Literature Singular Plural: A Retraction of God, A Scene of Forgiveness, A Retreat of the Political

  • Jake Reeder Marist College


This paper rethinks the boundaries and conceptions of literature by putting Jacques Derrida's “Literature in Secret” in conversation with Jean-Luc Nancy's “Being Singular Plural”. Both Derrida and Nancy upset the usual understanding of what is literary: the former by tracing it to the Abrahamic tradition and specifically the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac; the latter by claiming that literature is exemplary of an ontology of “Being-with”. Derrida claims that literature always hides a secret, and it is this hiding of a secret that gives a text its literary force. Nancy too—with his thinking around the repetition of the origin of the world—asks us to observe how literature demands the necessity of a singular ex-scription. Given that both Derrida and Nancy assert a kind of paradoxical relation between inherited repetition and original secrecy, my paper emphasizes the way that these thinkers transform the very form one should expect literature to take while simultaneously transforming its classical source (authorship). Additionally, both thinkers assign a political value to their rethinking of literature, where literature itself marks a possibility of a democracy-to-come and the possibility of a community beyond capital. Derrida and Nancy, famously friends, are not always in agreement, and I place their sometimes similar and sometimes contradictory thoughts in a productive tension to affirm the value of these literary reconsiderations.