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Hegel, Death and Sacrifice

Author(s): Georges Bataille and Jonathan Strauss


Source: Yale French Studies, No. 78, On Bataille (1990), pp. 9-28
Published by: Yale University Press
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GEORGES

BATAILLE

Hegel, Death and Sacrifice'


The animaldies.Butthedeathoftheanimalis thebecomingof
consciousness.

I. DEATH

Man's Negativity
In the Lecturesof 1805-1806, at the momentofhis thought'sfull
maturity,
duringthe periodwhenhe was writingThe PhenomenologyofSpirit,Hegel expressedin thesetermsthe black characterof
humanity:
"Man is thatnight,thatemptyNothingness,
whichcontainsevin itsundividedsimplicity:thewealthofan infinite
erything
number
ofrepresentations,
of images,not one ofwhichcomes preciselyto
are not [there]insofaras theyare really
mind,or which [moreover],
It
is
the
present.
night,theinteriority-or-theintimacyofNature
whichexistshere:[the]purepersonal-Ego.
In phantasmagorical
repit is nighton all sides:heresuddenlysurgesup a bloodresentations
spatteredhead; there,another,white,apparition;and theydisappear
just as abruptly.
That is the nightthatone perceivesifone looks a
man in the eyes: then one is delvinginto a nightwhich becomes
terrible;it is thenightoftheworldwhichthenpresentsitselftous."2
1. Excerptfroma studyon the-fundamentally
Hegelian-thoughtofAlexander
Kojeve.Thisthoughtseeks,so faras possible,tobe Hegel'sthought,
sucha contempoforexample,theeventsthat
raryspirit,knowingwhatHegeldidnotknow(knowing,
haveoccurredsince 1917and,as well,thephilosophy
ofHeidegger),
couldgraspit and
and courage,it mustbe said, is to have
developit. AlexanderKojeve'soriginality
the necessity,consequently,
perceivedthe impossibilityof going any further,
ofrenouncing
the creationofan originalphilosophyand,thereby,
theinterminable
whichis theavowalofthevanityofthought.This essaywas firstpubstarting-over
lishedin Deucalion 5 (1955).WithpermissionofEditionsGallimard? 1988.
2. G. W. F. Hegel, Jenenser
Philosophiedes Geistesin SamtlicheWerke,ed.
Hoffmeister,
(Leipzig:FelixMeiner,1931),vol.20 180-81.CitedbyKojevein
Johannes
YFS 78, On Bataille,ed. Allan Stoekl,C) 1990byYale University.

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10

Yale FrenchStudies

finds
Ofcourse,this"beautifultext,"whereHegel'sRomanticism
it
loosely.IfHegelwas a romantic,
is nottobe understood
expression,
was perhapsin a fundamentalmanner(hewas at anyratea romantic
at thebeginning-inhisyouth-, whenhe was a commonplacerevothemethodbywhicha
buthe didnotsee in Romanticism
lutionary),
the real worldto
proudspiritdeems itselfcapable ofsubordinating
ofitsowndreams.AlexanderKojeve,in citingthem,
thearbitrariness
says of these lines thattheyexpress"the centraland finalidea of
andthe
whichis "theidea thatthefoundation
Hegelianphilosophy,"
and empiricalexissourceofhumanobjectivereality(Wirklichkeit)
whichmanifests
itselfas negative
tence(Dasein) aretheNothingness
or creativeAction,freeand self-conscious."
world,I havefeltobliged
To permitaccessto Hegel'sdisconcerting
to mark,bya carefulexamination,bothits violentcontrastsand its
ultimateunity.
philosophyof
For Kojeve, "the 'dialectical' or anthropological
Hegel is in thefinalanalysisa philosophyofdeath (or,whichis the
same thing,ofatheism)"(K, 537; TEL, 539).
Butifmanis "deathlivinga humanlife"(K,548; TEL, 550),man's
givenin deathby virtueof the factthatman's deathis
negativity,
fromrisksassumedwithoutnecessi(resulting
essentiallyvoluntary
theprincipleofaction.
is
without
biological
ty,
reasons), nevertheless
and NegativityAction.On
Indeed,forHegel,Actionis Negativity,
intoit,
theone hand,theman who negatesNature-by introducing
like a flip-side,the anomalyof a "pure,personalego"-is present
withinthatNature'sheartlike a nightwithinlight,like an intimacy
ofthosethingswhicharein themselves-like
withintheexteriority
a phantasmagoriain which nothingtakes shape but to evanesce,
nothingappearsbut to disappear,wherenothingexistsexceptabsorbedwithoutrespitein the annihilationof time,fromwhich it
aspect:
drawsthe beautyofa dream.But thereis a complementary
thisnegationofNatureis notmerelygivenin consciousness-where
that which existsin itselfappears(but only to disappear)-; this
and in beingexteriorized,
really(in itself)
negationis exteriorized,
Man
and
works
fights;he transforms
changestherealityofNature.
it he createsa
Nature and in destroying
the given;he transforms
totheReadingofHegel,(Paris:Gallimard,1947),573.(TELedition[Paris:
Introduction
citedin thetext,as K; TEL).
Gallimard,19801,575.) Henceforth

