Jean-Luc Nancy often insists on the necessity of understanding the expression “deconstruction of Christianity” as a subjective genitive: the deconstruction of Christianity would be — in a still enigmatic sense — a self-deconstruction. It is a fact that commentators have often taken “deconstruction” as an external intervention of a sovereign interpreter on a text, as a gesture performed, often violently, on some object of thought. However, what would it mean for our understanding of deconstruction if it were, as Nancy insists, a self-deconstruction? What would the deconstruction of Christianity mean if it were, first and foremost, the self-deconstruction of Christianity and not another attack on Christianity? For no one, Nancy mocks in Dis-Enclosure. The Deconstruction of Christianity, “can imagine being confronted today by a Voltaire-like philosopher, having at Christianity in an acerbic tone – and doubtless not in the best Nietzschean style.” (1) Nancy clearly emphasizes that with such a title, “Deconstruction of Christianity” (an expression whose very terms display the singular intertwining of Christianity with Western metaphysics, or, as Nancy clarifies, “already bring together philosophical and religious features” (2)), it is not an issue of a “belated attack” on Christianity, and neither can it be a matter of defending it. Such projects are “simply out of season” (D, 141), because Christianity as such is surpassed (dépassé), already in the process of being overcome: “Christianity, as such, is surpassed, because it is itself, and by itself, in a state of being surpassed (en état de dépassement)” (D, 141). Now, this state of being surpassed (dépassement) is a self-surpassing (autodépassement), Nancy no longer speaking of overcoming in this passage but of self-overcoming. Thus, it is not an issue of deconstructing Christianity in the sense of an attack on Christianity, because in a deeper fashion, in a way that is “very profoundly proper to it,” in its “deepest tradition” (d, 141), Christianity is in a state of self-overcoming and self-deconstruction. What would this reflexive mean for an understanding of deconstruction, of a deconstruction of Christianity? It is the purpose of the following pages to explore these questions further, with the ambition of deepening our understanding of deconstruction as self-deconstruction. For as Nancy writes, “it is this transcendence, this going-beyond-itself that therefore must be examined” (D, 141).
I. Thinking at the End of Christianity
Nancy’s reflection on Christianity, on the end of Christianity and on its self-deconstruction, is rooted in an analysis of our present time, in the need to reflect on its provenance and on the historical trajectory of the West that has led us to the point where sense itself has become questionable. It is thus in the context of a disintegration – indeed (self)deconstruction — of sense that Nancy seeks to engage that history. This disintegration of sense – of the sense of the world – can be seen in the phenomenon of globalization, in which the West has both established dominance and exceeded itself (to the point where the “West can no longer be called the West”, D, 29) to take the form of the global. Now the global is not the worldly, and in fact is the disintegration of the sense of the world: In The Creation of the World or Globalization, (3) Nancy’s reflection on the world, on “the being-world of the world”, is developed in a play between two terms apparently synonymous, or used interchangeably, namely globalization (globalisation) and world-forming (mondialisation). Nancy analyses and exploits this linguistic particularity proper to the French language, which, in effect, possesses two terms for designating the phenomenon known in English simply as “globalization”: Mondialisation and globalisation, world-forming and globalization. Although the two terms seem, at first glance, to be indistinguishable, converging in the designation of the same phenomenon, that is, the unification of all parts of the world, in fact they reveal two quite distinct, if not opposite, senses. Globalization is a uniformity produced by a global economical and technological logic, “a global injustice against the background of general equivalence” (CW, 54), which leads to the opposite of an inhabitable world, which Nancy calls the “the un-world” (im-monde). Globalization, far from being a world-forming, leads to a proliferation of the un-world (4). In short, “The world has lost its capacity to ‘form a world’ [faire monde]: it seems only to have gained that capacity of proliferating, to the extent of its means, the ‘un-world'” (CW, 34). The profound nihilism of the logic of globalization is here revealed for, as Nancy concludes, “everything takes place as if the world affected and permeated itself with a death drive that soon would have nothing else to destroy than the world itself” (CW, 34). The question, henceforth, becomes the following: “can what is called ‘globalization’ give rise to a world, or to its contrary?” (CW, 29). Nancy will oppose to the un-world a “creation” of the world, a process I will analyze below in terms of a self-deconstruction of Christianity.
