● 1
J E A N – L U C NA N C Y
Université de Strasbourg
Translated by Susan Hanson,Drake University
There is nothing in fact more ignobly
useless and superfluous than the organ
called the heart, which is the vilest means that
one could have invented for pumping
life into me.
—Antonin Artaud
[]   [’]   ,   ,
in any case without the right and without having first been admitted.
must be something of the intrus in the stranger; otherwise, the stranger
would lose its strangeness: if he already has the right to enter and remain, if
he is awaited and received without any part of him being unexpected or
unwelcome, he is no longer the intrus, nor is he any longer the stranger. Itis
thus neither logically acceptable, nor ethically admissible, to exclude all
intrusion in the coming of the stranger, the foreign.
Once he has arrived, if he remains foreign, and for aslong ashe does so—
rather than simply “becoming naturalized”—his coming will not cease; nor
L’Intrus © Éditions Galilée, 2000. All rightsreserved. English translation © Michigan State University Press,
2002.will it cease being in some respect an intrusion: []thatisto say, beingwithout right, familiarity, accustomedness, or habit, the stranger’s coming will
not cease being a disturbance and perturbation of intimacy.
This matter is therefore what requires thought and, consequently, practice—otherwise the strangeness of the stranger is absorbed before he has
crossed the threshold, and strangeness is no longer at stake. Receiving the
stranger must then also necessarily entail experiencing his intrusion. Most
often, one does not wish to admit this: the theme of the intrus, in itself,
intrudes on our moral correctness(and is even a remarkable example of the
politically correct). Hence the theme of the intrus is inextricable from the
truth of the stranger. Since moral correctness [correction morale] assumes
that one receivesthe stranger by effacing hisstrangeness atthe threshold, it
would thus never have usreceive him. Butthe strangerinsists, and breaksin
[faitintrusion].Thisiswhatisnot easy to receive,nor,perhaps,to conceive . . .
● ● ●
[] I have—Who?—this “I” is precisely the question, the old question: what
is this enunciating subject? Always foreign to the subject of its own utterance; necessarily intruding upon it, yet ineluctably its motor, shifter, or
heart—I, therefore, received the heart of another, now nearly ten years ago.
It was a transplant, grafted on. My own heart (as you’ve gathered, it is
entirely a matter of the “proper,” of being one, or one’s “own”—or else it is not
in the least and, properly speaking, there is nothing to understand, no mystery, not even a question: rather, asthe doctors prefer to say,there is the simple necessity [la simple évidence] of a transplantation)—my own heart in
fact was worn out, for reasons that have never been clear.Thus to live, it was
necessary to receive another’s, an other, heart.
[] (But in this case what other program was to cross or run into my
own, physiological, program? Less than twenty years before, transplants
were not done, and certainly not with recourse to cyclosporine, which protects against rejection of the grafted organ. Twenty years hence, it is certain
to be a matter of another kind oftransplant, by other means. Here personal
contingency crosses with contingency in the history of technology. Had I
2 ● L’Intruslived earlier, I would be dead; later, I would be surviving in a different manner. But “I” always finds itself caughtin the battlements and gaps of technical possibilities. This is why the debate I saw unfolding, between those who
consider this to be a metaphysical adventure and those who would see it as
a technical performance, is vain: it is a matter of both, one in the other.)
From the moment that I was told that I must have a heart transplant,
every sign could have vacillated, every marker changed: without reflection,
of course, and even without identifying the slightest action or permutation.
[] There is simply the physical sensation of a void already open [déjà
ouvert] in my chest, along with a kind of apnea wherein nothing, strictly
nothing, even today, would allow me to disentangle the organic, the symbolic, and the imaginary, or the continuous from the interrupted—the sensation was something like one breath, now pushed across a cavern, already
imperceptibly half-open and strange; and, as though within a single representation, the sensation of passing over a bridge, while still remaining on it.
If my heart was giving up and going to drop me, to what degree was it an
organ of “mine,” my “own”? Was it even an organ? For several years already,
I’d been acquainted with my heart’s arrhythmia and palpitations—nothing
really thatsignificant (these were the measurements[chif res] of machines,
like the “ejection fraction,”whose name I liked): not an organ, not a deep red,
muscular mass with pipes sticking out of it, which I now suddenly had to
picture to myself [me figurer]. Not “my heart” endlessly beating, as absentto
me [] till now asthe soles of my feet walking.
