The Dualist Materialism of Georges Bataille Author(s): Denis Hollier and Hilari Allred Reviewed work(s): Source: Yale French Studies, No. 78, On Bataille (1990), pp. 124-139 Published by: Yale University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2930119 . Accessed: 08/01/2012 23:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]
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The Dualist Materialismof GeorgesBataille* ... wherethereis nothingwhichan obsessionto laybarethe reverseside ofthoughtdoes notconsume.
a) AWAKENING The lightofdayis the space ofthought.But thisspace is too hospitableto thoughtforsomethingessentialnotto escapefromthisconformity.Day only gathersthoughtssubservientto the day; the ones nevercome tolight;theydarkenlikethenight.It insubordinate is no morethanthe couldbe thattheawakeningbroughtbydaylight offered almostwithoutits dreamofan awakening,and thatthought, knowledgeto the diurnalorder,is awakenedonlyto maintainindirectlya deepersleep.Thoughtfeelsathomein a claritywhichgivesit a deceptiveone sinceit doesnotmasterits an impressionofmastery, own ends. It thusmovesin an illusoryworldwheretransparencies reflectone anotherand disappear,withoutanythingeverhappening which would offera handleforthoughtto graspon to and recover itselfagain,reallyawakeningit. The awakeningof thoughtis not its exercisebecause, in this exercise,thoughtis blindedbythegoodtowardwhichit gropes.The exerciseof thoughtcorrespondto a distractedattractionto moral and paralyzing good. Its awakeningbeginswith the contradictory consciousnessofevil,ofsomethingwhichsuspendsthoughtbecause itcannotbe thoughtandwilledat thesametime.Thustotheexercise of thought,which is a morality,since it presupposeseven a naive itsawakensubmissionto thegoodas theconditionofitspossibility, ingis opposed,whichprovokesa moraldemandbywhichtheopposiandrevisedversionofan articlepublishedin Telquel no. 25 *Thisis a shortened (Spring1966).Bypermissionoftheauthor. YFS 78, On Bataille,ed. Allan Stoekl,C 1990byYale University.
tionofgoodandevilcomesto consciousness."The essenceofmorality,says Bataille,is a questioningabout morality;and the decisive moveofhumanlifeis touse ceaselesslyall lighttolookfortheorigin oftheoppositionbetweengoodand evil."' It is as thoughone had to choose betweenlettingoneselfbe directedtowardthe good (one mightsay thatin thissense thegooditself,themotorofthewill,is notwilled)anda suspensionoftheexerciseofthoughtin an awakening whichwould place one "beyond"the oppositionbetweengood bringout; thechoicewould and evilwhichit wouldsimultaneously thus be betweendoinggood and knowingwhat it is. This tells us alreadythat,in Bataille,dualismwill notopposeGood and Evil,but morality(whereone doesthegood)anda moralrigorwhichis beyond goodand evil. Bataille alwayslongedfora "livedexperience"in the incandescence ofwhich "knowing"and "doing"wouldcome to merge,from withinwhich the futurewould rise as thoughthe present,having openedup,wouldexpandand flowintoit,as thoughthefuturewere of the presentand no longeran escape out ofthe this verydrifting oftheprojectwouldhave it. A livedexperipresentas the structure "the termsofdialecticaldevelopment"to the ence which,by tying "elementsof real existence,"would effectthe "synthesis-at once decisive and impossible-of consciousnessand the unconscious, whichis forBatailletheultimatepossibilityofthatwhichis. Sucha it occurs, synthesisis whatinterestedhim mostin psychoanalysis: ofanalysis," accordingtohim,at the"momentofthebrutalefficacity describeswithHeidegger'swordsfor a momentwhichhe strangely death:the "possibilityoftheimpossible."2 This synthesisrequiresthoughtto withdrawfromobjectsand maintainedtensionof a purely projectsto become the restrained, would intensivethought, awakenedto itself.Thisis whatphilosophy tosuchan object consistofifonlyphilosophyagreedto "tiereflection as wouldexcludethepossibilityofits sleeping.""Whatdoes it mean to philosophize,Bataille asks, if not to push reflectionto such a of degreeoftensionthatdailyexistencefeelslike sleepandtheeffort 1. "Du rapportentrele divinet le mal," Critique,(March1947).I quote from Bataille'sOeuvrescompletes(OC 11: 199).This articleis a reviewofSimonePetrement'sbookon dualismwhichI discusslater(seenote4). Citedhenceforth in thetext as indicatedabove. 2. The citationsinthisparagraph aretakenfromtwoarticles:GeorgesBatailleand de la dialectiquehegdlienne," RaymondQueneau: "La Critiquedes fondements La Critiquesociale,(1933);OC 1: 277-90.
