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c o n c l u s i o n Bataillean Meditations The human species cannot remain indifferent to its monsters. — g e o r g e s b a t a i l l e , ‘‘The Deviations of Nature’’ Ecce Monstrum: Beholding the Monster In book 4 of his Generation of Animals, Aristotle remarks upon the conditions that define monstrosity: ‘‘Anyone who does not take after his parents is really in a way a monstrosity [teras], since in these cases Nature has in a way strayed from the generic type.’’1 Bataille would agree with the letter, if not the spirit, of this description. Aristotle’s interests are classificatory in nature; his purposes are scientific and philosophical. Bataille, on the other hand, aggressively pursues deviation, making aberration a component in an experiential process. His fascination with, and affective response to, such natural prodigies as those of which Aristotle writes is especially evident in his treatise ‘‘The Deviations of Nature,’’ where he speaks to the ravishment of the senses that these monstrous contradictions arouse in those who behold them. But ultimately Bataille is concerned with developing a mode of experience that does not depend on the literal existence of damaged or 163 ................. 16666$ CONL 10-02-07 14:19:51 PS 164 Ecce Monstrum extraordinary bodies. Rather, he elaborates (as I have attempted to show in these pages) an agonistic, and indeed agonized, practice of reading, writing , and artistic production, a practice that presents the monstrous to those who are willing to look upon it, in order to incite monstrous transformations in them—transformations of their inner selves. Bataille’s sacrifices of form are textual, philosophical, and artistic, even as they aim to produce contradictory effects (and affects) that are sensible, erotic, and perhaps even traumatic.2 The monstrous thus not only figures but also evokes the sensibility de- fined by the conjunction of ecstasy and horror—the ‘‘religious sensibility.’’ Eros, God of Compassion The religious sensibility emerges in an instant in which contraries ‘‘seem visibly conjoined’’; divine ecstasy and horror coincide, as opposites, in an anxious union. For Bataille, it was photographs of a torture victim that revealed this conjunction, or ‘‘capacity for reversal,’’ among contraries.3 And this reversal proved also to be wounding. ‘‘The sight of torture,’’ Bataille writes in Guilty, ‘‘opens my individual being violently, lacerates it.’’4 Not seeking to avoid injury, Bataille gazes upon these intolerable photographs to ‘‘stretch the laceration out,’’ and thereby engage in a violent inner experience at the level of death. Fixing his attention upon the image of the wounded other, Bataille ruptures, if only fleetingly, his closed sense of self. ‘‘If I look,’’ he writes, ‘‘I’m beside myself . . . attaining ecstasy.’’5 This evanescent experience of the death of the self—even if undergone in solitude— proceeds by way of an image of another, for it is in relation to some other, whether rendered through art, literature, or philosophy, that the ecstatic rupture is provoked. Taken to its culminating point, to an erotic pitch, the wounds of the other become one’s own, even as they mark a separation that can never be fully overcome. ‘‘Compassion, pain, and ecstasy connive with each other [se composent].’’6 Bataille italicizes the element that he also places first in this series because pain and ecstasy, if they are to be experienced to the point of death, are only possible through compassion. And compassion, carried to its extreme in identification with the other, comes forth tears. The tears that issue in profound communication are the tears of a god at once cruel and gentle, sacriPAGE 164 ................. 16666$ CONL 10-02-07 14:19:51 PS Conclusion: Bataillean Meditations 165 ficing and self-sacrificial. They are the tears of Eros, the god who wounds those whom he conjoins. And as Bataille never stops reminding us, those who would risk compassion for the other also risk being wounded by what they look upon. Risk: Doing unto Oneself In his book on the subject, Bataille characterizes eroticism, in contrast to ‘‘simple sexual activity,’’ as a ‘‘psychological quest.’’ Later in that same book, elaborating on the conditions under which this quest may proceed, he claims that eroticism is realized through ‘‘a conscious refusal to limit ourselves within our individual personalities.’’ Only by consenting to eroticism and the ‘‘violence to our inner selves’’ that it implies are we able to achieve the experience that he deems sacred.7 Acute experiences of eroticism...


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