Nancy’s reflection on the deconstruction and self-deconstruction of Christianity indeed begins with the following fact: the world destroys itself. This is not a hyperbole, the expression of a fear or anxiety; nor is it a hypothesis for reflection. It is, according to Nancy, a fact, indeed the fact from which any reflection on the sense of the world must originate. “The fact that the world is destroying itself is not a hypothesis: it is in a sense the fact from which any thinking of the world follows” (CW, 35). Noting briefly the features of this destruction, Nancy highlights the shift in meaning of the papal formulation “urbi et orbi,” which has come to mean, in ordinary language, “everywhere and anywhere.” This “everywhere and anywhere” consecrates the disintegration of the world, because it is no longer possible, since this disintegration, to form an orb of the world. The orb of the world dissolves in the non-place of global multiplicity. This is an extension that leads to the indistinctness of the parts of the world, as for instance, the urban in relation to the rural. Nancy calls this hyperbolic accumulation “agglomeration”, in the sense of the conglomerate, of the piling up, a “bad infinite” (CW, 47) dismantling the world: “In such a glomus, we see the conjunction of an indefinite growth of techno-science, of a correlative exponential growth of populations, of a worsening of inequalities of all sorts within these populations – economic, biological, and cultural – and of a dissipation of the certainties, images and identities of what the world was with its parts and humanity with its characteristics” (CW, 34) (5). The accumulation of globalization accentuates the concentration of wealth that never occurswithout the exclusion of a margin that is thrown into poverty. Nancy thus notes the correlation of the process of technologic and economic planetary domination with the disintegration of the world, that is, the disintegration of the “convergence of knowledge, ethics, and social well-being” (CW, 34). The access to totality, in the sense of the global and the planetary, is at the same time the disappearing of the world. It is also, Nancy emphasizes, the end of the orientation and of the sense (of the world). Globality does not open a path, a way, or a direction, a possibility; rather, it furiously turns on itself and on its own absence of perspective and orientation, thereby exacerbating itself as blind technological and economical exploitation,
The world no longer makes sense as world. The world, Nancy writes, “no longer acknowledges itself as holding a world-view, or a sense of the world that might accompany this globalization”. The world is reduced to a world-market, and the sense of the world identified with a mere “accumulation and circulation of capitals” (D, 30). At a time when the West has become globalized, and for that reason is no longer possessor of a sense of the world, when sense itself is reduced to the domination of the general equivalence of values and accumulation and circulation of capitals, in an indefinite technological growth deprived of recognizable finality always increasing the gap between the powerful and the have-nots, it becomes urgent at such a time, Nancy argues, to come back to (revenir sur) what he calls the provenance of our history, to reengage the history of the West in which this process of disintegration or decomposition of sense has occurred. “Our time is thus one in which it is urgent that the West – or what remains of it – analyze its own becoming, turn back [se retourne sur] to examine its provenance and its trajectory, and question itself concerning the process of decomposition of sense to which it has given rise” (D, 30). In such history of the West, Christianity occupies a central and determining place, and thus becomes what must be questioned in an eminent way. However, this return or revisiting of (retour sur) Christianity cannot be mistaken with a simple return to (retour à) Christianity, and Nancy clarifies in the very first lines of the volume that the goal is not to revive religion, “and even less to return to it” (D, 1). A return of religion or the return to religion, Nancy writes, could only worsen the dangers that are inherent in it. Indeed Nancy had already distanced himself, not only from the idea of a return to Christianity, but also from the very motif of the return, as such, in philosophy, for instance in “The Forgetting of Philosophy”. (6)This is why he explains that the “much-discussed ‘return of the religious,’ which denotes a real phenomenon, deserves no more attention than any other ‘return'” (D, 1), for what matters in such returns is never the return of the identical but of the different: “the identical immediately loses its identity in its own return” (D, 1, tr. modified), all the more if the return is to the resources of Christianity, which can only have remained other to and ignored by Christianity. It will be a matter of opening again a possibility – a “resource” — which, within and yet beyond Christianity, would no longer belong to Christianity, but which nonetheless would be that from which (“provenance”) both the West and Christianity have been possible (D, 149). In other words, “the question is to find out whether we can, by revisiting [en nous retournant sur] our Christian provenance, designate in the heart of Christianity a provenance of Christianity deeper than Christianity itself, a provenance that might bring out another resource” (D, 143). This movement of re-opening of a resource already defines what is at stake in so-called “deconstruction of Christianity.”
