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Ou, séance, touche de Nancy, ici (II)


Source: Paragraph, Vol. 17, No. 2 (JULY 1994), pp. 103-119
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
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Ou, séance, touche de Nancy, ici (II)1

To be or . . . - The or announces possibilities. If it is said 'this or that

or that' or 'either this or that', a multiplicity of possibilities or
alternative possibilities is pointed to, which can be weighed up, seized
or excluded. They can however only be weighed up, and then either
seized or excluded when they are opened - even if it should be in an
inexplicit way. Thus the or announces possibilities not as already
pre-given, to which it might be referred merely as external determina-
tions; rather or opens these possibilities. If or announces possibilities, it
does so in a way that first makes these possibilities possible at all. This
premodal making possible of possibilities, which takes place in the or ,
is always then in play when it is a question of decision between
different ways of speaking, thinking and acting, a question of decision
between them and their omission, and it is there in play above all
where it is a question of the decision between the possibilities of
Being and of not-Being: every or that stands before the choice
between the one possibility and the other, opens these possibilities
and thus also the possibility of a decision between an or and no or
[keinem oder]. Or thus opens possibilities of decision, not so that in this
way the decision should have already happened, but it sets up at the
same time the possibility of such a decision not being made, or a
decision being made against any further decision. In the or that releases
all decisions, all decisions are also kept on and held up, because in
every individual case it also makes possible the decision against
decision and against the possibility of decision. Every or also says or
without or . Or is thus the gesture of the opening of possibili ties of being
and at the same time the gesture of the infinite suspension or the
breaking off of the decision about these possibilities.
Nancy encounters the complex structure of this or - or the making
possible of possibilities - in his analysis of Heidegger's 'resoluteness' in
'La decision d'existence'. He writes there:

In the existential of the decision, it is a question of what possibilizes possibilities,

of what makes them possible, each time, for an existence (and of an existence)
and thus of what makes the existant exist according to the possible: as the being
for whom there is at stake in its being, being itself as possibility, and consequently,
being as (un)decidability of existence. Existence is decision to exist (and /or not

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to exist) and thus to decide (and /or not to decide). But 'to be or not to be' are
not possibilities which are present beforehand. Only existence, in that it is thrown
to the undecidability of the 'to be or not to be', decides about it as possible. (Une
pensée finie , 113, my emphasis)

Why 'et/ou' [and/or]? And why 'the undecidability of "to be or not

to be" '? How can one say 'Existence is a decision to exist (and/or
not to exist)'? Why is an 'and' placed beside the 'or'; why is it here
'and' or 'or' and both at the same time (the slash between both has
the meaning of an enumerative disjunction, of an 'or') so that 'and'
has the sense of 'or', 'or' the sense of 'and', and both nevertheless
maintain a discrete meaning? (Nancy uses this 'et/ou' in other con-
nections as well, for example in 'Le coeur des choses' where he writes:
'[...] matter and/or mind, [. . .] appearance and/or reality, [. . .]
presence and/or absence, [. . .] individuality and/or generality, [. . .]
mystery and/or key to the mystery, etc' ( Une pensée finie , 213).
Being-there [Dasein] is each time Being-there in favour of specific
possibilities and it is thus only in this way that it relates itself in its
Being to these possibilities as its own, and is these possibilities, turning
into them transitively and thus skipping over itself. Being-there lodges
in the decision in favour of the there [Da] of its Being. It is therewith
'itself' only in that it makes up its mind in favour of its possibilities and
in these possibilities - in its There - in favour of itself. But above all
else, there belongs to these possibilities and thus as its 'most own'
possibility, that of not being.
'To be or not to be':2 these two possibilities are not open to Dasein
as external determinations of itself, but are first of all only opened in
the decision of Dasein. Moreover they are both opened at the same
time in each decision on each occasion. They who decide to be, make
a decision not only in favour of the possibility of further decisions -
and among them, not to be - they already decide themselves in the
decision itself in favour of a Being, which owes itself to the decision
and is thus finite Being and thus Being in favour of the possibility of
not being. They decide for Being as for a Being of possible non-Being.
Hamlet's alternative 'to be or not to be' suggests that these two
possibilities might face each other as alternatives: one could choose
Being and thereby be spared non-Being, one could choose non-Being
and it would already be over with Being. The or which Nancy quotes
here, has however neither the power of decision-making nor the sense
offinitude.The or of finite resoluteness opens up Being on the contrary
not as a state of affairs, but as room for manoeuvre, as an arena for

