Rethinking the Political

Rethinking the Political: The Sacred, Aesthetic Politics, and the Collège de Sociologie

Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking the Political
    Book Description:

    Rethinking the Political demonstrates that the Collège de Sociologie's quest to create a new place for the sacred in modern collective life ostensibly entailed avoiding the theorization of both aesthetics and politics. While the Collège condemned manipulation by totalitarian regimes, its understanding of community also led to a rejection of democratic and communist forms of political organization, leaving the group open to accusations of flirting with fascism. Acknowledging these political ambiguities, the author goes beyond a narrow ideological reading to reveal the Collège's important contribution to our thinking about the relationships between community formation, politics, aesthetics, and the sacred in the modern world. She expands her historical account of the members' thought, including their relationship to Surrealism, beyond the group’s dissolution, and shows how the work of Claude Lefort extends, but also resolves, many of the Collège's key theoretical insights. A fascinating study of some of the twentieth-century's most daring thinkers, Rethinking the Political offers crucial insights into the contradictions at play in modern notions of community that still resonate today.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8667-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-24)

    DURING AN EVOCATIVE CONVERSATION with the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben on the topic of Walter Benjamin, Pierre Klossowski reminisced about his 1930s Parisian encounters with the German critic and philosopher.¹ Among others, Klossowski recounted an episode in which Benjamin, “hands lifted in an admonishing gesture,” expressed his consternation at the ideas being circulated among the groups frequented by Klossowski. “You work for fascism!” Benjamin decried² – a dramatic assertion that, according to Klossowski, warned against the risk of “playing the game of a pure and simple ‘prefascist aestheticism.’”³ Although Benjamin’s vision of society, in Klossowski’s interpretation, included a positive evaluation of...

  6. 1 Representing the Social: Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss
    (pp. 25-62)

    BETWEEN NOVEMBER 1895 AND MAY 1896, Émile Durkheim gave a series of lectures on the “History of Socialism” at Bordeaux in which he introduced the doctrine of Saint-Simon and pronounced it the foundation of positivism.¹ Describing Saint-Simon’s philosophy as “a great system,” Durkheim acknowledged social science’s (and his own) theoretical indebtedness to the French philosopher – “the first to conceive that between the formal generalities of metaphysical philosophy and the narrow specialization of the particular sciences, there was a place for a new enterprise.”² Saint-Simon, not Comte, Durkheim claimed, ought to be considered the founder of positive philosophy. Durkheim particularly admired...

  7. 2 Against Aesthetics: The Anthropology of Objects
    (pp. 63-103)

    IN HIS INTRODUCTION TOTHE GIFT, Mauss characterized the “total social phenomenon” as the expression of a multitude of institutions that included religion, jurisprudence, morality, and the economy.¹ Total phenomena were microcosms of social relations, complex wholes in which several aspects of social life intermingled and were put in motion, and Mauss advocated examining the potlatch as a totality that encapsulated the fleeting living moment in which society and its members become conscious of themselves and their interrelations. Rooted in an analysis of the “concrete,” the study of “total facts” would make it possible to identify people’s behaviour in the...

  8. 3 The Avant-Garde Meets Politics
    (pp. 104-143)

    IN A SEMINAL ESSAY ON SURREALISM WRITTEN IN 1929, Walter Benjamin first exposed the experiential, lived-in basis of a movement that many commentators of the time obstinately catalogued as artistic. Citing the Surrealists’ acknowledged precursor, Arthur Rimbaud, and his handwritten reflections on a passage from “Saison en enfer,” Benjamin unveiled the Surrealists’ problematic relationship to their literary proclivities. “There’s no such thing,” Rimbaud had declared referring to his own poetic verses “on the silk of the seas and the arctic flowers.”¹ In the same way, Benjamin suggested, the Surrealists’ critical reflections about their craft revealed desecrating intents; the Surrealists pushed...

  9. 4 From Contre-Attaque to the Collège: A Headless Interlude
    (pp. 144-164)

    DURING THE EARLY 1930s Caillois had pursued a general phenomenology of the imagination as part of his plan to expand the scientific knowledge of human experience. According to him, a newly founded science of the imaginary would systematically and coherently reveal the underlying poetic structure of a seemingly rational empirical reality. A strict methodological approach to poetry would put an end to the traditional opposition between the mysterious, non-utilitarian, and marvellous, on the one hand, and the secular, utilitarian, prosaic, on the other. Caillois’s search for lyrical objectivity thus covered a vast array of phenomena that, despite their apparent heterogeneity,...

  10. 5 At the Collège: The Social in Excess
    (pp. 165-200)

    THE CLOSE LINK BETWEEN ACÉPHALE AND THE COLLÈGE was apparent at the Collège’s inception. Not incidentally, the “Note on the Foundation of a College of Sociology,” written in March 1937, was published in the July 1937 issue ofAcéphale.¹ Two months later, at an Acéphale meeting where he lamented the secret society’s failure to attract members, Bataille explicitly stated that the group was now going to rely on the Collège to develop a stronger theoretical basis and to locate potential acolytes.² In October 1937, when the Collège’s fate was still uncertain, Bataille nonetheless presented the new enterprise as a scientific...

  11. 6 Politics at the Collège
    (pp. 201-226)

    WITH THE LECTURES ON SACRED SOCIOLOGY, animal societies, and the relation between attraction and repulsion, Bataille and Caillois had laid the foundations of the Collège’s theoretical framework. Bataille discussed the scientific approach of sacred sociology and endorsed Durkheim’s notion of society as a suigeneris construct.¹ Caillois, in his analysis of animal societies, illuminated the dynamics of social interattraction, easing the way to Bataille’s presentation of the ambiguity of the sacred and the social consequentiality of horror.² In addition to these themes, the lectures of the Collège’s first cycle considered the overall communifying movement of society and estimated that its intensity...

  12. 7 Rethinking the Political
    (pp. 227-252)

    The Collège’s search for modern configurations of the sacred took Bataille and Caillois along several exploratory paths in pursuit of the foundational elements that bind a community. Whether their critical reflections involved the dynamic movement of attraction and repulsion from which the social nucleus supposedly originates, or addressed the ambiguous nature of secret orders and brotherhoods, their goal was to define a yet-to-be-constituted sacred sociology. As they boldly confronted the unfinished nature of their disconcerting enterprise, however, Caillois and Bataille never lacked direction. On the contrary, their sociological activity relied on a firm point of reference: it operated within a...

  13. Conclusions
    (pp. 253-264)

    IN 1946, BATAILLE WROTE TO HIS OLD FRIEND and one-time collaborator Raymond Queneau, inquiring about potential competent reviewers for a book by Georges Dumézil to be featured in his new journalCritique. Bataille went on to lament that “Sociology has decidedly rejected me to the point that I don’t know any sociologist any longer.” ¹ Although the Collège de sociologie had played its last act seven years earlier with a dramatic solo appearance by Bataille on 4 July 1939, and although Bataille’s personal intellectual journey had taken a quite different turn after the Collège’s dissolution, Bataille was still expressing nostalgia...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-284)
  15. Index
    (pp. 285-294)