In the essay “The Deconstruction of Christianity,” originally a lecture given at the University of Montpellier in 1995 and first published in 1998 in Études Philosophiques (the first text ventured by Nancy in this project), Nancy associates the overcoming (dépassement) and self-overcoming (auto-dépassement) of Christianity with the destiny of the West, as he asserts that “Christianity is inseparable from the West” (D, 142), “co-extensive with the West qua West.” The very motif of an overcoming refers to the fate of Western metaphysics, as approached both in Nietzsche’s genealogy of our history as history of nihilism and Heidegger’s history of being. The very expression, “dépassement” of metaphysics, refers to the French translation of Heidegger’sÜberwindung der Metaphysik, (7) a reference that is unmistakable in Nancy’s characterization of the overcoming of Christianity. In Heidegger’s work, the early problematic of a destruction or deconstruction of the history of Western ontology was pursued in later works in terms of an overcoming (Überwindung) of metaphysics, itself further thought as appropriation (Verwindung) of its essence(8). More and more explicitly, deconstruction, the early “method” of ontology, was thematized in its relation to history, and within the perspective of the history of Being, took on the sense of an overcoming of metaphysics as a whole, a metaphysics having come to an end. The notion of an “overcoming” of metaphysics, which is spelled out in Überwindung der Metaphysik and Zur Seinsfrage (among other places) ultimately served no other purpose for Heidegger than to clarify the senses of Destruktion, as Heidegger explained in his 1949 introduction to What is Metaphysics?: “The thinking attempted in Being and Time (1927) sets out on the way to prepare an overcoming of metaphysics (Überwindung der Metaphysics).” (9) Nancy would specify that such an overcoming could not mean a simple passing-beyond, and in fact, Heidegger revisited his usage of the term Überwindung for that very reason: For he asked, what does it mean to overcome or surpass? It means “to bring something under oneself,” and consequently, “to put it behind oneself,” that is, as something that no longer has any actuality or “determining power” (10). In overcoming, or surpassing, there is an attempt to go against something, a pressure or a sort of attack employed against what is to be overcome. The project of an overcoming thus still retains the element of power and will constitutive of the West and which it was precisely a question of “overcoming”. Hence Heidegger wrote in On Time and Being that to think Being without beings means “to think Being without regard (ohne Rücksicht) to metaphysics. Yet a regard for metaphysics prevails even in the intention to overcome metaphysics. Therefore, our task is to cease all overcoming, and leave (überlassen) metaphysics to itself”. (11) It is not an overcoming reaching higher that is required but of a “descent,” as Heidegger would write in his “Letter on Humanism,” into the poverty of essence. Thinking does not overcome metaphysics by “climbing still higher, surmounting it (übersteigt), transcending it somehow or other”; rather one overcomes metaphysics by “climbing back down (zurücksteigt)” into the poverty of its essence. The descent “is more arduous and more dangerous than the ascent”(12).
Nancy echoes this powerlessness or poverty of a deconstruction that does not surpass or reach higher by stressing our abandonment to the end and exhaustion of Christianity. He thereby gestures towards a certain void or empty place at the heart of Christianity. Indeed, the very task of thought, he clarifies, is to attend to such a void, as it were unclaimed (en déshérence), to gather “the void of the opening” (D, 2, tr. modified). (13) The presence of this void indicates the extent to which deconstruction must be understood as a self-deconstruction: from such a void Christianity is in a constitutive state of self-deconstruction. It is in this ending, in this place of exhaustion, that Nancy situates his problematic of a deconstruction of Christianity. This exhaustion does not signify that we would be “done with Christianity,” and its overcoming does not amount to us existing beyond it. As Heidegger had shown, to overcome metaphysics does not mean that metaphysics itself is being “passed by,” or belonging to the “past,” the latter being understood as “perish[ing] and enter[ing] what has been.” (OM, 85). Metaphysics has “passed,” but its passing continues, for its end lasts: “[M] etaphysics is…past in the sense that it has entered its ending (Ver-endung). The ending lasts longer than the previous history of metaphysics” (OM, 85). For Nancy, we have entered the end of Christianity and exist in it: we exist in such an exhaustion, and just as Buddha’s shadow “remains for a thousand years before the cave in which he died”, in turn, “We are in that shadow” of Christianity. In fact, far from moving beyond Christianity’s shadow, “it is precisely that shadow that we must bring to light” (D, 142). Overcoming is not a simple passing beyond if that means acceding to another sphere, and similarly for Nancy, overcoming and self-overcoming “do not mean that Christianity is no longer alive” (even though it “has ceased giving life” [il a cessé de faire vivre]) (D, 141). It continues to have a hold on us, we exist in its “nervation,” to the point that “all thought is Christian through and through… through and through and entirely, which is to say, all of us, all of us to the end [jusqu’au bout]” (D, 142, tr. modified). “To the end” (rather than “completely,” as the English translation has) because the issue for Nancy seeks to show that we are still Christian all the way to the end of that history: we are held in and by Christianity through its end, which is an extremity. This is why the question is the following for Nancy: “We must try to bring to light how we are still Christian”, that is: “to ask ourselves ‘how we are still Christian’ takes us to the very end, to the ultimate extremity of Christianity” (D, 142). The overcoming of Christianity, its deconstruction, signifies that Christianity has reached its end and that in such extremity, we are held.
Consequently, for Nancy, the deconstruction of Christianity means accompanying the movement that takes the history of the West to its end, “end” being taken as extremity of sense, where sense can both end and arise: at the place where Christianity and the West would have to let go of themselves in order to be what they are, or still be something of themselves beyond themselves. In this letting go of oneself, one can read a self-deconstruction of Christianity, as Nancy writes that “this [letting go] is what I think properly and necessarily gives rise to a deconstructive move” (D, 143). Let us specify further the sense of such a letting go of oneself, or self-deconstruction. It is not the shedding of one’s old skin, the dropping of one’s tradition; rather in letting go one encounters what comes to the West or Christianity from further than itself, that is, one encounters its other as what has remained concealed in its origin. In letting go, one opens to what Nancy calls the provenance of Christianity, a provenance that is “deeper then Christianity itself,” and which for that reason, and to the extent that it has remained other to that tradition, “might bring out another resource” (D, 143) — a resource that would be neither a weakened version nor a dialectic rehearsal of Christianity. There is no overcoming of Christianity, no deconstruction, except as an entry onto such provenance, if one understands that by provenance, Nancy does not simply mean the past, but that which from the past, as its unthought resource, is still to come. This is why he states: “Now, ‘provenance,’ here as elsewhere, is never simply a past; it informs the present, unceasingly producing therein its own effects.” (D, 31-32, tr. modified).