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GEORGES BATAILLE

11

the
world,a worldwhichwas not. On the one handthereis poetry,
and
diluted
a
itself, blood-spattered
destructionthathas surgedup
head; on the otherhandthereis Action,work,struggle.On the one
fromNothingness
hand, "pure Nothingness,"whereman "differs
onlyfora certaintime"(K,573; TEL, 575).On theother,a historical
thatNothingnessthatgnawshim
World,whereman's Negativity,
fromwithin,createsthewholeofconcretereality(atonce objectand
subject,real world changedor unchanged,man who thinksand
changestheworld).
Hegel'sPhilosophyis a PhilosophyofDeath-or ofAtheism3
ofHegelianphilosoThe essential-and theoriginal-characteristic
at the
phyis to describethe totalityofwhat is; and,consequently,
whichappearsbeforeour
same timethatit accountsforeverything
accountofthethoughtandlanguagewhich
eyes,to givean integrated
reveal-that
express-and
appearance.
"In my opinion,"says Hegel, "Everything
dependson one's exTruthnot(only)as substance,butalso as
pressingandunderstanding
subject."4
andthefollowing,
I repeatin a different
3. In thisparagraph,
formwhathas been
I havetodevelop
saidbyAlexanderKojeve.Butnotonlyin a different
form;essentially
thesecondpartofthatsentence,whichis,atfirstglance,difficult
tocomprehend
inits
concreteaspect: "The beingor theannihilationofthe 'Subject'is thetemporalizing
annihilationofBeing,whichmustbe beforethe annihilatedbeing:thebeingofthe
a beginning.
Andbeingthe(temporal)
'Subject'necessarily
has,therefore,
annihilation
in Being,beingnothingness
whichnihilates(insofar
ofthenothingness
as Time),the
it has an end."In particular,
"Subject"is essentiallynegationofitself:therefore
I have
forthis(asI havealreadydoneinthepreceding
followed
thepartofIntroducparagraph)
tionto theReadingofHegel whichconcernsparts2 and3 ofthepresentstudy,i.e.,
AppendixII, "The Idea ofDeath in thePhilosophyofHegel,"Kojeve,527-73. (TEL,
note:This appendix,fromwhichall ofBataille'sreferences
529-75.) [Translator's
to
in English;it is notincludedin AllanBloom's
Kojevearetaken,remainsuntranslated
ofKojeve'sIntroduction
reedition(andabridgment)
totheReadingofHegel(NewYork:
BasicBooks,1969).J
4. Cf.,G. W.F. Hegel,The Phenomenology
ofSpirit,trans.A. V. Miller(Oxford:
OxfordUniversity
Press,1977),9-10. In his footnotes,
Batailleattributes
theFrench
versionshe uses ofHegel to JeanHyppolite'stranslation
of The Phenomenology
of
Spiritand oftenalso citesthepagesfromIntroduction
a la lecturede Hegel where
AlexandreKojevequotesthesamepassages.However,
Kojeve'sversiondiffers
fromthat
ofHyppoliteandBataille'sfromboth.It is thelatterthatI havetranslated.
Pagereferenceswillhereafter
be giventotheEnglishtranslation
byA. V.Miller,whichis oftenat
significant
variancewiththequotationsas I haverendered
them.[Translator's
note.]

