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Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the Collège de Sociologie

Michèle H. Richman
Series: Contradictions
Volume: 14
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Sacred Revolutions
    Book Description:

    It seems improbable, but the most radical cultural iconoclasts of the interwar years—Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Michel Leiris—responded to the rise of fascism by taking refuge in a "sacred sociology." Michèle H. Richman examines this seemingly paradoxical development in this book which traces the overall implications for French social thought of the "ethnographic detour" that began with Durkheim’s interest in Australian aboriginal religion—implications that reach back to the Revolution of 1789 and forward to the student protests of May 1968. Contradictions Series, volume 14

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9380-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction Why Sociology?
    (pp. 1-22)

    The impetus for this study was the following paradox of French modernity: that some of the most brilliant intellectual figures of the interwar period would invoke a “sacred sociology” to examine the ambient social and political crises. Indeed, the heterogeneous gathering of ethnologists,¹ philosophers, writers, and artists who convened in a Paris café as a “Collège de Sociologie” between 1937 and 1939 focused upon the relevance of myth, power, and the sacred to the fascist menace. For the cultural iconoclasts leading them—Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Michel Leiris—intellectual activism would counter the paralysis induced by the threat of...

  5. One Durkheim’s Sociological Revolution
    (pp. 23-65)

    Midway throughThe Elementary Forms of Religious LifeEmile Durkheim illustrates the opposition between the sacred and the profane by evoking its particularly violent dramatization among Australian aboriginals. Periodically, clans are called together to celebrate a snake or fire ceremony, so that the dull and torpid existence of the dispersed phase of social life is transformed into a concentrated exaltation of collective energies. The exceptional intensity of generalized effervescence fosters among participants the sense of having reached a qualitatively different order of being: individuals feel, think, and behave in new and unpredictable ways, so much so that for the “new...

  6. Two Savages in the Sorbonne
    (pp. 66-109)

    In the introduction toElementary Forms,Durkheim espouses the revolution effected by ethnography within sociology and repudiates its enlistment as amachine de guerreagainst religion. His caveat points to precedents in the history of French ideas, when the discovery of New World denizens exhibiting a morality without benefit of Bible or baptism delivered a metaphysical shock tantamount to the first European realization that “God is dead.”¹ Ensuing legends from Montaigne to Rousseau centered on noble savages and fueled a critical discourse directed against the authority exerted by the Church and the social hierarchy it sustained through political alliances with...

  7. Three Politics and the Sacred in the Collège de Sociologie
    (pp. 110-154)

    Roger Caillois explained the impulse to create a group united by the notion of a sacred sociology by comparing it to the ferment that had fueled the surrealist project. Both he and Michel Leiris had actively pursued interactions with members of the avant-garde movement during their formative years, although conflicts with André Breton eventually led to a suspension of shared activity. Georges Bataille resisted formal identification with the surrealists and engaged in acerbic disputations with Breton in the late 1920s. That they subsequently collaborated on the 1936Contre-Attaqueantifascist declaration signals the complex relations arising from animosities as well as...

  8. Four Sacrifice in Art and Eroticism
    (pp. 155-193)

    Rather than the inventory of the Collège’s activities Bataille intended, his last lectures provided a defensive finale. Leiris, for instance, felt that undue emphasis upon the sacred had betrayed the Maussiantotal social fact,¹ and Bataille’s response was to argue for a subjective approach to the sacred despite the malaise it may engender.² Given the particular resistance the sacred poses to representation—especially its “vital animation”—he favored images that venture to the extremes of sacrifice and crime and credits psychoanalysis for his as well as Leiris’s ability to confront such taboo areas of experience. More influential, Bataille claims, were...

  9. Postscriptum Effervescence from May ’68 to the Present
    (pp. 194-212)

    The point of departure for this study was to respond to Jean Wahl’s query as to why sociology exerted a unifying effect upon iconoclastic members of the interwar generation previously identified with surrealism, revolution, and psychoanalysis. The answer proposed is that the explicit qualification of sociology by the sacred signaled what was innovative to the Collège de Sociologie’s project, and that it is in the conjunction of the two terms that its current significance should be assessed. The historical and epistemological framework reconstructs the significance of sacred sociology through immediate reference to Emile Durkheim’sElementary Forms of Religious Life(1912),...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 213-236)
  11. Index
    (pp. 237-248)
  12. Back matter
    (pp. 249-249)