Comparative Literature Studies 40.4 (2003) 456-460
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The Delirium of Praise: Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuze, Foucault, Klossowski. By Eleanor Kaufman. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. xii + 224 pp. $42.50
It's not the easiest job reviewing Eleanor Kaufman's book on this gaggle of major French "theorists": her work is, after all, essentially about reviewing, or reviewers reviewing each other. Any reviewer, then, inevitably is encompassed (and embarrassed) by Kaufman's argument—to praise her book is to enter into the affective and intellectual economy that she has already analyzed. I'll try to refrain from "deliriously" praising the book, however, thereby remaining tenuously outside the network of "major" thinkers that is her subject.
As with the surrealists, and the beats, the group of thinkers analyzed in Kaufman's book all knew each other (although I don't think Deleuze or Foucault ever met Bataille, and it's unclear who Blanchot, in his reclusiveness, ever met, if anyone at all), often hung out with each other, mentioned each other, and mentioned hanging out with each other. They refer often to each other's work, and if one has spent much time reading this bunch one has developed the habit of bracketing their remarks as inconsequential—of value mainly in indicating other authors of interest, those who play a role in a certain intellectual genealogy. (Bataille and Klossowski first came to the attention of many American readers, for example, through references in Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault; for that reason translations of their works actually lagged behind that of their younger contemporaries. Bataille in fact died six years before May 68.) Kaufman has the audacity to turn to these seemingly minor, sometimes almost embarrassing bits of praise (Foucault on Deleuze, for example), and study them in their own right. In this [End Page 456] she goes completely against the commonplaces that would generally determine one's reading of praise-filled reviews; her method of reading, in fact, is ultimately determined by the methodology of the very critics whose (mutual) praise she studies.
A common-sense overview of critical praise, as it's usually practiced, would, I think, conclude that it: 1) strives to be informative (the reviewer wants to inform us about the "content" of the work in question; 2) it affirms, in practice, the difference between reviewer and author (since the review is external to, at a critical distance from, the work it analyzes); 3) in the best sense it's personal, because it recognizes the individuality of the work it studies; and 4) in the worst sense it's personal, because often (and not always, of course), it's self-interested—if I praise this work, its author will eventually praise me, or do me some other kind of favor (cite me, help me get a book published, etc.).
Now Kaufman goes against all these assumptions of what reviewing, and praising, are all about. At first it would seem that her book is among the most trivial productions ever issued by a major university press; she makes it clear that she is not interested in discussing the "content" of, say, Bataille and Blanchot's work, but rather the emptiness of their mutual praise (the second chapter, for example, is entitled "Chattering Silences"). But as we read on we realize that the "excessive praise" in question goes to the heart of the theoretical project of all these writers; at stake in critical praise is not simple information, or back-scratching, but instead a model of interpersonal relations inseparable from reading, theorizing, writing, spending, and, the offer of hospitality.
Take, for example, Kaufman's take on Bataille's notion of "expenditure." Rather than concerning herself with expenditure among the Kwakiutl as Bataille does (following Mauss), Kaufman examines the economy of praise among her group of authors. Their mutual praise—their reading and writing of each other—is "so replete with energy imbalances and excesses that the text is at best an insufficient and thus all the more poignant trace of an energy expended without reserve, one that is...