Culture Machine, Vol 8 (2006)

CM2006 Article: Glowacka

Community and the Work of Death: Thanato-Ontology in Hannah Arendt and Jean-Luc Nancy

Dorota Glowacka

Your death and our death:
Are two different deaths.
Your death is a strong death,
Tearing into pieces.
Your death - in the graying fields
Soaked in sweat and blood.
Your death -- is from bullets death,
For a cause, for fatherland.
Our death is a stupid death
In attics, in a cellar.
Our death gets us like dogs
From around the corner.
Your death is a simple death,
Human, not so hard.
Our death is a garbage death,
Jewish, stinking death.2
(Wladyslaw Szlengel, a Polish-Jewish poet, murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, 'Two Deaths')

Commun? Comme-un
C'est tout comme
Faire comme si
C'était comme-un
(Michel Deguy, 'Aide Mémoire')

'Why is the idea of community so powerful that it is possible for its members to willingly die for such limited imaginings?' (Anderson, 1983: 7) The anthropologist's answer is that the Western conception of community has been founded on the mythical bond of death between its members, who identify themselves as subjects through the apology of the dead heroes. Yet is not this endless recitation of prosopopeia, which serves as the self-identificatory apparatus par excellence, also the most deadly mechanism of exclusion? Whose voices have been foreclosed in the self-addressed movement of the epitaph? Indeed, who, in turn, will have to suffer a death that is absolute, whose negativity will not be sublated into the good of communal belonging, so that community can perpetuate itself? 'Two different deaths': it is the 'they' who will perish, without memory and without a remainder, so that the 'we' can be endlessly resurrected and blood can continue to flow in the veins of the communal body, the veins now distended by the pathos of this recitation. The question I would like to ask in this paper is whether there can be the thinking of community that interrupts this sanguinary logic.

A collectivity that projects itself as unified presence has been the predominant figure of community in the West. Such community reveals itself in the splendor of full presence, 'presence to self, without flaw and without any outside' (Nancy, 2001:15; 2003a: 24), through the re-telling of its foundational myth. By infinitely (self)communicating the story of its inauguration, community ensures its own transcendence and immortality. For Jean-Luc Nancy, this immanent figure of community has impeded the 'true' thinking of community as being-together of humans.

Twelve years after writing his seminal essay 'The Inoperative Community', Nancy contends that 'this earth is anything but a sharing of humanity -- it is a world lacking in world' (2000: xiii). In Being Singular Plural (1996), Nancy returns to Heidegger's discussion of Mitsein (Being-with) in Being and Time, in order to articulate an ontological foundation of being-together or being-in-common and thus to move away from the homogenizing idiom of community.

Departing from Heidegger's habit of separating the political and the philosophical, however, Nancy situates his analysis in the context of global ethnic conflicts, the list of which he enumerates in the 'Preface',3 and to which he returns, toward the end of the book, in 'Eulogy for the Mêlée (for Sarajevo, March 1993)'. The fact that Nancy has extended his reflection on the modes of being-together to include different global areas of conflict indicates that he is now seeking to re-think 'community' in a perspective that is no longer confined to the problematic of specifically Western subjectivity.

This allows me to add to Nancy's 'necessarily incomplete' list the name of another community-in-conflict: the Polish-Jewish community, and to consider, very briefly, the tragic fact of the disappearance of that community during the events of the Holocaust and in its aftermath. Within a Nancean problematic, it is possible to argue that the history of this community in Poland, which has been disastrous to the extent that it is now virtually extinct, is related, as in Sarajevo, to a failure of thinking community as Being-with. What I would like to bring out of Nancy's discussion, drawing on the Polish example in particular, is that rethinking community as being-in-common necessitates the interruption of the myth of communal death by death understood as what I would refer to, contra Heidegger, as 'dying-with' or 'Being-in-common-towards-death'. Although Nancy himself is reluctant to step outside the ontological horizon as delineated by Dasein's encounter with death and would thus refrain from such formulations, it is when he reflects on death (in the closing section of his essay 'Of Being Singular Plural' in Being Singular Plural), as well as in his analysis of the 'forbidden' representations of Holocaust death in Au fond des images (2003b), that he finds Heidegger's project to be lacking (en sufferance). This leads me to a hypothesis, partly inspired by Maurice Blanchot's response to Nancy in The Unavowable Community (1983), that the failure of experiencing the meaning of death as 'dying-with' is tantamount to the impossibility of 'Being-with'. In the past and in the present, this failure has culminated in acts of murderous, genocidal hatred, that is, in attempts to erase a collectivity's proper name, and it is significant that many of the proper names on Nancy's list fall under the 1948 United Nations' definition of the genocide as 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group'.4

The Polish national narrative has been forcefully structured by communal identification in terms of the work of death, resulting in a mythical construction from which the death of those who are perceived as other must be excluded. It is important to underscore that the history of Polish-Jewish relations has never been marred by violence of genocidal proportions on the part of the ethnic Poles. I will argue nevertheless that what this history discloses is a fundamental failure to produce modes of co-habitation grounded in ontological being-in-common. As became tragically apparent during the Holocaust and in its aftermath, Poles' disidentification with their Jewish neighbors led to an overall posture of indifference toward (and in some cases direct complicity in) their murder. Again, I will contend that this failure of 'Being-with' in turn reveals a foreclosure of 'dying-with' in the Polish mode of communal belonging, that is, a violent expropriation of the Jewish death.

At this fraught historical juncture of ontology and politics, I find it fruitful to engage Nancy's forays into the thinking of death and the community with Hannah Arendt's reflection on the political and social space. In 'The Nazi Myth' (1989), which Nancy co-authored with Lacoue-Labarthe, Arendt's definition of ideology as a self-fulfilling logic 'by which a movement of history is explained as one consistent process' (The Origins of Totalitarianism, qtd in Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy, 1989: 293) is the starting point for the analysis of the myth. Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe elaborate Aredn't analysis in order to argue that the will to mythical identification, which saw its perverse culmination in the extermination of European Jews during the Nazi era, is inextricable from the general problematic of the Western metaphysical subject. It is also in that essay that Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe condemn 'the thought that puts itself deliberately (or confusedly, emotionally) at the service of an ideology behind which it hides, or from whose struggle it profits', citing Heidegger's ten month-involvement with National Socialism as an example par excellence.

