The [Transplanted] Thinking Heart

In: Research in Phenomenology
Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback Professor, Department of Philosophy, Södertörn University Stockholm Sweden

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This article discusses the relation between philosophy and heart from the viewpoint of a transplanted heart. It is a reflection on Jean-Luc Nancy’s thoughts on the heart as intruder in the thought of the world. Departing from the personal experience of a heart transplant, Nancy develops a deconstruction of the idea and experience of the self, showing that the need of another heart in the body of philosophy and in the body of the world has to do with the urgence of experiencing the self as soi-autre, as selfother, which is perhaps nothing but rhythm. Reading passages of his last book Cruor, the article aims to think together the rhythm of a transplanted heart, and of the heart of selfother.

Dès le moment où l’on me dit qu’il fallait me greffer, tous les signes pouvaient vaciller, tous les repères se retourner.1

Jean-Luc Nancy

The death of Jean Luc Nancy was not only the death of a great contemporary thinker. It was the death of a great thinker who was at the same time a great friend, a friend with many friends, a friend of the many. What to say about the experience so rare in which to lose a philosopher is to lose a friend – a friend of each one and of many, who showed how thought is a friendship with the real each time many or saying with a word of his last text, a friendship with the “allotropy of the real”?2 This rare experience demands more than to link philosophical thought to its etymological sense of wisdom of friendship or to autobiography and its confessions. It points rather toward a relation between thinking and heart that dwells in the heart of thinking, a relation that philosophy failed to think about. Hence, the topic here is the thinking, the heart, the lack of a friend-thinker.

In the interview given to Osamu Nishitani, Yotetsu Tonaki, the Japanese philosopher, friend and translator of Jean-Luc Nancy, described Nancy as a philosopher “able to see through a wide variety of issues because he saw the situations from the perspective of a philosopher beyond death.”3 Tonaki speaks about the perspective of a “philosopher beyond death” in different senses but above all in the sense of a philosopher who lived with a transplanted heart for more than thirty years, who thought the world and its allotropy under the perspective of a transplanted heart. Transplanted life is a life beyond death and in this manner a resurrected life. If Nancy’s thought is the one born from “beyond death,” and is therefore an “anasthasis,” a certain resurrection of thought,4 it is in the sense of a thought that lives of a “transplantation of the heart.” We can therefore claim that in the heart of his thought we find the question about the transplanted thinking heart.

The transplanted thinking heart – this title signs toward what may orient a thought that thinks with Jean-Luc Nancy. Thus, this thinker of the being-with has also made it both visible and necessary to learn to think-with thoughts and thinkers, to discover how thinking means to think-with, rather than against, for, about, from, or beyond: to think-together, emerging here as a new verb which says how relations conjugate and decline thought. It is about a learning by the heart (and not merely by heart). This perspective of a philosopher beyond death renders visible the difficult work of transplantation of another heart in the dying body of the world.5 Moreover, to the transplantation of another heart in the body of a philosopher also corresponds the transplantation of another heart in the body of philosophy itself. The relation between the body and the heart of the philosopher and the body and the heart of philosophy, as much as between the body and the heart of the being of the world, is however not a metaphorical relation. As Nancy wrote in L’ Intrus: “The life of one transplanted can be considered like a microcosm of the general mutation of the world and of humanity”:6 which also includes the mutation of contemporary thought. This relation indicates that the act of thought, rather than autobiographical or embodied, is an act of the heart, in the literal sense used by Shakespeare in the expression “taken to heart,” taking seriously the heart as a crucial question of philosophical thinking. Beyond death, the transplanted heart pays attention to the fragile beatings inside the hollow of the heart as the sole landmark of being in and to the world.