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Ou, séance, touche de Nancy, ici 105

possibilities, whose first possibility is non-Being. That or which tears

open this room for manoeuvre does not thus place Being opposite to
non-Being as exclusive alternatives, but exposes it to this non-Being;
it is no alternative or enumerative or but one of explanation and
exposition. 'To be or not to be' is then no longer 'either to be or not
to be' but 'Being or more precisely: a being that can always also not
be', 'Being and thus the possibility of not-Being', 'Being and/or not
Being'. In so far as each decision is an existential one, and each
existential one is a decision about Being or not-Being, each single
decision must be for the undecidability between Being and not-Being.
It decides in fact not between these two, but for the between that goes
to make the realm of the possibilities of Being as well as of non-Being.
(For Heidegger on 'between', see Sein und Zeit , 132, 374 [Being and
Time , 170, 426]). This realm of the between is however that of the or
or the and /or and each decision - whether for the one or the other,
whether for the decision or its omission - must therefore be a decision
which comes out of the or and is for the or and thus for or without or.
Finite Being is nothing more than to be this or. As Dasein [Being-there]
is on each occasion its There, so is it its Or: it is Being-or.
'To be or

In the or, possibilities of being are disclosed a

impossibility of a disclosure which might disp
disclosure, and thus with an irreducible undisclosedness. But the
possible and the impossible are not disclosed in the or as an aggregate
of possible existences indifferent to Dasein , among which it might
make its choice according to its liking, without itself being concerned;
rather, with them its Being is disclosed as disclosure and as decision.
But as each decision is decision for possible indecision, and thus in
favour of the possibility of the impossibility of existence, when it is
decision of finite existence in favour of finite existence, the decision
remains precisely in the room for manoeuvre of the or. Or articulates
the finitude, the possibility of the impossibility of existence, the
possibility of the impossibility of the or. In it there is no question of
death - nothing would be more harmless - but in it and in every word
which can be touched by it, so in each one, and in every sentence and
every gesture, its very possibility speaks or is silent, here and now: the
making possible of the impossibility of this making possible: unpossibil-
ity. Or is only the gesture of infinite modalisation while it is simulta-
neously the gesture of an equally infinite mortalisation without
beginning or end. We make ourselves impossible with the or which
opens up our possibilities. Every time, here, and now. And every time

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we encounter in it our non-isolation, our indecision, the resistance

and the stoppage of the or, which is not - not simply - ours. (In the
words of Benjamin and Heidegger, we encounter the secrecy or the
secret of truth, of the language of truth.)

Ormative. - If all finite language - but in so far as it is language, it

is also already finite - if therefore all language, as opening of possibil-
ities and in the first place of the possibilities of itself, places us before
decisions, and performs decisions which are articulated explicitly or
implicitly through an or , then language is neither deictic nor consta-
tive, nor is it simply performative. It is not deictic, because it itself first
opens the space of possible objects, within which constatations are
possible; it is not performative, because the conventions in whose
frame speech acts can be performed, can be suspended at every
moment by these acts themselves, changed or dissolved by newly
established ones. Language is, however, also not fundamentally per-
formative, if one can put it this way, it does not simply posit and
doesn't simply posit itself, for every one of the positings carried out
in it is in principle exposed to the possibility of its de-positing, its
upsetting (in incomprehension, in forgetting, in alteration, in break-
down), indeed they are only positings in so far as they are ex-positings.
Language can thus only be performative because it is affirmative - be-
cause it opens the outline of a form and of an act, which cannot be
brought to a conclusion in it or through it.3 Also, language cannot
simply be performative because every one of the decisions before
which it is placed and every one which it meets, however decided it
is, is a decision for the future and for the time being for its future and
in consequence a decision for the way its performance is not to be
closed off, is unmasterable and inactive. As the decision of language
(and language is precisely this: decision and de-cision [Entscheidung
und Entscheidung ]) is its decision for the exposing of its act in an
or-not-or , this decision can no longer itself be thought according to
the paradigm of the act; or the act would be act only in the perspective
of its ex-position hie et nunc.
Nancy has on at least two occasions, in 'La vérité impérative' and
'La voix libre de l'homme' touched on the problem of the performative
in connection with the structure of the imperative. In both cases, he
refers to a highly dubious authority, namely that of Benveniste, and to
an unsustainable characterisation of the performative, namely through
its 'self-referentiality', in order to deny the performative character of
the imperative.

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Ou, séance , touche de Nancy ; ici 107

It [the imperative] does not form part of 'performative' utterances which are
themselves the act they utter (and whose paradigm is 'I am speaking'). It isn't even
an utterance, Benveniste adds, since 'it does not serve to construct a proposition
having a personal verb'. 'It bears neither temporal marking nor personal reference.
It is a naked semanteme, used as a iussive form with a specific intonation' [...].

