Bataille and dialectics

Asger Sørensen (Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School):
“The inner experience of living matter: Bataille and dialectics”
Philosophy & Social Criticism, vol. 33 no. 5, pp. 597-615

Like Marx, Bataille states that his thought is the ‘opposite’ of Hegel’s, but he immediately afterwards adds: ‘I only found myself there dialectically, if I may say so, Hegelically’. /…/

though initially arguing for the now common position reserving dialectics only for the praxis of the changeable human world, Bataille keeps the possibility open for reintroducing nature into the realm of dialectics /…/

Bataille thinks of his dialectics as the result of a determinate negation of Hegel’s, which of course maintains the Hegelian dialectic in the dialectics of Bataille as Moment. /…/

Desire is necessary for the fusion of sexual reproduction and therefore for the growth of life, when first it has become sexualized; but desire is also a negation of life, creating contradictions within life at various levels. /…/ The necessity of choosing between the objects of desire introduces a pause, a temporal discontinuity that inhibits the continuous process of life /…/
As a contradiction conscious life appears within life itself, not as something anti-thetic coming from outside life, but exactly as the determinate negation of life by life itself. /…/

Bataille opposes Hegel’s undifferentiated and ahistorical concept of life and introduces a development, both within the process of life’s reproduction of it-self and in the evolution from asexual to sexual reproduction. /…/ Bataille conceives of the dialectics of nature as constituting ‘a sort of natural history’ already in his early writings. /…/ In contrast to Hegel, Bataille thinks of life as historical, although this history has neither a beginning nor any end /…/

To Bataille what is prohibited in the taboo is the ‘violence’ of nature, and the human attitude is precisely the ‘refusal’ of such a violence. /…/ The human ‘no’ to natural violence, however, is never definitive. According to Bataille it is only a pause, ‘a momentary suspension, ot a final standstill’. The basic non-logical difference does not disappear, it just reaches a temporary unity, and this unity makes life’s activity human, i.e. makes activity conscious and reasonable as poiesis and praxis. /…/

If the conflict between the reasonable order of civilization and the subversive, violent pleasure of nature is understood theoretically as a logical contradiction it must be resolved /…/ A non-conflicting, i.e. a non-dialectical solution can only consist in siding with one or the other, idealizing either a self-defeating critique of civilization as such, or a pure and therefore senseless negation of nature as a whole. Hegel chose the last solution, accepting in the end only being uplifted to reason, spirit and absolute knowledge.
This is what Horkheimer termed the dogmatic aspect of Hegel’s philosophy. /…/

Instead, inspired by the dialectics of Bataille, one could understand the basic contradiction in and of human life as just a conflict, a tension inherent in humn and social eing as such, and as such an ontological condition that is dealt with – and thus solved – practically every day. The point to discuss politically is therefore not whether we can dissolve what the dialectical tradition would call the contradictions of the existing solution and reach the truth of the social being in question. The contradictions are always already solved practically, and the question is only how to make these practical solutions better.
No society is completely homogeneous, since any human being takes part in more than one social being, e.g. families, classes, subcultures, associations, etc. /…/

Bataille’s materialist dialectics /…/ risk becoming a mystifying ideology for a world organized only by the market, since no long-term political action, no persistent use of force, seems legitimate in Bataille’s perspective. /…/
Bataille describe the processes of nature and human culture dialectically, without comforting himself with dreams and hopes of ideals of a harmony that history or experience will realize in the end. /…/
In short, with an epistemology and an ontology like Bataille’s, it is very difficult to believe in anything worth dying for. And that is a shame.



  1. “In short, with an epistemology and an ontology like Bataille’s, it is very difficult to believe in anything worth dying for. And that is a shame.”

    This misses perhaps the most central point to Bataille’s philosophy: One should live not for any purpose- that makes one’s life servile, useful, empty of the glorious vivacity which he MIGHT RATHER live if he took on dying simply for the sake of dying. This latter means expending life away sheerly to expend it, as if the feeling, the very lived experience of such an irrational, “sun-like” life in which one empties out his life force voraciously is the ultimate mode of life (a mode we should all attempt to enter into).

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