thephilosopher, awakening?"3 Such an awakenedthoughthas to tie its reflectionto insomnia-producing objects-such as eroticism, death, and thoughtitself-which resistbeing thought,and from which thoughtis alwaystemptedto acceptexclusion,objectsinto whichit collidesand againstwhich,failingto fallasleep,it loses its footing.And thatis why at its most acute momentof awakening, thoughtis moralrigor,for"moralphilosophy, not metaphysicsor science,is theonlythoughtprocesswhichrespondshead-on,which the silenceofourdeath"("Du rapport. .. .OC confronts 11: 199). Rationalthoughtplans,unifies,leading-in accordancewiththe principleofidentity-to a monismwhichis its firstand its last,its it intotermsofequaonlyword;it reduceseverything bytranslating soon slumbersunderthelightoftheSame. The tionand everything awakeningofthought,in whichthoughtoccursas a heterogeneous thuspromptsdualism,whichrepreevent,as a breakinhomogeneity, sentsforBatailletheawakened(anddivided)thoughtaboutawakening.This thoughthas obviousphilosophicalflaws,butthesearethe priceone must pay forthe rupturewithmonism,the priceforthe On the subjectof dualistphilosophies, committeddissatisfaction. Bataillewrote:"It seemsto me thatthepointat whichtheattention tenawakensherecompletelyis thatwhichmeritsthisexasperating sion, which becomes irritatedat any possibilityof reduction.But would awakeningbe awakeningifthe one who was awakenedwere once to findhimselfsatisfiedwithwhat he discovers?If he didn't which is prolongfurtherand withoutconcernthe interrogation to open one's eyes awakening?"(Ibid.,202).It is no longersufficient and greettheday;it is necessaryto openthemuntothenight,to the pointofopeningup the dayto the nightand the nightto the other night.InBataille'smanystoriesoftheeye,onemustalways"openthe eyes farther." b) DUALISM Bataille neverfailedto acknowledgethe seductiondualistthought exercisedoverhim.Furthermore, anditsoftenheterodoxexpressions seductionitself-as opposedto reasonand reckoning-iswhatboth dualismand Batailleyieldto, the means theyuse to communicate taken betweenthemselvesas well as withus. The formshistorically 3. "Le Dernier instant," Critique, (October 1946); OC 12: 116.
bydualismare numerous,butthereareno perfectones; it is partof the definitionof dualism that ultimately,theymust remainunDualism itself,as a doctrine,neverrelinquishestheunsatisfying. tenablepositionitimposesupontheone enticedbyit,keepinghimin a neverresolveddissatisfaction. Accordingto Bataille,this simply resultsfromthe factthat one must choose betweena perfection which, satisfyingthe mind, definitelyputs it to sleep, and the awakeningwhichrequiresan everunresolveddissatisfaction. Among themanyoppositionsuponwhichdualismswereconstructed (thatof transcendent and of the and the of the Good Evil, intelligible sensible, andtheimmanent,ofthehighandthelow,ofvirilityandfemininity, ofvisionand discourse)theoppositionbetweentheprofaneand the here. sacredis theone we musttrulyconsiderfundamental Let us recall, fromSimone Ptrement's book (which Bataille praisedenthusiastically),4 whatis generallyunderstoodbydualism: the termdesignatesa mode of thought,borderingon philosophy, ofwhichManicheanGnosticismis considreligion,and mythology, Atthecoreofthisphilosothe most manifestation. eredtobe striking phy,one finds,accordingto Petrement,"not the oppositionof two gods,but theoppositionofGod and Matter,[Matterbeing]a second fromthatofthespirit, principle,withitsdistinctive nature,different andnotderivedfromit" (12-13).As forGod: "thegnosticGod is 'the Stranger','the Unknown','the Abyss','Silence', 'the God who is not'." Never,perhaps,has the remotenessof God, the absence,the voidin whichhe mustbe sought,beenso exclusivelytheobjectofa theology"(15).A theologythenofthe absenceofGod,whicheasily evokesBataille'satheology:"mustdualismthennecessarilybe a sort ofatheism?It is howevercertainthatit has relationsto mysticismor at least to a profound religiousfeeling"(91). Ratherthana systemofthoughtin thestrictsense,dualismis an attitudeof thought:dualism is not a dualistsystembut a will to dualism,a resistanceto systemand homogeneity. Obviouslyan untenable attitudein the long run. For systemcannot help being monisticand,sincetheexerciseofthoughtis spontaneously systematizingand monistic,dualism resultsfromthe will bracingitself againstthistendency, thoughtitselftakinga standagainstthemovementproperto reasonand its tendencytowardconciliation,toward 4. SimonePetrement,Le Dualisme dans 1'histoirede la philosophieet des religions(Paris:Gallimard,1946).