And: 'The imperative prescribes nothing - nothing but the truth [. . .]

but it is not truth which prescribes [...]. The imperative is powerless.
Truth is prescribed from after its retreat [. . .].' And although Nancy
accepts the characterization of the imperative as the 'naked
semanteme', he continues only a little later: 'The imperative precisely
doesn't mean' ( L'impératif catégorique , 110 sq.; cf 133). It goes without
saying that everything in these remarks needs commentary. But it is
only of moment at this point that Nancy does not characterize the
categorical imperative - the making possible of the generality of
language and thus the making possible of language at all4 - as a
performative, and that he denies it intentions of meaning and the
power to realise its demand. It can be added that the making possible
of language, its opening, whether it happens in the imperative or in a
promise (as language's speaking before, and speaking-ahead-of-itself),
must maintain just this opening in each of its 'prescriptions', in this
opening it must maintain another possibility of language, but in this
latter it must maintain the impossibility of a saturation of its intention
towards language. When something is said, it is always accompanied by
an 'or otherwise' and each 'or otherwise' must also be able to be called
'or not' and 'or without or'. The opening of a general language and
with it the form of the law in the imperative or in 'promising' is thus
each time, in each here and each now, an opening of an or on to anothe
or and indeed onto an or against which the might of positing, intention
and meaning breaks up.
Language starts speaking from this or , from the alteration, the
breaking up or the exposition of its might, and is speaking toward it.
Language does not speak affirmatively, as an affirmation of the given
or the present- at-hand - its talk is not oui oui but ou ou; it doesn't speak
performatively, it is not the positing - the self-positing activity of an
autonomous subject, but aut-onomous exposition; language is not
formative, for each of its planned forms is subject to change or break
up into an or or or without or - : language speaks, sit venia verbo
or'matively, or ormatively. Without its other possibilities of speakin
affirmatively or performatively being thereby wiped out, for they are
redetermined, reassigned to another place, language is an ormative

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('Orma tive' is thus not the title of a local phenomenon, that might
only be met with where the syncategoreme or surfaces in one or
another function. An or need not 'surface', explicitly used, named or
indeed thematised, in order to be effective and to determine the
structure of language or make it indeterminate. Language in general,
in so far as it is language, is categorical; it exposes decisions, which are
concerned with its possible entirety, and for the sake of this possibility,
it must infinitely suspend the decision about entirety. So language is
the condition of possibility or impossibility of a form, a law, of the
universality and universal communicability of language at all - and
both at the same time. That means however, that there is never one
ormative - ' orma tive' is as little one word and thus as little a word as are
'or', 'ou', 'o', or 'oder', for each decision opened by an 'or' is decision
for another 'or', that could mean, 'or no or', 'or without or'. The
structure of language withdraws itself therefore from every merely
conventionalist, every transcendentally normative or formative, ethic;
it requires - or means £IT£ - an eitic.)
(Once again, its speech is not oui, oui , but ou, ou, - it is not a speech
of affirmation. For in order to be affirmation, it has to be the affirmation
of affirmation and therefore the affirmation, as long as it is one, must
be in front of itself and not able to be overtaken by itself, it cannot fulfil,
perfect or perform itself, without standing back from itself and holding
back from itself, it is held apart from itself in a irreconcilable split into
'itself' and 'itself' and it can never erase, or master this distance through
which it opens its own possibility and never subsume it under the title
of 'affirmation'. The relationship of affirmation to itself - or the rela-
tionship of constitution to itself - cannot itself simply be one of
affirmation - or constitution. The gap between yes and yes cannot be
filled by any element, which itself has the structure of a yes. Affirmation
is their constitutive difference, which is a difference of open, never
ultimately resolvable distinguishing and decision, of the or and its
iteration and alteration, or it is the difference of the ormative.)
(In the word 'ormative' one also has to think of the Greek opļlTļ,
the start, launch and setting out.)
(The or in the 'word' ormative can be heard with an English as well
as with a French ear. And perhaps in addition with some others,
including a German one. (But here no language remains the same,
none is still either one or the other, none may be still called 'French'
or 'English' or 'German', for each language already listens to the others
and to the difference from itself in order to be one of the languages.)
(For language, an ear, listens to the 'or', to the 'oder' or the 'o. .r' in

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language which is promised to it in another language.) (It does not hear

itself, it hears 4 itself (And it does not hear, it e-r-s [h ör t].)))