If philosophy lacks a thought of the heart, it is nonetheless known that philosophers have always been interested in the heart. In the beginning of Greek philosophy, already in the first verses of his philosophical poem, Parmenides speaks about the “thumos,” “Ἵπποι ταί µε φέρουσιν, ὅσον t’ ἐπὶ θυµὸς ἱκάνοι,πέµπον …,” about “the heart desiring the far-beyond to which the horses drive the wise.” It is toward the far-beyond of the desire of the heart that the horses drive the philosopher. Later in the same fragment, Parmenides also speaks about “the unshaken heart of truth, accomplished sphere” (“Ἀληθείης εὐκυκλέος ἀτρεµὲς ἦτορ”) when insisting that it is necessary to instruct oneself about everything both of what mortals can see and to which we cannot trust anything as true and the unshaken heart of accomplished sphere of truth. What is this heart desiring the far-beyond to which horses drive the philosopher? And how to instruct oneself, as mortal, about the unshaken heart of truth? The heart of truth cannot be dissociated from the truth of the heart – to instruct oneself about this, this is what the first philosophical poem of the West describes as the philosophical task. Much later, Descartes, the philosopher who inaugurated modern philosophy as a decisive rupture with the previous philosophical tradition, by means of imposing the laws of a rationality in principle detached from the heart, was nevertheless very interested in the heart. For Descartes, the heart is the principle of life, the place where “animal spirits” flow, the beating interiority of life, whose involuntary movements are at the basis of the voluntary movements of the spirit. To the legs it can be said: “walk” but never to the heart “beat.” The beatings of the heart – pulsing life – are indeed what enable walking and thinking. Descartes’s dissecting vision of the heart revealed the heart as involuntary movements of life, exceeding human will, conducting the blood of the living, the very source of life’s excess.

The connection between the desiring heart (of the philosopher) and the unshaken heart of the accomplished sphere of truth (Parmenides) as much as the connection between the movements of the heart inside the body of the philosopher and life’s pulsing nature (Descartes) situates in the heart the philosophical question about the relation between thought and life. Not only the question about how thinking thinks of life or how a thought can become vivid and a life thoughtful, but above all how life thinks itself and thereby indicates how thinking life is immersed in the life of life. In its long metaphysical, ontotheological, archeo-teleological history, philosophy has not heard the beatings of life thinking itself while living each life, exposing at each moment life as the life of existence. This is what the perspective of the transplanted heart, of the beyond death of Nancy’s thought rendered it possible to think. It is from this perspective that it becomes possible to think how the heart is the beating of the ad interiori condition of the possibility of thought. Hence, it can be said that the thought of Jean-Luc Nancy laid bare (a mis à nu) in most bursting way the transplanted heart as the ad interiori condition of possibility of thought in our present condition.

