Before turning to the opening section of On Touching I want to veer off to some texts of Nancy's. The text I will look at in this posting is one of many that I'll have cause to examine in the course of working through On Touching and a text that is specifically mentioned right at the beginning of On Touching as well as in a note to the "exergue". This is Nancy's text "On the Soul", a title that immediately refers us to the work of Aristotle that was discussed in the "exergue" to On Touching. This text of Nancy's is included in Corpus, the work of Nancy that appears to have a particularly crucial status for On Touching.
This text of Nancy's dates from 1994 and at the opening of it Nancy mentions how the headlines in the daily papers are full of reference to the cruelties that were, at this time, being committed in Bosnia. The point of the reference is to immediately indicate that although this text refers, in its title, to "the soul", it is going to be the burden of Nancy's argument to suggest that it is bodies that we should have in mind.
The text is one that Nancy indicates is not a "lecture" so much as an "improvisation" as he wishes to avoid producing a "body effect" in his discussion in the sense that Plato speaks of a discourse having an organic form. In place of this kind of effect he wishes to trace a sense of the body as something that is "open". However this point already produces a motif that clearly relates to the concerns of On Touching as Nancy writes: "in order for there to be an opening, something has to be closed, we have to touch upon closure. To touch on what's closed is already to open it. Perhaps there's only ever an opening by way of a touching or a touch. And to open - to touch - is not to tear, dismember, destroy." (122)
This indication that to speak of the body as that which is "open" already implies a relation, in some way, to a closure and the ability to open this closure leads Nancy to invoke the vocabulary of touching. It is by "touching" that opening takes place and such opening is not a form of "destruction". The use of the language of opening and the distancing from "destruction" suggest both a closeness to and a differentiation from Heidegger, much as one often finds in the work of Derrida himself.
Rather than immediately develop the possibilities of this relation to Heidegger however Nancy stays with the sense of what the distinction between openness and closure implies. Something completely "closed" would not even be involved in a form of self-touching he claims and so would not be a "body". This apparently negative claim clearly implies the positive conception that a principal characteristic of bodies would be this ability of self-touching. This point is doubtless one to which we will have to return.
Nancy's initial point in raising this view that complete closure would not allow us to arrive at view of the body is to state that the conventional opposition between "body" and "soul" implies a sense that each is closed off from the other. It thus conceptualises bodies in a sense as if they were strictly inorganic although even this notion partakes more of the quality of an "image" than a concept since the sense of the inorganic body implies a connection between the inorganic and the organic that is itself problematic. A sense of something completely closed in on itself should, in any case, be something that would not characterise a body but might, rather, be the way that "God" could be figured.
Such a notion of "God" would, however, articulate this notion in the form of a "mass" and would belong, Nancy suggests to a kind of thought of "substance". One of the ways "substance" has been often articulated, not mentioned here by Nancy but clearly implied by him, is as that which is "independent" of all else. Nancy refers, unsurprisingly, to Aristotle at this point though the way "substance" is articulated by Aristotle is in the Metaphysics and De Anima would thus be dependent upon it. The thought of "substance" in Aristotle would be, as Nancy states, "more complicated" than this sense of independence alone implies but it is by means of something like this that body is often presented.
Nancy next refers past Aristotle and forward to the tradition of modern metaphysics in thinking bodily substance by means of geometrical determinations such as the sense of the point and the line. That would be involved, for example, in Descartes' claim that the essence of body is extension.
By contrast to this sense of body as extension we can contrast the mind as that which has "spirit". This would give us the contrast that determines body and mind in such a way that each appears independent of the other. However one of the points about bodies is that they appear to be plural, there are many of them. This is illuminated in the sense of bodies as "mass" rather than as "points". Mass alone, however, like the point, gives no sense of the life of body and indicates a view of them as essentially dead.
So this kind of determination of body seems not to come from the body. Bodies are that which howl and cry and the discourse of substance seems not to tell us anything at all about this. In making this point Nancy refers not to a classic philosopher like Aristotle or Descartes but, instead to Antonin Artaud, the dramatist, who thought that it was necessary to, in some way, mark the limit of the philosophical discourse on substantial embodiment.
The discourse on body appears not to speak of the corporeality of body. This would seem to be part of the way that the logic of discourse itself gets structured after the pattern of the incorporeal. The body, by contrast, viewed by Nancy as that which is open, does not fit such a picture. So body is not purely anatomy, it is not only that which is pictured by the stages of articulation of dead mass. Such discourse gives no sense to body.
So the concern with body that has led to the production of Nancy's talk is one that concerns the embodiment of body and this concern is one that seems particularly contemporary. Body, in some way, interrupts the pattern of "sense" as this has been produced in discourse.
At this point Nancy addresses the question of why his piece is called "on the soul" when he appears to be speaking about bodies and in so doing explicitly refers to Aristotle's De Anima. One of the reasons for using this title, as Nancy puts it, is that in the text after which he has named his talk, the text of Aristotle, we find also a concern with body. Why would this concern with body be marked by both Aristotle and Nancy in a way that eccentrically states it will address the soul?
Nancy's reply to this obvious question is to state that the word "soul" is the word that names a "being outside itself" (which is a way of translating Heidegger's term ex-sistence). The soul is not to be addressed as a "spiritual body" says Nancy as when, in images, an angel is presented leaving the dead body. This representation has to be put aside as we instead concentrate on a view of the soul as being "the body itself".