With respect to such a provenance, Nancy insists on the fact that it structures our history jusqu’au bout, to the end, including its modern period, and that Christianity “is present even where – and perhaps especially where – it is no longer possible to recognize it” (D, 33). A classic representation tends to contrast the Christian age with the modern atheistic period, a schema that Nancy rejects. It is a matter of being “done once and for all with the unilateral schema of a certain rationalism, according to which the modern West was formed by wrestling itself away from Christianity and from its own obscurantism” (D, 34). Instead, one needs to understand how monotheism and Christianity in particular have structured the West through and through. In this sense, the “only atheism that can be actual is the one that contemplates the reality of its Christian provenance” (D, 140, tr. modified). This is why Nancy insists: “Let us therefore, very simply but very firmly, posit that any analysis that claims to find a deviationof the modern world from Christian reference forgets or denies that the modern world is itself the unfolding of Christianity” (D, 143-144, tr. slightly modified). One finds for example in the Kantian corpus both the denial of the Christian reference (modernity itself is built according to Nancy upon such a denial of Christianity within it) and at the same time the maintaining of Christian motifs (such as the universal, law, human rights, freedom, conscience, the individual, reason itself, etc). Regarding the persistence of Christian motifs in our modern age, one could also include here the relation to nature and the reference to the intimate certainty of the heart in Rousseau, the dimension of eschatology and the salvation of man in Marx, the call of conscience and original being-guilt in Heidegger, etc. Relying on what he calls a “deconstructive” knowledge, Nancy stresses that the most salient features of the modern understanding of the world – “and sometimes its most visibly atheist, atheistic, or atheological traits” — must be approached “in their strictly and fundamentally monotheist provenance” (D, 32). This phenomenon — both heritage and its denial — points to a conflict within Christianity, more specifically between a fundamentalism (intégrisme) and its disintegration or “dissolution by adaptation to a world” (“modernity”). We will discover shortly how such a conflict harbors a distention or difference within Christianity — the difference of Christianity — a difference that would have to be understood in terms of the opening and provenance of Christianity as such, allowing for its self-(de)construction. Let us for now note the secret and intimate affinity between atheism and Christianity. In the chapter “Atheism and Monotheism,” Nancy attempts to show that the opposition between atheism and theism — which is in one sense undeniable by the very fact that a-theism is the negation of theism — nevertheless conceals the profound belonging of atheism to theism. A-theism is the negation of theism, “But we should not overlook to what degree this negation retains the essence of what it negates” (D, 16). This statement needs however to be reversed: if atheism harbors a deep dependency with respect to theism, in turn it will be a matter for Nancy of showing how “monotheism is in truth atheism” (D, 35), deconstructs itself as atheism, a still enigmatic formulation which we will attempt to clarify in terms of a self-annihilating of God in his creation. What is nonetheless beginning to appear here is the co-belonging of atheism with theism, atheism not being the simple refutation of theism, and theism somehow leading to atheism in an essential way (Nancy explains thus that Christianity “shelters within itself – better: more intimately within itself than itself, within or without itself – the principle of a world without God” [D, 35]). This atheism or rather absentheism, as Nancy would call it, a world without God, is the true meaning of both atheism and Christianity.
II. Deconstruction as Self-Deconstruction.
Nancy stresses the co-belonging of Christianity with Western metaphysics. In fact, as we noted above, he asserts that not only is Christianity “inseparable from the West” (D, 142), and not some accident that befell it, but is “coextensive with the West qua West”, and he would speak of Christianity as the nervation of the West. Nancy explicitly assumes the definition of metaphysics (in its onto-theo-logical constitution) proposed by Heidegger, by stating that metaphysics designates the “representation of being [être] in terms of beings [en tant qu’étant] and as present being [étant présent]” (D, 6, tr. modified), that is, establishes being as a foundation of beings. Nancy thus assumes the Heideggerian conception of metaphysics as onto-theological, that is, as the foundation of beings in a supreme being. “In so doing”, Nancy continues, “metaphysics sets a founding, warranting presence beyond the world” (D, 6) enclosing beings in their beingness and consecrating what he calls the enclosure of metaphysics (clôture de la métaphysique). Due to this onto-theological structure of metaphysics, Christianity for Nancy must thus be considered as a “powerful confirmation of metaphysics” (D, 7): it represents the accentuating of the reduction of being to beingness through the establishment of “a supreme, arch-present, and efficient Being,” and thereby the enclosure of metaphysics.