How can we understand that the heart is the interior condition – ad interiori – of the possibility of thought in our today? Today – how does the today of the world shake us today? Everywhere appropriative expropriations and expropriating appropriations, everywhere all sorts of exterminations – genocides and homicides, multicides and urbicides in all forms, everywhere the today of the world shakes us with the fatal death of known worlds, and hence with a “Nevermore,” speaking the raven language of Edgar Allan Poe. The “nevermore” of a world, this terrifying threat of a future of the world without world, of a “i-mundus” itself without a future, puts at distance a death deprived of resurrection, of anastasis, a death that cannot rise from its tomb, a death deprived of a return to itself, where the representation of a return, whatsoever it might be, seems to disappear from the horizon of the world. Everywhere the experience of no longer being capable of keeping in touch with the world as openness – precisely in a world that does nothing but to connect itself every instant, in a world that, by the way it continuously aggregates, agglomerates and segregates the life of life, the world of the world, the present of the present, the existence of existence. If in this world, it seems less and less possible to keep in touch with the world of life in the life of the world, how and where to find a heart to this dying heart of the world, how to find this condition ad interiori for a chance of thinking7 – a thinking that since long ago philosophy has considered the atopic place of freedom? How to think, still, when thinking has such a difficulty to distinct itself from the ways it has established itself, instituted itself, institutionalized, inherited, ideologized, academized, globalized – and today satellized itself – as “philosophy”? In a different path than Heidegger, who searched for “the other beginning” of the very beginning, “another beginning” where thinking would overcome philosophy, Nancy does not search for “the other”. For him, the other is everywhere, it is being itself, indeed, nothing but the “is-existing” of existence, itself, irreducible, unidentifiable, and unrecognizable, saying itself everywhere in the language of a “neither … nor,” “neither being, nor nothing,” “neither silence, nor word.”8 The other is the real, and the real is allotropic. His thought remains in touch with the remaining without contact with the nevermore, and it is through it that his thinking agitates more than cogitates. Moved by a “spiritual sensuality,”9 to recall one of his expressions, his thinking receives more than perceives. It receives the impossibility of a return to itself, which gives itself inside the autophagic excess of a turning that does not cease to turn around itself, where the other remains unidentifiable and unrecognizable. However, it is recognizing the unrecognizability of otherness, its irreducibility and unidentifiability that otherness emerges precisely as what is unidentifiable and unrecognizable by whatsoever means of identification and knowledge which always operate for the sake of reducing otherness to another sameness, identifiable and recognizable. The turning that does not cease to turn around itself, in the automatism of automatization and of autonomy, in the automatic narcissism of movements of an in-itself without itself, regulated by selfies, by the obsession of a self with itself, this turning which privatizes not only public instances and spheres but also the private of every possible self, this turning in the middle of the excess lays bare the impossibility of a return to itself and hence the emergence of the othering of the other. In this motive, we encounter the laying bare of the possible – other – in the middle of the impossible – itself – the idea of mutation of the world, about which Nancy speaks very often. Remaining in touch with the without-contact of a self in itself which does nothing but absolutize itself, Nancy’s thinking neither weeps nor expresses resignation, neither tries to appeal the past nor a lost to-come. It rather pays attention; it listens to the noise of this turn turning around toward a “to.” It pays attention to the parting while parting and not to its imagined point of departure or of destiny. In this way, a thinking that remains in touch with the without-contact of a self infinitely absorbed by its self-production and self-reproduction, and hence by the extermination of every other, this thinking keeps in touch with a rest which is not silence. It is a thinking that remains in touch with the troubles of all sorts of rests and their silences and that say to these rests: “do not rest in peace,” “raise thou rests without contact,” thus what rests and remains, says Nancy, “in the self-deconstruction to which the West is obsessively and rigorously dedicated,” “what rests or what arrives and ceases to arrive as such a rest, we call existence.”10 It is therefore in the core of this autophagy of the self by itself that existence exposes existence, is laid bare, and emerges “under the skin,” à fleur de peau, meaning more literally, on the flower of the skin, and s’“expeause,” exposes itself, a verb created by Nancy, using the word “peau” (skin in French) which sounds equally with “to pose.” It is from within the no way out of this turning around itself that another sense of the self, a self without return to itself, which is nothing except a relation to …, touches us, touches the world. In question is neither a “self in itself,” more authentic or proper, nor any residue of a generalizing subjectivity but a drive toward the other, a “being for the other,”11 a self-other. Indeed, what is a transplanted heart if not a self-other? Self-other – soi-autre,12 a possible formulation of the ad interiori condition of possibility of thinking today, the condition of an interiority more interior than any interiority, an “interior intimo meo,” to recall an expression of Augustine’s which Nancy often recalls, and that pushes even further a thought of what Hölderlin understood by the term Innigkeit, intimacy. An interiority detached from the interiority of the self turning around itself, intimist, separated and thereby absolutized: the intimacy of the self-other, soi-autre, of the transplanted heart.