intoa reduction.Thus theradicalityoforiginaldualismdegenerates is to it "refines" itself and corrects say metaphysicalposition;that intotheantagonism"ofconits foundingheterogeneity (I"perfects") terms,"wherebyit does not take longto betraryand symmetrical come a systemin whichdualityholds onlytheplace ofa thesis,an amongothers:it has alreadybecomemonism.For,to be affirmation "surpristrueto its inspiration,dualismmustremain"imperfect," ing," "extravagant";insteadof positingtwo principlesin conflict withinthe world,it positstwo worlds.Or at least-"since, having nothingin common,theyare not comparableand cannotbe countthehiatusof exertsitstensionin maintaining ed"5-dualist thinking it as pureinterval, pureseparation,pure thisduality,in maintaining disjointedin-between."Ofcourse,"Petrement comments,"it seems absurdto supposetwoworlds.The notionoftheworldis thenotionof How can one supposetwototalities?Languageitselfrefuses totality. a resistanceimDualism's resistanceto expression, thisexpression." bedded in languageitself,condemnsit to a perpetualimbalance, a perpetuallimpingand sliding:neverdo thetwo "totaldiscomfort, neverare theyside ities"let themselvesbe graspedsimultaneously, by side, nextto each other,because theyboth equally claim to be One is the contestationof the to contain everything. everything, other:theyhave no othercommongroundthantheirmutualexclu"thatit is not a questionof sion. "This shows,"says PRtrement, Accordingto Bataille,it is a questionofethics.Commetaphysics." mentingon her book he insistson dualism'sethicaldimension,a paradoxicalethicswhichstartsbeyondthe line ofdemarcationbeifnotthe prolongs, tweenGood andEvil. "Mywill to transcendence whichis the desiretofindtheGood,at leasta longingformoraltruth, unappeasedpassionparexcellencewithinus" ("Du rapport. . . ," OC 11:198).
becausebydefiniThese twoworldscannotexistsimultaneously tion thereis only one world;theywill thus have to succeed one another.But in what form?How will the passagefromone to the otherhappen?FromtheworldofGood in whichthewill reigns,how will one pass to the worldofEvil? Not by willingsince the will is whatproducestheGood.How can one escapefromthewill?Can one will notto will?One does notchoosebetweenEvil andtheGood but is to render op. cit., 111. And also: "To posittermsas contraries 5. Petrement, is toreunitethemin ofthesametotality theminseparable;topositthemas principles thesame totality."
betweentwo "goods,"since choice and will cannothave any other objectbutone whichtheyconsiderto be good,thegoodalone being whichis thenegationofobjecthood, an object.Evil,on thecontrary, eludesthewill. Here,choiceis suspendedandreplacedbyseduction. This oppositionis most clearlydelineatedin Bataille's articleon had no will power Baudelaire,in Literatureand Evil: "[Baudelaire], movedhimin spiteofhimself.CharlesBaudelaire's butan attraction formofrefusal,sinceit was in no way refusalwas themostprofound the assertion of an opposite principle....
Evil, which the poet does
as he experiences itsfascination, is Evilsince notso muchperpetrate the will, which can onlydesirethe Good, has no partin it."6One withsayingthatin wantingthe shouldnotcontentoneself,however, Good,Baudelaire(forexample)reallywantedto spiceup Evil,orvice versa.It is truethat"iftheluminousintensityofGood did notgive the nightof Evil its blackness,Evil would lose its appeal" (ibid., "Proust,"152; OC:9:257) ). But Good's complicitywithEvil, farfrombeinga double game ofbeingitselfwhich [doublejeu] ofthewill,residesin thestructure thwarts[dejoue]thewill.Forthecontrast(thespice)wouldnotcome intoplayifthewill didnotfullydesiretheGood: howwouldit lend itselfto a gamewhichit had itselfstaged?The Good is notwhatthe will has to pretendto want in orderindirectlyto attainEvil and is in experiencethe refinedpleasureoftransgression: transgression factonly possible forthe one who desiresthe Good withoutany ulteriormotive,withall ofhiswill.Itis eventhisverylackofdistance on the partof the will devotedto the Good which deliversit to Batailledevelopsthesame argument in his analysisof transgression. Proust'ssadism. "Ifpinkhas to be contrasted withblackin orderto suggestdesire,wouldthisblackbe blackenoughhad we neverthirsted forpurity?had it not tarnishedourdreamin spiteofourselves?" Thus "if[Proust]was virtuous,it was notin orderto obtainpleasure, and if he obtainedpleasure,it was because he had firstwantedto obtainvirtue"(ibid.,158,154; OC 9:269,268 ).Evil is then,in a way,theGood whichhas becomea sourceofpleasure.It startswith virtuebeingseducedbytheGooditself.Evilresultsfromthemerging 6. GeorgesBataille,"Baudelaire," La Litteratureetlemal (Paris:Gallimard,1957), 61; OC 9: 207. [The Englishtranslations hereare fromLiteratureand Evil (trans. AlastairHamilton,MarionBoyersLtd.,1973,1985),57. Translator]. All Englishtranslationshave been providedby the translatorand will be indicatedin the textby brackets.