However, such enclosure – and this is where everything turns – “amounts to an exhaustion” (D, 6) and the accomplishment of metaphysics amounts to the twilight of its idols. The foundation of beings, precisely insofar as it is the foundation, is itself without foundation, and thus the ground, as ground, constitutively deconstructs itself (as Heidegger has shown in his Principle of Reason (14)). Nancy stresses in Dis-Enclosure that metaphysics “foments in itself the overflowing of its rational ground” (D, 7, tr. modified). Here one can glimpse what Nancy means by the disclosure or dis-enclosure (déclosion) of the closure of onto-theology: closure dis-enclosures itself, from within: “it is from within metaphysics itself that the movement of a destabilization of the system of beings in their totality can take shape” so that literally, “The closure invariably dis-encloses itself” (D, 7). It dis-encloses itself constitutively, that is, from within metaphysics itself. This is why Nancy includes as an example of such self-deconstruction Kant’s notion of the unconditioned in pure reason, an excess of reason with respect to itself, for deconstruction is not some phase that would follow a monolithic history (15), but the excess to closure that inhabits (as excess) and haunts metaphysics. Such an excess is also manifest in the Heideggerian Destruktion of ontology, in Derrida’s différance, or Deleuze’s lines of flight. Metaphysics deconstructs from within (for otherwise, Nancy asks, how could the destabilizing of this supposedly monolithic system have arisen?), and therefore one must state that deconstruction is a self-deconstruction: “In truth, metaphysics deconstructs itself constitutively, and, in deconstructing itself, it dis-encloses [déclôt] in itself the presence and certainty of the world founded on reason.” (D, 7). And what does deconstructing Christianity mean from this perspective? Not an external intervention onto an object, but simply “accompanying it [Christianity] in the movement by which philosophy displaces, complicates and undoes its own closure” (D, 10-11, modified), that is, by grasping in it the movement of a self-deconstruction. The deconstruction of Christianity (as an objective genitive) is the accompaniment – and the revealing — of the deconstruction of Christianity (as a subjective genitive).
Where would that movement lead? What does it give access to? Not to some original givenness of being, as Heidegger may have wished, not to some supra-essential being lying beyond our world, but rather to “the disjointing and dismantling [désajointement] of stones” with the gaze directed “toward the void (toward the no-thing [chose-rien]), their setting-apart” (D, 11). (16) A clarification is here necessary on this sense of deconstruction. The term was first used, as one knows, by Heidegger in paragraph 6 of Being and Time as theDestruktion of the history of ontology. That term has most often been translated into French as déconstruction (although the Vezin translation renders it asdésobstruction) and was then taken up by Derrida in his own thought ofdifférance. If deconstruction has become identified with the name and the thought of Jacques Derrida, its provenance was decidedly Heideggerian, and Nancy explicitly refers to that history in Dis-Enclosure. However, the way that Nancy understands “deconstruction” is quite different from its Heideggerian root and it is important to make this difference explicit. Seeking to clarify how he understands deconstruction (“Let me specify what the operation of ‘deconstruction’ means”, D, 148), Nancy first recalls the history of the term, the tradition to which it belongs, for as he states, deconstruction “belongs to a tradition, to our modern tradition”. If deconstruction (de)structures the history of the West, its name appeared as a philosophical concept in Heidegger (“if we look back at its origin in the text of Being and Time“, D, 148), where it took the sense of a reappropriative dismantling of our tradition. Heidegger indeed stressed the positive intent of Destruktion, aiming at retrieving original experiences of being. For Heidegger, it is a matter of reappropriating a sense of being that has become concealed in our obscuring and alienating tradition. Heidegger thus meant by Destruktion an ontological reappropriation, all the while assuming a certain hermeneutic violence directed at the concealment of phenomena, as this passage from Being and Time makes clear: “Dasein’s kind of Being thus demandsthat any ontological Interpretation which sets itself the goal of exhibiting the phenomena in their primordiality (Ursprünglichkeit), should capture the Being of this entity, in spite of this entity’s own tendency to cover things up. Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence(Gewaltsamkeit), whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquilized obviousness” (BT, 359). Destruktion in the Heideggerian sense would seek to reappropriate the original being of Dasein,against (this is where the negative aspect of Destruktion comes into play) the concealment of phenomena in our (fallen) tradition. Now, this is where Nancy marks his difference: it is not for him a question of reappropriating the proper of human existence and original Dasein, it is not a matter of a return to origins (“I don’t want to take out the gesture of ”returning to the sources” and of ”puri-fication” of the origin”, D, 58), for according to him to deconstruct means instead “to take apart, to disassemble, to loosen the assembled structure in order to give some play to the possibility from which it emerged but which, qua assembled structure, it hides” (D, 148). Nancy certainly shares with Heidegger the conviction that deconstruction (which, Nancy notes, Heidegger explicated as an abbau – de-construction — and not as a Zerstörung or “destruction”) has a positive intent and is neither a destruction in order to rebuild nor a perpetuating. However, for Nancy deconstruction does not give access to an originary proper domain, “being” or Ereignis (it is not “a return to the archaic” [D, 44]), but rather to a sheer case vide, an “empty slot” (D, 149), a gap or void without any substantiality or integrity of its own. That gap would play the role of a hyphen, the trait d’union of a distension.
