- Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion ed. by Jeremy Biles and Kent L. Brintnall
The work of Georges Bataille spans many disciplinary fields: fiction, philosophy, anthropology, economics, literary theory, theology, art history, and more. This affirmation of heterogeneity is crucial to his work, yet there is also in Bataille’s writing a consistent impetus towards a holistic understanding of humanity, albeit one that would comprise the impulse to destroy and to transgress. This impetus went hand in hand, in Bataille’s work, with a critical attitude towards disciplinary limits. It is therefore at the same time logical and frustrating that critical work on Bataille seems to be characterized by a lack of overall [End Page 612] cohesion or sense of community. Critical work on Bataille seems strangely constrained within the boundaries of separate disciplines even while being deployed, internally, as a tool to open them up. A consequence of this sense of compartmentalization is the fact that, each time, there is a need to retell the story, though slanted differently, of how Bataille’s work can function transgressively within a given field, open it up to alteration. Bataille, in other words, serves the needs of disciplinary subversion, often at the expense of critical research on his own work. Jeremy Biles and Kent L. Brintnall’s book is an interesting case in point: in their Introduction the editors re-describe Bataille’s trajectory from Story of the Eye through to The Tears of Eros so as to foreground a consistent engagement with the sacred. That this is described as a ‘religious biography’ (p. 7) gives some sense of the overall strategy of the volume, which is to propose a ‘general economy of religious studies’ (ibid.), to ‘break open the field’ (p. 15). ‘Religious studies’, appropriately, turns out to be a rather heterogeneous space itself. While many of the fifteen contributions to the volume are from well-established continental philosophers and Bataille scholars such as Alphonso Lingis, Allan Stoekl, or Jean-Joseph Goux, a good number of the essays engage Bataille with topics as diverse as Hindu Tantra in North India, the ‘festival’ of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, barebacking and the work of Tim Dean and Leo Bersani, and the politics of fatness in the United States. Paul Hegarty contributes an elegant critical parallel of Bataille with Japanese Noise artist Merzbow. Different thematic emphases emerge across the volume: a Bataillean engagement with contemporary capitalism and neo-liberalism (from Lingis, Stoekl, Goux, and Shannon Winnubst); Bataillean perspectives on mysticism, including a comparative analysis of Bataille and Kristeva on religion; the question of what to do with Bataille’s ‘meditation’ on torture and cruelty. (There is consistent engagement in the volume with the work of Amy Hollywood, whose book Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002) is a crucial reference, and who closes the volume with a meditation of her own.) The editorial aim here is to promote the ‘persistence of disruption’ (p.15), and to use Bataille to alter the discipline of religious studies through a confrontation with the negative. The volume certainly succeeds in meeting this aim and thus in extending the ‘use-value’ of Bataille.