Some Notes on Bataille

23Nov11

I am currently in the middle of writing a final paper for a course on death and desire on Bataille and economies of death or on the scalability of Bataille’s concepts of expenditure and sacrifice as they apply or don’t apply to death and extinction. Basically, I’m wondering if the relation between death and extinction is scalable in the same way restricted and universal (or general) economy are especially given the fact that Bataille (as Reza has pointed out) stays within a solar economy.

This stems from rereading Brassier’s critiques of how death is taken up by Heidegger (and by Levinas and Blanchot by association) and how Bataille’s absence there relates to Brassier’s expansion of death into extinction via Freud and Lyotard’s solar catastrophe. Eugene Thacker in The Dust of this Earth seems to side with Heidegger (or at least more with Heidegger in this instance) in arguing that there is a kind of thinkable disjunction between death and extinction or perishing (no matter how widespread. One point in which the relation of thought to extinction seems odd in Brassier’s closing chapter of Nihil is that it is somewhat unclear what non-human extinction events mean for thought or what the extinction of thought would mean for other thinking beings. Perhaps this uncertainty or distance is due to his critique of Meillassoux’s use of the arche fossil as over privileging the temporal and in particular the past as signifying different times, or a time of life.

Brining this back to Bataille – the related tension is between continuity and discontinuity by way of the unclear relation death has to formalism. In several of his texts Bataille seems to connect the continuity of humans (which the experience of actually being a human disrupts with discontinuity) to a species continuity or a kind of flow of base matter of which we are all made but which we experience only (following Nick Land) as chance, entropy, disaster and so on. But Bataille’s insistence on the experience of transgression, of a self-that-dies seems to pull at the phantom coat tails of Heidegger’s being-towards-death. That is there is a void of a self but a self as experience standing above that void and laughing at its voidal nature as we approach death. Sacrifice and expenditure (which the sun does simultaneously as expenditure is heat, sacrifice is expenditure etc) seem to deformalize death and that which is dying but Bataille never seems to get to the dead as, from inner experience, we experience the dead of others as cannibal feast, waste, shit, and so forth. It becomes unclear whether, in this sense, Bataille gets past what Adrian Johnston has called Death and the Euthanasia of Reason in Kant – we can only think the death of others. Death, and death as extinction, is always caught in a refugium (to borrow from the biologies of extinction) our species-being (in a different sense or not from the Marxist sense) cant think its unthinking.

But then Bataille is not Heidegger when it comes to death and he is not Deleuze when it comes to flow.

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One Response to “Some Notes on Bataille”

  1. A most interesting blog entry.

    In my recent work, I approach man’s confrontation with death through Nothing, not in the way of Heidegger’s being-towards-death, nor of Sartre’s anxiety of nothingness, nor even of Kierkegaard’s dread of death. I disagree that death is an experience that is part of life. It is, as you and Levinas say, knowledge of someone else’s death.

    In my recently published book “Nothing Matters – a book about nothing” (Iff-Books), I posit the “Nothing gene”, an evolutionary mechanism that blocks out the capacity to comprehend Nothing. It does not subscribe to Freud’s notion that “the aim of all life is death.

    It is not dying that humans can’t come to terms with. It is the state of being dead that is impossible to comprehend, since it would mean understanding not-being.


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