Retouche. - How is a form possible at all? How is presentation

possible? Presentation is not to be understood here as a representation
or a reproduction, not as the idea [Vorstellung] of an object and not as
its production, but as that presentation which has to underpin all these
modes of presentation as conditions of their possibility. So what is
being asked about is not a determinate form, but about form gener-
ally - the form of form, - not about a determinate mode of presenta-
tion, but about presentation as mode, as pure modalisation. The answer
given by philosophical tradition to the question about the possibility
of a form at all, is tautological. It runs: in order that a form may be
possible, it needs a limit. But since form and limit are coextensive
concepts, the question remains unanswered, and must be put in a new
way. It can now be put like this: how is this presentation of the limit
possible? This question has the advantage over the earlier, and over its
tautological answer, in that it introduces a difference into what is being
asked. For in that the question is about the presentation of the limit,
it will be enquiring about the limit of this limit itself and thus about
the constitutive split of the presentation, about the doubling of the
limit and about the touching and limiting of the limit by itself, about
the self-affection and about its self as this affection: the ad-fiction, the
limit (beginning and end) of its fiction, its making and its being made.
The question concerning presentation is thus to be understood as a
question about the limit and the latter is to be understood as a question
about self-limitation, affection, affiction, about the ad of its pull and
In order to be able to present itself - so that presentation may be
possible at all - the limit must come up against a limit, and must
confront it with itself as another and must be touched by itself as by
another. The limit is first drawn and the presentation is first carried out
in this self-touching of the limit - the anachronistric 'self'-touching
before any self, any limit. Touching, touche is Nancy's answer to the
question about the conditions of possibility of every presentation and
of the formation of form. In 'L'offrande sublime' he writes thus about
Kant's analytic of the sublime:

The mode of presentation of a limit in general cannot be the image in itself. The
image in itself presupposes the limit which presents it or in which it presents itself.
But the singular mode of presentation of a limit, is that this limit comes to be

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touched [...]. This is in fact the sense of the word sublimitas: what keeps itself just
under the limit, what touches it (limit being thought by height, as absolute
height). Sublime imagination touches the limit, and this touching makes it feel
'its own powerlessness' If the presentation is above all what takes place in the
order of sensible things - to present, is to make sensible - the sublime imagination
is always in the order of presentation, in that it is sensible. But this sensibility is
no longer that of the perception of a figure, and it is found, more precisely in the
feeling of itself that imagination has when it touches the limit. ( Une pensée finie ,
179; my italicizing of the ou. The ou and its touche in tout ce, toujours , trouve and
éprouve will not have gone unheard.)

The transcendental imagination and thus the transcendental sensibility

is a subliminal one. It is productive, not in exceeding the limit, but in
its contact. Since the imagination only activates itself as such however
and is only imagination in so far as it touches its limits and makes
contact with it, it touches the limit itself, it is this contact with its limit
and this limit is drawn in contact with it. The imagination is thus in no
way defined through a limit prescribed from outside it, but is itself the
movement of its definition, and more precisely, its affinition - through
the limit and also its infinition. Even the term [ Terminus ] of movement
or striving (of the imagination) is in this sense a limit-concept: a
concept that determines itself first in its relation to a limit and in which
the limit determines itself:

The effort or the thrust is by definition a matter of limit. [. . .] The effort ceases
where the limit gives way [...]. The effort or the thrust carry the limit in themselves,
are structured by it. [. . .] What tenders itself, and tenses itself to extremes, is the
limit. [. . .] Stretched to the limit, the limit (the contour of the figure) is tensed
to breaking point, as they say, and it indeed breaks, dividing itself in that instant
into two edges, the edging of the figure, and its unlimited overflow [débord]. ( Une
pensée finie , 182)

The limit is thus limit only in that it traces itself. Its Being is trace [Zug]
but this trace is not the closed limit but its mere tracing, which does
not arrive at the limit as long as it is still this tracing of the limit - the
trace of the limit is also trace in so far as it is delay [ Verzug ] (mora). Its
delay is the limit in itself [an sich]. That means, the limit - and indeed
every limit is only itself in that it is in itself, in itself as limit, in that it
is thus alliminal , or, as Nancy writes, subliminal , it is in this sense sublime:
split from itself, it makes contact with itself as not-limit, and touches
itself thus as intact and untouchable, touches itself in its untouchability,
and thus doesn't touch itself. Distinguishing, the limit distinguishes

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itself first from itself and is thus nothing other than the distinction, the
discretion, and in and for itself a discretum , the secretum 'in itself', 'for
itself' and 'for itself' as 'another'. (But what does 'for itself' as another
mean? How is this 'as' 'another' to be understood, if not as not simply
designating a different mode of being itself, through which the 'other'
might be assimilated to the limit, but an or: that leaves undecided,
whether it is still a question here of a 'self' or of 'another'? The limit
always lies this side or on the other side of the limit and of what it
distinguishes. The limit lies on the or.)
Nancy's sentence about the limit (or Nancy's translation of Kant's
argument about the limit) is at the same time a sentence about
presentation: it is only in transition from 'self' to 'itself' and thus
presentation of its 'own' unpresentability, its im-presentation; it is a
sentence about identity - the identity of the limit, the identity, the
limit itself lies in this, in that it traces itself first as a limit, that it
distinguishes itself from itself as an unlimited thing, and only makes
contact with itself in this distinction, and so cannot possibly touch
itself. As it can be said of the Being of the limit, that it lies in its
trace - or its delay, so it can also be said that it lies in its contact or
non-contact (detachment). Only there, where the limit touches the
limit, only there where the limit comes up against a limit and thus stops
being a simple limit, only there therefore, where contact stops being a
contact and a contact , only there does the limit trace itself, only there
is it a limit and only there will a form, a presentation, be possible at
all. But what, once again, is a contact? or a push? a touche ?
Nancy continues his considerations - or better, he picks them up
once again with an ou bien encore - and indeed, as often, they are set
off in a parenthesis:

