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Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion

Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion
    Book Description:

    Despite Georges Bataille's acknowledged influence on major poststructuralist thinkers-including Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, Lacan, Baudrillard, and Barthes-and his prominence in literary, cultural, and social theory, rarely has he been taken up by scholars of religion, even as issues of the sacred were central to his thinking. Bringing together established scholars and emerging voices, Negative Ecstasies engages Bataille from the perspective of religious studies and theology, forging links with feminist and queer theory, economics, secularism, psychoanalysis, fat studies, and ethics. As these essays demonstrate, Bataille's work bears significance to contemporary questions in the academy and vital issues in the world. We continue to ignore him at our peril.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6523-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Sacred with a Vengeance
    (pp. 1-18)

    Negative Ecstasies.The title of this volume is excessive, pleonastic—for according to Georges Bataille (1897–1962),allgenuine ecstasy is necessarily, and violently, negative. Bataille characterizes ecstasy as a laceration of the ego, a rupture that for a time dissolves the self-contained character of the individual as she exists in her everyday life. It is in the varieties of ecstatic experience—erotic fulminations, poetic effervescence, wrenching laughter, wracking sobs, and other excessive moments—that the self as defined and conditioned by the structures and strictures, the prohibitions and taboos, of profane, workaday life, is lost. Bataille’s writings are dramatic...

  5. Movements of Luxurious Exuberance: Georges Bataille and Fat Politics
    (pp. 19-37)

    America’s fascination with body size, weight loss, and fatness has decidedly religious overtones.¹ The development of dieting as a cultural imperative has been marked by a moral intensity that, in the view of some historians, grew in direct proportion to the decline of religious authority in American life.² By the early twentieth century, “fat,” writes the historian Peter Stearns, “became a secular sin, and an obvious one at that.”³ By the mid-twentieth century, the weight loss–religion connection was being expressed in the popular media. A 1960Voguearticle opined: “Weight control is emerging as the new morality; fat one...

  6. Sovereignty and Cruelty: Self-Affirmation, Self-Dissolution, and the Bataillean Subject
    (pp. 38-50)

    Georges Bataille populates his writings with the imagery of torture and murder. His fiction revels in sexual assault. He speaks of evil as having a sovereign value for humanity. He speaks of there being intimacy between the sacrificers and the victims in human sacrificial rituals. He compares sex to human sacrifice. He describes himself meditating on photos of a man being dismembered and recounts his ecstatic experiences of joy and anguish in doing so, going so far as to call the wounded victim beautiful. He holds forth violation and transgression as things that reveal our true nature.

    In light of...

  7. Erotic Ruination: Embracing the “Savage Spirituality” of Barebacking
    (pp. 51-67)

    “Eroticism,” according to Georges Bataille, “unlike simple sexual activity, is a psychological quest.” And while it “is in the first place an exuberance of life, [its] object . . . is not alien to death.”¹ In this quest, “the being loses himself deliberately.”² Like religion, eroticism is a “search for lost intimacy.”³ To regain intimacy, eroticism—and religion—“destroy the selfcontained character of the participators as they are in their normal lives,” “breaking down . . . the regulated social order.”⁴ For this reason, both the sacred and the erotic are experienced as “domain[s] of violence, of violation.”⁵ Disrupting and...

  8. Desire, Blood, and Power: Georges Bataille and the Study of Hindu Tantra in Northeastern India
    (pp. 68-80)

    Although he described his own work as a kind of “atheology,” more concerned with God’s death than with God’s existence, Georges Bataille must be counted as one of the twentieth century’s most important theorists of religion. From his ownTheory of Religionto his work on mysticism, sacrifice, and erotic spirituality, Bataille has influenced a wide range of theorists, from philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze to anthropologists and historians of religions such as Michael Taussig and Amy Hollywood.¹

    To date, however, most of the work on Bataille and religion has focused on his implications for the study...

  9. The Religion of Football: Sacrifice, Festival, and Sovereignty at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa
    (pp. 81-94)

    Football, the world’s game, the beautiful game, the sacred game, has often been characterized as a religion. In the advent of the 2010 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in South Africa, many commentators observed that football is a religion because it looks like religion and acts like religion.

    Adopting a morphological analysis of religion by attending to characteristically religious forms, CNN National Editor Dave Schechter declared his devotion to the “religion of football.” Schechter identified forms of religion operating in football: prayers, curses, hymns, vestments, transcendent gods, and sacrificial rituals. “Deities will be implored,” he noted. “Sacrifices...

  10. Violent Silence: Noise and Bataille’s “Method of Meditation”
    (pp. 95-105)

    For close to forty years, Bataille compulsively documented and railed at the loss of the sacred in his contemporary world. The capitalist world he saw was nothing more than the diminishing of human existence, its entire miserable character defined by the progressive removal of the sacred. Bataille was not the first to notice the vital (or morbid) connection between reformed Christianity and capitalism, but, unlike Tawney, Weber, or simple traditionalists, he was not bemoaning the loss of true religion, because religion largely is the thing that stands against the sacred. This can happen in more or less interesting or excessive...

