Book Review: Jean Luc Nancy: The Fragile Skin of the World: Philosophy and Ecology

FALL 2020

by Samuel W. Kochansky

Cohort ’18

Book cover: The Sense of the World  and Jean Luc Nancy. Image courtesy of the author.
Book cover: The Sense of the World  and Jean Luc Nancy. Image courtesy of the author.

On June 15, 2020, our cohort had the pleasure of participating in the summer’s philosophical event with a lecture by Jean Luc Nancy on the Sense of the World (first published in 1993), introduced by Dr. Giovanni Tusa. In this book, Nancy explores what the end of the world is, what is the end of sense as meaning. Hearing influences from Heidegger, losing one's sense of place, of dwelling and the elements of orientation, Nancy explores such thought as it is “caught up in the regime of a signifying sense, whether it proposes itself in the final analysis as “nonsense” or as “revelation” (Nancy 4). However, he goes much further than Heidegger in that thinking of being as co-existing and co-appearance. There is an ontology of the body that must face the Anthropocene, a Kantian chaos (a chaos of senses) (Nancy 43).

His philosophy repositions sense and the world between the presence and absence of meaning as a re-articulation of philosophy relating to ecology. These are also the borders of philosophy: myth and the abyss. Offering a new way of understanding what “end” means, Nancy presents a rigorous lecture on these absences of meaning in our lives. Nancy establishes a tautological relationship between sense and the world and explains the apparent paradox that the sense of the world today is that there is no such thing as either sense or world. The twentieth-century of the end of meaning—a century of distraction, disintegration, and collapse—has lost meaning. The reality that our current condition now faces, in the ecological sense, with the “open” and the “outside.” It unfolds as questioning from a closed world of meaning to an open world of sense.

Nancy has a particular interest in the senses as such, but more profoundly, in The Muses, Nancy states, "Art disengages the senses from signification," but it gives us “what one might just as correctly name the ‘sense of the world”’ (Nancy 22). The Muses extends these contemplations on “the sense of the world” into the twenty-first century.

Works Cited

Nancy, Jean-Luc, and Jeffrey S. Librett. The Sense of the World. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.