(Or else again : the effort is to touch the limit. The limit is the effort itself, and it
is the touching. The touching is of itself the limit: the limit of images and of
words, the contact - and with it, paradoxically, the impossibility of touching which
is inscribed in touching, because it is the limit. ( Une pensée finie , 182; the
italicisation of the toucher is Nancy s)

A touching or a push, a touche always touches a limit. It only makes

contact there where it goes no further, where a movement is inter-
rupted, a resistance is irresolvable, a transition impossible. The limit for
its part is however only in this contact, which is a limit for the limit
itself, which is definitive and defining for it. In contact, the limit comes
up against a limit therefore and only becomes the limit that it is. Contact

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comes up against itself at the limit. Limit of the limit, it is its own,
another limit. It comes up against itself, but in that way only comes
up against the limit to itself; it comes up against its own untouchability.
'Le toucher est de lui-même la limite (The touching is of itself the
limit) .' This sentence has two implications which are incompatible with
each other, which Nancy formulates thus: 'Touching more than other
[senses] only takes place in touching itself' and 'Touching does not
touch itself' ( Une pensée finie, 1 83) . The touching, from which the limit
and with it, presentation proceed, can thus not take place, (it has no
place, it doesn't happen and doesn't happen in a point of space which
is already given, not in an already constituted space, but itself, contact,
pushing, la touche opens a space, opens an occurrence and opens itself
as this happening. That does not mean that there isn't this contact. It
is given, indeed, and it is indeed the contact which gives. But the
structure of this giving and giving of itself, the structure of this
opening, this contact and this push - one might say, the 'subliminal'
condition of the marking-out of the transcendental schematism - is
such, that nothing is touched through it, nothing is opened, nothing
is given; none of all of that, which, in fact, as one thinks, already has
shape, limit, form as an object present at hand. The contact, in order
to make contact, must encounter something untouchable, it must come
upon itself as something untouchable. In order to be able to present
(itself) and to give (itself) a form, the limit must come up against ('itself'
as) the unbounded, the formless and the unpresentable. It gives (itself)
what it doesn't have and what is not acceptable (for it). And this
impossible gift, this impossible taking is the pre-gift and the pre-ac-
ceptance for every possibility of a gift or taking. It is the attranscenden-
tal or 'subliminal' condition of every communication, every
presentation and every form in general, and thus of perception, of
conception, of comprehension - and is at the same time withal that
which loosens every perception, every conception and every concept,
and opens on to what has not been taken, grasped, and conceived in
them. But if the limit is thought of as closed, as a given line, as form
in its pure ideality, then it is thought of as li-myth and not in its trace,
not in its contact, not in its untouchability. Only the theorem of the
untouchability, the alliminality, or subliminali ty of the limit breaks with
the myth of givenness and the giving of forms and with the implicit
but equally powerful myth of taking and perceiving these forms. The
traditions of empiricism and formalism, of rationalism and even
phenomenology come together in this twin myth. Nancy's analytic of
the limit, of the liminal and of the sublime, which certainly draws on

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the resources of its Hegelian dialectic, but is not prepared for the
sublation of the limit in the concept, opens up 'giving' to what is not
able to be given in it, opens up taking to what is not able to be taken
in it and thus opens up onto a distance which can become neither an
object of experience nor a 'thing itself', nor the immutable form of
our perception of it across time.
The question of the possibility of form at all, and thus the question
of presentation is then answered in this way, that everything presents
itself - and its limit - at the limit. The limit can however only present
or offer 'itself' such that while it attracts 'itself' it draws 'itself' as
'another' and relates to another. The tracing of the limit is thus not, a
is said, autoreferential. It is also not referential. It is - and this is wh
it is at the same time contact and detachment - -ferential. Only
ference - and more precisely as ferance - can the tracing of the lim
be transference (that is transition into 'itself') as well as ofference (mere
offering and imminence) and therefore difference (that is taking apar
and bringing together), without reducing itself to one of these move
ments. If Nancy characterizes as offrande [offering] the structure of the
tracing of limits, and thus the structure of presentation or of form a
all, then he does it at first to stress the difference with Kant's concep
of sacrifice from which he starts in 'L'Offrande sublime' and then to
underline the trace of its unimpeachable imminence, its forthcoming,
its pre-positionality. He writes:

It should be said that the totality [. . .] is offered to the feeling of the sublime, or is
offered in the sublime, to feeling. [. . .] The offering offers, carries forward and puts
in front of (etymologically, the of-fering is not very different from the ob-ject),
but it does not install in presence. What is offered stays on a limit, suspended at
the edge of a reception, of an acceptance. [. . .] Sacrifice is inoperative there. The
imagination is not 'sacrificed', it is what it is: the open of the schema. - The
offering is sublime presentation: it withdraws or it suspends the values and powers
of the present. What takes place is not a coming-into-presence nor a gift. It is
rather one or other, or the one and the other, but given up.[. . .] It is a proposition,
and as such, expounded/ exposed. ( Une pensée finie , 185-6; my emphases of the or)5

If the drawing of the limit, the à la limite of the limit is at the same
time contact and non-contact, contact, which is still not yet making
contact, non-contact, which is still contact or is already moving into
contact, and if that is then limit, where contact and non-contact make
contact and to do not make contact, thus make contact or do not make
contact; and if then (as Nancy hints in his phrase 'L'un ou l'autre ou
l'un et l'autre' [one or the other, or one and the other]) the possibility

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114 Paragraph

of presentation lies in the oscillation of discrete or the discreteness of

oscillating ors, then it can no longer be simply a question of an
'offrande', strictu sensu 'which carries forward and places in front of',
no longer of an 'offrande' 'which stays at the limit' and which, in fact
hardly distinct from the 'ob-ject', has the structure of a 'proposition'.
The insistence on the Before, on the spatial In front of as well as the
temporal In advance of, the insistence on the Opposite and the
Towards, which Nancy links with the 'concept' of offrande of ofference
or of ob-ference, and which true to the word, must combine with it,
this insistence will however be dissolved or given up through the two
clauses with ' mais [but]': 'but it does not install itself in presence' and
'but given up'.6 In this mais the limit, which protects the before or the
in front of, the 'proposition' and the offrande , becomes porous, the pro
of the proposition and the ob of the offrande is given up in it, and what
remains is the ex-position and if not already a movement of the efference ,
then, made absolute, the movement of the ference.
Ferance is the movement of the limit, its entry or insertion, or its
omission, what it brings or what it lets go. It is the gesture of
presentation of a form in general; itself neither presentation nor form,
but that which does not dissolve in either, and for that reason cannot
stop disquieting both of them. In short, it is the gesture. As Nancy says:
'Of the "present" implied by presentation, the offering only retains
the gesture of presenting' (Une pensée ßnie , 185). L'offrande, one can read
it like this, if one interrupts his sentence, ne retient que le geste (only
holds back the gesture) or when one alters it, 'only holds back ferance
or rather is held back by ferance'. Or afferance. Or . .
For whenever or marks a limit - the limit between two or more
possibilities which are opened up in it or the limit between the inn
and outer limit of a thing (what Aristotle calls topos or khora : th
place-space) and thus the limit between limit and non-limit, betwe
contact and untouchability, between peras and pariah, then it no long
marks the movement of presentation, performance, or representati
but the movement of apresentation and of appresentation, or near
as dis-distancing [ Ent-fernung ] to itself and without a forward o
backward glance at a centre of perception, cogitation or experience
and it therefore marks the movement of that erasing of the mark whic
directs the address from Being to Dasein and even the erasing of t
erasing, which brings Being into relation with finite existence. It, t
or - the or for example and the or in its incomparable particularity
sheer hetero-peras. And thus neither presentation nor absentation. F
this movement is not one directed towards presence in Dasein as it s

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Ou, séance, touche de Nancy, ici 115

must be in Nancys ousiological and anthropo-teleological offrande ,

which affects us, stands before us as our future, and whose proximity,
as Nancy wills it, is even embodied in us. However if one takes seriously
the apeiron , the untouchability in the touching - and one can never
take it seriously enough as long as one still takes it seriously - then its
undirectedness, its non-intentionality and a-teleology must also be
taken seriously - and then the talk of proximity of the approach of the
future and of the offrande is insufficient. Then one also has to recognise
a vestige of the philosophy of subjectivity in it and perhaps even one
of a Christian type. Ou is not a delayed ousia. But it is only the
movement of the tracing of limits in its withdrawal, neither orientated
towards presence nor absence, but is the unorientated, without origo
or ordo , without orient, occident or accident, not 'contingent', not
necessary and not ordered by any law. The movement of or - mouvement
de Vou , louche - (movement of the or, louche - ) - which does not refer
to us, does not concern us, is not directed towards us, the undirected,
which does not carry over to us or to anybody The movement
[Bewegung], Heidegger would write it with a trema, [Bewëgung] , which
leaves us and itself alone. And which still leaves leaving.

oue - Nancy is a friend of ou and où. And a friend of Lacoue-Labarthe.