ofsensibilityand reasonin existence.Thatis to say,whenafterhavingunconditionally desiredtheGood,thewill arrivesat theextreme pointwhereit can no longerwant(forthereis nothingconceivable left,no object thatis better)and nevertheless remainsunsatisfied, whichis notitself,which awarethattherestillis placeforsomething is beyondthe Good and imposesitselfwithoutbeingwanted;when thewill whichhad wantednothingbutthegood,whichhad wanted to be Good,noticesthatthereis a residuebeforewhichit everything remainshelpless,a residuewhichhas totalpoweroveritsince,at this extremepoint,will becomes so vulnerablethat it can onlyyield, itdid althoughitis awarethatitwas preciselythiswhich,inwanting, thatpointwherethewill,reducedto notwant.Suchis transgression: of a residue,can only,though impotencebeforethe irreducibility withoutwantingto (forthereis nothingleftto want),yield,knowingly,to whatit did notwant;Good itselfsomehow,beingcompromisedin thepassivityofpleasure,veerstowardEvilwithoutlucidity of consciousnessdiminishing.Evil is consciousnessin pleasure,a passingconsciousnessthatcannotlast. Itsplaceis thepunctualtresis crossed:to dwellon theother passingflashwhentheinterdiction toclaimtoremainin evil(as Genet,according to sideofinterdictions, Bataille,would have it) is nonsense(cf.,La Litteratureet le ma], of the "Genet,"203; OC 9:300). Evil does not existindependently interdiction whichis thelimitoftheGood; beyondthislimitreigns onlyanotherGood; notEvil. Evil neverreigns. mateIn gnosticdualism,Bataillewas seducedbya contradictory rialismwhichhe opposedto thephysicist'smechanicaland rational materialismwhich,because it is monistic,he called a "doddering as a dualistmateidealism."ThusBataille'sattitudecan be portrayed rialism: an "impossible"attitude,as distantfromtheologyas it is In his fromevenan atheistichumanismwhichhe namedatheology. firstarticleabout Gnosticism,"Le Bas materialismeet la gnose," the recurrent in writtenin 1929,Bataille interprets representation ofa headlessanimalas an affirmation ofatheGnosticiconography ologicalmaterialism."The severedass'sheadoftheacephalicpersonevenifimperfectly, one ificationofthesun undoubtedly represents, This is the point of materialism'smost virulentmanifestations."7 wherethetwopartsofBataille'stheoreticalworkmerge;theSomme Atheologigueand La Partmaudite. 7. "Le Bas materialismeet la gnose,"Documents,1930; OC 1: 220-26. [The I English translationis from "Base Materialismand Gnosticism,"VE, 48-49. Translator].
c) THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE itistheopening closure: oftheinfinite. God'sabsenceisnolonger it is moredivinethanGod(I am thusno God's absence is greater, forthatconjuring longer I, butanabsenceofI: I waswaiting awayand
I amgay).8 now,beyond measure,
withtheirsometimesscientificclaims, EvenifBataille'sreferences, can be bothersome,the oppositionbetweenthe sacredand the profaneis thematrixofhis thought,notablyofwhatwe have calledhis dualism. existenceis profane Letus positan initialdefinition: whenitlives itis sacredwhenitlivesinimmanence. in thefaceofa transcendence, However,mattersbecomecomplicatedas soon as one asks whatin the profaneworldis transcendent and, in the sacredworld,immafirst nent.Indeed,to the questionone must answerthatit is the forthe profane:the profaneis sacreditselfwhich is transcendent definedby theabsenceofthe sacredfromwhichit is separated,this its distinctivemark. separationconstituting Butwhatis thesacred?Let us clarifythequestionbecause,as we shall see, it is ambiguous:whatis thesacredfromwhichtheprofane it?Ithas manynamesofwhichthe is separatedandwhichtranscends mostcommonlyused areGod,ortheState,ortotalMan; butwhatis hereis less whatis positedas transcendent fundamental (theseabstractentities)thantheveryseparationas a structure ofexistence.It is thusprofaneexistenceitselfwhichproducesseparation, institutes itselfas separatefromthesacred,and thetranscendence bywhichit definesthe sacredin factcharacterizes theprofaneitself. leads one to believe,"saysAndreBreton,"thatthere "Everything existsa certainplacein thespiritwherelifeanddeath,therealandthe thecommunicableandtheincommunicaimaginary, pastandfuture, ble are no longerperceivedto be in contradiction to one another." Bataillequoteshim and continues"I shall add: Good and Evil,pain and joy."9But he does not add: the sacredand theprofane.Dualism 8. "L'Absencede mythe," inLe Surrealisme en 1947(Paris:Maeght,1947);OC 12: 236. et le ma], "EmilyBrontE," 9. La Littgrature 29; OC 9: 186.[VE,281. Breton'ssentencecomesfromtheSecondManifestoofSurrealism, itis thusoneof theaftermaths of"Le Bas materialisme," Bataille'sarticleon GnosticDualismwhich Bretonattacksin his 1930manifesto. His beingthemaintargetofthismanifesto did notprevent Bataillefromoftenreferring to Breton'sfornulation.See also theconclusionoftheessayonGenet,whichis thelastpageofthefinalessayofLa Litteratureetle mal 226 [OC 9: 316; [2041.