This concern with the potential complicity of thought in totalitarian enterprises seems to have motivated Arendt's vituperative attack on Heidegger in her essay 'What Is Existential Philosophy?' (1946). Arendt accuses Heidegger of elevating Dasein as 'the master of Being', enclosed in the solitude of its authentic encounter with death: 'Dasein could be truly itself if it could pull back from its being-in-the-world into itself --. Only at death, which will take him out of the world, does man have the certainty of being himself' (1994: 179). In Arendt's interpretation, Dasein attains authenticity by facing the possibility of its own death only at the cost of withdrawing itself from the world. These formulations, which largely serve to distinguish Heidegger's compromised political stance from Karl Jaspers's courageous engagement in politics, force Arendt to disregard the problematic of Mitsein in Being and Time. It could be argued, therefore, that Arendt's cautionary reflection on the disappearance of political space in the contemporary world excludes the ontological dimension which, for Nancy, is what allows the sphere of human intersubjectivity to arise in the first place. Yet, when later, in The Human Condition (1958), Arendt insists on human plurality as constitutive of the social sphere, her argument is indebted to Heidegger's ontological elaboration of human existence as essentially Being-in-the-world with others, even if she transforms that analysis radically at the same time:

Men in the plural, that is, men in so far as they live and move and act in this world can experience meaningfulness only because they can talk and make sense to each other and to themselves--. The space of appearance comes into being whenever men are together in the manner of speech and action, and therefore predates all formal constitution of the public realm. (1958: 95, 199)

The intersubjective space, which, for Arendt, is what we know to be 'reality', depends on 'the presence of others who have seen and heard and will remember' (1958: 95). Here, Arendt allows her ontological emphasis on the condition of human plurality to coalesce with the Greek and Roman genealogy of the social: for Romans, the most political of people, according to Arendt, the word 'to live' was synonymous with the phrase 'to be among men' (inter homines esse). For the Romans, just as the concept of esse was only meaningful in the sense of inter homines esse, so was 'death' comprehensible only in the sense of 'to cease to be among men' (inter homines esse desinere). Death, for Arendt, whether conceived as a philosophical concept or an individual belief, can only be comprehended within the space of both ontologically and politically conceived human plurality.

In jarring contrast to the Roman understanding of death is the death in concentration camps (for Arendt, both the Nazi camps and Stalin's gulags). As she writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, 'The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous . . . , robbed death of meaning which it had always been possible for it to have. In a sense, they took away the individual's own death, proving henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one' (Arendt, 1973: 452; italics mine). If, for Arendt, meaning obtains in the realm of action and speech (viva activa), that is, on the basis of human plurality (1958: 182), in the camps, for the first time in history, meaningful death was no longer possible. Deprived of the social dimension, of a possibility 'to act beyond one's own death' (Arendt, 1973: 452), death cannot be even called 'death', and it becomes 'the preparation of living corpses'. Arendt's comment on death in the concentration camps thus serves as a powerful negative illustration that death is the function of the inter-esse of human plurality

Yet to say that 'one's individual death is taken away from him' is also a radical challenge to Heidegger's conception of death, and it reveals a crisis of thinking death in terms of inalienable possibility for authentic existence. In Being and Time, Heidegger establishes the existential meaning of death for Dasein as Being-toward-the-end, that is, as Dasein's 'ownmost' potentiality-for-being, even if this potentiality is synonymous with the impossibility of every existence for Dasein. When the individual 'belongs to no one', that is, finds himself or herself in the hostile space in which communal identification is negated, where one cannot even claim participation in the 'human community', the fundamental ontological possibility of Being-towards-the end is annihilated.5 Death in the concentration camp, just like 'Jewish, stinking death' in the ghetto described by Szlengel, cannot be re-appropriated by the community since there is no community that would be willing to claim it, and neither can it be assumed in an existential manner. Death in the camps, for Arendt, is thus taken away from an inmate in both the ontological sense -- its 'ownmost' character is denied the victim -- and in the political sense: disassociated from the web of human relations, it ceases to be death altogether.

Arendt's comments on the role of death in the community and on the dissolution of the philosophical conceptions of death in the concentration camps seem to anticipate Nancy's ideas on death and the community, especially if we consider the latter in the context of his passionate reflection on the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. Here, again, one must recall that it is Arendt who, in her essay 'The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man' (in The Origins of Totalitarianism) for the first time draws attention to those politically volatile spots in the 'European community of nations' that would later become the theaters of bloody ethnic conflicts. Reflecting on the correlation between nationalism and totalitarianism, Arendt presses the question about multi-ethnic national communities, which wereartificially carved out by the Peace Treaty of Versailles, and in which different 'proper names', circumscribed by often conflicting political stakes, were monstrously lumped together. Arendt reflects on what she believes to have been the colossal failure of the Versailles and minority treaties of 1918-1919, and on the plight of the millions of stateless and minority people who, as a result of this 'disastrous experiment' (1973: 270), had lost a political guarantee of their supposedly inalienable human rights and thus suddenly found themselves as if outside the pale of humanity altogether. As Nancy's list of bloodied proper names dramatically manifests, after World War II, the precarious condition of the stateless people and of the ethnic minorities in Europe only became aggravated, and today, the question not only remains urgent but also has become pressing on the global scale.6

In 'The Nazi Myth', Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe augment Arendt's analysis by identifying the correlation between the flourishing of the totalizing communitarian myths and the metaphysical logic of subjective identification. Toward the end of the 18th century and throughout the most of the 19th century, of all the nascent European nation-states, Germany in particular suffered from the drama of identity, or rather from 'the vertigo of the absence of identity (1989: 299), lacking a language to call its own or representative, distinctly German works of art. The German myth, which would later develop into the racist Aryan myth, thus became an identificatory instrument par excellence, through which Germany fashioned itself as the unified subject of history, a Gemeinschaft [community] in which an individual and a people are fused together. Such an absolute national type required an antithesis in order to secure its boundaries, and the Germans found it in the 'formless' figure of the Jew. Based on Nancy's and Lacoue-Labarthe's analysis in 'The Nazi Myth', we can conclude that the myth of the community is particularly forceful when a collectivity's sense of positive identity is threatened.