  11. Georges Bataille and the Religion of Capitalism
    (pp. 106-122)

    Bataille does not cease to interrogate the advent of a society, ours, that totally liberated the production of things from its archaic finality, which was the unproductive destruction of the surplus, a destruction mostly realized in religious sacrifices. These sacrifices had a fundamental function: they operated, according to Bataille, as a return to intimacy, a reaffirmation of the immanence between man and the world, through the death of the sacrificed animal.¹ It is this return to intimacy, to the immanence where the opposition between world and mankind, life and death, the subject and the object, was cancelled during the time...

  12. Sacrifice as Ethics: The Strange Religiosity of Neoliberalism
    (pp. 123-137)

    As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century on the Western, Christian calendar, a new kind of rationality is fully taking root in U.S. culture. Despite ideological or political differences, we are all speaking the same language, drinking the same Kool-Aid, breathing the same air: we are all neoliberals, whether we even know what that might mean. Neoliberalism, which functions as a particular kind of rationality that is internalized by subjects and externalized by governmental practices, pervades our educational systems, saturates youth culture, dominates political discourse (despite one’s party allegiances), and helps structure such intimate decisions as the...

  13. Bataille’s Contestation of Interpretative Anthropology and of the Sociology of Religion
    (pp. 138-152)

    Religions, rituals, and myths have been studied as social practices and institutions by the sociology of religion. The symbolic function and representational content of rituals and myths have been elaborated into theologies and studied by cultural and interpretative anthropology. And participation in rituals and the mental organization of individuals and groups by myths produce a distinctive experience.

    It is this experience, “inner experience,” that was the focus of Georges Bataille’s writings. The phenomenological explication of this experience led him to contest the theological elaborations of rituals and myths in their dominant interpretations by cultural and interpretative anthropology and to contest...

  14. The Traumatic Secret: Bataille and the Comparative Erotics of Mystical Literature
    (pp. 153-168)

    One of the most formative books of my intellectual training was Georges Bataille’sErotism: Death and Sensuality, in the City Lights Books edition. You know, the one with a photo of the face of Bernini’s Saint Teresa on the cover, moaning in divine ecstasy, as the Catholic mystical tradition has it. Or in orgasm, as Jacques Lacan famously pointed out. Or both. I read the book in 1987 at the strong recommendation of Bernard McGinn, who told a group of us something to the effect that this book was probably the most insightful philosophical treatment of erotic forms of mysticism...

  15. Foucault’s Sacred Sociology
    (pp. 169-181)

    In Foucault’s own genealogy, no bloodline is more difficult to draw than the one running to Bataille—unless it is their joint descent from Nietzsche. Facts about their shared circumstances are not hard to come by, nor is literary evidence of Foucault’s readerly admiration (though it did not lead him to seek out the living author). The note presenting the edition of Bataille’s complete works is signed by Foucault, who calls him “one of the most important writers of his century.”¹ Still, the obviousness of biographical proximity and the banality of editorial praise conceal the difficulty of describing generational exchanges...

  16. Bataille and Kristeva on Religion
    (pp. 182-201)

    This essay concentrates on Bataille’s and Kristeva’s readings of religion in order to discuss what religion signifies for them. Both Bataille and Kristeva interpret religious signification in terms of desire, law, and death. They understand these forms of human finitude as heterogeneous experiences of life. The role that abjection plays in their conception of religion will be my focus, and I will point to the respects in which their reflections on abjection differ. While Bataille sees, in religious expression, the ambiguity of the erotic object that is desired in its very horror, Kristeva interprets the same ambiguity in terms of...

  17. Bataille, Teilhard de Chardin, and the Death of God
    (pp. 202-216)

    It is well known that Georges Bataille, already by the 1930s, was a major proponent in France of the notion of the “death of God.” And since he also was a strong proponent of the rereading of Nietzsche—at a time when many French readers assumed that Nietzsche was simply a “fascist” philosopher—one can assume that Bataille’s mortal God was largely derived from Nietzsche. But what does Bataille mean, aside from a quick and too easy reference to Nietzsche, when he writes of divine mortality? What are the larger political, ethical, and philosophical stakes of his position? Most important,...

  18. Does the Acéphale Dream of Headless Sheep?
    (pp. 217-238)

    Writing in a 1937 issue of the short-lived journalAcéphale, under the double heading “Nietzsche Dionysus,” Georges Bataille proclaims, “The very first sentences of Nietzsche’s message come from ‘realms ofdreamandintoxication.’ The entire message is expressed by one name: dionysus.’”¹ In placing Nietzsche’s “entire message” under the sign of Dionysus, Bataille would seem to be eliding from Nietzsche’s account the god Apollo, with whom the German philosopher had associated dream. More precisely, however, Bataille is here enacting a Nietzschean transvaluation ofThe Birth of Tragedy, affiliating dream not with the of light and placid forms but with the...

  19. Afterword
    (pp. 239-244)

    For years, I couldn’t look at them. In the late eighties, I thought about writing my dissertation on Bataille, but as long as I couldn’t look at the photographs—images of a torture victim Bataille describes himself meditating on during the days leading up to and in the midst of World War II—as long as I couldn’t look at them, it seemed wrong to pretend to understand anything about Bataille. I thought it would be dishonest to write about him.

    Most of the time, I can look at almost anything. But during those years, if I saw something hideous...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 245-284)
  21. Works Cited
    (pp. 285-302)
  22. List of Contributors
    (pp. 303-306)
  23. Index
    (pp. 307-312)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-318)