startspreciselyhere,withthefactthatthereis no point,eitherin the spiritor elsewhere,wherethe sacredand the profanecease being one another,evenifat timestheyhaveto perceivedas contradicting on one another.Moreover, this coexistand seem to be superimposed definesthesacredas verypoint,thisinstantofthefusionofcontraries it fromtheprofane:thesacredconfusesthat such and distinguishes whichtheprofaneopposesor distinguishes. Thereare thenindeedtwo worlds,theprofanein whichwe live, andthesacredin whichwe die,theworldofthepresenceofI, andthe worldofthe absenceofI, ofmyabsence,theworldwhereI am not, wherethereareno I's. "The worldwe die in, saysBataille,is notthe 'worldwe livein'." This worldis opposedto theworldwe livein like the inaccessibleto the accessible."'0The oppositionthusis not betweenthisworldand thentheotherworld,buttheworldofidentity anditsalteration;theworldofthought[lapensee]anditsexpenditure [de'ense], the worldof measureand its immoderation[demesure]. theprofane, as itdiffers from The sacreddoes notso muchcontradict whichis thealterationofits identity. it by a difference thesetwoworldswith It is a strangerelationwhichties together no commonground,whoseunthinkableand impossiblecoexistence cannot be describedin termsof an additionor a totality,never amountingto a total.This situationappearsclearlyin Bataille'stextualoperationsinvolvingthenameof"God,"theprofanenameofthe justa sacred.Evenifitis thehighestname,God remainsnevertheless a tributary oflanguage,it remains name and fromthisperspective, bound to the profaneworld.Doubtless,insofaras it is the highest word,God is the keywordwhichpermits(likea weak pointin the systemwhichhas calleduponittoachieveitsclosure)thesacredtobe evoked,buttheprofanename ofthesacred,as soon as it turnsaway fromthisprofanestatus,revealsitselfto be theabsence ofGod. But let us stopat thispassage. In Bataille,thename ofGod refersto whatis thekeystoneofthe profaneworld,theworldinwhichthingsarewhattheyare.Godis the one who guaranteestheidentityoftheself,who guaranteescompento merits,justice,balance,stabilityofmeanings sationsproportional in language;tiedto theisolationofindividualsin separateselves,itis the supremeself whose idea enables human selves, despitetheir separationand theirlimits,to communicateamong themselves. 10. "Ce MondeoiLnousmourons,"Critique,August-September, (1957);OC 12: 457.
These exchangesobviouslyescape thedirectand sacrificialcommunicationofthesacred;theyareindirectandresultfroma compromise ofindividualsand thedesiretheyhaveto open betweentheintegrity themselvesto one another.Yetthiskeystonewhich,at leastpartially (fromthefactthatGod is presentundertheguiseofa word),belongs to the profanesystemitself,is consideredby the profanesystemitsmediationwhichitthussustains,orwhichis sustainedthrough withthiskeystone, as contaminated the bythesacredworld.Starting profaneworldis able to edifyitselfintoa quasi-architectural system (hierarchicaland specializedpartsworkingtogetherto givesolidity and cohesionto thewhole).Butthisresultsin an architecture which hangsuponthatwhichitrejects;thetopoftheedificeremainssometo it,since,like a key,thenameofGod servesas howheterogeneous worldas toopenit.Itis as muchthatwhich muchto closetheprofane fromthesacredas thatwhichlinksittoit,andif separatestheprofane the obverseof it is profane,its reverseis sacred.The name of God introducestheequivocaldimensionofthepresence-absencewhose ambiguousplaywill contaminateall language.Forthisname which is theabsenceofGod: absenceofhis positsthedivineas transcendent orthesacred(as distinctfromthedivine),is presence;butitsreverse, also a modeoftheabsenceofGod,thistimehoweverin thesense of thepresenceofhis absence and oftheimmanentexperienceofthis absence.This passagefromtheobverseto thereverseis whatBataille calls thesacrifice,thatis theputtingto deathofGod byman,which bothconsecratesthedead God and deifieshis humanmurderer, the ofGod's absence. perpetrator d) MAN He who does not "die" frombeingonlya manwill neverbe other thana man."1
The truthoftheuniverseis expenditure, whichis notgraspable, never fullythinkable.The incompatibility betweenthought[pensee]and expenditure[depense]is radical,similarto thatbetweenconscious 11. L'Experience intdrieure(Paris:Gallimard,1954),49; OC 5: 47. [Weareusing the Englishtranslation, InnerExperience,trans.withintroduction by Leslie Anne Boldt(New York:StateUniversity ofNew YorkPress,1988)).