What to say about this heart whose interiority is a self-other expeaused, exposed by the skin, in the autophagic turning of the self around itself? Biology recalls that the heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system through rhythmic contractions. To speak about the transplanted heart – “this microcosm of the general mutation of the world and of humanity” is therefore to speak first of the circulating blood of existence in the middle of a bleeding world, assassinating and threatening every form of existence. How to sense and make sense of the circulating blood in the void of the heart, that makes the world bleed so much everywhere? In Cruor, Nancy proposes a thought of what we could call, provisionally and following a whole tradition, a “sanguineous difference,” which exceeds any ontological, phenomenological or cosmological difference. It is about the differentiation between the circulating blood in the body, sanguis, the blood that configures fecundity and its periodicity, menstruum, and the body that bleeds out of the body and coagulates, cruor. Around this sanguinous differentiation, a reflection about the cruelty of the world, about the cruelty of our world is presented in order to render “audible” the circulating blood when the dying heart of the world experiences such a difficulty to pump it. Nancy does not search for reasons and grounds of the cruelty of the world, of our world, of suffering and the evil of the world. His thought from the transplanted heart is indeed anarchic, thus for him, existence is like the mystic rose, without reason or ground. Existence exists. “There is the there is.” The cruelty of the world – the blood of the world that flows out and coagulates, building a solid mass of cruel blood, is the cruelty of the worst among cruel beliefs, the cruelty of the loss of all belief, called nihilism. It is about the cruelty generated by belief on non-belief, the belief that everything is allowed, the big confession of the revolt against the gratuity of life and of existence. If life is an eye that sees and says: “life has no sense but what lives life, plurally,” nihilism affirms that life has no sense and is deaf to the affirmation that life lives plurally. Nihilism is revolt against life without a sense beyond life, revolt that turns and revolts without end around “the self” of a world of cruelty, a world that can only exist as flowing out and as coagulation of blood, as cruor. Capitalism is the vampiric law of a world of “general equivalence” which cannot be achieved without bleeding bodies, the world of a vampire that “lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks,” not releasing the worker until the last muscle, nerve or drop of blood to explore, as Marx described it.13 It is the world of the cruelty of the expropriating appropriation of the pulsing life, of the circulating and fecund blood. It is not about an external dispositive imposed by the body of the world. In order to lay bare – thus it is more about laying bare than to understand – the cruelty of the world, it is necessary to think the relation between sanguis, menstruum and cruor, a relation that renders it possible to get a hint of how the blood of life still circulates in the blood of cruelty. Likewise, Nancy insists on how the life of the heart can be heart through the void of the heart, through lifeless hearts. The life of the heart is according to him desiring life, life co-naissante, a knowing that only knows by co-birthing with existents. Desire, as Nancy says, is drive towards the other as much as the knowing of the heart drives towards places, signs and values. Capitalist vampiric nihilism turns every desired other into an object and every place, sign and value of knowing non-places, signs without signs and non-values to the point that value itself loses its value, the sign its sign of sign and the place its place of place. Hence the urgent need to listen in the middle of the annihilating movement of general equivalence, the noises and the voices of the turning of the self around itself, thus the voices of the noises of the world as “self-alteration” coordinated with “self-perception”14 are already a path.15

The self-other of the transplanted heart is nevertheless the rhythmic pulse of life that assures the life of life and for life. Nancy writes also in Cruor that “the beatings of heart give the cadence of life,” a cadence according to which “life lives at each instant, at each retaking of pulsation.”16 It is the heart that shows, without metaphor, that life is not continuous but intermittent – thus the very heart is intermittent, recalling the Proustian title – that life gives and receives life to itself from itself. The big lesson of the heart, according to Nancy, is that “the rhythm of living beings exposes how rhythm in general is a relation to itself.”17 The self-other is not another “place,” another “point,” or another “refuge” but a relation to itself as rhythm. Rather than self-affection, at stake is self-alteration. Nancy describes it as “rhythm itself, [as] live, lived, vital palpitation – or rather the inverse: beating drive of life (which) flows and rushes out, creating and irrigating at once the living “self” (soi) life as “self,” expansion and contention of itself. Advance and retraction – without which there could not be a “self”: the self approaches and distances from itself, this is its definition or essence. This depart and return, or this coming and going, this alternance and alteration take place in the self like the departing and returning of the blood or the sap.18

From the viewpoint of the heart, of the heart’s transplantation in thinking, the self loses its autonomy and its self-reference to discover itself as “rhythmic motive,”19 as self-other in the sense of a relation in relation with relations. The autism of a thought of the self, of the self in itself, auto kath’auto – which has founded the philosophical West, self-centered and self-referential, gives depth to this “rhythmic motive,” to the self as rhythmic scansion, that returns in a way that rhythm “is not a return to the identical: but, on contrary, a return that has never yet taken place. Each contraction of the heart is another. The beating of the heart, the pulsion of the blood identifies. At once, however identity is in scansion” (scande).20

