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Sexual Pleasure and Sacred Law: Transgression and Complicity in Vénus dans le cloître Domna C. Stanton L E DÉVELOPPEMENT DE L’ÉROTISME n’est en rien extérieur au domaine de la religion,” Bataille writes in L ’Erotisme, 1as he examines the internal connections and structural parallels be­ tween the erotic and the sacred and their mutual definition through pro­ hibitions. If the sacred represents “ ce qui est l’objet d’un interdit” (76), human sexuality is limited by the taboos created by religion, and the erotic is constituted by the transgression of those taboos (283). As the interdependent elements of a structure, transgression and prohibition are not antithetical in Bataille’s analysis; in more dialectical terms, transgres­ sion “ dépasse [l’interdit] et le complète” (72). More radically, “ l’interdit est là pour être violé” (72), he insists; it is empowered and can be en­ forced only if it is violated. And in Les Larmes d ’ Eros, Bataille observes that “ l’interdit donne sa valeur propre à ce qu’il frappe . . . un sens qu’en elle-même, l’action interdite, n’avait pas.” 2 However, this intimate, “ aboriginal” association between the sacred and the sexual is denied by religions, which ban questions on their relations with eroticism (Larmes, 95). At bottom, Christianity’s historical opposition to eroticism has con­ cealed their mutual reinforcement—an emblematic case, says Bataille, of “ la profonde complicité de la loi et de la violation de la loi” (L ’Erotisme, 43). In a Bataillean perspective, this complicity creates particular contra­ dictions for sexual discourses. Invariably, such discourses denounce the religious law that forbids certain practices, even though its sacred rules are the condition sine qua non for the transgressions that define the erotic and the excitement that its discursive (re)presentation is designed to arouse. If sexual pleasure cannot be catalyzed “ sans le sentiment de l’interdit” (L ’Erotisme, 119), indeed, is proportionate to the obstacles that surround the taboo, then it stands to reason, argues Bataille, citing Sade, that “ la vraie façon d’étendre et de multiplier ses désirs est de vouloir lui imposer des bornes” (55), while nonetheless condemning those strictures. However, the simultaneous defiling and upholding of the law (or other networks of power) in sexual discourses creates symptoVol . XXXV, No. 2 67 L ’E spr it C r éa te u r matic tensions that raise fundamental questions about the oppositional limits of erotic discourses and the extent of their complicity with regula­ tory regimes. “ Ne pas croire qu’en disant oui au sexe, on dit non au pouvoir,” Foucault has epigrammatically written, underscoring the complicity between pleasure and power in La Volonté de savoir: “plaisir qui s’allume d’avoir à échapper [au] pouvoir, à le fuir, à le tromper ou à le travestir,” he continues, “ . . . pouvoir s’affirmant dans le plaisir de se montrer, de scandaliser, ou de résister.” 3As with the relations between eroticism and the sacred, pleasure and power “se poursuivent, se chevauchent et se relancent. Ils s’enchaînent selon des mécanismes com­ plexes et positifs d’excitation et d’incitation” (67). In his well-known critique of the repressive thesis, Foucault observes that when sex is “ voué à la prohibition, à l’inexistence et au mutisme, le seul fait d’en parler . . . a comme une allure de transgression délibérée.” 4Whoever wields sexual discourse thus believes that “ il bouscule la loi; il anticipe, tant soit peu, la liberté future” (13), and that “seule la levée d’un obstacle, la rupture d’un secret peut ouvrir le chemin” that will lead to sexual truth about the self, “ le secret qu’il est indispensable de débusquer . . . et qu’il est à la fois dangereux et précieux de dire” (48). By contrast, of course, Foucault argues that since the Council of Trent there has been a multiplication of discourses on sex “ dans le champ d’exercice du pouvoir lui-même: incita­ tion institutionnelle à en parler, et à en parler de plus en plus” (26-27)— an incitation that he ascribes, admittedly with too much facility and too little evidence, to the intensification and the permeation of Catholic con­ fession “ [dans] toutes les...

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