[From the Archives]: “Flesh and Body in the Deconstruction of Christianity”

Roberto Esposito‘s “Flesh and Body in the Deconstruction of Christianity” first appeared in issue 75 (2010) of the minnesota review, in a special section on Franco-Italian Political Theory. Esposito teaches Theoretic Philosophy at the Italian Institute for the Human Sciences in Naples and Florence. His recent works, translated into various foreign languages, include Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy (U of Minnesota P, 2008), Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community (Stanford UP, 2009), Comunità, Immunità, Biopolitica (Mimesis Edizioni, 2008), Terza Persona: Politica Della Vita E Filosofia Dell’ impersonale (Einaudi, 2007), and Termini della Politica.

Condensing into a single formula a more complex argument already presented elsewhere, in The Sense of the World Jean-Luc Nancy clearly distances himself from all philosophy of the flesh by opposing to it the urgency of a new thought of the body. “In this sense, the ‘passion’ of the ‘flesh,’ is finished—and this is why the word body ought to succeed on the word flesh, which was always overabundant, nourished by sense, and egological” (149). This is not to say that this “anti-carnist” stance has isolated him in today’s philosophical landscape. In France alone, for example, Nancy’s position is not far from that articulated by Lyotard, Deleuze, and Derrida, albeit in different registers. I would say that, despite the obvious heterogeneity of their philosophical presuppositions and intentions, these authors share a certain mistrust of the modality in which phenomenology— from Husserl to Merleau-Ponty and up to Didier Franck on the one hand and Michel Henry on the other—has dealt with the question of flesh. While for Lyotard the phenomenological perspective, despite or even because of the declared reversibility between sensing and sensed, comes down to a “philosophy of intelligent flesh” closed to the eruption of the event (22), Deleuze perceives phenomenological carnism not only as a deviant path in relation to that which he defines as “logic of sensation,” but also as “both a pious and a sensual notion, a mixture of sensuality and religion” (178).

But in the very book he dedicated to Nancy, Derrida gives the anti-carnist position its most solid philosophical support. This support strikes neither at phenomenology as such (which on the contrary Derrida recognizes as playing a decisive role in the genealogy of touch) nor at the Christian religion, but rather at the point or line of their tangency. In its most intimate essence, the notion of flesh is the directional vector through which Christianity penetrates modern philosophy and is contemporaneously the linguistic symptom through which phenomenology reveals an unavowed Christian ascendance.

You can read the full version of “Flesh and Body in the Deconstruction of Christianity” here.

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