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12

Yale FrenchStudies

In otherwords,naturalknowledgeis incomplete,it does notand


cannotenvisageanybutabstractentities,isolatedfroma whole,from
whichalone is concrete.Knowledgemustat
an indissolubletotality,
the same time be anthropological:"in additionto the ontological
mustfindthose
bases ofnaturalreality,"
Kojevewrites,"[knowledge]
ofhumanreality,whichalone is capable ofbeingrevealedthrough
does not
Discourse"(K,528; TEL, 530).Ofcourse,thisanthropology
envisageMan as do themodernsciencesbutas a movementimpossiIn a sense,it is actuallya
ble to isolatefromtheheartofthetotality.
whereman has takentheplace ofGod.
theology,
ButforHegel,thehumanrealitywhichhe placesat theheart,and
fromthatofGreekphilosophy.
center,ofthetotalityis verydifferent
tradition,
whichemis thatoftheJudeo-Christian
His anthropology
and individuality.Like Judeophasizes Man's liberty,historicity,
Christianman, the Hegelian man is a spiritual(i.e., "dialectical")
is fullyrealworld,"spirituality"
being.Yet,fortheJudeo-Christian
and Spiritproperly
speaking,
ized and manifestonlyin thehereafter,
andeternalbeing."
real"Spirit,is God: "an infinite
truly"objectively
Accordingto Hegel,the "spiritual"or "dialectical"beingis "necessarilytemporaland finite."This meansthatdeathalone assuresthe
existenceof a "spiritual"or "dialectical"being,in the Hegelian
sense. If the animal which constitutesman's naturalbeingdid not
die,and-what is more-if deathdidnotdwellinhimas thesourceof
his anguish-and all themoreso in thathe seeksit out,desiresitand
no
sometimesfreelychoosesit-there wouldbe no man or liberty,
historyorindividual.In otherwords,ifhe revelsin whatnonetheless
him,ifhe is the being,identicalwithhimself,who risks
frightens
(identical)beingitself,thenmanis trulya Man: he separateshimself
he is no longer,likea stone,an immutafromtheanimal.Henceforth
ble given,he bearswithinhimNegativity;andtheforce,theviolence
which
casthimintotheincessantmovementofhistory,
ofnegativity
changeshimandwhichalonerealizesthetotalityoftheconcretereal
throughtime.Onlyhistoryhas thepowertofinishwhatis,tofinishit
in the passageoftime.And so theidea ofan eternaland immutable
God is in thisperspectivemerelya provisionalend,whichsurvives
while awaitingsomethingbetter.Only completedhistoryand the
spiritoftheSage (ofHegel)-in whomhistoryrevealed,thenrevealed
in full,the developmentofbeingand the totalityofits becomingoccupies,
occupya sovereignposition,whichGod onlyprovisionally
as a regent.

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GEORGES BATAILLE

13

The Tragi-Comic Aspect ofMan's Divinity

This way of seeing thingscan with justice be consideredcomic.


Besides,Hegel neverexpressedit explicitly.The textswhereit is
are ambiguous,and theirextremedifficulty
implicitlyaffirmed
ultimatelykeptthemfromfullconsideration.
Kojevehimselfis circumspect.He does notdwellon themandavoidsdrawingpreciseconcluthe situationHegel got
sions. In orderto expressappropriately
one wouldneed thetone,or at
himselfinto,no doubtinvoluntarily,
least,in a restrainedform,the horrorof tragedy.
But thingswould
quicklytake on a comic appearance.
Be thatas itmay,topassthrough
deathis so absentfromthedivine
figurethat a mythsituatedin the traditionassociateddeath,and
the agonyof death,withthe eternaland unique God of the JudeoChristiansphere.The deathofJesuspartakesofcomedytotheextent
introducetheforgetting
thatone cannotunarbitrarily
ofhis eternal
divinity-whichis his-into the consciousnessof an omnipotent
andinfiniteGod.BeforeHegel's"absoluteknowledge,"
theChristian
mythwas alreadybased preciselyon thefactthatnothingdivineis
senseofsacred)whichis finite.Butthe
possible(inthepre-Christian
vague consciousnessin whichthe (Christian)mythofthe deathof
God tookformdiffered,
nonetheless,fromthatofHegel: in orderto
a figureofGodthatlimitedtheinfinite
as thetotality,
it
misrepresent
was possibleto add on, in contradiction
withits basis,a movement
towardthefinite.
Hegelwas able-and itwas necessaryforhim-to addup thesum
(theTotality)ofthemovementswhichwereproducedin history.
But
it
is
humor, seems, incompatiblewith workand its necessaryassiduity.I shall returnto thissubject;I havemerely,
forthemoment,
shuffledcards....

