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Politics, Writing, Mutilation

Politics, Writing, Mutilation: The Cases of Bataille, Blanchot, Roussel, Leiris, and Ponge

Allan Stoekl
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Politics, Writing, Mutilation
    Book Description:

    Five twentieth-century French writers played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the development of literary-philosophical thinking that has come to be known in the United States as post-structuralism. The work of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Raymond Roussel, Michel Leiris, and Francis Ponge in the 1930s and 1940s amounts to a prehistory of today’s theoretical debates; the writings of Foucault and Derrida in particular would have been unthinkable outside the context provided by these writers. In Politics, Writing, Mutilation, Allan Stoekl emphasizes their role as precursors, but he also makes clear that they created a distinctive body of work that must be read and evaluated on its own terms. Stoekl’s critical readings of their work -- selected novels, poems, and autobiographical fragments -- reveal them to be battlegrounds not only of disruptive language practices, but of conflicting political drives as well. These irreconcilable tendencies can be defined as progressive political revolution, on the one hand with its emphasis on utility, conservation, and labor; and, on the other hand, a notion of dangerous and sinister production that stresses orgiastic sexuality and delirious expenditure. Caught between these forces is the intellectual of Bataille’s time (and indeed of ours), locked in impotence, self-betrayal, and automutilation. Stoekl develops his critique through dual readings of each writer’s central work -- the first reading deconstructive, the second a search for the political meaning excluded by a deconstructive approach. Repeating this process on a larger scale, he shows how Derrida and Foucault are indebted to their precursors even while they have betrayed them by stripping their work of political conflict and historical specificity. And he acknowledges that one of the most painful questions faced in prewar and Occupied France -- that of the unthinkable guilt and duplicity of the intellectual -- may not be as remote from contemporary theoretical concerns as some would have us believe.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5567-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    A. S.
  4. Introduction: Utopias of Conflict, Urtexts of Deconstructions
    (pp. xi-2)

    It has become a commonplace of criticism to argue that modernist literature is about language itself. Avant-garde textual practice in some way fundamentally disrupts the quotidian usefulness and precision of language; behind the facade of utility we find another language, which is the real realm of modernity. Language becomes a universe unto itself, an absolute realm that refers to the senselessness of its own origins.

    This article of modernist faith is accurate, up to a point. Each of the authors dealt with in this book— Georges Bataille (1897-1962), Maurice Blanchot (b. 1907), Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), Michel Leiris (b. 1901), and...

  5. Chapter One Politics, Mutilation, Writing
    (pp. 3-21)

    In the 1930s, in essays such as “La Notion de dépense” [“The Notion of Expenditure”], “La Structure psychologique du fascisme” [“The Psychological Structure of Fascism”], and “La Critique des fondements de la dialectique hégélienne” [“The Critique of the Foundations of the Hegelian Dialectic”], ¹ Georges Bataille audaciously joined such basic tenets of Marxism as class struggle and the dialectical movement of history to a notion of “production” that deviated from the traditional positions, of Marxism. This “production” stresses not utility, conservation, and labor, but orgiastic sexuality and the ritual destruction of goods. However, Bataille came up against the fact that...

  6. Chapter Two Blanchot and the Silence of Specificity
    (pp. 22-36)

    The problem of Maurice Blanchot as right-wing propagandist¹ is a most perplexing one: rightist articles in the 1930s, hermetic works of fiction and Heideggerian criticism in the 1940s. Blanchot’s early political polemics would seem not only to be written by a different man from the critic and novelist, but on a different planet as well. Where is the law—“où est la loi”—of Blanchot’s fiction? To attempt to answer this question, and to see how Blanchot’s post-1930s writing involves not a simple ideology but an impossible attempt to strip and finally silence all ideologies (and to broach, finally, the...

  7. Chapter Three Roussel’s Revivifications of History
    (pp. 37-50)

    Michel Foucault’s 1963 essay,Raymond Roussel,is still probably the most thorough commentary on this writer’s work. Foucault’s analysis starts, and always returns to, the short work by Roussel that makes his fantastic inventions and machinery much more fantastic than they would at first seem:Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres [How I Wrote Several of My Books].Significantly, Roussel’s procedure of writing was unknown in his lifetime, and his writing was dismissed as that of a madman (except, of course, by the surrealists; they vainly looked for some secret, occult meaning in Roussel’s novels).Comment j’ai écrit....

  8. Chapter Four Leiris’s Unwritten Autobiography
    (pp. 51-69)

    We have already seen the importance of puns and double (or multiple) meanings in the writings of Raymond Roussel; Roussel’s “writing machine” was made possible by the steadily elaborated mutations of words and by the “ordering” of those mutations into a narrative. Michel Leiris, in his four-volume series of autobiographical writings, takes Roussel’s writing procedure one step further: rather than ordering his autobiography in a simple chronological progression (from his birth to the impossible recording of his own death), Leiris structures his memories around the experience of certain privileged words.¹ In Leiris, the various metamorphoses of a single word act...

  9. Chapter Five Ponge’s Photographic Rhetoric
    (pp. 70-88)

    Light plays a central role in the writings of Francis Ponge; his poetry is inconceivable without it. But light—and its ultimate though problematic source, the sun—is more than just one theme or metaphor among many in Ponge’s poetic universe; it is, in fact, the central metaphor around which all others turn. When we have understood light (and its contrary, dark) in Ponge, we will be able to understand the status of Ponge’s own writings as objects within his light- and object-filled cosmos: we will understand what the writings describe and, perhaps more importantly, what they cannot describe.


  10. Chapter Six Betrayal in the Later Bataille
    (pp. 89-103)

    It at first seems that after World War II Georges Bataille lost his Marxist convictions. Whereas before the war he contributed to a Marxist review (La Critique Sociale) and took part in a militant left-wing group with the surrealists (Centre-Attaque), after the war he criticized Stalinism— and praised the Marshall Plan—in his 1949 collection of essays on economics and historyLa Part maudite [The Cursed Share].Although this work, like the prewar essays (“La Notion dé dépense,” Le Sacré,” etc.), focuses on expenditure and sacrifice as the bases of society and the motors of history, it does not attempt...

  11. Chapter Seven Derrida, Foucault, and Their “Precursors”
    (pp. 104-123)

    In this chapter we will attempt to place in historical and textual perspective two critics who have come to be called “poststructuralists” in the United States: Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. We will attempt to see them as the continuers of a tradition in French thought that was largely ignored for many years in the English-speaking world. We will restrict this “tradition” here to Bataille and Blanchot; these two have probably been the most immediately influential, through their rereadings of Hegel and Nietzsche, and through their stress on transgression (especially in Bataille) and language (especially in Blanchot). Our project is...

  12. Chapter Eight Reading Avant-Garde Utopias
    (pp. 124-132)

    Avant-garde Utopias—as we have seen in our readings of Bataille, Blanchot, Roussel, Leiris, and Ponge—are concerned less with the formulation of specific guidelines and elaborate plans for a society in which all misfortune will be banished (the kind of Utopia Marx excoriated) than they are with attempting in some way to envisage the implementation of a radical negativity (or evil) in society, and the role of a transformedwritingin that implementation. This is not to say that on some level all the texts we are concerned with do not work to repress or refuse the political consequences...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 135-144)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 147-154)
  15. Index
    (pp. 157-160)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-161)