Without a return to itself, since it can only return to another, the self-other opens another sense of time. Time, which is neither the form of an internal sense (Kant) nor the negativity of self-division (Hegel), nor duration (Bergson) nor the simultaneity of the play among primal impressions, retentions and protensions (Husserl), nor temporal ecstasis (Heidegger). What opens up is the time of sense, a time which is each time, that takes place each instant. The heart teaches about the time-space of each one, of the each in each moment. It teaches how each existence is the form of a precise beating of life. Each body, the beating of a rhythm of life. Far from any mechanic, dynamic, or dialectics of the being of life and the life of being, Nancy presents a pulsative vision, a comprehension that departs from the lessons of a transplanted heart. In this pulsative comprehension of the life of being, bodies cannot be taken as visual configurations, as compositions of matter and spirit, images or contours, and not even as organs but as rhythms, and hence as “self-others,” relation in relation to relations. “Taking to heart,” thinking with the courage of a transplanted heart, how each body, each existence is the beating of life’s rhythm and hence what exceeds itself “in”-itself, how each existence exists being singular-plural, it is necessary that existence not merely exists, but that existence exists itself.

The self-existence of existence – in French La s’existence de l’existence – is the major subject of another book by Nancy, entitled Sexistence,21 which presents a thought of the relation between sex and existence in the sense that existence exists each existence, that life lives each life. That existence exists itself, existing each one, focusing on the “each” of each body, of each existence as self-other, as existence-with, singular-plurally: “if existence is not with then nothing exists.”22 But to understand that existence is with, that the act of existing is with it is necessary to follow up the thought of existence existing itself while existing each existence. For that an insight of the transitive sense of existence, of “being” is needed.

The expression “transitive sense of being” comes from Heidegger, more precisely in the lecture “What is it, Philosophy?” held in 1955 at Cerisy-la-Salle. Heidegger says there “all beings are in Being” (Alles Seiende ist im Sein). He continues and adds, “to say more sharply [schärfer gesagt]: “Being is beings” (Das Sein ist das Seiende).” Being is the beings, and we read that this “is” is underlined. And further: “Here the “is” “speaks transitively, meaning as much as ‘gathered’” (Hierbei spricht “ist” transitive und besagt soviel wie “versammelt”).23

There are many discussions about the differences between the Mitsein /mitdasein in Heidegger and the “being-with,” the common, cum, in Jean-Luc Nancy’s thought. What still remains to be thought, however, is the transitive sense of being and of existence, how being is being each being. How can “is” speak transitively? The mystical language of Meister Eckhart speaks a language in which the “Is”, Ist, becomes a substantive: he speaks of Istheit. This substantivation implies considering is, as a verb, the verb ‘to is,’ zu isten. Heidegger discusses it at least twice.24 In Heidegger, however, the sense of the verb to be, even in the form “to is” appears almost always in the infinitive mode. Sein ist zu sein: Being is to be. Only in Cerisy do we hear him speaking about a transitive sense. Nevertheless, when he ties the sense of this transitivity to “gathering,” meaning that being gathers the beings, he misses the sense of transitivity.

Jean-Luc Nancy does not say that “is,” which speaks transitively, means “gathering.” For Nancy, being-with is not gathering – but “being can only be being-one-with-others, circulating in the with and as the with of this singularly plural co-existence.”25 First it shall be noted that for Nancy being is not distinct from existence. Further, it is not enough to say that being is beings. It is also necessary to understand how being is the beings. Nancy speaks of a “coming of everything to everything. Of every other/same to every same/other.”26 This coming is in such way that existence not only lays bare of itself as being, but above all in the sense that existence exists itself existing each existence. One of the aspects that are put in exergue by Nancy’s thought of the transitivity of existence is a comprehension of singular-plural existence as transit, circulation, passage: existence transits. Another one has to do with the apprehension that what is transmitted in this transitivity is the act of existing, the acting of the there is. Existence exists existing each existence: this is laid bare when the cruelty of the world, the without sense of the world “touching the extreme point of existence,”27 allows the experience that the only thing that remains is existence. In this manner, the thought of the transitivity of existence can only be an agrammatical thought since it emerges while ex-writing itself from the immediate experience of the world. The ex-writing of the transitivity of existing relates to the listening to the self-other inside the hollow heart of sameness. Without any direct influence but rather as a matter of affinity, the manner Nancy lets his thoughts of the transitivity of existing come to language, and very specifically in the book Sexistence, is extraordinarily close to the literary language of Clarice Lispector, the great writer of existence existing itself, existing each existence, existing me, you, them.28 We could say that it is about a transitivity seized as existence being existed by existence. In this sense, existence neither precedes nor succeeds essence – existence precedes and succeeds itself, thus it is each time existed by existence. It is also in this sense that it is possible to understand what Nancy means when he writes that “existence is its own tattoo.”29

