PHILOSOPHICAL NOTE: On Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Transimmanence”

The essay below has been prepared for a Dictionary, still in progress, about the philosophical terminology of Jean-Luc Nancy. The originating editor of the Dictionary, B. C. Hutchens, summarizes Nancy’s importance: 

“Nancy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg, co-founder of the former ‘Centre for Philosophic Research on the Political’ and author of numerous influential books about meaning, freedom, community, art and politics. However, he is not merely another academic celebrity seduced by the allures of pedantry. His ideas not only bear on social realities; they also stem from them. For approximately a decade, he has endured the suffering of both a heart transplant and cancer, and written profoundly about both in such works as “The Heart of Things” and L’Intrus. It is from Nancy that we learn that, if each part of a body could take over or spread over the body itself, then there is no such thing as body at all, only a sharing out of bodies and their relations (Nancy, The Birth to Presence, p. 207) His misfortunes have inspired relentless enquiry into the meaning of the body’s fragility and fragmentation, the tenuous connections of a community of such bodies, and the plurality of voices that express their sense.” (Hutchens, page ix.)

My own more extended thinking on Nancy’s key notion of transimmanence can be found in my most recent book, The Theological and the Political, which interprets transimmanence as the dynamic force of liberating spirit. I there place Nancy’s notion in conversation with the thought of other writers, including Richard Wright, Abdul JanMohamed, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Walter Mignolo, and other theorists (see especially chapters 3 and 4 of that book).


Transimmanence, is Nancy’s concept for naming and locating the place(s) and movement(s) at work within his unique and expansive notion, “the sense of the world.”  If the world’s “sense” is its continual “taking place” (BSP, 5), always-circulating and opening through incessant joining, playing, speaking, sharing, passaging within both the knowing and being of bodies in the world (SW, 78), then transimmanence is Nancy’s word for naming these interplaying dynamics, and also locating them. The locating is expressed in Nancy’s writing as a concern with a logic of spacing, or of weighing, between dynamically charged entities. But the locating function also expresses Nancy’s mindfulness regarding the spatial and locating consciousness of Western discussions of “transcendence” and “immanence.” Transimmanence, then, is a concept that “locates” in two related ways: (a) throwing into relief the heart of Nancy’s project, while also (b) situating his project in relation to broader discussions.

The transimmanence concept can be introduced by examining a key extract from the Nancy corpus (M, 1996). There, four key traits of transimmanence are evident. Consider Nancy’s phrasing in this passage:

“One could also put it this way: art is the transcendence of immanence as such, the transcendence of an immanence that does not go outside itself in transcending, which is not ex-static but ek-sistant. A transimmanence. Art exposes this. Once again, it does not “represent” this. Art is its ex-position. The transimmanence, or patency, of the world takes place as art, as works of art” (M, 34-5).

As a first key trait, there is here the dialectical relation of transimmanence to the notion of transcendence. The very notion of transimmanence is broached by Nancy in relation to “transcendence.” When pronouncing art as transimmanence Nancy announces it as “the transcendence of immanence as such,” or “the transcendence of an immanence.” Here, transimmanence is introduced as emerging through (dia) engaging transcendence.

This does not mean that thinking transcendence is the necessary precondition for the possibility of thinking transimmanence. It does mean, though, that transimmanence has provenance in discourses of transcendence. Nancy’s notion of transimmanence engages and then breaks from, deconstructs, the notion of transcendence. Indeed there is a “refusal of transcendence,” as called for by theorists, Hardt and Negri (2000, 90-1). Nancy’s refusal, though, remains mindful of the term’s provenance in Western discourses of transcendence. Like Laclau (2005, 244), Nancy can reference mainly “failed transcendence,” but in so doing develops his counter-position to transcendence as a dialectical engagement of transcendence. Nancy’s refusal is a deliberate working amid the ruins of transcendence, its legacy of failure.  What now, more positively, can be said about transimmanence itself?

Second, the extract from The Muses highlights the transiting, crossing character of transimmanence. Obviously, the very prefix of the term, trans- (from the Latin trans, “across”)suggests this. Transimmanence is a crossing, but without being the type of crossing or “crossing over” that entails, as in transcendence, an ascending (scandere, “climb”) to some place above or outside world. Transimmanence is a transiting or crossing entirely within world. It “does not go outside itself in transcending.” But what is the uniqueness of transimmanence’s crossing, its transiting, if it is not ascension to an “outside?”

The third aspect of our extract offers a crucial response: transimmanence is an “ek-sisting.” In the Greek, ek- as originally from eik, concerns a point whence action or motion proceeds. It is not so much a standing out, as the “ex-” in ex-stasis (ecstasy). Nancy’s transiting in transimmanence keeps the focus not on anything that might stand out from world, but on a motion that is a moving into “outer,” always other, spaces and times, within world. The emphasis is on a sliding or passing through. Ek-sisting is continual transiting through the complexities of world, finding edges, ever new routes to edges, alternative dimensions of depths within, tracing the textures and layering through which movement occurs – unceasingly. It is a motion or exteriorization that does not actually go outside (“What outside?” Nancy often quips) but does pass toward an outer within world. This is as Hutchens says “open immanence,” not “closed immanence” (Hutchens 2005, 167). This ek-sisting, more broadly, is also a resistance to closure. As Nancy argues in Corpus, transimmanence is world in extension, continually extending, coordinating separation and relation (C, 95); but this extension, a mode of weighing, works in continual, labile tension with another kind of weighing, an amassing that Nancy calls “concentration” (C, 77, 79). Nancy can term the transimmanental opening of the spacings of extension amid concentration, a “revolt” and “liberation” of bodies (C, 111).

There is a fourth aspect of our passage that both clarifies transimmanence and points to a central, expansive domain of Nancy’s project: transimmanence as “ex-positional” through art. “Art is [transimmanences’s] ex-position” (M, 35). Art is ex-position not as we might refer to essays and speeches as expositions, but as a “putting out” and “into place” (Old French, poser). By putting into place, art puts into being, into some place amid the multifarious spacing of the world. Transimmanence as ex-posited through art is linked to the dynamism that generates the sense of the world. Nancy says further in our extract that transimmanence taking place as works of art is a “patency.” With this term Nancy seems to draw on the medical and phonetic uses of the term, referring to patency as “being unblocked,” being-with other entities such that free flow and passing occur. In other words, transimmanence, as ex-positional through the arts, works to clear passageways, moving deftly, creatively, to make place(s) and space(s) of world. The ex-positing that is the work of art is a reforging of the world as extension (again in agonistic relation to world as concentration), thus creating or ex-positing both “intimacy and withdrawal” of multiply-sensed and sensing bodies in a singular plural world (C, 33).

In sum, transimmanence names within Nancy’s project the dynamic, ceaselessly flowing sense of the world, liberating world continually into itself, evolving and revolving into ever more textured and artfully ex-posited complexity. This is also a “revolt of bodies” toward “freedom” (C, 101). Within the larger discussions of transcendence and immanence, then, Nancy’s “transimmanence” is not simply a matter of having done with both, declaring a pox on both their houses. Nancy, instead, strikes a neither/nor approach to transimmanence/immanence, recasting both in the discursive milieu of transimmanence.


B. C. Hutchens, Jean-Luc Nancy and the Future of Theology. McGill-Queens, 2005.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Ernesto Laclau. On Populist Reason. New York: Verso Books, 2005.

Jean-Luc Nancy:

BSP     Being Singular Plural. Stanford University Press, 2000.

C         Corpus. Fordham University Press, 2008

M         The Muses. Stanford University Press, 1996.

SW       The Sense of the World. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

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