It is difficultto pass froma humanityhumiliated

by divine grandeurto that... of the apotheosizedand sovereign


Sage,his prideswollenwithhumanvanity.
A Fundamental Text

In whatI havewrittenup to thispoint,onlyonenecessityemergesin


a precisefashion:therecan be authenticWisdom(absoluteWisdom,
orin generalanything
approaching
it)onlyiftheSageraiseshimself,
ifI can put it thisway,to the heightofdeath,at whateveranguish
to him.

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14

Yale FrenchStudies

ofSpirit5forceA passagefromtheprefaceto thePhenomenology


fullyexpressesthe necessityof such an attitude.Thereis no doubt
fromthestartofthe "capitalimportance"ofthisadmirabletext,not
ofHegel,butin all regards.
onlyforan understanding
"Death,"writesHegel,"-if we wishso to namethatunrealityis themostterriblethingthereis and to upholdtheworkofdeathis
Impotentbeautyhates
thetaskwhichdemandsthegreateststrength.
makesthisdemandofbeauty,
thisawareness,becauseunderstanding
whichbeautycannotfulfill.Now,thelifeofSpiritis
a requirement
ofdeath,and sparesitselfdestrucnot thatlifewhichis frightened
tion,butthatlifewhichassumesdeathandliveswithit.Spiritattains
It is not
its truthonlybyfindingitselfin absolutedismemberment.
powerbybeingthePositivethatturnsawayfromthe
that(prodigious)
Negative,as when we say of something:thisis nothingor (thisis)
falseand,having(thus)disposedofit,pass fromthereto something
else; no, Spiritis thatpoweronlyto thedegreein whichit contemplatesthe Negativefaceto face(and)dwellswithit. This prolonged
sojournis themagicalforcewhichtransposesthenegativeintogivenBeing."
The Human NegationofNatureand oftheNaturalBeingofMan
In principle,I oughttohavestartedthepassagejustcitedat an earlier
point.I did not want to weighthis textdownby givingthe "enigmatic"lineswhichprecedeit.ButI shall sketchout thesenseofthe
withoutwhichthe
omittedlinesbyrestating
Kojeve'sinterpretation,
consequences,in spite of an appearanceof relativeclarity,would
remainclosed to us.
ForHegel, it is both fundamentaland altogetherworthyof as(thatis, language,discourse)
tonishmentthathumanunderstanding
should have had the force(an incomparableforce)to separateits
constitutiveelementsfromthe Totality.These elements(thistree,
trans.A. V.Miller,19.CitedbyKojeve,
Spirit,
5. Cf.,Hegel,ThePhenomenologyof
andBatailleall translatetheGerman"Zer538-39. (TEL,540-41.) Kojeve,Hyppolite,
the
whichI in turnhavegivenas "dismemberment,"
rissenheit"by "dechirement,"
to notethat
ofHegel.It is important
same wordwhichappearsin Miller'stranslation
and "tearing"and,unlike
has themeaningsof "shredding"
theword"dechirement"
units.InL'Exintopredetermined
doesnotimplya disarticulation
"dismemberment,"
forexample,Bataillespeaks of himselfas leftin "lambeaux"
p6rienceint6rieure,
torespondachevaitde. .. d6chirer,"
(shreds,as ofclothorpaper)whichhis "inability
(Paris:Gallimard,1954),19).[Translator's
note.]

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GEORGES BATAILLE

15

thisbird,thisstone)arein factinseparablefromthewhole.Theyare
"bound togetherby spatial and temporal,indeed material,bonds
whichare indissoluble."TheirseparationimpliesthehumanNegativitytowardNatureofwhichI spoke,withoutpointingout its decisive consequences.Forthe man who negatesnaturecould not in
any way live outside of it. He is not merelya man who negates
Nature,he is firstofall an animal,thatis to say the verythinghe
negates:he cannottherefore
negateNaturewithoutnegatinghimin Kojeve'sbizarreexself.The intrinsictotalityofman is reflected
pression,thattotalityis firstofall Nature(naturalbeing),it is "the
animal"(Nature,theanimalindissolubly
linkedto
anthropomorphic
and
which
thewhole ofNature,
supportsMan). Thus humanNegadesireto negateNaturein destroying
it-in
tivity,Man's effective
reducingit to his ownends,as when,forexample,he makesa toolof
it (andthetoolwill be themodelofan objectisolatedfromNature)cannotstopat Man himself;insofaras he is Nature,Man is exposed
to his own Negativity.To negateNature is to negatethe animal
It is undoubtedlynot the underwhichpropsup Man's Negativity.
breakerofNature'sunity,whichseeksman'sdeath,andyet
standing,
the separatingActionof the understanding
impliesthe monstrous
energyofthought,ofthe "pureabstractI," whichis essentiallyopposed to fusion,to the inseparablecharacterofthe elements-constitutiveofthewhole-which firmly
upholdstheirseparation.
It is the veryseparationof Man's being,it is his isolationfrom
his isolationin themidstofhis ownkind,
Nature,and,consequently,
The animal,negating
whichcondemnhim to disappeardefinitively.
no oppositionnothing,lostin a globalanimalityto whichit offers
justas thatanimalityis itselflostin Nature(andin thetotalityofall
that is)-does

