Alan N. Shapiro, Hypermodernism, Hyperreality, Posthumanism

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Georges Bataille and Epistemology

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Let us now consider the origins of science (oh, I forgot, for deconstruction there is no such thing as origins) from the point of view of a different reading of Bataille’s work on religion and ‘archaic’ societies.

Bataille’s Theory of Religion and The Accursed Share have been read by a couple of generations of (hippie) Marxists, deconstructionists, and Baudrillard the man himself in economic terms. But, from the current situation of virtuality, it is most interesting to read these texts from an epistemological point of view.

As Bataille remarks in his appendix, the Theory of Religion is but a re-writing of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, and is deeply indebted to Alexandre Kojeve’s interpretation of Hegel.

The usual interpretation: a radical, hippie economy of destruction as opposed to production.

But what Bataille really offers is a kind of pre-history of both science and the productivist, growth economy.

The negation of the intimacy of animality – the individual.

All quotes below are from Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion, translator Robert Hurley, Zone Books, 1992.

Part Un

“Animality is immediacy or immanence. This situation is given when one animal eats another.”

“When one animal eats another, this is a condition of similarity or likeness of the animal doing the eating, this is what is meant by immanence. There is no transcendance from the eating animal to the eaten animal. There is a difference between the two animals, but the eater does not distinguish himself from the eaten one in the affirmation of this distance.”

“The animal who is eaten by another animal is not yet given as an object. There is no relationship of subordination like that which links an object, a thing to a man who refuses to be considered as an object.”

“Because an animal has no plans, he does not know the concept of time in duration.”

“What makes us human is that the object exists for us in time, and its duration can be grasped.”

“The eaten animal is consumed, destroyed; it is a disappearance in a world where nothing is posed outside of the present moment.”

“There is nothing in the animal world of the master and what he commands, nothing which can establish the autonomy of one and the dependence of the other.”

“Animals are of an unequal force, but this is just a quantitative difference. The lion is not the king of the animals – that is a misleading anthropomorphic myth. He is a taller wave in the movement of waters which knocks over the weaker ones.”

“There is one element of the human situation in the condition of animals: the animal can, strictly speaking, be seen as a subject for whom the rest of the world is an object – but the possibility is never given to him to see himself in this way.”

“More refined, the animal must establish relationships of immanence. He must be able to eat.”

“The immanence of the outside to the inside, of the inside to the outside, only lasts under certain conditions.”

Part Deux

“Nothing is more closed off to us than this animal life that we emerged from.”

“Nothing is more foreign to our way of thinking than the earth at the heart of the silent universe – it has neither the meaning that man gives to things, nor the lack of meaning of things at the moment where we would like to imagine them without a consciousness which reflects them.”

“Animal life, halfway towards our consciousness, proposes a disturbing enigma to us. The animal, in its regard on the universe, is neither a thing nor a man.”

“We cannot describe such an object in a precise way.”

“We cannot say, in describing the countryside of pre-historic time, there were things there. No one was there to see them. There was no vision in the human sense at that time.”

“From the present world full of meaning, to a pre-historic world without men emptied of meaning.”

“The animal is not just a thing, his situation attracts me and is familiar to me.”

“I see in the animal both myself and a thing (if I eat him or use him in scientific experiments).”

“The inferior reality which we attribute to things.”

“To sum up: the animal world is one of immanence and immediacy. And this world remains closed to us to the extent that we cannot discern in it a power of transcendence. We can imagine an embryo of transcendent power for the animal, but we cannot clearly discern it.”

“Only with the human does there appear transcendence of consciousness in relation to things, or vice versa. animals are the absence of transcendence. The animal is in the world like water in water.”

“An animal who has defeated a rival does not grasp the death of the other as the fact of a man having the behavior of triumph – because his rival has not broken a continuity that his death will not re-establish. This continuity was not placed into question. The apathy of the look of the animal after the ‘victorious’ combat is the sign of an existence which is essentially equal to the world where it lives like water in the heart of water.”

Part Trois

The elaboration of the profane world.

“The position of the object, not given in animality, is given in the human use of tools. Tools are improved and perfected by men and adapted towards an aimed-for result.”

“Tools elaborated with regard to their end – this posits them as objects, as interruptions of  the indistinct continuity. The elaborated tool is the emergent form of the non-I.”

“The tool introduces exteriority to a world where the subject had some of the characteristics of the elements that he now distinguishes, where he had some of the characteristics of this world.”

“When the subject participates with elements – the world, animals, plants – these elements are not subordinate to him. And neither is he subordinate to them.”

“But the tool is subordinate to the man who uses it, he modifies it according to his wishes, with the aim of a determined result.”

“The tool has no value in itself – unlike the subject, the world, the elements – it only has a value in relation to the anticipated result. where it is subordinated to its user, to the end in view. What is posed is the clear distinction between the ends and the means.”

“The utility of a tool and the goal of the utility of the tool have the same meaning in our language.”

“The object, on the contrary, has a meaning which breaks with the indistinct continuity, which opposes itself to immanence and flowing of all that it – it transcends it.”

“The object is rigorously foreign to the subject, to the I still lost in immanence. It is the property and the thing of the subject.”

“The perfect knowledge (finished, clear, and distinct) that the subject has of the object is completely exterior, it belongs to manufacturing. the tool and the manufactured object are on the same level.”

If computers were really the tools of liberation that they are being touted as, then they would also help us in useless activities.

I know the object. I can make another one exactly like it. Whereas I cannot clone myself, because in fact I do not know who is the being whom I am.

Part Quatre

Position of immanent elements in the scheme of objects.

“What is clearly and distinctly known as objects from the exterior defines this class of objects from what cannot be known in the same way. this other class of objects remains in the continuity of the world – animals, plants, other men, and the subject determining himself.”

(it was still possible for Bataille in 1948 to say this!)

“We only know ourselves distinctly and clearly on the day when we perceive ourselves from the outside like an other.” (on the condition that we have distinguished the other from the level of manufactured things).

Elements which are of the same category as the subject.

“But then comes the point of view from which the immanent elements are perceived from the outside like objects. At the end, we perceive subject, ourselves, animals, spirit, world simultaneously from inside and outside, as continuity and as object.”

So we get a category of subject-objects.

Part Cinq

Position of things as subjects.

“The tool can, strictly speaking, be considered in the category of subject-objects. It is continuous in relation to the world, but remains separated as it was in the spirit of the person who manufactured it.”

“You can regard an arrow as your likeness, but at the same time not take away its operative power or its transcendence.”

Part Six

“The supreme being – the world in continuity, in relation to one’s intimacy, one’s profound subjectivity.”

“But this distinct personal power has at the same time the divine character of impersonal, indistinct, and immanent existence.”

“In a sense, the world is still immanent, but the position of a supreme being, distinct and limited like a thing, is first of all an impoverishment.”

“In the invention of a supreme being there is, without doubt, a will to define a value greater than all others. But this desire to grow also brings with it a dimunition. The objective personality of the supreme being situates it in the world next to other personal beings of the same category. Men, animals, plants, stars, meteors – they are at once things and intimate beings. the supreme being, alongside of them, is also in the world. But there is no final equality between them. The supreme being, by definition, has the dominating dignity. But they are all of the same kind, where immanence and the personality are mixed in together.”

“All can be divine and gifted with an operational power, all can speak the language of man.”

“They are all essentially on a level of equality.”

“Impoverishment and involuntary limitation. a sort of atrophy of an animal feeling. the consciousness-being-born of a supreme being among the primitives is not a blossoming.”

And let us all say, Amen.







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