Deconstruction thus will not lead to the reappropriation of the proper. It is not something existing or subsisting outside the structure, it is not the access to another domain, but simply the differential gap of the construction, the delineation of the structure itself, the lines of the construction, and the structure of the edifice. Nancy stresses in the essay “The Judeo-Christian (on Faith)” that deconstruction “thus belongs to a construction as its law or its proper schema: it does not come to it from elsewhere” (D, 44). Any construction supposes a gap within it, and that gap draws the contours of the construction, while marking its limits, its exposure to the void, and already its self-deconstruction. This is why Nancy writes, in relation to the deconstruction of monotheism: “I will call ‘deconstruction of monotheism’ the operation consisting in dis-assembling the elements that constitute it, in order to attempt to discern, between [entre] these elements and as if behind them, set back from the construction, that which made their assembly possible…” (D, 32, tr. modified). Between or among these elements, the differance of a dis-, deconstruction has no proper and exhibits nothing but the construction itself in its own assembling. It is as if deconstruction was or came to pass “even before construction, or during construction and at its very heart” (D, 58). Deconstruction as the law of the construction, as its logic, and also as the space or spacing, the “space through which the con-struction is articulated (s’ajointe)” (D, 44, tr. modified), a sort of com-position as one speaks of a painting, which is as much a dis-position. The cum- of this com-position is a difference, and any construction, as thus dis-posed and com-posed, harbors or contains “at its center a gap [un écart] around which it is organized” (D. 44). The cum-, the trait d’union (hyphen, but literally the “mark of union”, connecting mark), Nancy states, “passes over a void that it does not fill” (D, 44): The dis- of disposition, the cum- of com-position, do not fill the gap but simply organize it as a construction, for the cum- includes “constitutively the voiding of its center or of its heart” (D, 44, tr. modified). It is such a void that calls for a deconstruction of the structure, and in turn it is that void that deconstruction manifests. “But this deconstruction — which will not be a retrocessive gesture, aimed at some sort of morning light — henceforth belongs to the principle and plan of construction. Deconstruction lies in its cement: it is in the hyphen, indeed it is of that hyphen” (D, 58). To that extent, both construction and deconstruction are undecidedly the same, as Nancy suggests when he states that the “com-” designates both construction and deconstruction “taken together” (D, 48). It is this undecidable that allows Nancy to understand deconstruction strictly as the differential structure of construction, from a void. He thus proposes the general law of any construction, itself harboring the principle of a deconstruction: “the construction in question, like any construction, according to the general law of constructions, exposes itself, constitutively and in itself, to its deconstruction” (D, 48). This deconstruction gives itself as belonging to “the principle and plan of construction” (D, 58), although in the construction of Christianity it is neither a mere formal “empty slot” nor the case vide of the structuralists. The deconstruction of Christianity reveals a void at its heart, that is for Nancy, anopening, which itself will be approached as the resource of sense, of a sense as the opening of sense and to sense, empty of all content, all figure and determination. “Thus everything brings us back again to opening as the structure of sense itself” (D, 156). Ultimately, the nothing that is here revealed points to akenosis by which God empties himself (self-deconstructs) in his creation.
The gesture of deconstruction consists in approaching the places where constructions are made possible from a void, an opening. It is a matter of reaching “the heart of the movement of integrality’s self-distension, the heart of this movement of opening. My inquiry is guided by this motif of essence of Christianity as opening” (D, 145). Deconstruction thus is the reopening of the opening. (17) Nancy stresses this sense, for it is not simply a matter of disassembling or loosening a structure but in fact of revealing the play of its possibility. The gesture of deconstruction lies in the attempt to “reach, at the heart of the movement of integrality’s self-distension, the heart of this movement of opening. My inquiry is guided by this motif of the essence of Christianity as opening: an opening of self, and of self as opening” (D, 145). This opening, as Nancy stresses elsewhere, is never pure, but is always the openingof a closure, always an opening made possible by a “contour,” the drawing of a form and of limits. The open, he explains, “is not gaping infinitely”, and there is no infinite opening; an opening is that which “requires its contour in order to open itself,” like the mouth opens and gives or forms its contour. (18) The opening is always the opening of a distension, and the disassembling is the distension of an opening, for indeed “it is only from within that which is in itself constituted by and setting out from the distension of an opening that there can be a sense to seek and to disassemble” (D, 148), which reveals once again that deconstruction is ultimately a self-deconstruction, and that the deconstruction of Christianity as an objective genitive adjusts itself on a deconstruction of Christianity as subjective genitive. This is how Nancy makes that claim:
“In engaging in a ‘deconstruction of Christianity,’ in the sense I have specified, we find first this, which will remain at the center of every subsequent analysis and represent the active principle in and for every deconstruction of monotheism: Christianity is by itself and in itself a deconstruction and a self-deconstruction” (D, 35).