not truly disappear...

No doubt the individual fly

dies,but today'sfliesare the same as thoseoflast year.Last year's


have died? . . . Perhaps, but nothinghas disappeared. The flies remain, equal to themselveslike the waves of the sea. This seems
contrived:a biologistcan separatea flyfromtheswarm,all it takesis
Buthe separatesitforhimself,he does notseparateit
a brushstroke.
forthe flies.To separateitselffromthe othersa flywouldneed the
thenit wouldnameitselfand
monstrousforceoftheunderstanding;
do what the understanding
normallyeffects
by means oflanguage,
which alone foundsthe separationof elementsand by foundingit
foundsitselfon it,withina worldformedofseparatedand denominated entities.But in this game the human animal findsdeath; it

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16

Yale FrenchStudies

findspreciselyhuman death,the onlyone whichfrightens,


which
freezes-but which only frightens
and transfixes
the man who is
absorbedin his futuredisappearance,
to theextentthathe is a separatedand irreplaceablebeing.The onlytruedeathsupposesseparationand,through
thediscoursewhichseparates,theconsciousnessof
beingseparated.
"ImpotentBeautyHates the Understanding"
Up to thispoint,Hegel's textpresentsa simpleand commontruth,
but one enunciatedin a philosophicalmannerwhich is, properly
speaking,sibylline.In the passage fromthe Prefacecited above,
and describesa personalmomentof
affirms
Hegel,on the contrary,
violence-Hegel, in otherwordsthe Sage, to whom an absolute
definitive
satisfaction.
Knowledgehas conferred
This is not an unbridledviolence.WhatHegel unleasheshereis not the violenceof
or theviolence,oftheUnderstanding-the
Nature,it is the energy,
itselfto thepurebeauty
NegativityoftheUnderstanding-opposing
ofthe dream,whichcannotact,whichis impotent.
Indeed,thebeautyofthedreamis on thatsideoftheworldwhere
nothingis yetseparatedfromwhatsurrounds
it,whereeachelement,
in contrastto the abstractobjects of the Understanding,
is given
in space and time.Butbeautycannotact. It can onlybe
concretely,
and preserveitself.Throughactionit would no longerexist,since
actionwouldfirstdestroywhatbeautyis: beauty,whichseeksnothing,whichis, whichrefusesto moveitselfbutwhichis disturbed
by
does
theforceoftheUnderstanding.
not
have
the
Moreover,beauty
whichasks it
powerto respondto therequestoftheUnderstanding,
to upholdandpreservetheworkofhumandeath.Beautyis incapable
ofit, in the sense thatto upholdthatwork,it wouldbe engagedin
it is an end,orit is not: thatis whyit is
Action.Beautyis sovereign,
not susceptibleto acting,whyit is, evenin principle,powerlessand
why it cannotyield to the activenegationof the Understanding,
whichchangestheworldand itselfbecomesotherthanit is.6
6. Here myinterpretation
differs
slightlyfromKojeve's(146 [TEL, 1481).[Translator'snote: thispassagetoo is missingfromBloom'sabridgment
ofKojeve,which
startsonlywiththelecturesgivenin 1937-38. (The passagein questionis fromthe
1936-37lectures.)I
Kojevesimplystatesthat"impotent
beautyis incapableofbending
to therequirements
oftheUnderstanding.
The esthete,theromantic,
themystic,flee
itselfas something
theidea ofdeathandspeakofNothingness
whichis." Inparticular,
he admirablydescribesthe mysticin thisway.But the same ambiguity
is foundin

