- Modes of Luxurious Walking
If there is a single, obsessive object of thought in Georges Bataille - from Guilty (1944/1988) and Blue of Noon (1957/1978) to his magnum opus The Accursed Share (1949/1988) - it is the expenditure of wealth and energy. The very object of study, despite the rigid and calculated necessity of knowledge, transcends everything productive. Expenditure is at the core of human acquisition (in terms of knowledge, economy, and moral restraint), which implies that there is an irresistible violent force at work in all of our attempts to furnish subjectivity with some measure of concrete stability. This is precisely why Allan Stoekl writes in his introduction to Bataille's Peak that the meaning and survival of the community is nothing else than an aftereffect of what is sacred, i.e., "the drive to spend without counting, without attempting to anticipate return" (xvii). The ethical, in a similar vein, cannot be separated from an incessant flash of energy that is itself only ever partially reducible to human needs and projects. In just this way, it is a radically heterogeneous form of religious experience which, for Bataille, provides us with an unknowable basis for thinking through our social and ethical relationships. This kind of experience is provocatively self-contradictory: it returns us, through ritualistic forms of sacrifice, to a kind of intimacy with the world which destroys its own conditions of knowledge.
Keeping to this paradox of atheistic mysticism, Stoekl ably crafts a unique position in current environmental debates. These debates almost always privilege human subjectivity.1 A Bataillean model of energy and religion, by contrast, affirms no such humanistic principle. Stoekl's position, then, is one which will emphasize expenditure both within and against the closed economies of utility and personal satisfaction (191). This in turn will expose a blind spot in contemporary theories of Empire which posit the "end of nature," as such an end requires the very energy which it repudiates. Doubtless, this is a provocative undertaking; and Stoekl, who is highly regarded for his 1985 publication of Visions of Excess, brings it into focus with passionate writing and methodical expertise.
Privileging excess and expenditure rather than conservation and self-interest, Bataille reverses the usual order of economic thinking. Such a reversal, as Stoekl reminds us, can be traced back - in certain respects - to Bruno and Sade. In the first, matter is equated with a kind of energy which is concomitantly active and passive. The formless, infinite nature of God, according to Bruno, cannot be separated from that which passively receives its concrete shape and reality. In this heterodoxical Christian position (for which Bruno was burned at the stake), matter is movement and movement is corruption and corruption, in turn, is regeneration. Physical barriers are thus broken down by the very action of nature through which God is immanently identified with both creativity and destruction. In a similar way, albeit from a violently atheistic perspective, Sade affirms an underlying principle of nature associated with sheer transformation. Contributing to this process is the manifestation of movement and the stimulation of senses via sovereign crime. The Sadean hero is indifferent to morality, and overthrows it by way of an extreme form of selfishness. Bataille, however, retains the paradox of a limit to be perpetually crossed: the death of God must be lived, otherwise we have returned to an apathetic transgression which destroys itself in its own egotistical assertion. For this reason, Stoekl rightly observes that Sade needs the human, and needs God, without which there is no criminal defiance (16). Bataille's theory of expenditure begins with such a paradoxical formulation: moral awareness mustn't be eradicated or toppled, but affirmed through its very destruction. The excess of God and human morality is to be discovered in a revision of Sadean crime which opens up the self to an immeasurable experience: "[A]n extreme devotion to crime—to, as the prewar Bataille would put it, the production of heterogeneous objects—leads, surprisingly, to a self-sacrificing generosity. The self is not simply destroyed in a whirlwind...