and unconscious. Thus, since expenditureis ultimatelythe unthinkableparexcellence,thoughtitselfis thesuspensionofexpenditure. This is thetopicof"Corpscelestes,"an essaypublishedin 1938,a firstversionofthepageswhichLa Notionde depensewill devoteto associtheastronomer cosmology.In it Bataillerefersto Eddington, atedwiththetheoryoftheexpandinguniverse;buthis readingofit ofthe worldthatwould rather it into an interpretation transforms deservethename ofexpendinguniverse.'2Thereis one truthin the whichis neverthinkable.Butit is visible, universe;it is expenditure, forthe sun bringsit as its own-if blinding-evidence, perceptible, the sun which,fireand flame,is nothingbuttheincessantexpendiwhatsoever.13Yet,althoughthis withno compensation tureofenergy is thegenerallaw oftheuniverse,one singlepointoftheuniverse,a cold spot in the furnace,oddlyinsistson ignoringit: theEarth(the planetof thinkingbeings),a blindplace in this luminous,bulging an avariciousplanet,somberandcold,isolatedin a prodiimmensity, gal, luminous, and boiling universe.While the universe,in the boundlessmovementwhichit communicatesto all ofits parts-so completelythatit is scarcelypossibleto continuespeakingofparts, alien is it to anyseparation-, is uniquelythisvery so intrinsically ofan incessantdisappearance, movement,theendlessmanifestation theparts thetotalloss whichis radiance,on Earth,on the contrary, are jealously isolated, the mass becomes atomized,the particles indepenclaimforthemselvesan autonomyin whichtheywithdraw, tothecosmic dentofthetotalitywhichgathersthem.14 Symmetrical 12. "Corpscelestes,"Verve,(Spring1938); OC 1: 514-20. The articlewas illusgalacticexplosions. tratedby a seriesof paintingsby AndreMasson representing as "CelestialBodies,"in October36,(Spring1986),specialissueonGeorges [Translated Bataille,ed. and trans.AnnetteMichelson,77]. 13. Bataille'ssun alwayssplitintotwo,betweenlightandheat,betweenraysand flames(whichbecome ashes).It is thus alwaysnecessaryto make the distinction Gogh; betweenthe sun which betweenPlatonicsun and thatof Prometheus-Van illuminatesand thatwhichconsumes;betweenthatoferection("le durdesirde durer,")[theharddesiretoendure]andofejaculation.ForBataille,theshiftfromonetothe in thecentralepisodeofthemythofIcarus,thepassageofthesun otheris dramatized "thatwas shiningat themomentofelevation"totheone "thatmeltedthewax."(Soleil pourri,"Documents,1930; OC 1: 231-32). ["RottenSun,"VE,57-58]. indeedfroma starinsofaras it is cold and 14. "Earth,as a heavenlybody,differs does not shine.... The surfaceoftheplanetis formednot onlyofmolecules,each some unitinga small numberof atoms,but of muchmorecomplexcompositions, othercolloidal,the latterleadingto the autonomousforcesof life,to crystalline, plants,toanimals,tomen,tohumansociety.... ColdEarthcannotkeeptheatomsof
a generaldevouringmovementprevailson cornucopianoverflow, being)claims Earth.The scientist(atonce earthlybodyandthinking forhimselfthe statusofan exceptionto his own theory. Thus it is as thoughthe Earth'ssurfacewere the theaterof a reversalin the generalmovementof the universe.The firstmovement,unbounded,is thatof "communication"betweenbeings,the thatofwhatBatailledescribesas the "composisecond,hierarchical, tionofbeings."'5Sincetheautonomyofisolatedbeingsincreasesin to thedegreetowhichtheyarecomposite,tothecomplexproportion compositionis a movementwhichproduces ityoftheirconstitution, a hierarchicaland pyramidalsystemof beings,at the summitof whichBatailleplaces humansociety,the mostcomplexofall organisms,withlanguageand discursiveknowledgeworkingas "biological binder"(theequivalentforsocietyto whattissuesareforbodies). Wecan translatethisfactintotermswhosemeaningswehavealready established.For example, with matter-the formlessmatterof Bataille's "base materialism"-we can identifythe generalized movementof cosmic expenditureand with form,its miserlyanofuncomposed denial.Matter,the complexlabyrinth thropocentric beings,is the base of the pyramid.We could also say thatmatter whichis spent-matteris in factjust anothername forexpenditure and "dissimilation"-is in thisway,aboveall,relentlessexteriorization,a pureoutside,while autonomousorganismswhose lives are characterized byabsorptionand assimilationonlyexistbyvirtueof theseparationbetweenan outsideand an inside. But earthlybodies (such as scientists),even if theyignorethe ofenergy, arenotindependent generalmovementoftheexpenditure of it, fortheyconsumeand accumulateits energy.While resisting into the cosmic movetheyremainno less integrated expenditure, mentof energy,savingwhat is spent,absorbingwhat is produced, whatis externalized. internalizing The Earthis thusa cosmichole in whichthetruthoftheuniverse getsdrained, communication, gloriousmanifestation) (expenditure, ButtheEarthandman-since theculminating suckedin,sacrificed. point of the will forautonomyis the epistemologicalspecies,the hersurfacewithinthepowerofan almostzeroradiation,and the 'movementofthe to thatofthemovement contrary whole'whichformsaroundhermovesin a direction Corpscdlestes,"OC 1: 514-20. . formedwithina starwithhightemperature." 122-28; OC 5: 110-15,[93L'Expdrience 15. "La Communication," intdrieure, modified]. 106-22; OC 97-110. [81-93. Translation 98],and "Le Labyrinthe,"
inhabitantof Earth'ssurface-forgetwhat makes theirautonomy possible(theveryprodigality theyinterrupt), and quicklyclaimto be thetruth,themeaningoftheuniverse.Byclaimingthattheuniverse is meantto bestowitselfforthem,theyturnawayfromtheiraleatory origins."All thatwe recognizeas truthis necessarilylinkedto the errorrepresented by the 'stationaryearth"' ("Corps Celestes,"OC is themain featureofsys1:516 ).And,since anthropocentrism temsofthoughtwhichareunableto expand,to decenterthemselves farenoughto conceiveoftheexcentricity ofexpenditure, "thecrowning achievementof this [devouring] tendencyis anthropocentrism" (ibid.,518 ).Anthropocentrism, indeed,repressesdehumanizing and decentering excesses;it is committedto saving"theworldwe live in," a worldorganizedaroundthe human subject,againstthe whichBataillealso calls "theworldwe die in," worldofexpenditure, "a worldfornobody,a worldfromwhichsubjectshave been evacuated,theworldofthenon-I." But hereis preciselythe pointwherethe reversaloccurs,where man's avariciousreversalof the law of the universewill itselfbe reversed. Evenman,ultimately, has toenterintocommunication and To startwith,in Bataille'sdescriptionofman,the acexpenditure. cumulativedriveitselfis so strong,thatit becomesa virtuallyunrestricted,unbounded,endlessand aimless forcewhichincreasingly A greed comes to resembleits opposite:unrestricted expenditure. withoutreserve,a greedthatloses its limits,becomingexcessive, unquenchable."The greatertheirwealth,themoretheyproliferate. Their productiveforceproduces only new productiveforce....
Men," Bataille continues, "began. . . to observe the greed which
In "Corpscelestes,"man'sgreed,thevery drovethemas a curse."'16 compulsionto produceand to accumulate,is what Bataille calls man'saccursedshare.Thus,themovementthatopposesexpenditure, was originallydescribedwiththeverytermswhich ratherstrangely, itself.The cursewhichfirstrewill latercharacterizeexpenditure ferredto what cannotbe spentwill laterreferto what cannotbe saved.In thisspecificcase, thelogicoftheshiftis dependenton the whichrequireslimits.In becominginfinconceptofavariciousness, ite, greedloses its meaning,it becomes excess insteadof greed,a 16. "Corpscdlestes,"OC 1:519.In Le Bleu du ciel,Dirty'sexcessesareidentified withhervoraciousness.
