On Jean-Luc Nancy and Painting in the Grotto

  • Andrea Gyenge


In his meditation on hand paintings in caves, Painting in the Grotto, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy locates the foundation of man and subjectivity in touching and the gesture rather than sight. He resists the kind of writing that places the eye and seeing as the origin of man as conceived by the Enlightenment. For example, Sigmund Freud often wrote texts that began with ‘imagine if you will,’ that I call ‘writing to the eye.’ Instead, Nancy begins his work with ‘man began’, which I note as Nancy’s own textual gesture of inaugurating a meditation on origins. Nancy’s audacious opening sentence also pulls his text away from a historical or anthropological reading of the cave paintings that treats the paintings as objects. The text is also unusual in that it reveals at the end that touching, which is blind, is the beginning of sight. In this way, Nancy’s text resists a linear reading. Finally, I discuss Nancy’s unique move of placing an image of his writing next to the printed text of his book to show that writing is also a blind touching and a gesture.