The thought of the transplanted heart is the thought of a very attentive listening to the fragile beatings of existence existing transitively each existence in a world that does nothing but to desist existing. It is a thought that listens to how the heart transplants into the autism of the “self” its arrhythmic beatings and renders thereby possible a listening to the self-other in the hollow of the same, when all signs vacillate, and all anchors derive. It is then that, according to Nancy, the urgency of a transplant arises, of a “integral transport of the pulsional force toward an object that would be a form to be born and not an object to be produced. This can only take place in the proximity of a cosmos and by a poietic work.”30 The self-other of the transplanted heart demands a listening to the noises and voices of the blood that is still fecund even in the blood of cruelty. It is about a thought that like ears glued to the floor of the skin of this suffering world, listens to the arrhythmic beatings of the heart of existence which (ex/in) writes:

Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.
Es ist Zeit.
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
Time unrest had a beating heart,
It is time it were time.
It is time.31

Jean-Luc Nancy, L’Intrus (Paris: Galilée, 2010) “From the moment they told me I would need a transplant, all signs could vacillate, all anchors overturn.”


Jean-Luc Nancy, “L’autre commencement de la philosophie,”


See the discussion of the anastasis of thought in Jean-Luc Nancy initiated by Divya Dwivedi, Jérôme Lèbre, Shaj Mohan, Maël Montévil and François Warin.


I am thinking of an inspiring question asked by Synne Myreböe in the colloquium about Cartesian love, L’amour cartésien with Jean Luc Nancy, held at Stockholm, 2018, about where to find the heart to transplant into the hollow of the world.


L’Intrus, Une vie de greffé(e) peut être considérée comme un microcosme de la mutation générale du monde et de l’humanité.


Juan Manuel Garrido. Chances de la pensée. À partir de Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilée, 2011).


Nancy, “L’autre commencement de la philosophie,”


Jean-Luc Nancy & Jerôme Lèbre, Signaux sensibles. Entretien à propos des arts (Paris: Bayard, 2017).


JL Nancy. Le sens du monde (Paris: Galilée, 1993), 202.




The expression “self-other” I am proposing here, came to me in French, soi-autre; loud spoken, “soi” is an homonymous term that means both self and the imperative “be,” “be-other.”


Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 342.


JL Nancy Le sens du monde (Paris, Galilée, 1993), 121.


In French voix, voice and voie (path) are homophones.


Jean-Luc Nancy, Cruor (Paris: Galilée, 2021), 20.


Ibid., 21.


Ibid., 23.


Ibid., 25.




Nancy. Sexistence, (Paris: Galilée, 2017).


Nancy, Le sens du monde, 22.


Martin Heidegger, Was ist das – die Philosophie?, Pfullingen, Neske, 1976 (1956), 13.


Martin Heidegger, GA 82 (583) and GA 74. See also the brief discussion about it by Ziarek K. Language after Heidegger (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2013), 43.


Jean-Luc Nancy, Être Singulier Pluriel, 21.




Jean-Luc Nancy, Le Sens du monde, 127.


See, among other books, Agua Viva.


Jean-Luc Nancy, Le Sens du monde, 98.


Ibid., 96.


Paul Celan. “Corona” in: Poems, trans. Michael Hamburger (NY: Persea Books, 1988), 58–59.

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