This represents the very destiny of Christianity, for Christianity is as such the movement of its own distension, from a void that is both its possibility and its self-deconstruction, in the sense of the aporetics of the possibility of the impossible spoken of by Derrida (19). Nancy thus speaks of the profound ambiguity of Christianity, of “the entire self-destructive or self-deconstructive ambiguity of Christianity” (D, 157): on the one hand the empty slot “makes the structure work” (D, 149) but on the other hand it also disassembles it. This is why Nancy speaks of the Open “as horizon of sense and as a tearing of the horizon,” as that which “assembles/disassembles the Christian construction” (D, 156, tr. modified).
III. The Self-Deconstruction of Christianity, or God’s Absentheism
That opening and that spacing are in the end what Nancy calls the eclosure (éclosion) of the world, the eclosure of eclosure itself, a creation of the world without given but properly ex nihilo, by which the creator annihilates itself – deconstructs itself — in its creation. This is what the self-deconstruction of Christianity gives us to think: the self-deconstruction of God in his creation, the absenting of God in the world. What is peculiar to the very notion of creation for Nancy is precisely that it is not a production, from a given and by a transcendent producer. Nancy engages this motif of creation to the exact extent that he takes leave with all reference to a given (“the withdrawal of any given thus forms the heart of a thinking of creation”, CW, 69): nothing is given, all is to be invented, to be created, and the world “is created from nothing: this does not mean fabricated with nothing by a particularly ingenious producer. It means instead that it is not fabricated, produced by no producer” (CW, 51). Thus, Nancy expresses that if “creation means anything, it is the exact opposite of any form of production” (CW, 51), which supposes a given, a project, and a producer. This is why Nancy insists on thinking the “eclosure of the world” in all of its radicality (or rather, since there is no question of roots here, in its béance, void and gap): “No longer an eclosure against the background of a given world, or even against that of a given creator, but the eclosure of eclosure itself” (D, 160). To that extent, creation deconstructs the reference to an author or creator. In Being Singular Plural, within the context of a discussion of his notion of a “creation of the world,” Nancy explained that the concept of creation of the world “represents the origin as originarily shared, spaced between us and between all beings. This, in turn, contributes to rendering the concept of the ‘author’ of the world untenable”. (20) What creation shows is that the so-called “creator” becomes indistinguishable from its “creation”. If creation is ex nihilo — as it must be since it is not a production from a given (21) — that means not that the creator starts from nothing, but that the creator is the nihil, and that this nihil is not prior to creation, so that “only the ex remains” (BSP, 16). That “ex” is a distributive, as the origin is the dis-position of the appearing, and creation is nothing but the ex-position of being.
In The Creation of the World or Globalization, Nancy shows that the question of the world was or has formed “the self-deconstruction that undermines from within onto-theology” (CW, 41). Nancy argues that the world emerged as a proper philosophical problem against the background of a self-deconstruction of onto-theology. The becoming-world of the world is characterized by Nancy as a “detheologization,” insofar as the god of metaphysics has merged with the world, indeed has become the world. This is why for Nancy, the God of onto-theology, in a peculiar kenosis or self-emptying, was “progressively stripped of the divine attributes of an independent existence and only retained those of the existence of the world considered in its immanence” (CW, 44), which amounts to saying that the subject of the world (God) disappears in order for the world to appear as subject of itself. The becoming-world of the world signifies that the world loses its status as object (of vision) in order to reach the status of subject (previously occupied by God as independent existence). Henceforth, there is nothing but the (immanent) world as subject of itself. The world is a relation to itself, which does not proceed from a ground or a basis; it is an extension of itself, relating to itself from its proper extension as world. The God of religious representation as subject of the world, as self-subsisting and sustaining, substance of the world, will be thought of as emptying himself in the opening of the world. Following this understanding ofkenosis in divine creation (22), Nancy explains: “The God of onto-theology has produced itself (or deconstructed itself) as subject of the world, that is, as world-subject. In so doing, it suppressed itself as God-Supreme-Being and transformed itself, losing itself therein, in the existence for-itself of the world without an outside (neither outside of the world nor a world from the outside)” (CW, 44). God thus disappears, but He disappears in the world, which immediately means that we can no longer speak meaningfully in terms of beingwithin the world (dans-le-monde) in the sense of what is contained within something else, but only in terms of being-in-the-world (au-monde). The preposition “au“, “in”, explains Nancy, represents in French what best encapsulates the entire problem of the world. This shift from “within” to “in” indicates the radical immanence of the world: everything now takes place in the world, that is to say, right at the world, à même the world.