In other terms the soul is the body's self-relation, that which would enable it therefore to touch itself. If the soul is a term for something it would be that which enables a form of self-differentiation. So, for example, Aristotle determines the soul as the "form" of the body. But this determination could be taken to mean that the soul is still distinct from body unless we say that a body without form is that which we already discounted, namely, a pure mass.
The form of the body is thus what enables us to say we have body at all. So it's not something opposed to matter as if matter and form were exterior to each other. Rather form is the articulation of the matter that allows us to say we have a body. If body is related to itself or to another body it is by means of this articulation. Another way of speaking of form would be to say that there is "sensing" going on as a body is that which senses. So when we say that there is "aesthetics" we mean that there is body.
The body is that which senses and that which gets sensed. The matter of the body is what is sensed and the form of the body is what does the sensing. Since both take place the body senses itself and this self-sensing is the life of the body. The being-sensed of the body cannot be penetrated except in destruction so this is what it is destroy a body, to prevent its sensing from continuing to take place.
A final determination that Nancy takes from Aristotle is that the soul is the "entelechy" of the body. An "entelechy" is that which organizes the body and makes it a whole but we can see this means that the sensing-sensed unity takes place. So entelechy is the operation of the body as a particular. Bodies are articulated as particulars and in relation to each other. So each time there is a body there is occupation of a given area, a space that makes it possible to determine the limits of the given body and distinguish it from other bodies.
So if Aristotle claims that the soul is the "entelechy" of the body then this is the same claim as Heidegger's that there is ex-sistence. The way in which we find ourselves to be is in this being-beyond that is embodiment. The first way we can present this to ourselves is by means of the surface of our own body, as, for example, through skin. The body, in touching itself, touches skin.
Nancy here refers to "classic" phenomenological analyses of body although he does not here attempt to look at them in depth but he does name both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Their analyses of body, he implies, are strange in always concerning themselves with self-touching as a kind of interiority rather than staying with the simple evidence of skin. There is a basic exposure of body to itself in the surface it has, the surface we term in general skin.
Sensing the body involves the way that it announces itself to the one who has senses and this sensing tells us that there is something going on by means of a kind of eruption. The eruption that we sense is by means of our ability to sense and this ability is what Nancy is here terming the possession of "soul".
Soul is thus a way of speaking of how the body articulates itself by means of an exterior relation it possesses to itself. Leaving behind Aristotle Nancy next mentions Spinoza. Spinoza is the one who claims that the soul is the "idea" of the body and this means that it is the way that God relates to the body. However given that Spinoza performs the radical trick of making God and God alone that which can be named as "substance" it follows that the duality involved in the claim that the soul is the idea of the body is one determined through attributes of the one determination. This claim leads very quickly to thinking God in such a way that the name "God" appears unnecessary.
For Spinoza body and soul are thus internally related as the soul is the body's idea. When Spinoza thus speaks of the feeling of the eternal he means that the body is necessary to itself. Despite the contingency of all that takes place bodily the sense of the taking place is necessary so that the contingent becomes necessary.
Nancy next looks at Descartes, particularly his Second Meditation. Here we have the figure of the piece of wax. When it is heated it appears to lose all its qualities so that its extension is something opposable to the idea of it. But there is a relation all the same as Descartes speaks here of the two as involved in a form of "touching" as when the sense of touch is still involved even after the burning of the wax. We can touch it even if doing so would burn. So the extension is one we can touch, even in extremis.
When Descartes speaks later of the "union" of body and soul he, like Aristotle, accedes to the view that "sensing one's self" is at work. When the soul senses it senses body and the body in being sensed is sensed by means of itself. The body is sensed to be that which is the experience of the "Subject" for Descartes. Essentially the basic relation the "subject" has for Descartes is to touch.
The "I" of Descartes finds its singularity in its way of touching. This claim about Descartes is made quickly and a longer treatment would be needed but the view that there is "self-sensing" and that is experience is marked in Descartes. It is what makes Descartes' "I" resonate with Heidegger's Dasein. The question of being-there, of occupying a place, is what emerges for Dasein as something that it can question. It is a mystery for it.
But the mystery in question is not one of incarnation in the sense of that which lacks place suddenly occupying space. It is rather that Dasein finds itself as being-a-there and this being is what is inevitable for it. The body is always there and being-there is being open. This conception is different to the one that sets body against soul. Such a view continues in the way that body is spoken of as an object or presented as "objectified". The criticism of "objectification" continues the division of the body/soul duality as it implies that bodies are good or bad in presentational form.
The body, by contrast, for Nancy, is a "self-sensing" where such sensing is the opening of the body to that which is other to itself by means of itself. Soul is this being-outside the self. So if the body is an ex-tension it is also an in-tension, that is, a sensible unity that experiences tension as interruption and whose interruption is its way of being itself.
Bodies are being in a certain way, a way that differentiates itself. Soul is thus the way of experiencing the body and experience is only of the body. Bodies are limits that touch themselves. "But touching upon the self is the experience of touching on what is untouchable in a certain way, since 'self-touching' is not, as such, something that can be touched." (134-5) The untouchability of the basic experience of body is articulated as that which self-affects and thus self-disrupts. Bodies are exposition to the outside so that bodies have weight.
This articulation of bodies by means of soul is what sets "On the Soul" up as a way of thinking bodies as alive. We will next look at how Nancy addresses "psyche" as his text on this will be the one which "opens" On Touching and the sense of which we will find articulated throughout On Touching as part of the way that the soul is thought in its relation to self-affection.