Jean-Luc Nancy is for us, here, now, a more important thinker than Derrida,if only because of a relative distancing from certain Heideggerian problematics (which have recently been taken up again by the latter in a text on "the Question"). In the wake of deconstruction, Nancy - who was born in France in 1942, studied under the ubiquitous Derrida, and currently teaches at the University of Human Sciences in Strasbourg - has written extensively and brilliantly on the major figures of Western philosophy, and is now emerging as one of the world's foremost philosophers. Accordingly, the steady flow of translations over the last ten years of such books as The Literary Absolute (with Philip Lacoue-Labarthe, 1978/English trans., 1988), The Inoperative Community (La Communauté désoeuvrée,1989/1991), The Birth to Presence (1993), The Experience of Freedom (1988/1993), and The Muses (1993/1996) testifies to the increased and intensified interest of English-speaking audiences in Nancy's sagacious probes into the thematic quandaries of community, nihilism, freedom, psychoanalysis, subjectivity, and so forth. The Sense of the World (originally published as Le sens du monde in 1993 by Galilée in Paris), having arrived in English at a particularly crucial and felicitous moment just prior to the jointure of two millennia, co-mingles these themes (and many more) with a staggering analysis of sense that articulates a schismatic trembling of the ancient and time-honored quest for redemption or Enlightenment, and offers in its place a joyous release of thought from the ars dialectica of question and answer. It is here that Nancy's work unfolds its full exigency and indispensability for us, by exposing the acosmic opening of the world through which the non-millenarian affirmativity that links together the disparate modulations of Nietzsche, Benjamin, Deleuze, and Agamben shall soon come to pass.
Nevertheless, and for this very reason, there is a peculiar inanity and violent tedium in asking again and again: Are we going beyond metaphysics? Is the collapse of philosophy imminent? Does a desolation of meaning truly stand before us? Such questions are never overcome by incessantly returning to them, viz. by obsessing and sentimentalizing, for nostalgia always bespeaks a crisis ineluctably exemplified by the very discourse which attempts to diagnose it (that scission which Plato could already, and perhaps somewhat affectionately, call a palaias enantiôseôs). Thus beyond any discrete desirability for solutions, it is no longer even possible, Nancy maintains, to articulate what Jan Patocka termed a "crisis of sense" (2): all sense has suffered an irreparable abandonment. Yet the paradox which intrigues Nancy, and with which the entirety of his singularly exceptional book concerns itself, is that the very world which no longer makes sense to or for us, nevertheless flaunts - from nebula to galaxy, jungle to ocean crevasse, amoeba to monkey - a bewildering excess of sense. On the outskirts of its orbit around rationality, at the utter fragility of its apogean limit, sense thus ruptures and overflows its subjugation to what is "sensible," disseminating itself excessively across the thin border that divorces absolute return from absolute escape, and dissolves the world in an "absolute absolution of sense" (167).