Preparing for Work on Georges Bataille

Reading Bataille’s biography is proving to be at least equal to having a very strong cup of tea. With nails in it. But I think Michel Surya is right when he says that “his biography is of capital significance for his work; he never thought about anything he did not also wish to live out, never imagined anything he did not–alone or in the company of others–also wish to experience” (253). I confess I dislike all the fantasies about force and violence–even if it is anti-fascist force, anti-fascist violence–as the necessary consequence of looking for a “religion”–he did not hesitate to use the word–based on the death of God. But I am quite taken by his attempt to recognize and experience mortality in ways that were presumably excluded from the experience of the West since the days of Anaximander.  For the latter, as someone who is perhaps able to tell us something of the primal experience of the Greeks, Heidegger tells us, order, diké, Fug is precisely the contourlessness, death, whereas any entrance into appearance is adikía, disorder, and it must be paid for in the return to contourlessness. This is where a fundamental experience of mortality appears that metaphysics obscured and covered over. This is why Heidegger is able to link his Sein zum Tode, which is really a translation of Anaximander’s θνητός, with the retrieval of an originary experience of being in the ontological difference. The recognition of the ontological difference, which makes ontotheology impossible–this is the discovery that marks a break in the history of thought we are still unable to live up to–, is absolutely linked with “learning to be mortals.” Mortality is prior as an experience of being. Bataille wanted to make that a matter of physical, material, bodily experience. This is perhaps the way in which he understood the Nietzschean Dionysian against every Apollonian inversion.  So his life becomes a radical dramatization of the consequences of the death of God in the Nietzschean sense, which imply a radical assumption of tragic mortality–but, enigmatically, also modulated by a complete fascination with Hegel. Our academic times, where essentially there is no longer access to any thinking not channelled by university discourse, so many times camouflaged as political discourse, are probably incapable of understanding any of this. Bataille can break both the box of university discourse and the other box of political discourse, which is today little more than ineffective behavioral engineering. We shall see where it takes us. Can we take the sad pathos away from Bataille’s work? Should we? And perhaps taking that sad pathos away in favor of something else is the condition of free existence, which Bataille was still not quite capable of.

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