Nancy's and Lacoue-Labarthe's account of Germany's prewar history seems particularly relevant to examining Polish collective identity, although it must not be overlooked that the Polish myth never yielded a Nazi exterminationist mindset. Throughout the 19th century up until 1918, Poland did not exist on the map of Europe, and the idea of the Polish nation, as expressed and reinforced in Polish romantic literature, functioned as a compensatory projection and a strategy for cultural survival. The Polish myth, consolidatedby the topos of ethnically homogenous fatherland, projected the anti-type of the 'wandering Jew', an entity perennially without a country. Polish romantic literature became the scene where the myth was endlessly recited, the transmission of memory of heroic battles 'till the last drop of blood' infused with strong religious sentiments. The reference to the gift of one's 'blood' thus conjoined the patriotic topos of fighting against the oppressor with the religious reference to the spilt blood of Christ. It is in this sense that, in the Polish myth, the heroic redemptive ritual was grafted onto the Christian myth of salvation; hence frequent references, in Romantic literature in particular, to Poland as 'the Christ of nations'.

In the Romantic epic Dziady (The Forefathers' Eve), by Polish national bard Adam Mickiewicz, the main character, who takes part in the rising against the Russian tsar, proclaims, 'I and the Fatherland are one/ My name is Million because for millions I love and I suffer.'7 The spilled blood and the martyred body are the mortar that binds the immanent community when the body politic has been slaughtered. It reassures itself of its continued existence by incessantly re-imagining itself in the idea of Poland as (the body of) Christ, which then provides common substance and an imaginary geography in which the Polish (suffering) body is rooted. As the myth is upheld by the community's desire to regain its lost greatness and oneness, the shattered body of the community must be reassembled in the mirror that reflects back to it the images of its heroes' death: the sacrificial death of God is re-enacted through the death and resurrection of the hero, thus offering hope of eternal rebirth.

In the absence of statehood, which would guarantee its political legitimacy, the Polish phantasm of national identity was upheld in the string of national uprisings, whose stakes, considering the vastly unequal balance of military power, were mostly symbolic rather than defined in terms of the possibility of actual political gain. The uprisings of the 19th century (especially the November Rising in 1830, the 1946 Insurrection, and the January Rising in 1863) consolidated the martyrological myth of the Polish national community, substituting it for the non-existent political entity. In 1918, after Poland had gained independence (on conditions imposed by the Peace Treaty of Versailles), the myth, centered upon the glorification of dead Polish heroes, continued to shape the social and political landscape. It is not without relevance to recall that Poland after Versailles is in the center of Arendt's discussion of the plight of minorities in the artificially carved post-World War I national territories. It is beyond the scope of this paper to investigate the relations between the salience of the beautiful myth of Polish heroic death and the reality of the discriminatory policies of the nationalist government in the interwar Poland, which, throughout the 1930's, saw the rapid curtailment of minority rights, especially in relation to its largest Jewish minority.8 Let us add that, during World War II, the Polish heroic narrative of national uprisings was extended to include the spectacularly unsuccessful September campaign against the Germans and the Warsaw uprising in August 1944. Thus death for the sake of the (mortally threatened) national community has continued its 'work' as the highest form of communion between its members, a narrative which, again, has been perpetuated in the Polish post-war literature.9 For instance, in Jerzy Andrzejewski's Wielki Tydzien [A Holy Week], the mother of a teenage boy expresses the sentiments of 'all Polish mothers' when she proclaims that '[i]n Poland, mothers must know that raising their sons to be honest human beings, they are readying them for death' (1993: 160). In Jan Dobraczynski's W rozwalonym domu [In a demolished house], a priest officiating over the funeral of the resistance fighters who died in the 1944 uprising in Warsaw, says: 'He who perished while fighting for a great cause does not die. All the great causes have their beginning in the heaven above. We are not divided from heaven by an unsurpassable wall. The heaven also takes part in our fight' (1969: 112-13).

The insistence on the divine sanctification for the Polish sacrificial brand of patriotism elevates Poles as pure and innocent. What such martyrological, communal conception of love for the mother country conceals is its violent foreclosure of the community's non-members. As Polish literary critic Maria Janion writes, the obverse, hidden side of the Polish national pride, with its tendency to elevate 'saint Poles', was 'a systematic bestialization, dehumanization of others, especially the dehumanization of the Jews' (Tokarska-Bakir, 2004: 7). This casting out of the Jewish other outside the pale of common humanity has been forcefully reflected in Polish attitudes toward the death of the Jewish neighbours. Quoting from an ethnological study of Polish attitudes toward the Jews, social anthropologist Tokarska-Bakir confirms that '[t]alking about the death of a Jew, Christians almost never say that he "died" but that he perished or kicked the bucket because only a Christian can die' (2004: 8).10 The only Jewish death that would be partly acknowledged in the Polish cultural imaginary has been the death of the Jewish fighters from the Warsaw ghetto because that death could be absorbed into the Polish-Christian heroic narrative of World War II. The Jewish narratives that emerged from the Warsaw ghetto uprising, such as Marek Edelman's The Ghetto Fights, Yitzak Zuckerman's Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto or Cywia Lubetkin's Zaglada i powstanie [The Holocaust and the Uprising], as well as the documents and memoirs from historian Emmanuel Ringelblum's archive Oneg Saabbath, do emphasize the ideal of 'dying with dignity'. As one of the fighters puts it in Edelman's book, 'We shall not die on our knees' (1990: 30), although Edelman himself is ambivalent and even bitterly ironic about the heroic ideal of a 'beautiful death'. In an interview with Hanna Krall, he says: 'The majority of us favored an uprising. After all, humanity had agreed that dying with arms was more beautiful than without arms' (1992: 140).