It was becoming a stranger to me, intruding through its defection—
almost through rejection, if not dejection. I had this heartsomewhere near
my lips or on my tongue, like an improper food . . . a sort of mild indigestion.
Agradual slippage was separating me from myself. There I was: it was summer, I had to wait, something was detaching itself from me, or was coming
up in me, there where nothing had been: nothing but the “proper” immersion in me of “myself”that had never identified itself asthis body, even less
as this heart, and that was suddenly concerned with and watching itself.
Later, for example, while going up stairs, feeling each extrasystole beat disconnect like the fall of a pebble to the bottom of a well. How does one
become for oneself a representation?—a montage, an assembly of functions?
Jean-Luc Nancy ● 3And where does the powerful, mute evidence that uneventfully was holding
all this together disappear to?
[] My heart was becoming my own foreigner—a stranger precisely
because it was inside. Yet this strangeness could only come from outside for
having first emerged inside. A void suddenly opened in my chest or my
soul—it’sthe same thing—when it was said to me: “You must have a heart
transplant. . . .” Here the mind runs into a non-existent object [un objet
nul]—there is nothing to know, nothing to understand, nothing to feel: the
intrusion on thought of a body foreign to thought. This blank will stay with
me, at the same time like thought itself and its contrary.
This half-hearted heart can be only half mine. I was already no longer in
me. I already come from elsewhere, or I come no more. Astrangeness reveals
itself “at the heart” of what is most familiar—but familiar says too little: a
strangeness at the heart of what never used to signal itself as“heart.” Until
now it was foreign by virtue of its being insensible, not even present. But
now it falters, and this very strangeness refers me back to myself: “I” am,
because I am ill.[] (“Ill”is not the proper term; my heartis not infected—
it’s stiff, blocked, rusted.) But what is done for is this other, my heart.
Henceforth intruding, it must be extruded.
● ● ●
[] Doubtless, this takes place only on condition thatI wantit to, and some
others with me. “Some others”: those who are close to me, but also the doctors and, finally, I who find myself here more double or multiple than ever.
Everyone, all at once and for motives that are in each case different, must
agree that it is worth prolonging my life. It’s not hard to imagine the complexity of the strange ensemble that in this way intervenes in what is most
intensely “me.” Let us pass over those who are close to me, and also my “self”
(which, as I have said, becomes its own double: a strange suspension of
judgment causes me to represent myself dying—without revolt, and also
without attraction: one feels the heartlet go, thinks one is going to die, []
feeling that one will no longer feel anything). But the doctors—who are here
an entire team—intervene much more than I would have thought: they must
4 ● L’Intrusfirst assess one’ssuitability for a transplant, and then propose, notimpose it
(at this point they tell me that there will be a compulsory “follow-up,” no
more—and of what else could they assure me? Eight years later, after an
array of other difficulties, I will have contracted cancer as a result of this
treatment—and yet I am surviving today: who can say what is “worth the
trouble,” and exactly what“trouble”?)
But the doctors must also, asI learned bit by bit, decide to inscribe my
name on a waiting list (and, in my case, heed the request that I be enrolled
only at the end of the summer, which supposes a certain confidence in my
heart’s capacity to hold out). Furthermore, this list presupposes choices:
they spoke to me, for example, of anothertransplant candidate whose condition was too poor to withstand the regimen of follow-up treatment, in
particular the medications. [] I know as well that I can only be grafted
with a heart belonging to blood type O positive, which limitsthe possibilities. I will never ask the question: how does one decide, and who decides,
when a single available organ issuited to more than one potential graftee?
The demand here is known to exceed the supply. . . . From the first, my survival is inscribed in a complex process woven through with strangers and
What must we all agree upon, in the final decision? A decision regarding a survival that cannot be considered from the point of view of strict
necessity: in this case, where would one find one? Moreover, what would
oblige me to survive?Thislast question opens onto many others:Why me?
