'Art' in Nancy's 'first philosophy': The artwork and the praxis of sense making

Research in Phenomenology 38 (1):18-40 (2008)
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For the purposes of analytical clarity it is possible to distinguish two ways in which Nancy's ontology of sense appeals to art. First, he uses 'art' as a metaphorical operator to give features to his ontology (such as surprise and wonder); second, the practice of the contemporary arts instruct the terms of his ontological project because, in his view, this practice catches up with the fragmentation of existence and thus informs ontology about the structure of existence today. These two different roles—in which 'art' is both a general category able to stage the features of sense in general and a particularly striking example of the alteration sense undergoes in our times—make available for Nancy different perspectives on the question of sense. On the one hand, the general category of 'art' allows Nancy to construct a characterology of sense around terms such as surprise and novelty; on the other, the appeal to the fractal practice of the 'contemporary arts' supports the project of giving an account of sense.This paper analyses the effects on Nancy's conception of sense of these different appeals to 'art' and the practice of 'the contemporary arts.' Are the locales from which these different perspectives on sense take shape compatible? In what ways do they inflect each other or, alternatively, undermine the perspectives of the other on the question of sense? Finally, what do these two strands tell us about what Nancy expects of 'art' and what would happen to his ontology of sense without the different appeals he makes to it?

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Alison F. Ross
Monash University


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