Considering the potency of the Polish heroic myth, the 'death of the beautiful death' in the Holocaust must be seen as directly related to the erasure of the memory of Polish Jews in post-war Poland.11 If death is 'the truth' of the community through which its members understand their 'place' in the world, the dissolution of a certain ideal of death has adverse effects on the circulation of meaning within a collective. Within the Polish framework of meaning, the Jewish death became incomprehensible and thus had to be disavowed. As Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, one of the few Polish writers who attempted to draw attention to the plight of the Polish Jews, wrote in his poem 'Campo di Fiori': 'those dying alone/forgotten by the world/Their tongue grew strange to us/ like the tongue of an ancient planet' (qtd in Polonsky, 1990: 50).

But rather than draw on examples of Polish literature with more overtly anti-Semitic overtones, I would like to briefly turn to the testimony of Jan Karski, a former courier for the Polish government in exile and a 'righteous among the nations', who was very sympathetic toward the Jewish cause. Karski's memoir is a moving account of the heroic effort of the Polish Underground to stage resistance to the German enemy whose military power was overwhelmingly superior.12 The deaths mentioned in the memoir are mostly instances of honourable death -- such as the death of the members of the Resistance who took cyanide pills when captured by the Gestapo. Karski describes at length the courage of Polish civilians who would aid the Resistance in any way possible, with great risk to their own safety and often enduring suffering and hardship as a result. It is also the civilians who ensure that the memory of the sacrifice will be perpetuated, and they keep vigil, lay wreaths and burn candles at the sites where Polish soldiers and resistance fighters were buried. As one of Karski's superiors, Mr. Borecki, comments: 'It is as if the Creator had purposefully added to our woes by filling us with an ineradicable love of our country, our people, our soil, our freedom' (1944: 88).

In 1942, Jan Karski accepted an offer from the leaders of the then rapidly shrinking Polish-Jewish community to make a clandestine visit to the Warsaw ghetto, and then to the concentration camp of Belzec. In accepting the offer, Karski risked his life to bear witness to the suffering of 'wretched, exhausted, starving Jews that the pitiless Nazis tormented and hunted with inhuman vindictiveness' (1944: 321). His sympathy for the Jews stemmed from his awareness that, in contrast to his own effort, 'for them, there was no hope of victory whatsoever, none of the satisfaction that sometimes softens the prospect of death' (1944: 321). During his expedition to the ghetto, Karski witnessed the unspeakable sights of human misery and described them in graphic detail. After a few hours in the ghetto, he, who had previously withstood endless days of torture at the hands of the Gestapo, was unable to bear the sight of Jewish death and, literally, ran away from the deathly spectacle: 'It is hard to explain why I ran.... I ran, I think, simply to get a breath of clean air and a drink of water. Everything there seemed polluted by death, the stench of rotting corpses, filth and decay. I was careful to avoid touching a wall or a human being' (1944: 334). His reaction to what he had seen in the 'Jewish death camp' (1944: 339), that is, to the spectacle of mass slaughter, was even more extreme: after he had witnessed an episode of Jews being killed in sealed wagons filled with quicklime, he returned to a peasant's hut and tried to wash himself of the sight so desperately that he 'flooded the kitchen' and then vomited, as if literally trying to regurgitate the abject sight. Thus, although Karski's testimony to the plight of the Jews is well intentioned and honourable, his flight from the ghetto and his somatic reaction to the sight of the abominable Jewish death could be interpreted as an extreme example of what Tokarska-Bakir refers to, apropos the unwillingness in Poland to discuss the murder of the Jews in Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors in 1942, as 'our right to look away' (2004: 19). As Hanna Krall writes in To Outwit God, 'it is indeed easier -- to look at their [Jews'] death when they are shooting than when they are digging a hole for themselves' (1992: 167).

Situated within the Nancean problematic of the community, this paramount instance of the abjection of the Other's death reveals that the failure of dying-with is co-implicated in the failure of communal togetherness. According to Nancy, the truth of death is the truth of the community that immortalizes itself through will to immanence. Community reveals itself through death, whereby the death of its members must be transformed into works, into operative immortality that perpetuates the life of the community. In the immanent community, the meaning of an individual's life is fulfilled in his or her death, which is instantly assimilated into the common death for the sake of the collective. Since individual death transfigured into immortality is community's supreme work, it thus occludes, as Nancy writes, 'what makes death irreducibly singular' (1991: 12), that is, the fact that no labor of the negative can sublate death into a common essence, insofar as it is in each instance the death of a singularity.

In The Inoperative Community, Nancy calls for the undoing of 'the autarky of absolute immanence' (1991: 4) in order to open up the thinking of the community without a common essence. Such community, which is existing-in-common, 'works' only so as to continuously 'unwork' its substance. Nancy credits Bataille for first diagnosing, via Nietzsche, the impossibility of complete immanence, of pure collective totality. Even if he never entirely escaped the conception of community that effectuates itself as work, Bataille's perverse 'tarrying with the negative' (Hegel, 1977: 15) made the thinking of such closed community, in which death is 'infinite fulfillment of an immanent life' (Nancy, 1991: 13), no longer 'workable'. In emphasizing Bataille's insistence on rupturing communal essence in order to expose it to alterity, Nancy situates Bataille within a Heideggerian problematic of Being-with, of co-existentiality outside the closure of immanentism.

In Chapter 26 of Being and Time, Heidegger discusses the meaning of Dasein's Being-with [Mitsein] as an existential modality of Being-in-the-world and states, 'the world is always the one I share with others. The world of Dasein is a with-world-- Dasein is essentially Being-with-- for the sake of Others' (1962: 155,156,160). Throughout his analysis of different modes of solicitude (Fürsorge) as the character of Being-with, Heidegger refrains from addressing Dasein's concern for the death of another Dasein. This issue will arise much later, in Chapter 47, as part of the existential analytic of death, which begins with the observation that our only access to death is through the encounter with the death of others: 'Dasein can thus gain an experience of death all the more so because Dasein is essentially Being-with-Others' (1962: 281). Mourning and commemoration are now given as examples of 'respectful solicitude' (1962: 282), in which 'those who remain are still with the deceased" (1962: 281). Yet, since the death of others cannot have an ontological meaning for Dasein (it falls outside the purview of Dasein's Being), Heidegger must turn away from the consideration of death in terms of Being-with. Although, as a modality of Being, Being-toward-the-end is grounded in care (which is the structure of Dasein's Being-in-the-world), it is also the only possibility for Dasein that is non-relational (unbezügliche, as Heidegger emphasizes throughout the chapter); that is, in comporting itself authentically toward its own death, Dasein is cut off from relations with others: 'all Being-with Others will fail us when our utmost potentiality-for-Being is at issue' (1962: 308). For Heidegger, it is this non-relational possibility, or rather, the possibility grounded in Dasein's sole preoccupation with the question of its own existence, that will precipitate Dasein into the potentiality of authentic modes of being in the world and being with others.

