It is no wonder that surrealist writer André Breton
called french philosopher Georges Bataille
philosopher." In Benjamin Noys' book, Georges Bataille: A Critical Introduction, we are introduced to a thinker who believes that philosophy cannot assilimiate human life. Philosophy is doomed to fail in trying to assimilate experience by digesting it within the limits of thought. The heterogeneity, or the contradictory nature of life, will ultimate force philosophy to expel the undigested parts of human experience as waste.
Experience that destroys conceptual frameworks in the emphasis of Bataille's works. The destruction of a framework comes to apply to the personal identity of a human being that is broken down during sexual encounters. Battaille conceives of sexuality as destructive because he sees it as related to death. While death ends the lifecycle of a person and brings out of his history, personality, thoughts, sex does the same for a few moments by dulling mental and physical awareness to the point that one is no longer self neither in mind nor body. The destruction of a framework also comes to effect society via the economy of expenditure
. Bataille's example of an expenditure economy is based on a tribual ritual of potlach
chronicled by French anthropologist Marcel Mauss
. In this tribual ritual, all members of the tribe compete to see who can give away the most of his possessions as gifts. The winner gets to be the tribe ruler. Bataille emphasizes that this destroys the conceptual framework of power dynamics. The wealthy and the powerful lose all their posessions alike. This leads to the leveling of social differences. Distinctions of power and high standing in the social hierarchy that are based on wealth are destroyed.
For Georges Bataille, the economy of expenditure is much like defecation
referred to earlier. The earned wealth is not digested and kept by the tribe members; they expel it out of their organism and the old social hierarchy of wealth is destroyed. This process of destruction is a necessity because the assimiliation of wealth is not capable of being assimilated into the social order indefinitely and must eventually break down. Bataille lived in the France of the 1930s and witness the Marxist currents of the time, especially since the surrealist friends of his who admired Marquis De Sade
much like he did, were all participants in the French Marxist
movements. Bataille conceived of the Marxist movement as a consequence of the inability of the political system to assimilate its distribution of wealth into its political order. The settlement of property among the more wealthy was not digested by the poorer elements in the political order and they thought to expel the current economic situtation via revolution. Bataille thus conceived of the rituals of expenditure conducted by primitive tribes
as a cleansing force, in which the body politic expelled and excreted poisonous elements of economic inequality via ritual.
The comparison of the way a primitive society cleanses itself via ritual while the contemporary one fails to do and tries to retain unhealthy political orders is a good way to frame of all of Bataille's thought. Bataille believed that all systems of social order and systems of philosophy tended to become unhealthy as they grew. For this reason, Bataille celebrated the negativity in Hegel
's philosophy, much like Adorno did. Hegel's thought showed that coherent philosophical systems and the social orders they justified were bound to reveal internal contradictions and would break down because of them. Georges Bataille also wrote many pornographic works to make the same point. The Story of the Eye, Madame Edwarda, The Blue of Heaven, and other novels showed that devious sexuality had the power to destroy people's investment in stable, peaceful lifestyles made safe by social norms.
, filthy body liquid
s, and mind games
all served to initiate Bataille's innocent characters into cruelty, thus alienating them from their Enlightenment
point of view of humans as rational
, and kind. Even in his academic work as a writer for the journal Documents, Georges Bataille sought to destroy social order. He conceived of an old picture of a wedding as a bourgeois ceremony thought to contain the violent forces of life by dressing up everyone in posh clothes and making them all look civil
. He thought that this picture was trying to hide the fact that the bride and groom were in fact brought together for order-destructive, chaos-inducing, deathlike sex
. In his commentary, Bataille
made sure to remind the reader of the essay that this whole farce of civility
was bound to collapse. He imagined a fly
landing on the nose on one of the gentlemen because it was drawn to the feces-resembling stinking odor of his body. Bataille was thus implying that despite the show of dignity of suit and tie worn to a solemn occasion, the gentleman wearing them posessed body odors
that hinted at his eventual physical decay
. Since the picture mentioned came from centuries ago, Bataille was only highlighting what was already obvious to the reader : the complex social order of the wedding ceremony
and its repression of the body
and its desires
would be undone by that same body's unstoppable drive to disintegrate
Just so that people don't get the wrong idea that Bataille was proposing complete chaos and social anarchy, it's important to remember that he believed that breaking social taboo
s would in fact lead people to reestablish them to protect themselves from violence
. In one his works, a prostitute who suffered after allowing her body to be ravaged by rape had to come to believe in the sanctity of her sexuality. In keeping with that example, Bataille believed that sexual violence or violence against philosophical systems and social order brought people closer to chaos
but also led them to re-establish taboos and order in order to protect themselves from this chaos and death. A believer in Friedrich Nietzsche
's theory of the eternal return of the same
, Bataille conceived of life as an irrevocable repetition of the establishing taboos, breaking them, establishing them yet again, only to break them once more. Viewing outbursts of violence and destruction as a necessary part of history, Bataille viewed the Nazi
threat in the 1930s as something to be expected. He found it less than shocking and in fact rather fascinating. This fascination with the Nazis has led some, such as French communist Boris Souvarine
and German philosopher Jürgen Habermas
to accuse Bataile of being Nazi supporter.
What makes George Bataille's work an interesting read is his illustration of the principles of his thought in vivid images. He conceives of nature as a force of sexual violence
: natural disaster
s seek to both destroy the earth and its inhabitants, while taking sexual pleasure in it. Thus natural disaster
s are like rapists in his work: they gain sexual pleasure by violating the innocent. (Note: Georges Bataille was fascinated by French serial rapist and murderer Gilles de Rais
I close this writeup with some of these vivid images from Georges Bataille's essay "The Solar Anus":
"The terrestrial globe is covered with volcanoes, which serve as its anus. Although this globe eats nothing, it often violently ejects the contents of its entrails. Those contents shoot out with a racket and fall back, streaming down the sides of the Jesuve, spreading death and terror everywhere.