[From the Archives]: Roberto Esposito and Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Dialogue on the Philosophy to Come”

Roberto Esposito and Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Dialogue on the Philosophy to Come” first appeared in Issue 75 (Fall 2010) of the minnesota review. You can read the full article online through Duke University Press, available here.

[The following dialogue began as a result of prefaces Nancy and Esposito wrote for each other’s works: Nancy’s preface to the French edition of Communitas (“Conloquium,” translated in this volume) and Esposito’s preface to the Italian edition of The Experience of Freedom (L’esperienza della libertà).]

Esposito The first question cannot be about anything else but the meaning and destiny of that activity which, regardless of everything else, we can and still must call “philosophy.” This is particularly the case when philosophy “ends,” in the sense of a “coming to an end” as well as what is always already “finished,” namely what is constitutively incapable of reasoning its own proper reason for being. The question then becomes what does a philosophy after philosophy mean, how is it to be thought, or, better, how is a philosophy of non-philosophy to be thought? On the one hand, it is a question which brings us to Heidegger and his interpretation of the “end of philosophy” as the very task of thought. On the other hand, the end of philosophy marks a radical distancing from Heidegger and from the inevitably dialectic modality in which even that thought of the end winds up being captured in the philosophy of what announces the end. Without being able here to linger over the reasons for such an internal folding in Heidegger’s discourse, the reason for the end of philosophy, I believe, needs to be laid at the doorstep of its most radical meaning: a “finished” philosophy is a philosophy that “lies outside” philosophy. From this perspective a phrase from George Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological can provide us with a possible direction: “Philosophy is a reflection for which all unknown material is good, and we would gladly say, for which all good material must be unknown” (7). This means that every philosophical practice that is self-referential, endogamic, and self- centered has been exhausted, which is to say that every philosophy that demands to take philosophy as its own object or that demands that its object be proper to philosophy rather than “common” is exhausted. It also means that this is the case in which such self- reflexive behavior is given and still continues to be given, be it in philosophy, historiography, metaphilosophy, or the philosophy of philosophy. Canguilhem, in speaking against these forms, wants to tell us that what lies within philosophy is precisely philosophy’s outside.

All of which brings to mind another proposition, this one from Deleuze, and it too centers on the constitutive relation of philosophy to non-philosophy: “The philosopher must become nonphilosopher so that nonphilosophy becomes the earth and people of philosophy” (109). With the reference to the earth and the continual movement of territorialization and deterritorialization to which our tradition of thought is assimilated, it seems that Deleuze provides us with a further clue vis-à-vis the epochal meaning of the end of philosophy and perhaps an explanation as well of the profound reason for how the end of philosophy seems to outstrip Heidegger’s thought. Heidegger, when speaking of the “end,” continues to treat philosophy in the dimension of time, while what is probably needed today is to bring the end in line with a spatial semantics. This is how Deleuze puts it: “Thinking is neither a line drawn between subject and object nor a revolving of one around the other. Rather, thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and earth” (85). Although this would expose philosophy to the risk of circumscribing it within a fixed earth, it would also certainly open philosophy to the possibility of making itself, as you argue, the thought of the world in the subjective and objective senses of the expression.

Nancy On the question of space that you raise, if you will allow me I would like to take up a theme that I already touched on in the preface I wrote for my friend Benoit Goetz on the architecture of thought. What we are dealing with here is really space. For more than forty years now we have known that we are living in the epoch of space (Foucault was one of the first to tell us this in the 1960s). More often than not, this epoch of space is juxtaposed against the epoch of history that would have come earlier, which then died out little by little in the second half of the twentieth century. There can be no doubt that this century will be remembered for the suspicions it raised against history, since history was at the center of the previous century’s attention. Yet it is not enough merely to diagnose the succession and the substitution of a spatial model for a temporal one given that there are deeper and more complex reasons that account for putting forward the spatial schema (or that of spacing) in a horizon such as the present one.

The history in which Enlightenment thinkers, Romantics, and proponents of industrial progress recognized themselves was for the most part the history of the conquest of space: the completion of the process of the colonialization, independence, and development of the Americas; territorial realignments in Europe; and immigrations that were the effect of the two preceding phenomena—all accompanied by a growing technical mastery of maritime and terrestrial distances (steam, air, pistons), of electric communications either underwater or above, and of the spaces of urban and interurban circulation. In that epoch the streets, the railroads, the cables, and the cities in which we live acquired their present configuration. The surface of the planet no longer has any terrae incognitae, maps no longer contain blank spaces: Timbuktu and Lhasa, the deserts and the North and South Pole—everything has already been explored. Expeditions to far-off territories have achieved their mission and now give way to a conquest of interplanetary and interstellar space that does not have the same rhythm or meaning. This is because we are no longer dealing with uncovering the secrets of the earth but rather of coordinating the extension of transmissions in the confines of a reciprocal surveillance and the intimidations of economic and political powers [potenze].


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