In a parenthetical comment on p. 14 of The Inoperative Community, Nancy remarks that 'Dasein's being-toward-death was never radically implicated in its Being-with -- in Mitsein -- and that it is this implication that remains to be thought' (1991: 14). Here, Nancy implicitly relates Heidegger's failure to think through his own intimation of the co-essentiality of Being-with (the ontological plurality of origins) to his ill-fated involvement with the Nazi regime, and to the German philosopher's 'going astray with his vision of a people and a destiny conceived at least in part as a subject' (14). Nancy's parenthetical comment also implies that the 'they' (das Man) into which Dasein constantly flees -- and which, we may add, is related to the thought of immortality that only an immanent community can secure -- is, for Heidegger, a constant tranquilization about death that 'does not permit us courage for anxiety in the face of death' (Heidegger, 1962: 298).

It may appear that Dasein's solitude in the face of death is irreconcilable with Heidegger's prior contention that Dasein is insofar as it is Being-with. In his introduction to The Inoperative Community, Christopher Fynsk argues, however, that what thus seems to be a hiatus in Heidegger's ontological enquiry into the meaning of Being, on closer reading yields an insight that the opening onto death through the co-existential exposure to the other's death is already implicit in Heidegger's own analysis. The death of the other is what draws the subject out of itself, what opens it up to Being, since Being can only be understood as always already the multiplicity of finitudes.13 Yet, for Nancy, exactly because the co-originarity of Mitsein and Dasein is implied but then foreclosed in Heidegger's analysis, and this foreclosure has a political dimension, the problematic of death would have to be a point of entry from which to re-orient ontology toward thinking the co-existentiality of Being-with.

If we recall Arendt's insight that death in concentration camps complicates or perhaps puts under erasure Heidegger's existential elucidation of death, it is indeed imperative in this context to attend to the comments on the camps in Nancy's own texts. In a brief endnote in The Inoperative Community, Nancy contends that the archi-essential 'resistance of the community finds its highest expression in the limit experience of the concentration camp' (1991: 158, n.31), and he offers an example of the community of camp inmates as described by Robert Antelme in L'espèce humaine. Antelme, a French resistance fighter and the survivor of Buchenwald, Gandersheim, and Dachau concentration camps, writes: 'The dead man is stronger than the SS. The SS cannot pursue one's friend into death--. He touches a limit. There are moments when one could kill oneself, if only to force the SS to run up against the limit of the dead object one has become' (quoted in Nancy, 1991: 159). For both Nancy and Antelme, the limit experience of the camps allows singularity to come to the fore; or rather, the singularity of the inmate's death reveals the community of inmates' force of resistance.While this is a highly commendable affirmation of the inoperative community, it conceals the fact that even in the Nazi death camps, just as in Szlengel's Warsaw ghetto, the death of French resistance fighters and the death of French Jews, just like the Polish death and the death of Polish Jews, were, again, 'two different deaths'. The chasm of that 'difference' annihilated sharing and brought about a radical dispersion of the community of camp inmates.

The insufficient attention to the problematic of death in the camps seems to be a blind spot in Nancy's discussion of death and community. This is perhaps why, in both The Inoperative Community and Being Singular Plural, Nancy has remained 'blind' to the presence of the Muselmänner in the camps, namely, he never mentions the emaciated, utterly passive camp inmates in the final stages of exhaustion, about whom Primo Levi famously wrote that one 'hesitates to call [them] living; one hesitates to call their death death' (90).14 Yet, in his 2003 book Au fond des images, in the chapter 'La représentation interdite', Nancy as if discovers the Muselmänner. In that essay, Nancy returns to the analysis of the Nazi myth, this time in relation to the dilemma of 'representing the Holocaust'. He argues that the starting point of any such inquiry has to be the question about what happened to the very notion of representation in Auschwitz and how it was put into play there. Nancy relates the spectacle of death that was unfolding in the camps to what he called already in 1989 the immanentist logic of the Nazi myth. Representation in the form of spectacle has a decisive place in the Nazi ideology and practice, not only in the sense of spectacular parades and rallies but also because the Aryan type is an idolatrous self-construction in which the idea of race has been made manifest in the absolute presence of the Aryan body. The Aryan is thus an absolute representation (surreprésentation), of which the Jew, devoid of national culture of his own and thus standing for the destruction of representation, is the antitype: 'I exterminate you because you infect the body and the face of humanity, because you represent it as emptied, bled of its presence' (2003b: 82).15

Thus the Nazi Weltanshaaung requires the spectacle of the anonymity of death as the way to rule over death's non-presence; it must be mastered through the omnipotent gaze of the SS. The singularity of the inmate's face and the singularity of his or her death is what threatens the order founded upon full presence; yet this singularity is collapsed in the figure of the Muselmann. That is why, says Nancy, the camp as the structure of representation posits 'two faces that carry death in their eyes': the Muselmann (the face of the living dead) and the SS officer, who displays the emblem of the death-head on his cap. The Muselmann, immured in himself by the gaze from under the death-head emblem, is deprived of the possibility of representing himself to himself, of attesting to himself and thus of projecting himself into his own potentiality for being, for meaningful existence. Interestingly, it is in this context that Nancy quotes another camp inmate Jean Améry's bitter attack on Heidegger; in the camps, says Améry in his memoir At the Mind's Limit, one can be starving, one can be tired, one can be sick but never simply be (Nancy, 2003b: 90). Nancy leaves the quote without further commentary, but his reflection on the limit case of the Muselmann, however belated, once again forces open the Heideggerian problematic of death and its relation to Mitsein. The camps' production of the 'unpresentable' phenomenon of the Muselmann -- in the sense that his death is the murder of the image itself, of the possibility of representation - was an ultimate attempt to abject singularity; to annihilate Being-with by making dying-with impossible. Responding to the phenomenon of the Muselmann -- to the ontological and ethical challenge that his or her death has become -- requires that the thinking of death in the existential sense of Being-toward-the-end co-implicates the death of the other.

