I sought in vain this morning for the place in Bataille’s books that, some years ago now, inspired in me an unforgettable “epiphany.” It has to do, at bottom, with the question of energy and exuberance, and with the rhythms and workings (accumulations, savings, exhaustions, expenditures) of energy in our being.
Bataille’s argument is relatively simple: society, the world of work, poses us human beings like an object among others, like a tool that is destined to have function or a goal. In Bataille’s opinion, and out of all the horrors that society imposes on our being, this is the worst, paradoxically because it forces us to constantly to think of our being as “our being,” with all the nametags and fabricated identity-crises that follow from this lie: an actual subjugation to our alienation and separateness from others and from the universe, as isolated beings with “our own past” we must preserve and “our own future” for which we have to constantly take precautions. This separate being is defined by its servility to the “use” to which rational, goal-oriented, accumulation-oriented society puts it (and not only in the sphere of employment) and by the inevitable anguish associated with dying, which we all know is inevitable and imminent.
What does this have, then, to do with energy and exuberance? Precisely what everyone already knows: this regulation of our energy cycles–down to the hours of sleep we have to get, the three-square meals we have to get, the hours of exercise per week, the hours of down time, relaxation, and entertainment scheduled in, and so on–all this regulation, the imperative to be “regular,” is geared toward the end of functioning like a “well-oiled machine,” i.e., to run the maintenance routines so that the past-present-future continuum of our separate isolated being isn’t jeopardized, so that our role-oriented and aim-oriented lives experience as few hiccups as possible and do not clash too often with all the other isolated beings’ road-schedules, work-schedules, marriage-schedules, retirement-schedules, and so on.
The threat that hangs over all this is, no surprise, the threat of death, the threat of poverty, of a loss of standing, a loss of sustenance and socio-economic and physical integrity as an isolated, self-same, and in this set-up necessarily self-proud, self-displaying, self-defending being. If we were not caught in the grip of all this servile “regularity,” society would not recognize us, and neither would anyone else, precisely because there would be no one, no me-separate being to recognize. We would not “be” in the sense that we are regulated to experience being; we would not-be; we would “effectively” be dead, and in relation to society and history, useless (the accursed share). At this level, the anticipation, that with the argument of a “necessary future for ourselves” shackles us interminably to anguish and all the measures meant to stave it off, dissolves and disappears.
Which implies acceding to anxiety to the point that it breaks into laughter, ecstasy, tears–and dying (ellipsis to Paul’s, “I die daily”). This is what Bataille calls the “sovereign moment,” a moment insubordinate to language, social worth, stable meaning, and integrity whatever its form, and in no way servile to the activity- and maintenance-oriented regulations of self-isolating society–since here there is no longer some “one” to persevere. This loss or dissolution, this halt of knowledge and function, means for Bataille a return to “intimacy”: the distinctions that once separated me from my fellow human beings and from the entire universe no longer hold, and I communicate or rather “am” communication (elsewhere, loyalty). Such is sovereignty: NOTHING: the exuberance of a useless expenditure that is not regulated and, more importantly, not owned or used up by anyone. That is the passage I wanted to find, where he said that: theoretically, it is the difference between a particular economy, where energy is the possession of set beings that they expend for the sake of self-preservation, and general economy, where energy is continuous, without ownership, and squandered exorbitantly without any thought of saving it for any future.
Bataille’s contention is not that we jump by a leap of faith or force of will outside of our isolated being (as you could guess, any attempt contradicts the sovereignty of the moment; it accesses us like a strike, like tears), but rather that, in this “return to intimacy” (dissolution, dispossession, destruction and fiery consumption of ourselves, of everything that once tied anguished being to death, since here death is nothing (and the contiguity here with sovereignty is not accidental)), there is an unleashing of energy that is unimaginable to a knowledgeable subject of action in the world, since it is the very subversion and ‘transformation into light dust’ of the latter and all its regulations (just see how far you can push the resources that aren’t yours and are beholden to no one: what can a body?). It is the unleashing of an energy that is general and uncontainable precisely because the only thing that ever contained it was the container that we “falsely,” however normally and conventionally, held ourselves to be (and let’s not kid ourselves, this illusion is inescapable: we cannot not “traverse the fantasy”).
In the continuity of being, where our discontinuity with being reaches its zero limit and the “intimate dark” dawns; in this world where there is nothing to anticipate because death is nothing and you are nothing, “Exuberance is beauty” (William Blake) and, “What is intimate, in the strong sense, is what has the passion of an absence of individuality, the imperceptible sonority of a river, the empty limpidity of the sky…” (Bataille). I remain quite curious to see what we will do with this freedom, when it reaches us.