No less interesting or pertaining to the subject at hand, from the future author of After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community comes this eloquent synopsis:
One of the principal aims of this book is to counter a prevailing tendency to classify the work of the major French writers and thinkers of the two and half decades or so from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s – Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze – as ‘theory’, that is within the broad sweep of structuralism, and thus to remove them to a space of abstraction, outside everyday life and outside the political, which, according to this view, can now be reclaimed as that of the real. I want, rather, to reassess the elements of their work, and in particular their late work of Foucault, Barthes and Deleuze, as a continuation of the perhaps specifically French tradition of reflection on mortality, which begins with Bossuet, LaRochefoucauld, and the moralists of the 17th century. One of the starting points of the book is that ‘life’, and thus death, appear as objects of theorisation, reflection and speculation, in the work of these thinkers, alongside and perhaps beyond concerns with language, discourse, ideology, subjectivity. This reflection on life and death is not a return to something real after the analytic and predominantly critical phase of the work of the thinkers involved. Indeed, life, as such, appears in their work as something like a myth, a concept to be analysed, which has a history and an ideological place. Thus Barthes, in his early text Mythologies addresses the ‘what goes without saying’ in the everyday life of the petit-bourgeoisie of his time; Foucault, in Les Mots et les Choses, undertakes a critical archaeology of the concept of ‘life’ and how it is constructed in the discourses of the human sciences. For Lacan, any recourse to biological or vitalist accounts of the human psyche are highly suspect, relative to the place of the subject in the field of the Symbolic and to the law of desire. This is to say that a large part of the work at stake here consists in a critical analysis of how life and lives are constrained, manufactured, produced. Foucault’s term ‘biopolitics’ - the management of life - can, I think, be taken as a general description of the concept of life held here; life, living, and ‘style of life’ enters into the field of power and ideology. Indeed ideology is the very means by which lives are produced, managed and moulded, for and by power. However, this critique, I will argue, is to be seen as a clearing of the ground.
The compulsion to communicate which drove Bataille, and drove him intellectually towards others, also conditions his legacy and its pursuit. A major and original aspect of this book is its engagement of Bataille’s thought with more recent readings of Bataille, particularly in the work of Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy. ‘After Bataille’ signals in its ambivalence that to think after Bataille is also to some extent to think according to him, and, though certain historical and theoretical limits to his thought may be encountered, this legacy is again not exhaustible. As a contribution to intellectual history, I am concerned with the way Bataille has been read, and how these readings have functioned as pivotal moments in the history of what we might now dispassionately think of as theory. But I am also concerned, theoretically, with the passion or the compulsion to which thought tries to respond, and which must be its raison d’être. This communicates itself in a close attention to Bataille’s words, since the demand to communicate that which exceeds communication does not content itself with any words; on the contrary it attempts to find those words which annul themselves, to find that moment of intensity in the right words.
A methodological approach I adopt is to analytically exhaust certain figures of concepts which might seem to name the core of Bataille’s thought, to the point where they have to be rewritten, translated under different names, themselves to be exhausted. Thus sacrifice is rewritten as exposure. I ask, in the reading of Derrida on Bataille, to what extent this exposure is effected in writing, thus considering the specifically textual moment of Bataille’s legacy, in the 1960s and 1970s. I am thus led in Chapter Three to examine the complex relation between Bataille and Maurice Blanchot, and to ask if writing, as exposure, must not be re-written as friendship, suggesting a form of exposure not limited to textuality but insisting in the presence of the friend. In the same chapter the notion of friendship is engaged with that of community, moving onto more potentially political terrain, and I look closely at the debate around the question of community between Blanchot and Jean-Luc Nancy, which partly takes the form of readings of Bataille. The final chapter is generated by this concern, since the sticking point, so to speak, of both Blanchot and Nancy’s readings seems to come down to the issue of eroticism. In the final chapter then I engage in a close reading of Bataille’s scandalous narrative Madame Edwarda before looking at its intertextual relation to a short text by Marguerite Duras, La Maladie de la mort. The word ‘unavowable’, taken from the title of Blanchot’s essay The Unavowable Community, in which he reads Duras’s text as a way of attending to Bataille and the question of community which his work broaches, returns us to the sense of compulsion which has generated the book, naming without exhausting that which attracts and binds one being to another outside any nameable form of relation.
nb. This post is a continuation of a response (a response that will continue to go on responding) to things such as this.