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  • The Work of Alterity: Bataille and Lacan
  • Jean Dragon (bio)

The topic of alterity may appear at first to be beyond the scope of Bataille’s work, but it is from such questioning that his practice of writing takes its full contours and questions the renewal of literary textuality.

Strangely, Bataille fights against writing, an attitude that shows a will to disappear in order to reach sovereignty. Writing, in such a context, supports not only certain useful figures for his particularly heterogeneous works but also the presence of alterity. Feminine imagos, set as the literary equivalent of the eradication of meaning and words, act as levers from which a character produces itself or rather disarticulates and vanishes.

Bataille’s fight against writing shows strong similarities to some Lacanian notions: the subject, pleasure (“jouissance”), and, of course, woman. Before trying to map out this perilous comparison—there is no possible perfect transition between the two—we must first extract the significant elements that make it possible. To this end, we propose some reflections on Bataille’s concepts of Oedipus and castration. In so doing, we will be in a better situation to link Lacan and Bataille’s works but also to understand where Lacan has been inspired by Bataille and how Lacan distinguishes himself in his interpretation of the imaginary, the symbolic, the Law, and feminine imagos—especially in the way Lacan, contrary to Bataille, “eradicates” alterity.

These questions are necessary steps in opening up a reflection inspired by the work of Bataille and in our desire to actualize purposes yet also extend unresolved polemic effects which this paper can only partially address. To present the necessity of such polemical reflections fits Bataille’s thought as well, which refuses to conclude and takes its meaning from throwing away all possible speech.

Feminine imagos are an essential leitmotif in Bataille’s narratives and, more importantly, a cohesion factor for his thought that transcends all domains of writing to give a foundation to the works. 1 With themes such as transgression, subversion, and the [End Page 31] renewal of the Law, we reach an aporia not only of Bataille’s text but also, as Susan Rubin-Suleiman puts it, of literary modernity:

What does appear to me certain is that there will be no genuine renewal, either in a theory of the avant-garde or in its practices, as long as every drama, whether textual or sexual, continues to be envisaged—as in Bataille’s pornography and in Harold Bloom’s theory of poetry—in terms of a confrontation between an all-powerful father and a traumatized son, a confrontation staged across and over the body of the mother.

[86–87] 2

Indeed, if we look at the autofictional purposes and the literary production of Bataille, we must underline an “aporia” in the subversive nature of his texts. This challenge to Bataille generally focuses on his literary works without considering his theoretical works beyond some “canonical” titles. Nevertheless, the lesser-known texts may offer another reading of Bataille’s eroticism and defuse criticism strictly centered on the supposedly pornographic and phallocentric content of novels like L’histoire de l’oeil and Madame Edwarda.

Before branding the works of Bataille as “sexist,” we must consider that he was one of the first male authors of his generation to denounce the “castration” dominating society and individuals. Mario Perniola, discussing a text of Georges Bataille, 3 emphasizes his condemnation of imperialism behind the use of many terms: “the imperialist image of the eagle, even when it presents itself with the attributes of revolution, unsuccessfully hides its Promethean and Icarian pretensions.” 4 This interpretation finds an echo in another text of Bataille, “L’oeil pinéal,” where Bataille directly links the castration to the myth of Prometheus: “the legend of Prometheus is linked to the castration complex,” 5 says Bataille. Perniola’s words point directly to the patriarchal order upon which this imperialism lies, disguising itself as revolution; they show Bataille’s profound disagreement with such a social and individual foundation.

It is also difficult to affirm the predominance of a phallocentric stance in Bataille. The oedipal figures, for example, are much too paradoxical in their modes...