Georges Bataille on the summit and the decline (March 5, 1944)

I. (Fundamental proposition). It is a question of opposing not good to evil but the “moral summit”, which is different from the good, to the “decline”, which has nothing to do with evil and whose necessity determines, on the contrary, the modalities of the good.
The summit responds to excess, to the exuberance of forces. It takes tragic intensity to its limit. It relates to measureless expenditures of energy, to the violation of the integrity of beings. It is therefore closer to evil than to good.
Decline – responding to moments of exhaustion, of fatigue – grants all value to concerns for preserving and enriching the being. Rules of morality result from decline.


‘communication cannot take place from one full and intact being to another: communication wants being twith their being at stake, places at the limit of death, of nothingness; the moral summit is a moment of risk taking, of the suspension of being beyond itself, at the limit of nothingness.

II. In “communication”, in love, desire has nothingness as its object. It is like this with any “sacrifice”.


IV. Humans only “communicate” – live – outside of themselves and since they must “communicate”, they must want this evil, this deseceation which, putting the being within themselves at risk, renders them penetrable to one another . . . Thus: all “communication” partakes of suicide and crime . . . In this light, evil appears as a life source!


Communication, essentialy, wanting being to be overstepped: essentially, what is rejected in evil is concern for the future. /…/

In common judgment, the essence of a moral act is being servile to some utility, to return to the good of some being a movement in which the being aspires to surpass being. In this way, morality is no more than a negation or morality.

If i suppress consideration of the future, I am unable to resist temptation . . . To tell the truth, this state of happy openness is not humanly imaginable. Human nature as such cannot reject its concern for the future /…/

As long as we are animated by a youthful effervescence, we consent to dangerous squandering. But when these forces begin to fail us, . . . when we begin to decline, we become preoccupied . . . with accumulation . . . with enriching ourselves for difficulties yet to come. We act. And action, effort can only have an aquisition of forces as its goal.


X. We must go further. To formulate such criticism is already to decline. The act of “speaking” of a morality of the summit itself arises from a morality of decline.


XI. Like Kafka’s Castle, in the end, the summit is nothing but the inaccessible. It slips away from us, at least insofar as we don’t stop being human, speaking. Besides, we cannot oppose the summit to the decline like evil to good. The summit is not “what one must reach”, decline not “what one must abolish”. Just as the summit is, in the end, nothing but the inaccessible, decline is from the very beginning inevitable.
(“The summit is, in essence, the place at the limit where life is impossible.”)

XII. Through history the reasons that a human being might have for going to the summit (the good for the nation, justice, salvation, etc.) have developed. “But the difficulty is to go to the summit without a reason, without a pretext.”
“. . . Every gamle, every ascent, every sacrifice being, like sensual excess, a loss of strength, an expenditure, we must justify our expenditures every time with a promise of gain, be it illusory or not.
” Even though a revolutionary action would establish the classless society – beyond which a historical action could no longer arise – it seems that, humanly speaking, the amount of energy produced is always greater than the amount necessary for its production. Hence this perpetual overfull seething og energy – which continually leads us to the summit – constituting the malefic share.


XIV. (Conclusion). Within hostile and silent nature, what becomes of human autonomy? “Maybe the desire to know has only one meaning: to serve as motive for the desire to question. No doubt knowledge is necessary for the autonomy of that action – by which it transformed the world – procures for humanity. But beyond the conditions of doing, knowledge finally appears as a decoy, when faced with the interrogation that commands it. When this interrogation fails, we laugh. The raptures of exstasy and the fires of Eros are so many questions – without responses – to which we submit nature and our nature. /…/ It is by leaving the interrogation open as an inner wound that I maintain chance, a possible access toward the summit . . .”

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