Nancy discusses: terror in relation to religion and capitalism; the relevance of philosophy to life (whether philosophy can be a form of life); the status of god in monotheism; the relevance of "politics" as it is defined today; the "Heidegger affair" and its consequences for philosophy; war, especially in the context of the invasion of Iraq; the role of negativity in philosophical and cultural discourses; "art" and the variability of its meanings; the predominance of the metaphor of the sun. The essays can be read separately, but together they amount to the striking vision of a philosopher sensitive to the world of his times and attempting to open his own path within it.
On the Commerce of Thinking is thus not only something of a semiology of the specific cultural practice that begins with the unique character of the writer's voice and culminates in a customer crossing the bookstore threshold, package under arm, on the way home to a comfortable chair, but also an understated yet persuasive plea in favor of an endangered species.
In evoking the peddler who, in times past, plied the streets with books and pamphlets literally hanging off him, Nancy emphasizes the sensuality of this commerce and reminds us that this form of consumerism is like no other, one that ends in an experience-reading-that is the beginning of a limitless dispersion, metamorphosis, and dissemination of ideas.
Making, selling, and buying books has all the elements of the exchange economy that Marx analyzed--from commodification to fetishism--yet each book retains throughout an absolute and unique value, that of its subject. With reading, it gets repeatedly reprinted and rebound. For Nancy, the book thus functions only if it remains at the same time open and shut, like some Moebius strip. Closed, it represents the Idea and takes its place in a canon by means of its monumental form and the title and author's name displayed on its spine. But it also opens itself to us, indeed consents to being shaken to its core, in being read each time anew.