Our worries about community– its delicacy, its delectablility…– run parallel.
Bataille would assert that the “originary distinction” between self and other derives from the world of utility, the world of objects, which itself derives from a need for stability. Just as a useful object has to be consciously withdrawn from its status of “drowning” in the material flux of substance-nothingness, so too did we human beings (an anachronism in this case: we didn’t know, and still don’t know, what this means) have to consciously withdraw ourselves from the animal status of being like “water in water.” We’re defined (define ourselves) as distinct from the rest of the cosmos because of this mental operation of isolation: we chose it. The fact that we think organizationally-rationally, about the future and past, about survival, comes from this separation and isolation of “myself” as a social being, whereby I become equivalent to an object in the world of use (which, so far as society is concerned, is all I’m worth; and most of the time, it convinces me that that’s the whole truth of my being). “…the anxiousness to remain personally alive that establishes the person’s individuality is linked to the integration of existence into the world of things.” (Theory of Religion, p. 51)
All of Bataille’s talk about mysticism, eroticism, literature, etc., has to do with their being “methods” of dissolving one’s individual being back into the “continuity of existence,” where I no longer speak from my isolated position as a servile being in the world of useful objects, but rather from a place where “being is communication.” He called this place of no-place, this communication, “sovereign” and “free,” confusing a few commentators; in his chapter on Genet, he makes clear that this ‘sovereignty’ designates a realm of service, giving, and “loyalty to the other,” as opposed to the traditional notion associated with royalty, superiority, etc. For Bataille, it was a matter of “losing oneself again” into the continuity of being (he may use the word “fusion,” but not in the fascist sense of being lost in the group-mind of the collective), but now it was a matter of losing oneself back into the animal-intimate order consciously; of restoring oneself to a oneness that human society, in its emergence from primitiveness, lost. Sacrifice, religion, the festival, etc. represent early forms of man’s yearning to return to this intimacy.
Bataille, however, is not ultimately interested in reviving primitive forms of sacrifice (though he and his Acephale group were famously tempted by this prospect). To posit this return to intimacy consciously and without mythology is to posit it at the level of “universal humanity,” the same level at which science and rationality position themselves. The paradox with the endeavor, however, is that insofar as intimacy subtracts one from the world of useful objects, the ‘beings’ given at hand (indeed, it “destroys” them), one is also withdrawn from discursive cogency, consistency, and rational sense. Therefore, says Bataille, the return to intimacy by clear consciousness will occur “only in darkness.” This is, if not entirely, then at least in part because “intimacy” is immediate and thus without duration (and for Bataille, “duration” is not anything substantially real, but a measuring device constructed by consciousness to guarantee the endurance of useful objects — and human beings as useful objects — over time). Intimacy doesn’t “last”; rather, it indicates nothing less than the end of time as such. This links Bataille’s theory to eschatology and the question of messianity in modern times.
There’s a million ways to misinterpret Bataille, and there’s also a few thoughtful ways to “correct” him (Nancy), but ultimately his thinking of community remains relevant (though largely ignored) because it begins from this yearning to identify and communicate with a totality of existence that could never be identified, and especially could never be identified as simply “human,” even if, rationally speaking, this yearning must pass through that sign. This is where humanity reaches its limits, touches upon its limits in the divine: nothing in the official world, the official language or the official concepts can reckon with this real intimacy that one experiences with the totality of being, this oneness one feels with, in, and within the One. What’s more, by the very fact of operating at this limit where convention breaks down, where subordination to language itself must be refused, one is led to an extreme disorderliness in thought, and to a darkness beyond any possible restitution by the light of knowledge. In other words, this is an experience of the One that is unavailable to the mind, that cannot be controled by the mind’s resources. Pairing this humble acknowledgment with the ‘scientific’ ideal, the imperative becomes one of a rigorous non-knowledge. Bataille’s thinking leads to what we might call an intimate dark, the night of non-knowledge, where one is led to assert, “it is the wind who wrote my book,” for here all separation from the continuity of being as a separate self has been destroyed. The big question is if this regained return to intimacy with the totality of being must imply a total dissolution of one’s “personal” being, a stripping away of every sense of self in the chaos of substance-darkness-nothingness.
Bataille’s words often suggest this chaos, but like Nietzsche, he is always turning in a different direction than one would think. But the fact remains that for Bataille “intimacy” always involves violence. Usually one reads this violence as metaphorical, as when he says literature destroys language (destroys language as an instrument of the world of useful activity, etc.), or in his form of “meditation” (which amounts to a methodical, mental deconstruction (murder!) of the individual self plauged by anguish). However, it is important to stress that the violence Bataille would do to the world of things is, above all, a conscious operation (and he tells us it is “impossible”…), an undoing or “unworking” of the world of things at the most basic level.
Ultimately, it is science that Bataille would like to marshal in the name of intimacy. The same science that illuminated the nature of the world of objects– which began only obscurely at the dawn of civilization, as man de-natured himself and subtracted himself and his objects from the “water in water” status of intimate animality– ought to be directed toward the illumination of the intimate order. The big difference between science as we understand it and the science of non-knowledge is that, “the object can always expect the light that will illuminate it, whereas intimacy seeking the light cannot expect to be projected correctly” (p. 97). Why? Because the order of distinct knowledge and the order of divine life (intimacy) are radically different; only the former can be said to exist temporally and have any sort of “effectivity.” Such is why, “clear consciousness cannot clearly and distinctly know anything concerning intimacy, except for the modifications of the things that are linked to it.” Rigorously, the only way intimacy can answer the requirement of objective knowledge is by positing a non-knowledge.
We will have to ponder the sense in which objects are “dissolved and destroyed in the intimate moment,” keeping in mind that this destruction occurs in the field of consciousness and that, while this destruction implies and necessitates repercussions in the real order, war is not the inevitable outcome of man’s desire to return to animal intimacy. At stake here is the joining of consciousness and violence– not physical violence per se, but the violence to destroy the orders of alienation from inside out, which means at least the destruction of the subject as an isolated individual, cut off from communication with Being. We will have to think about how there could be a legitimate science of intimacy, rooted in the same operation of reason whereby consciousness “reduces” individual objects from out of the continuity of existence, but performing a very specific contrary operation on these objects, “reducing the reduction” and returning them (and with them, consciousness) to the intimacy of immanence. This contrary operation would find different applications in different fields of human experience. Poetry, for example, which operates in the field of language, would counter language as an instrument for producing and maintaining meaning by instead consciously negating, dislocating, and dismissing all static attributions of meaning in language.
Unfortunately for rationality and cognitive man, this moment of intimacy is also a moment of futility, since it is utterly outside the world of ends, goals, and knowledge. His forlorn face will always gape and stumble over non-knowledge– as if his head had been blown open by the split-splat of non-sense shot forth in acephalic consciousness, but still he could not feel the wind the wound let through into his graceless head. But for the useless man, in the anguish of his futile moment, when the screen made up of useful objects between him and the world comes crashing down “in clear consciousness,” when for all intensive purposes he is “dead,” it will not matter that intimacy could not be recognized by man, since in that grinding, “glorious” moment, he will not recognize himself, he will see no “humankind”– meaning, he will not be servile to anything (and especially not to the dialectic of self-recognition…). That is, he will be healthy, knowing himself incomparable, laughable, dastardly, “accursed” — as sovereign as he is inexistent, as excessive as he is null…