In his response to Nancy entitled The Unavouable Community (1983), Maurice Blanchot argues that what draws the self outside of itself and exposes it to the openness of the community is the death of another (1983: 21). Because the other (the absolute other -- Autrui) disrupts immanence, the form of sociality that is the ethical relation between the same and the other, this minimal community, opens up the sharing of the radical absence of community. Such community cannot be experienced (experience requires the sharing of something); it is the experience-in-common of the absence of experience as such. It takes place in the absence of place, in a non-place of 'between'. In that case, how can the absence of the community be 'mine'? Blanchot explains that this impossible appropriation takes place in the same way that death is 'mine'; that is, only insofar as I can never assume it in experience: 'how could the absence of community remain mine, unless it be 'mine' as my death would insist on being a death which can only ruin my belonging to anybody as well as the possibility of an appropriation that is always mine?' (1983: 13; 1988: 4).

Both death and the Other, says Blanchot, are but different names for the unmasterable exteriority that constitutes me on the 'inside'; thus they are the ciphers of the community in the sense of what Nancy calls the singular plural. Dying-with would then mean sharing the solitude of the one event which is absolutely impossible to share, and it is this radical sharing of the absence of experience that opens me up to the sharing of community. I 'share' community -- it belongs to me and I belong to it while at the same time I withdraw from it into the singularity of my mortal body that, at each instant, is indivisibly mine. This also means, however, that my exposure to another singularity consists in my vulnerability to the possibility of another's death, in my being touched by the death of the other; it is com-passion. For Nancy, com-passion is the meaning of the interrupted community, which is no longer communion but communication, the circulation of meaning among 'us', which interrupts violent forms of interrelatedness.

On the final pages of his essay 'Being Singular Plural', Nancy returns to the question of death in relation to Being-with, as if responding to his earlier parenthetical query, in The Inoperative Comminity, about the relation between Heidegger's Mitsein and his elucidation of Being-toward-Death. Nancy concludes, 'death is the very signature of the "with": the dead are who we are no longer "with"' (2000: 89). Every singular death (and every singular birth) is the absolute origin of meaning; thus exposure to the death of the other rather than speech is the basis of communication, that is, the circulation of meaning among 'us'. Death is then no longer understood as the absolute meaning of immanence, which continues to affirm itself through the labour of the negative, but it is the basis of communication (rather than communion) in being-together. Nancy writes, 'If Being-with is indeed co-essential to Being [--] this ownmost possibility [death] is co-essentially a possibility of the with and as the with. My death is one "ownmost" co-possibility of the other existences' own possibility' (2000: 90-91). Death is 'my' ownmost possibility insofar as it is always already a co-possibility, returned to the singular plural, to the mineness that is always other and that 'occurs in the concurrent reality of being-each-time-with' (2000: 97; italics in the original).

Death is the limit of Being-with, yet it is the limit which is incessantly touched; the limit that 'unlimits' itself.16 It is in our respective deaths that we are exposed to other singularities, in which we reach one another across the intraversible threshold. Here, the figure of the threshold signifies simultaneously passing and pas de passage, a step (not) beyond (pas au delà), to recall another one of Maurice Blanchot's formulations. This is why it is from this limit that the thinking of Being-with, the thinking of community's openness, must proceed: from the hyphen that stands for the spacing as the absolute singularity of my death but also for the absolute moment of exposure to another singularity.

In Being Singular Plural, gesturing toward Agamben's discussion of bare life in Homo Sacer, Nancy argues that stripping bare the social to its ontological foundation in the 'with' is imperative because the singularity of the human must be valued in itself rather than as a function of its participation in a collectivity. What I have argued here is that this emphasis on the value of the singular must be co-extensive with insisting on the value of each singular death. Such understanding of death resists the view that death can only be communicable in the form of communal belonging, as it has been symbolized in the form of public monuments, be it literary monuments or symbolic architectural landmarks such as cenotaphs. In countries such as Poland and Ukraine, for instance, these majestic monuments, usually situated in the center of the city or town, have had their shameful correlate in the often unmarked sites of mass execution of Jews.17 As Nancy confirms, 'within unitary community (la communauté une) there is nothing but death and not the sort of death found in the cemetery which is the place of spacing or distinctness, but the death found in the ashes of crematoria ovens or in the accumulation of charnel houses' (2000: 154). Yet death as dying-with is the opposite of murder because it is co-extensive with the inoperative existing-with (2000: 92). Existing-in-common, in which communal substance is continuously exploded, is predicated on the interruption offered by the singular death, the death which, as exposure to the other, is also in the plural. This singularity disrupts murderous violence that always targets the other because the death that is revealed in the death of others qua others cannot be transformed into works. This exposure is exposure to death that is no longer my death 'but someone else's [the neighbor's?], whose living and closest presence is already an eternal and unbearable absence' (Blanchot, 1983, qtd in Nancy, 1991: 61; italics mine).