' L'accent grave -

Le Professeur - : Elève Hamlet!
L'Elève Hamlet (sursautant) - : . . . Hein . . . Quoi . . . Pardon . . . Qu'est-ce qui
se passe . . . Qu'est-ce qu'il y a . . . Qu'est-ce que c'est? . . .
Le Professeur (mécontent) - : Vous ne pouvez pas répondre 'présent' comme tout
le monde? Pas possible, vous êtes encore dans les nuages.
L'Elève Hamlet - : Etre ou ne pas être dans les nuages!
Le Professeur - : Suffit. Pas tant de manières. Et conjugez-moi le verbe être,
comme tout le monde, c'est tout ce queje vous demande.
L'Elève Hamlet - : To be . . .
Le Professeur - : En français, s'il vous plaît, comme tout le monde.
L'Elève Hamlet - : Bien, monsieur. (Il cônjuge:) Je suis ou je ne suis pas - Tu es
ou tu n'es pas - Il est ou il n'est pas - Nous sommes ou nous sommes pas . . .
Le Professeur (excessivement mécontent) - : Mais c'est vous qui n'y êtes pas, mon
pauvre ami!
L'Elève Hamlet - : C'est exact, monsieur le professeur,
Je suis 'où' je ne suis pas
Et, dans le fond, hein, à la réflexion,
Etre 'où' ne pas être
C'est peut-être aussi la question.'7

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Un-placing, Dewording, Ou-topia. - If there is an or, there are at least two

of them. At least two possibilities of naming something or doing
something, and at least two possibilities, of understanding this or as
alternative or as enumerative. Or is a duplicator - or a multiplicator -
and its double. That means it is never there , without however being able
to be somewhere else already, it is everywhere, but without the distance
to everything that it grants, there would be nothing at all that could
be called 'everywhere'. Each or goes beyond something and beyond
itself, none encloses itself. It holds together nothing, that would not
already be divided by it, and divides nothing that would not be
connected by it. Or is an articulation - a break and a hinge, and the
articulation between both, break and hinge, and the articulation
between both, break and hinge between break and hinge. What is
gathered in or falls apart in it. Or is a word, that doesn't allow itself to
be held. Intentions break up in it, but they can only proceed from it.
So that it can become determinate, every determination of an object,
a point in time or space must, come up against an or - and thus up
against several - and no determination can avoid being crossed
through or disseminated by it. Here is always here or here, or here or
there, and now now or now. There is no hie et nunc that would not be
exposed to a vel or an aut, none that did not receive its strength from
it, and at the same time was not put off by it. Or first grants a here and
a there as it first makes time for each now and passes over.
Nowhere has Nancy come so close to this function of the or as in
the essay 'Elliptical sense' which he devoted to Derrida s Ellipse . A few
quotations and comments are enought to make that clear.
Nancy writes:

[. . .] presence is never given, but always offered, or presented, which means, offered
to our decision to receive it or not.
And the 'here' is doubled straightaway: it is here or there. There , the there will come
at the end of the text, and it will be doubled in its turn: 'there, but beyonď. Here
or there: already the two foci of the text, already the ellipse. It is quite there. ( Une
pensée finie , 287)

Although he emphasizes it graphically, Nancy isn't commenting so

much on the or in Derrida's phrase (which is straightaway replaced or
pushed out, or made precise by a mais) but he comments on the
doubling of the ici and the là , when he speaks of the two foci of the
text and of its elliptical structure. However, comprehended in this is
the fact that the ou or, later the mais marks the distance between these

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Ou, séance, touche de Nancy, ici 117

two foci, and thus first really marks the ellipse, the eclipse of the centre,
the a priori falling away of that which could determine the real place
or the real time of a here or a there. The or, the or'iginary duplicator
is an ellipse, which blows apart every unity, even before it can form
itself, which opens every circle, and makes every return impossible.
Nancy continues:

A few years later, at the end of another text [Nancy is speaking here of 'Signature,
Evénement, Contexte' from Marges] - Derrida will write that he signs 'here.
Where? There'. Here takes itself out of its own place and there perforates its own
place (in performing it). The whole of Derrida's text, all his work, is al-
tered/quenched from perforating/performing itself. He has, he is an inexhaustible
thirst, a drunken bout of extravasation, of offering himself where he isn't, of
forbidding himself where he is. (Une pensée finie , 287)