Why survive, generally speaking?What doesit mean “to survive”? Isit even
a suitable term? In whatrespectisthe length of one’slife a good? I am fifty
years old at this point: but fifty years old is young only with reference to
the population of a developed country at the end of the twentieth century. . . . Dying at the age of fifty was in no way scandalous [] only two
or three centuries ago. Why today does the word “scandalous” come to
mind in this context? Why, and how, is there no longer for us—we of the
“developed countries” of the year —a “right” [juste] time to die
(scarcely before the age of eighty; and will not this age continue to
increase)? One day, when they had given up finding a cause for my cardiomyopathy, a doctorsaid to me, “your heart was programmed to last to
Jean-Luc Nancy ● 5the age of fifty.” But what program isthis, from which I can fashion neither
providence nor fate? No more than a short programmatic sequence in a
general absence of programming.
Where are right measure [justesse] and justice in all this? Who measures
them, who pronounces them? Everything in this affair comes to me from
elsewhere and outside—just as have my heart and my body, which are an
elsewhere “in” me.
I would not want to treat quantity with scorn, nor am I declaring that,
indifferent to its “quality,” all we know anymore is how to reckon with the
length of one’s life. [] I fully understand that there is much more to a formulation like “But this is better than nothing!” than it may seem. Life cannot but impel life; but life also moves toward death. Why, in me, was it
proceeding according to the limits of this heart? Why wouldn’t it have?
To isolate death from life—not leaving each one intimately woven into
the other, with each one intruding upon the other’s core [coeur]—this is
what one must never do.
For eight years now, during these ordeals, how often I have heard, and
myself repeated: “but otherwise you would no longer be here!” How to think
the kind of quasi-necessity—or desirable character—of a presence whose
absence could have, quite simply, configured the world otherwise for a few?
Atthe cost of suffering? Certainly. But why always revert back to the asymptote of an absence of suffering? An old [] question, but one whose stakes
are raised by technology to a height for which, it must be admitted, we are
farfrom ready.
Modern humanity, atleast since the era of Descartes, has made the wish
for survival and immortality an element of a general program of “mastery
and possession of nature.” In this way, humanity has programmed an
increasing strangeness of “nature.” It has revived the absolute strangeness of
the double enigma of mortality and immortality.Whatreligions used to represent, modern humanity has exposed to the power [puissances] of a technology that postpones the end in all the senses of the word. In prolonging
the end, technology displays an absence of ends: which life should be prolonged, and to what end? To defer death is thus also to exhibit and underscore it.
6 ● L’IntrusOnly it must be said that humanity has never been ready for any form of
this question, and that humanity’s non-preparation for death is but the blow
and injustice of death itself.
● ● ●
[] Thus, the multiple stranger who intrudes upon my life (my feeble,
winded life, which at times slides into a malaise that verges on a simply
astonished abandonment) is none other than death—or rather, life/death: a
suspension of the continuum of being, a scansion wherein “I” has/have little to do. Revolt and acceptance are equally foreign to the situation. But
there is nothing thatis not foreign. The means of survival themselves, these,
first of all, are completely strange: what can it mean to replace a heart? The
thing exceeds my capacity to represent it. (Opening the entire thorax, maintaining the organ to be grafted in the proper state, circulating the blood outside of the body, suturing the vessels . . . I fully understand why surgeons
proclaim [] the insignificance of this last point: the vessels involved in the
bridging grafts are much smaller. . . . But it matters little: organ transplant
imposes the image of a passage through nothingness, of an entry into a
space emptied of all property, all intimacy—or, on the contrary, the image of
this space intruding in me: of tubes, clamps, sutures, and probes.)
● ● ●
[] Whatis this life “proper”thatit is a matter of “saving”? Atthe very least,
it turns out that it in no way resides in “my” body; it is not situated anywhere, not even in this organ whose symbolic renown haslong been established.
(One might say:still, there’s the brain. And of course, from time to time
the idea of a brain transplant enlivens the news. Humanity will one day
doubtlessspeak of this again. Forthe moment, it is accepted that the brain
cannot survive without the rest of the body. On the other hand, and to leave
the matter here, the brain would perhaps survive with an entire system of
transplanted body parts. . . .)
Jean-Luc Nancy ● 7A life “proper” that resides in no one organ but that without them is
nothing.Alife that[] not only lives on [survit], but thatstill lives properly,
within the three-fold grip of the stranger/the foreign: that of the decision, of
the organ, and of the transplant’s effects.