In Poland, for the most part, the Jewish death has been quite bearable because it has been disavowed (rather than encountered as unavowable). Already in The Inoperative Community, Nancy contends that one must cease thinking death in the sense of fusional assumption of communal essence (1991: 14). As we have seen, in the Polish context, the Jewish death has either been abjected or, at best, as in the case of the death of the Warsaw ghetto resistance fighters, trans-substantiated into the Polish heroic ideal.18 In 'Eulogy for the Mêlée', Nancy seeks to articulate the sense of human collectivity that departs radically from any such immanentist model of mimetic projection and compulsory partaking of collective substance. Nancy suggests that the failure to fully consider thinking Being as singular plural made Heidegger unable to conceive of human togetherness in terms other than those of the unity and destiny of a Volk. In contradistinction to a Heideggerian 'people', Nancy proposes to envisage a collectivity as a mêlée, that is, a mixture of 'singular pluralities and plural singularities, which will never become a figure of race, of blood of religion--[because] every identity is already shared: divided, mixed-up, distinguished, entrenched, common, substitutable, insubstitutable, withdrawn, exposed' (2000: 156). A proper name (we, the French; we, Germans; we, Poles) is the 'idiom of the idiolect [idosémie]' whose idiocy (etymologically: meaninglessness) must be resisted. In Nazi Germany, but also, at the time, in Roman Dmowski's Poland, Pétain's France or Mackenzie-King's Canada, ido-sémie was inseparable from the denial of meaning to the other, which expressed itself in a nefarious 'anti-sémie' of anti-Semitism. 'Mêlée', however, breaks apart the mythic unity of the proper name.

As mentioned before, what prompted the writing of Being Singular Plural were the instances of violent, murderous death in different global theaters of ethnic and religious conflict. The 'destructive rage' (20) that has ravaged these places stems from the 'mad' desire to fix the origin as the common essence. The refusal to acknowledge the plurality of origins has become synonymous with the thirst for murder, and, as Nancy cautions, it has inevitably ended 'in the massacre, the mass grave, massive and technological execution, the bookkeeping of the camps' (2000: 21). This is why Nancy urges us to rethink community as Being-in-common, and in 'Eulogy for the Mêlée', he repeats this injunction specifically in the context of hybrid or what I would like to call 'hyphenated' communities. These are the collectivities that call for multiple ethnic, religious, and national allegiances, and in one way or another, all communities do so.

'Eulogy for the Mêlée' is a passionate plea to transform the hyphen (in the phrases such as Polish-Jewish or Serbo-Croatian), hitherto the mark of a painful and alienating fracture in self-identity, into the hyphen of Being-with (the hyphen that, tellingly, Heidegger's German does not require). The co-habiting of singular entities in the multi-ethnic 'mosaic' is their dis-position and dis-location along the semantically void bridge of the hyphen as the spacing of singularities in their plural being. The fault line of the hyphen, the mark of dehiscence of communal hypostasis thus becomes, as Nancy will remark in La Communauté affrontée, a possibility of confrontation that resists destruction; it is the mark of the strangeness that 'exposes us to the somber, radiating dispersal of our own future and of our own fissure (2001: 19; 2003a: 25). Thus, the 'passage' of the hyphen (the pas de passage to which Nancy also refers as mi-lieu, the middle place, which is 'the very passage of sharing and crossing'; 2000: 94) must be re-described as 'the interstice of intimacy' that allows us to say 'we' otherwise, instead of what it has often been in recent times -- the sharp edge of the barbed wire or, at best, the impassable gulf of cultural difference. The hyphen, as the inscription of the 'with', lacerates the purity of any identity and dissolves essence, marking every singularity as being of 'mixed blood' (Nancy, 2000: 147). It does so by making impossible the purity of blood that fixes up the figure of the body -- the identical and authentic body -- to stand for ipseity closed up on itself. The hyphen jars the workings of the forces of fantasy, exclusion and violence that lie at the origin of any myth of purity, reorienting community toward the always already dispersed co-ipseity, 'the originary sharing that never is' (2000: 156).

Reflecting on the disaster of Polish-Jewish relations in the 20th century, I have concluded that rethinking the exigency of the community today, as Nancy proposes in Being Singular Plural, on the basis of the co-essentiality of Being-with, must consider, perhaps even start with, rearticulating death and the community in terms of dying-with (Being-in-common-towards-death). Dying-with is the most unique relation, a non-relational and non-representable relation. It is a relation of having the absence of relation in common, a form of Being-in-common that is the most radical dislocation of the common being. As Nancy clearly demonstrates, a singularity without other singularities is an impossibility; in that case, dying which is in each case singularly mine, is always already in the plural. It is what we share absolutely (nous partageons la mort) (we all die) and what divides us absolutely (la mort nous partage) (I can never experience the death of the other). In dying, as in Being-with, we are 'alike' but we can never be the same. The sense of belonging (appartenance) is thus the function of the radical separation of singularities, of their spacing/sharing. As Christopher Fynsk also notes in his 'Forward' to The Inoperative Community, the impossible co-experience of death is the paramount articulation of the singular beings as 'the articulation of the between that joins them' (1991: xxiv).

One might object whether, in discussing the (tenuous) future of hyphenated communities such as 'the Polish-Jewish' community in Poland, one should not focus on birth rather than death as the force that fosters positive growth of the hybrid social and political space, and here recourse to Arendt is again instructive. In The Human Condition, Arendt claims that it is natality rather than mortality that should be embraced as the central category of the social. Perhaps in another attempt to distance herself from Heidegger's existential analytic of death, emblematic of solitary existence, Arendt argues that birth, not death, is the figure in which human community is 'ontologically rooted' (1958: 9, 247). Natality, as the force and the promise of the new, is the condition of possibility of community's moving forward into the future. This is a valid and even necessary direction for future investigation; for the time being, however, the fragile Polish-Jewish communal space, just like the communal space of other hybrid ethnic units named by Nancy, including those in Rwanda and Bosnia, is being forged out of the past marred by often horrendous acts of murder, the kinds of death that, like death in concentration camps, places in jeopardy the very essence of human existence as Being-with. This is why we have to rethink death first, the conclusion that Nancy himself seems to arrive at, when his reading of Heidegger's Mitsein leads him inevitably to the discussion of death.

My question, as precipitated by a thanato-ontological encounter between Arendt and Nancy on the question of the community, has been how to think death in the singular plural. I have argued, via Nancy, that it is only in the singular plural that death can be 'thought' as such in the first place. Nancy's examples of ethnic conflicts, and my example of the impossible Polish-Jewish community, reveal the immanentist communitarian logic that labors to exclude the ontological priority of 'dying with'. Arendt reminds us that the meaning of death is 'to cease to be among men' because the meaning of life is to be with men. What I have argued, however, is that it is also necessary to reverse that statement: closing oneself to the meaning of death as 'dying-with' often makes 'living-with' impossible, sealing the openeness within which we co-appear and thus, often literally, eliminating those with whom we co-appear.