Infiniteavariceandinfiniteprodigreedexpandingintoexpenditure. galitybecomeindistinguishable. This shiftor reversalreflectsa hiatus which is essential in toa sortof a theorywhich,submitted Bataille'stheoryofexpenditure, dualism-canrhythmof theoreticalstuttering-thecharacteristic not be utteredin one breath.It takesseveralattemptsto getit out. Thus,as a firststep,man discoversthelaw oftheuniverse,butin himselffromit. The motor so doing,he escapes it,he distinguishes itis not is taxdeductible, ofexpenditure doesnotmove.The thinking Insteadofdonating,it collectsdata. Denying itselfan expenditure. (thatone has to expendoneselfin orderto the cost ofinformation know),scienceis the intellectual,ideologicalversionofthe earthly The planetis nottheonlyversionofan immorefusalofexpenditure. bile ground.Scientificdiscourseis anotherone, an intellectualand whichtheCopernicanrevolution abstractformofanthropocentrism ThuswritesBataille:"Evenifhuman didnotsucceedin demolishing. existenceis reallyin the processof discoveringthe universethat theuniverseas a spectasustainsit,thisexistencemustacknowledge cle externalto it or else denyitself"(ibid.,516 ).The existential problemofscienceis thatofan Oedipuswho risksbeingswallowed bythesphinxpreciselybecausehe foundtherightanswer.Contrary thisdistancingis essentiallya stratto Brecht'sVerfremdungseffekt, thebeholderfrombeingabsorbedbytheshow.Man egythatprevents withit. He does resistsenteringthespectacle,he resistsidentifying himself"as specnotrecognizehimselfin it.Werehe toacknowledge tacleviewingitself,"he wouldrisklosinghis life. beYet,at the heartof this cosmology,thereis a contradiction tweenthe existentialpositionofthesubjectand his knowledge,the gapbetweenwhatmanknowsandwhathe is. A coldmindedandcold universe he developsa theoryofan expanding heartedvulcanologist, Man froma positionwhichis basedon therefusalofexpansiveness. he He withdrawsfromthegame, shirksexpenditure. doesnotparticipate in theplayoftheworld,imaginingthathe is an exception,that he restson safe,solid,stablegroundin a worldinvadedbymovement. A firstformofthebreakwithanthropomorphism is a blindone, the Dionysian surpassingof the theoretical(Apollonian)attitude. This firstwayoutis an explosiveone. The vulcanolgistmovesoutto with "the need to Pompey.He replacesreservewith self-sacrifice, give,whetherone's own selfor one's possessions.""Throughloss
man can regainthefreemovementoftheuniverse,he can danceand swirlin thefullraptureofthosegreatswarmsofstars"(ibid.,520 ). Butthesituationto whichsuch a breakleads cannotbe describedas the "spectacleviewingitself."This time,however,it is forthe opis blinded,and evendestroyed positereason:the ex-beholder byhis in it.Entering withtheshow,hisparticipation proximity depense,he lost pensee. At least,thisis whatBataillesaysin "Corpscelestes." However,it is not what happensin it: "Corpscelestes"is an essay which is about blindnesswithoutbeingblinditself.It escapes the alternativebetweenthe two exclusivepositionsdfa thoughtthat and an expenditure distancesitselffromanyexpenditure whichexcludes thought. In the finalanalysis,the major interestof Bataille's theoryof order expendituremightnot be of an economicor anthropological one. Itsintereststemsless fromits ofan epistemological but,rather, theoreticalcontentthanfromwhatit doestothespaceofknowledge. A memorablediscussionin ParisfollowedthepublicationofL'Experience interieure,duringwhich Bataille was grilledby the most importantphilosophersofhis time,Sartreincluded.One ofhis last answersis literallya turningupsidedownofLucretius'sSuave mari magno.... It is hardto decideifit relatesto theactualsettingofthe eclectic being examinedby liexchange,Bataille the self-taught orwhetheritis a description in generaltermsof censedphilosophers, hisphilosophicalposition.Lucretiusdescribesman'spleasureat witnessingthe stormwhich imperilsothersfromthe solidityof the philosophicalshores,a positionin manyregardsanalogousto what Bataille,in "Corps celestes,"called the errorof "stationaryearth." who had questionedhim But,in answeringthevariousphilosophers duringthe discussion,Bataille reversesthe image: "Placed before ofhimwho tranquillywatches you,I feelmyselfto be the contrary the dismastedvessels fromthe shore,because in fact,in spite of I cannotimagineanyoneso cruelthathe couldnoticethe everything, one who is dismastedwithsuch carefreelaughter.Sinkingis someone can haveit to one'sheart'scontent."'7 thingaltogether different, I am." Bataille'scogito,thus,reads: "I sinktherefore In the violentexpenditureof self,man must "perceivethathe breathesin the powerof death" ("Corps celestes,"5:20 ).This philosophicalraftoftheMedusa is theallegoryofa thoughtthathas 17. "Discussion sur le peche, Dieu vivant, 1945; OC 6: 358.
leftbehindtheworldwe live in,thephilosophicalworldoftheexercise of thought,ofthoughtas exercise,forthe worldwe die in, the worldofthoughtas awakening.A thoughtwhichsustainsitselfbeyondtheloss ofthesubject,whenthoughtkeepsgoingevenafterits hereis notso muchan objectto subjecthas been spent.Expenditure be thoughtof,as it is themode ofthoughtwhenthereis no subject fora subject,meansfirstofall leftto thinkit. Thinkingexpenditure, thinkingofa scene fromwhichhe has been evacuated.It means to at least to thepointofthe loss ofego,enteringa push self-sacrifice is endowedwiththe spacewheretheego,havingbecomeexpendable, gloryofnot beingthere. TranslatedbyHilariAllred