● ● ●
[] At first, the graft presents itself as a restitutio ad integrum: a beating
heart has been found. In this respect, the doubtful symbolism of the gift of
the other—a complicity, or secret phantasmal intimacy between self and
other—swiftly crumbles; it seems, moreover, that its use, still wide-spread
when I received the transplant some years ago, is gradually disappearing
from the consciousness of those who receive them: there is already a history
of the representations of organ transplant. A notion of solidarity, if not fraternity, between “donor” and receiver was greatly emphasized, with the aim
of promoting organ donation. And no one can doubt that this gift has
become an elementary obligation of humanity (in the two senses of the
word); nor can one doubt thatit institutes among us, without any limit other
than [] the incompatibility of blood type (and, in particular, without the
limits of sex or ethnicity: my heart may be the heart of a black woman), the
possibility of a network wherein life/death is shared out, where life connects
with death, where the incommunicable communicates.
Very soon, however, the other as foreign element [étranger] may manifest itself: not the woman or the black, not the young man or the Basque;
rather, the immune system’s other—the other that cannot be a substitute,
but that has nonetheless become one. This is called “rejection”; my immune
system rejects that of the other. (This means “I have” two immune system
identities. . . .) Some believe that organ rejection consists, literally, in vomiting up the heart and spitting it out: after all, the word rejection seems chosen to convey this. But thatisn’t the case: rather, it is a matter of whatin the
intrusion of the intrusisintolerable—and thisis very soon mortal if itis not
[] The possibility of rejection establishes a strangeness thatis two-fold:
on the one hand, the foreignness of the grafted heart, which the host body
8 ● L’Intrusidentifies and attacks inasmuch as it is foreign; and, on the other, the foreignness of the state thatthe medical regimen produces in the host body, to
protect the graft against rejection. The treatments given to the one who has
received the grafted organ lower his immunity so that his body will better
tolerate the foreign element. Medical practice thus renders the graftee a
stranger to himself: stranger, thatis, to his immune system’sidentity—which
is something like his physiological signature.
In me there is the intrus, and I become foreign to myself. If the rejection
is very strong, I must receive treatmentsthat will make me resist the human
defense system mechanisms that produce it (this is done with an immunoglobulin that comes from a rabbit, and is intended for this “anti-human”
application, as specified on the pharmaceutical laboratory’s notice; I recall
the drug’ssurprising effects as an almost convulsive trembling).
But becoming foreign to myself does not reconcile me with the intrus.
Rather, it would seem that a general law of intrusion is exhibited: there has
never been only one [il n’y a jamais eu une seule intrusion]. [] As soon as
intrusion occurs, it multiplies, making itself known through its continually
renewed internal differences.
So, again and again, I became familiar with shingles or the cytomegalovirus—foreigners/strangers that have always lain dormant within
me, now suddenly roused and set against me by the necessary depression of
my immune system.
● ● ●
[] At the very least, this is what it amounts to: identity is equivalent to
immunity, the one identifying itself with the other. To reduce the one is to
reduce the other. Strangeness and strangerness become ordinary, everyday
occurrences. This is expressed through a constant self-exteriorization: I
must be monitored, tested, measured. We are armed with cautionary recommendations vis-a-vis the outside world (crowds, stores, swimming pools,
small children, those who are sick). But the most vigorous enemies are inside:
the old viruses that have always been lurking in the shadow of my immune
system—life-long intrus, asthey have always been there.
Jean-Luc Nancy ● 9In this case there is no possible prevention. But there are treatmentsthat
[] keep deporting one into strangeness: thatfatigue, ruin the stomach, and
bring on the howling pain of shingles. . . . Throughout all of this, which self
would have been following which trajectory?
● ● ●
[] What a strange self!
It is not that they opened me wide [béant] in order to change my heart.
It is rather that this gaping open [béance] cannot be closed. (Each x-ray
moreover shows this: the sternum is sewn through with twisted pieces of
wire.) I am closed open. There is in fact an opening through which passes a
stream of unremitting strangeness:the immuno-depressive medication, and
others, charged with combatting certain, so-called secondary effects that
one does not know how to combat, (such as kidney deterioration); the
repeated monitoring and observation; an entire existence set on a new register,swept from top to bottom. Life scanned and reported upon by way of
multiple indices, [] each of which inscribes other possibilities of death.
