British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow,
University of Cambridge

Rethinking Medieval Manuscripts with Jean-Luc Nancy

Abstract

Jean-Luc Nancy (1940–2021) was one of the most influential philosophers of the past fifty years, producing important and often radical interventions on cornerstone concepts in western metaphysics (community, subjectivity, space, freedom, sense, etc.). Despite the privileged place Nancy gives early Christian thought and practice in his philosophy, he remains surprisingly neglected by medievalists. His thinking on touch (Derrida, who wrote a book about this, saw the figure of touch as the leitmotif running through Nancy's corpus) promises to challenge many of the assumptions made by scholars of medieval literature. In addition to my work with Tactile Communities where both touch and community are key ideas, I am putting Jean-Luc Nancy in dialogue with manuscript studies in two other written pieces: the first offers an overview of Nancy's philosophical paradigm (notably the ideas of ‘sense’, the ‘singular-plural’, touch as withdrawal, and ‘ex-scription’) and their applicability to medieval manuscripts; while the second argues that the political effects of medieval history-books arise out of how they make ‘sense’ to their audiences, where, following Nancy, the sensible and the intelligible must be seen as mutually constitutive.

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CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia.

Jean-Luc Nancy in 2010.