- The Beast at Heaven's Gate: Georges Bataille and the Art of Transgression
Georges Bataille fornicated as Barcelona slipped into war, but at least he did so politically. In celebration of the centenary of his birth, Hussey and his contributors revisit the primal scene, in order to 'clarify debate about Bataille's present status in the postmodern canon' (p. 6). To clarify, in other words, what remains of his politico-sexual revolution. Despite the unfortunate delay between presentation and publication, the resulting conference proceedings are generally, if quietly, impressive, offering sufficient material and cross-references to Derrida and Deleuze to open a dialogue with what has come over the intervening period. One thinks here of recent comments by Slavoj Žižek, who trumps the modernity of Jean-Luc Nancy's Bataille by declaring the polymath of perversity to be 'strictly premodern', in the sense of pre Kantian: a pagan hedonist passionately in thrall to the prospect of breaking the law (The Parallax View, 2006, p. 95); debilitatingly exemplary of what Alain Badiou has lately called the twentieth century 'passion du réel' (in Le Siècle, 2005). Somewhat less recently, the resurgent interest in the Hegelo-Kojevian 'End of History', tendentiously restaged by Fukuyama as the victory of Western democracy, similarly provokes the question: whither Bataille? What Crowley elegantly describes as the Bataillean critique of theodicy and 'eschatological temporality' both adds to and detracts from the answer (p. 24). Kojève's thesis was, of course, one that Bataille sought to undermine through a critique of modern capitalism's aversion to the body. One wonders, however, whether bas matérialisme is not attenuated by the ease with which, since Bataille's heyday, the profanation of the body has rapidly given way to a capitalistic celebration of corporeality. Does Bataille's injunction to transgress not now appear accordingly banal, or as Žižek would have it, naïve, an acquiescence in exploitation under the guise of sacrificial exuberance? Amidst two or three more predictable, not to say contrived, efforts, we find some points of genuine interest, including the suggestion that even those who follow him have yet to appreciate the extent of Bataille's radicality. Richard [End Page 547] Williams laments his incorporation into the 'puritanical American project' of Krauss and Bois, arguing that the latters' affirmation takes place only by a sleight of hand that instrumentalizes the sacred-profane, 'repressing' its crucial capacity to shock and unground. Yet even when allowed to shock, Bataille has been accused of collapsing back into modern ontology. James downplays his culpability by eliciting the emergence of a more parodic figure, a Bataille who seems only too aware of the limited value of transgression, and happy to parody his reputation for luxuriating in the blue. This new-found bent for ironic sobriety adds to the edginess of his politics. Commenting on the juxtaposition of necrophilia with the voyeurism of a young Karl Marx, beardless, 'cossu et laid', ffrench shows that these politics were never just about transgression. Premodern, postmodern or otherwise, Bataille still exposes the theodical idealism of the bloody nineteenth century we seem scarcely to have left behind.