Itisthus my self who becomes my own intrusin all these combined and
opposing ways.
I feel it distinctly; it is much stronger than a sensation: never has the
strangeness of my own identity, which I’ve nonetheless always found so
striking, touched me with such acuity. “I” has clearly become the formal
index of an unverifiable and impalpable system of linkages. Between my self
and me there has always been a gap of space-time: but now there is the opening of an incision and an immune system that is at odds with itself, forever
at cross purposes, irreconcilable.
● ● ●
[] Now comes the cancer: a lymphoma whose eventuality (clearly not a
necessity: few transplantees pass this way) I’d only remarked in passing on
the cyclosporine notice. The cancer results from the lowering of my immunity; it is like the figure—worn, jagged and ravaging—of the intrus. Stranger
10 ● L’Intrusto myself and myself, self-estranging. How can I say this? (But the exogenous
or endogenous nature of the occurrence of cancer is still in dispute.)
Here, too, although in another manner, the treatment requires violent
intrusion; it incorporates a vast quantity of chemotherapeutic and radiotherapeutic strangeness. While the lymphoma gnaws at the body, []
exhausting it, the chemo and radiation treatments also attack it and cause
it to suffer in several ways: this suffering is the relation of the intrusion and
its refusal. Even morphine, which calms the pain, provokes others: bewilderment, disarray.
The most elaborate treatment is called “autologous,” or “stem-cell transplant”: after having increased my white blood cell production by means of
“growth factors,” for five consecutive days white blood cells are removed (at
this point one’s entire blood supply is made to circulate outside the body and
white blood cells are taken). They are then frozen. Next, I am put in a sterile room for three weeks, where I undergo a very strong regimen of
chemotherapy, which knocks out my bone-marrow production before it is
once again kick-started by injecting back into my blood-stream the frozen
stem-cells that were removed (during this injection, there prevails a strange
odor of garlic . . .). The lowering of one’s immunity—which becomes
extreme—gives rise to high fevers, mycosis, and an entire series of disorders
before the production of lymphocytes once again takes hold.
[] One emerges from this adventure lost. One no longer knows or recognizes oneself: but here these words no longer have meaning. Very quickly,
one is no more than a slackening, floating strangeness, suspended between
poorly identified states, between sufferings, incapacities, lapses. Relating to
such a self has become a problem, a difficulty or opacity: one does so through
pain or fear, no longer is anything immediate—and mediations are tiring.
The empty identity of an “I” can no longer rest in itssimple adequation
(its “I” = “I”) when it speaks [s’énonce]: “I am suffering” implies that there are
two “I”s, each one foreign to the other (yet touching). So it is with “I am in
ecstasy”[je jouis](one can show how thisis manifested in the pragmatics of
each ofthese two utterances[énoncé]): in “I am suffering,” one “I”rejectsthe
other“I,” while in “I am in ecstasy” one “I” exceedsthe other.The two resemble each other, doubtlesslike two drops of water, neither more norless.
Jean-Luc Nancy ● 11● ● ●
[] “I” end/ends up being no more than a tenuous thread—from pain to
pain, strangeness to strangeness. And there comes a certain continuity of
intrusion, its permanent regime: added to the more-than-daily doses of
medication, and being monitored in the hospital, are the dental effects of
radiation therapy,the loss of saliva, alimentary supervision as well asthat of
contactsthat may be contagious, the weakening of muscles and kidneys, the
diminution of memory and of the strength to work, the reading of medical
analyses, the insidious returns of mucositis, candidiasis, polyneuritis, and
the general feeling of no longer being dissociable from a network of measurements, observations, and of chemical, institutional, and [] symbolic
connections, which do not allow themselves to be ignored, as can be those
of which ordinary life is always woven. On the contrary, these connections
deliberately keep life constantly alert to their presence and surveillance. I
become indissociable from a polymorphous dissociation.