Nancy refers thus to what might be held to be a parallel: the

proximity between 'here or there' and 'here. Where? There' [ici ou là ;
ici. Où? Là]. It is in this second sentence, a kind of three sentence
dialogue, not the ou that works the shifting of the ici but, in the form
of a question, its homophonic double, où. Où? denounces the ici as
insufficient, unstable, as a not-here, which finds its place there where
it is no longer its own là. The where? and indeed a where ? that is already
at work in the here , drags away, exiles, dispropriates the here and only
thus makes room for it. Where? or or, dispropriating and appropriating,
appropriating the dispropriation and thus dispropriating the appropri-
ation, might perhaps be, or might be implicit in, what Heidegger spoke
of as the 'event of appropriation' or 'expropriation'. And if there can
be a question of performance or perforation then the question où? or
ou - for ou is also almost a question too - is its agent (and once again,
this où or ou in or or under or, besides each of the words): you could
say, an ormative.
A little later, Nancy takes up the same theme, the ou and the où again:

But let us take another example, and first: 'here or there'. An ellipsis of place, the
ellipsis of two foci neither of which can centre the text or localize the writing
which has been discerned [. . . ] In the 'here or there', it is the suspension, the
hesitation, the beating of the or which really count; this or which never says where
writing is. Nor when nor wherefore. 'Here or there' is without definite place, and
it is also 'sometimes, at moments from time to time' and therefore 'by chance, by
accident, fortuitous'. Writing only lets itself be discerned by chance. (Une pensée
finie , 289)

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118 Paragraph

The tension, the hesitation, the beating of the or is what counts in the
turn of phrase 'here or there'. And thus not only in this phrase, but in
every possible turn of phrase in language or in writing, in which it
tries to determine itself and its place. When the or makes entry, the here
and its now are already over with, and it only finds itself postponed,
reshaped and altered again in the there and its then. Or is the ellipse
which permits no this to remain the same. And as even the or is still
such a this , it also doesn't remain what it is. Or is its own, its
expropriating ellipse/ellipsis. In that it places itself, it loses itself - its
place and its word. Or as little as any other word is merely an element
of language; it opens language onto language, it refers from somewhere
else to language and is in this sense, speechless. A word without
language. In a language without word. It is the writing which allows
itself to be made out only through a chance , as Nancy writes with
Derrida - so only through another or. And through another again
different. Or that is the chance of language: its breakdown and its
possibility. The possibility of its ellipsis, of its eclipse. In it, our topics
and utopias are defined as ou-topian.

ÇOr. - While I was writing this, and after I have almost written it all,
I read the following passage near the end of a novel by Donald
Barthelme, entitled Paradise. It is about what three or four women,
(who are almost all called

will do after their departure or

as ever ; moody. She'll do somethin
book will be an extended medita
or the road taken but not enjoyed
a celebration of 'or' not lessfunso
the book. Four will write her letters. I will read the book but not write her a

Johns Hopkins University

Translated by MARIAN HOBSON and IAN MA

1 The first part was published in Paragraph , 16: 2. Both parts

much longer text.
2 In English in the German text (translators' note).
3 See Werner Hamacher, 'Afformative, Strike', Cardozo Law Review 13: 4
(December 1991), 1133-57.

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Ou, séance , touche de Nancy ; ici 119

4 See in this connection my 1981 essay 'The promise of interpretation', in

Spiegel und Gleichnig, Festschrift für Jacob Taubes , edited by N. Bolz/W. Hübener
(Würzburg, Könighausen and Neumann, 1983).
5 A part of this passage, decisive for Nancy s concept of the offrande , has
undergone a remarkable and in fact decisive alteration between the first
version (in Po&sie, 30) and the version in Une pensée finie. In the version from
Po&sie it still read: 'the imagination is offered to the offered totality - that is
to say also sacrificed ( aufgeopfert ), as Kant writes. The sacrificed imagination
is the imagination offered up to its limit' (97). In the book version, the same
passage runs: 'The imagination is offered to the offered totality. In economic
terms, this offering is a sacrifice. That is what Kant says: the sacrificed
(aufgeopfert) imagination acquires "a greater scope and force". But in truth,
that happens at the limit of the economy. The sacrifice is inoperative. The
imagination isn't "sacrificed", it is what it is: the open of the schema' ( Une
pensée finie , 185). Thus it is once again the limit , this time that of the economy,
which allows the presentation to be determined as offering , and as open and
which distinguishes them from the sacrifice. The ofference is the limit of the
sacrifice: that which is no longer or not yet sacrifice, that which is inaccessible
to the sacrifice and thus unsacrificeable. But is the offrande the limit of the
sacrifice, must not then the sacrifice also bea limit - and thus a possibility - of
the offrande ? Is thus the offrande not still too close to the sacrifice, as it is near,
and perhaps too near, to the ob-ject , according to Nancy's remark?

6 I refer to my study But - four essays on Derrida (

of this other syncategoreme mais (but).
7 Jacques Prévert, Paroles (Paris, Gallimard, 1949
Ionesco, Exercices de conversations et de diction franç
(Frankfurt, Diesterweg, 1991). (This passage is
German text.)
8 The translators acknowledge with gratitude the advice of Dr Ingrid

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