To think the world outside representation, that is, outside of onto-theology (“A world without representation is above all a world without a God capable of being the subject of its representation”, CW, 43-44), nothing could be more appropriate, according to Nancy, than to appeal to the motif of creation, that is, a creation ex nihilo understood in a non-theological way. Creation would even be, in its content and its logic, a non-theological notion, if it is the case that creating can only be ex nihilo, emergence from nothing, and not from a transcendent producer. This is why, “‘Creation’ is a motif, or a concept, that we must grasp outside of its theological context,” Nancy insists (CW, 50). Creation is even characterized by Nancy as the nodal point in a deconstruction of Christianity, precisely to the extent that it resides in the ex nihilo. “The idea of creation… is above all the idea of the ex nihilo” (CW, 51). The creation of the world is ex nihilo, letting the world appearing as a nothing-of-given, as “neither reason nor ground sustains the world” (CW, 120, n. 20). From the theological understanding of creation as the “result of an accomplished divine action”, one moves to an understanding of it as an “unceasing activity and actuality of this world in its singularity (singularity of singularities)” (CW, 65), that is, creation asmise-en-monde or mise-au-monde, as Nancy writes it, a bringing or coming into the world (23). That creation is without a creator, without a subject, for the world does not pre-suppose itself but is “only coextensive to its extension as world, to the spacing of its places between which its resonances reverberate” (CW, 43), and is a “resonance without reason” (CW, 47).
The world is thus an abandonment (not held by an author or subject but surrendered without origin to itself), an abandonment by and to: the world ispoor. This poverty (which is not misery but the being-abandoned as such (24)) is the nothing that the world manifests: coming from nothing, resting on nothing, going to nothing, the world is, writes Nancy in an striking passage, “the nothing itself, if one can speak in this way, or rather nothing growing [croissant] assomething” (CW, 51). Noting the etymological links between growing (croissant), being born (naître), to grow (croître), cresco and creo, Nancy connects creation with growth as movement of the world. “In creation, a growth grows from nothing and this nothing takes care of itself, cultivates its growth” (CW, 51). Thus, in this sense, poverty grows. “If the world is the growth of/from nothing [croissance de rien] – an expression of a redoubtable ambiguity – it is because it only depends on itself, while this ‘self’ is given from nowhere but from itself” (CW, 51). The world is created from nothing, that is to say, as nothing, not in the sense of nothingness, but in the sense of nothing given and nothing of reason. The world emerges from nothing, is without precondition, without models, without given principle and end. Coming from nothing signifies: the presentation of nothing, not in the sense of a phenomenology of the unapparent or of negative theology, but in the sense where “that nothing gives itself and thatnothing shows itself – and that is what is” (CW, 123, n.24).
Creation lies entirely in the ex nihilo and not in the position of a theism, against which Nancy proclaims, not simply an a-theism, but an absentheism: a world without God, a world without another world: “At the end of monotheism, there is world without God, that is to say, without another world, but we still need to reflect on what this means, for we know nothing of it, no truth, neither ‘theistic’ nor ‘atheistic’ – let us say, provisionally, as an initial attempt, that it isabsentheistic” (CW, 50-51). God is absent in the creation of the world and disappears in the world, and Nancy clarifies that “absentheism” as designating “an absent God and an absence in place of God” (CW, 120, n.23). A creation no longer referred to theology, but to the ex nihilo, without a transcendent creator (in which the creator disappears and self-deconstructs in his creation), a creation immanent to itself, a creation of itself, and from itself.
This creation of the world deprived of a subject becomes an unpredictable appearance, an irruption of the new, an absolute beginning, a dis-posing openness (the ex of ex nihilo as différance). Ultimately, the self-deconstruction of God is the opening of the world, its eclosure: “…the creator necessarily disappears in the very midst of its act, and with this disappearance a decisive episode of the entire movement that I have sometimes named the ‘deconstruction of Christianity’ occurs, a movement that is nothing but the most intrinsic and proper movement of monotheism as the integral absenting of God in the unity that reduces it in and where it dissolves” (CW, 68). To that extent, the nothing of creation ex nihilo is the one “that opens in God when God withdraws in it (and in sum from it) in the act of creating. God annihilates itself [s’anéantit] as a ‘self’ or as a distinct being in order to ‘withdraw’ in his act – which makes the opening of the world” (CW, 70). The self-deconstruction of God is the opening of the world (“the opening of the world in the world is the result of a destitution or a deconstruction of Christianity”, D, 78) so that self-deconstruction now means the “opening” of the world, from a void, i.e., an ex-appropriative opening: such is one of the most significant aspects of what Nancy has addressed as the deconstruction of Christianity, that is to say, its self-deconstruction.
“The unique God, whose unicity is the correlate of the creating act, cannot precede its creation, any more that it can subsist above it or apart from it in some way. It merges with it: merging with it, it withdraws in it and withdrawing there it empties itself there, emptying itself it is nothing other than the opening of this void. Only the opening is divine, but the divine is nothing more than the opening” (CW, 70).