This was always, more or less, the life of the infirm and the aged: but, precisely, I am neither one nor the other. What cures me is what infects or
affects me; what allows me to live causes me to age prematurely. My heartis
twenty years younger than I am, and the rest of my body (at least) a dozen
years older. So having at the same time become younger and older, I no
longer have an age proper, just as, properly speaking, I am no longer my own
age. Just asI no longer have an occupation, although I am not retired, so too
I am nothing of what I am supposed to be (husband, father, grandfather,
friend) unless I remain subsumed within the very general condition of the
intrus, of diverse intrusthat at any moment can appear in my [] place in
my relations with, or in the representations of, others [autrui].
In a single movement, the most absolutely proper “I” withdraws to an
infinite distance (where does it go?; into what vanishing point from which I
could still claim that this is my body?) and subsides into an intimacy more
profound than any interiority (the impregnable recess wherefrom I say “I,”
but thatI knowto be as gaping [béant] asthis chest opened upon emptiness,
or asthe slipping into the morphinic unconsciousness of suffering and fear,
merged in abandonment). Corpus meum and interior intimo meo, the two
12 ● L’Intrustogether state very exactly, and in a complete configuration of the death of
god,thatthe truth ofthe subjectisits exteriority and excessivity: itsinfinite
exposition. The intrus exposes me, excessively. It extrudes, it exports, it
expropriates: I am the illness and the medical intervention, I am the cancerous cell and the grafted organ, I am the immuno-depressive agents and
their palliatives, I am the bits of wire that hold together [] my sternum,
and I am this injection site permanently stitched in below my clavicle, just
as I was already these screws in my hip and this plate in my groin. I am
becoming like a science-fiction android, or the living-dead, as my youngest
son one day said to me.
We are, along with all my more and more numerous counterparts
, the
beginnings of a mutation: man recommences going infinitely beyond man
(this is what“the death of god,” in all its possible senses, has always meant).
[] Man becomes what he is: the most terrifying and troubling technician,
as Sophocles designated him twenty-five centuries ago. He who de-natures
and re-fashions nature; he who re-creates creation; he who brings it out of
nothing, and, perhaps, returns it to nothing. He who is capable of the origin
and the end.
● ● ●
[] The intrusis no other than me, my self; none other than man himself.
No other than the one, the same, always identical to itself and yet that is
never done with altering itself. At the same time sharp and spent, stripped
bare and over-equipped, intruding upon the world and upon itself: a disquieting upsurge of the strange, conatus of an infinite excrescence.4
I would like to thank here Philip Adamek for his contribution to this translation of L’Intrus,
which owes its fluidity to his ear. The voice or heart of the rhapsode who herein tells his story,
and whose rhythms beatso insistently in my ear, hold less sway over his. The ear of the other
Jean-Luc Nancy ● 13indeed signs the text it reads, and doubly so in this case, inasmuch as it no doubt bears the
rhythms of both his ear and mine. —Trans.
1. In 84, no. 5–6 (1948): 103.
2. [By virtue of, and to keep, insofar asis possible, the strangeness of this noun, l’intrus
will remain in French. Harrap’s NewStandard French and EnglishDictionary offersthe
following: “intruder,” “intruding,” “gate-crasher,” “unqualified [ . . . ],” “trespasser.” The
page numbers of the French text (Galilée, 2000) are given in square bracketsto facilitate cross-referencing. —Trans.]
3. I have in mind certain thoughts of friends: Alex speaking in German of being “un-eins”
with AIDS, to express an existence whose unity holds in its division and discord with
itself, orGiorgio speaking inGreek of a biosthatis no more than zoé, a form of life that
would be but life’s simple maintenance. Cf. Alex García-Düttmann, Uneins mit Aids
(Frankfurt: Fischer, 1993), and Giorgio Agamben, Homo sacer I (Turin: Einaudi, 1995),
(Paris: Le Seuil, 1997). To say nothing of Derrida’s grafts, supplements, and prostheses.
And the memory of Sylvie Blocher’s drawing, “Jean-Luc with a Woman’s Heart.”
4. This text was first published in response to an invitation, by Abdelwahab Meddeb, to
participate in the issue of his journal, Dédale, no. 9–10 (1999) (Paris: Maisonneuve et
Larose), and entitled “The Coming of the Stranger.”[L’Intruswas also published in book
form (Paris: Galilée, 2000)]
14 ● L’Intrus