As we have noted, in Poland, the Jewish death has never been 'unbearable'; it has been granted no mourning, no sorrow, and no pride. Polish Jews have been excluded from the Polish community of the dead because their death was a 'shameful', abject death. I would postulate that, in order to speak of the possibility of the Polish-Jewish community, the Jewish death would have to be re-imagined, indeed, re-experienced in terms of dying-with, so that its absence can be shared and therefore become meaningful.19

To conclude, let me offer a recent poetic gesture of opening up toward the future of such rethinking, by Polish poet Tadeusz Rózewicz:

freight trains
cattle cars
the colour of liver and blood
can you hear this cry
for one sip
for one sip of water
all of humanity crying
for one sip
of banal water

--.
this train
will not depart
from my memory. (2001: 5)

Notes

1 The term 'thanato-ontology' appears parenthetically in Joseph Suglia's paper 'The Communication of the Impossible' (2001: 50).

2 For another striking example of the exclusionary politics of death that juxtaposes heroic gentile death and lowly Jewish death, see also Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower (1998: 14-15).

3 At the time of writing Being Singular Plural, Nancy's list of proper names that describe the theater of 'bloody conflicts among identities', includes:

Bosnia-Herzogovina, Chechnya, Rwanda, Bosnian Serbs, Tutsis, Hutus, Tamil Tigers, Kraina Serbs, Casamance, Chiapas, Islamic Jihad, Bangladesh, the Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, Hamas, Kazakhstan, Khamers Rouge, ETA militia, Kurds (UPK/PDK), Montataire, the Movement for Self-determination, Somalia, Chicanos, Shiites, FNLC-Canal Historique, Liberia, Givat Hagadan, Nigeria, the League of the North, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sikhs, Haiti, Roma gypsies of Slovenia, Taiwan, Burma, PLO, Iraq, Islamic Front Salvation, Shining Path, Vaulx-en Velins, Neuhof--. (2000: xii).

4 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html. Accessed on December 14, 2005.

5 For the discussion of the concentration camp as the new political paradigm, in relation to Arendt's reflection on the collapse of the topos of human rights and the emergence of the refugee figure as emblematic of the new world order, see Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer, especially chapter 'The Camp as the “Nomos” of the Political' (1998: 166-80). For the discussion of 'the death of the beautiful death' in the camps see chapter 'Meditations on Metaphysics', in Theodor Adorno's Negative Dialectics (1973: 361-73).

6 This includes, at the time of writing this essay in December 2005, recent questions about the status of ethnic minorities, of Arab descent in particular, in countries such as France and Australia, which have surfaced on the occasion of the ethnic riots in the suburbs of Paris and on the beachside suburbs in Sydney.

7 All translations from Polish are mine unless indicated otherwise. One should note, of course, the counter-presence of the 'anti-martyrological' tradition in Polish literature, from the Romantic poet Cyprian Norwid's polemic with Mickiewicz, to the writings of expatriate Witold Gombrowicz (especially in his satirical novels Ferdydurke and Trans-Atlantic). See also Maria Janion's Do Europy - tak, ale razem z naszymi umarlymi. [To Europe - yes, but together with our dead].

8 In 1934, the Polish government unilaterally withdrew from the provisions of the minority treaties.

9 In his introduction to Jan Nowak's Courier from Warsaw (1982), Zbigniew Brzezinski establishes a continuity between the Warsaw uprising in 1944 and the long history of national uprisings against the foreign oppressor. Further, Brzezinski joins together the events of WWII and the struggle against the communist regime: the roots of the Solidarity spring from the unity of the Polish people forged during these heroic moments of Polish history (Nowak, 1982: 14). I would like to thank Alexandra Rahr for drawing my attention to Nowak's memoir.

10 In Polish, the word 'died' can be translated as 'umarl', if it referes to the death of a human being, or 'zdechl' in relation to the death of an animal. To say 'zdechl' about a human being is highly derogatory.

11 The most common explanation given by historians for the erasure of the Jewish memory in post-war Poland is the anti-Zionist agenda of the Soviet-controlled Polish communist government.

12 Jan Karski's sympathy for the Jewish cause is even more obvious in his interview with Claude Lanzmann, included in Lanzmann's 1985 documentary Shoah.

13 For an extended version of this argument, see Christopher Fynsk, 'The Self and its Witness; On Heidegger's Being and Time' (1982).

14 For the discussion of the invisibility of the Muselmann, see Giorgio Agamben's Remnants of Auschwitz, chapter 'The Muselmann'.

15 Translation mine.

16 I have borrowed the term 'unlimitation' from Nancy's discussion of the Kantian problematic of presentation in his essay 'The Sublime Offering' (1993). Nancy, in turn draws on Kant's notion of die Unbegrenztheit.

17 See, for instance, Slawomir Kapralski, 'Battlefields of Memory: Landscape and Identity in Polish-Jewish Relations' (2001).

18 Another example of such a 'conversion' is the popularity of the legend of Janusz Korczak, a heroic doctor and director of the Jewish orphanage in the ghetto, who chose to follow his wards to the gas chambers in Treblinka. The story was popularized by Andrzej Wajda, in his film Korczak (1990).

19 It is not without significance that the forgetting of Jewish death (and thus of Jewish life) in post-war Poland was occurring in the context of the atrocious communist experiment in that country, which had disastrous consequences for many individual lives. The events of 1968 in Eastern Europe were of a very different nature than those of 1968 in France, the fact that is not lost on Nancy. The demonstrations and student protest in Poland were basically an attempt to resist the Soviet-imposed communist regime. Yet the corollary of the unrest was a wave of anti-Semitic violence that swept through the country and resulted in the exodus of the remnant of the Jewish community that had still remained in Poland after World War II. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that what triggered the events of 1968 in Poland was the communist government's attempt to censor director Kazimierz Dejmek's production of Mickiewicz's Forefather's Eve (see discussion above).

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