong, Philip. Reticulations: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Networks of the Political. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2009.

Blanchot, Maurice. La Communauté inavouable. Paris: Minuit, 1983.

Blanchot, Maurice. The Unavowable Community. Translated by Pierre Joris. New York: Station Hill, 1988.

Crowley, Martin. L’Homme sans: Politiques de la finitude. Paris: Éditions Leo Scheer, 2009.

Goh, Irving. The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.

James, Ian. “Naming the Nothing: Nancy and Blanchot on Community.” Culture, Theory, Critique, 51, no. 2: 171-87.

James, Ian. The New French Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity, 2012.

Laruelle, François. Les Philosophies de la différence. Paris, Presses Universitaire de France, 1986.

Laruelle, François, En tant qu’un. Paris, Aubier, 1991.

Laruelle, François. Philosophies of Difference. Translated by Rocco Gangle. London: Continuum, 2010. 15

Nancy, Jean-Luc. La Communauté désoeuvrée. Paris: Métaillé, 1986.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. L’Expérience de la liberté. Paris: Galilée, 1988.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community. Translated by Peter Connor. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1991.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. “Of Being in Common.” In Community at Loose Ends, edited by Miami Collective, 1-12. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Le Sens du monde. Paris: Galilée, 1993.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Experience of Freedom. Translated by B. McDonald. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Être singulier pluriel. Paris: Galilée, 1996.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Sense of the World. Translated by J. S. Librett. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Being Singular Plural. Translated by A.E. O’Byrne and R. D. Richardson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. La Communauté affrontée. Paris: Galilée, 2001.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. “The Confronted Community.” Translated by Amanda Macdonald. Postcolonial Studies 6, no. 1: 23-36.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. La Communauté désavouée. Paris: Galilée, 2014.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Disavowed Community. Translated by Philip Armstrong. Fordham: Fordham University Press, 2016. 16

Nancy, Jean-Luc & Bailly, Jean-Christophe. La Comparution. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1991.

Nancy, Jean-Luc & Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. Le Mythe nazi. La Tour d’Aigue: Éditions de l’Aube, 1991.

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