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GEORGES BATAILLE

17

This beautywithoutconsciousnessofitselfcannot thereforereally-but notforthesamereasonas life,which"recoilsin horror


from
death and wantsto save itselffromannihilation"-beardeathand
fromfeeling
preserveitselfin it.This impotentbeautyat leastsuffers
indissolubleTotalityofwhatis (ofthe
thebreakupoftheprofoundly
Beautywould like to remainthe sign of an accord
concrete-real).
of the real with itself.It cannot become conscious Negativity,
and the lucid gaze, absorbedin the
awakenedin dismemberment,
Negative.This latterattitudepresupposestheviolentand laborious
struggleof Man againstNatureand is its end. That is the historic
strugglewhereMan constituteshimselfas "Subject"or as "abstract
as a separatedand namedbeing.
I" ofthe "Understanding,"
"Thatis to say,"Kojeveclarifies,"thatthoughtand thediscourse
whichrevealsthe real are bornofthe negativeActionwhichactualizes Nothingnessbyannihilating
Being:thegivenbeingofMan (in
the Struggle)and the givenbeingofNature(through
Work-which
fromthereal contactwithdeathin theStruggle.)
results,moreover,
thatthehumanbeinghimselfis noneother
That is to say,therefore,
thanthatAction:he is deathwhichlivesa humanlife"(K,548; TEL,
550).
I wantto insiston the continualconnectionbetweenan abyssal
aspectand a tough,down-to-earth
aspectin thisphilosophy,
theonly
one havingtheambitionto be complete.The divergent
possibilities
ofopposedhumanfiguresconfront
eachotherandassemblein it: the
figureofthedyingman and oftheproudone,who turnsfromdeath,
thefigureofthemasterand thatofthemanpinnedto his work,the
and thatoftheskeptic,whose egotistical
figureoftherevolutionary
interestlimitsdesire.This philosophyis not onlya philosophyof
death.It is also one ofclass struggleand work.
ButwithinthelimitsofthisstudyI do notintendto envisagethis
otherside. I would like to comparethatHegeliandoctrineofdeath
withwhatwe knowabout "sacrifice."
philosophers
at leastultimately.
In truth,
Kojeveseemsto me
(inHegel,in Heidegger),
wrongnot to have envisaged,beyondclassicalmysticism,
a "consciousmysticism,"
consciousofmakinga BeingfromNothingness,
and,inaddition,defining
thatimpasse
as a Negativity
whichwouldno longerhavea fieldofaction(attheendofhistory).
The
atheisticmystic,self-conscious,
consciousofhavingto die and to disappear,
would
live,as Hegelobviouslysaid concerning
himself,"in absolutedismemberment";
but,
forhim,itis onlythematterofa certainperiod:unlikeHegel,hewouldnevercomeout
ofit,"contemplating
theNegativerightintheface,"butneverbeingabletotranspose
it
intoBeing,refusing
to do it and maintaining
himselfin ambiguity.

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18

Yale FrenchStudies
II. SACRIFICE

Sacrifice,on theone hand, and on theother,theGaze ofHegel


Absorbedin Death and Sacrifice
I shallnotspeakoftheinterpretation
ofsacrifice
whichHegelgivesin
the chapterofthePhenomenology
devotedto Religion.7It no doubt
ofthechapter,
makessensein thedevelopment
butit straysfromthe
essentialand,fromthepointofviewofthetheoryofsacrifice,
itis,in
myopinion,ofless interestthantheimplicitrepresentation
whichis
givenin thetextofthePrefaceandwhichI shallcontinueto analyze.
Concerningsacrifice,I can essentiallysay that,on the level,of
Man has,in a sense,revealedandfoundedhuman
Hegel'sphilosophy,
in sacrificehe destroyed
truthbysacrificing;
theanimal8in himself,
allowinghimselfandtheanimalto surviveonlyas thatnoncorporeal
truthwhichHegel describesand whichmakes ofman-in Heidegger'swords-a beinguntodeath(Seinzum Tode),or-in thewordsof
Kojevehimself- "deathwhichlives a humanlife."
Actually,theproblemofHegelis givenin theactionofsacrifice.
In
sacrifice,death,on the one hand,essentiallystrikesthe corporeal
being;and on the otherhand,it is preciselyin sacrificethat"death
livesa humanlife."It shouldevenbe said thatsacrificeis theprecise
theoriginalformulation
responseto Hegel'srequirement,
ofwhichI
repeat:
itselfin absolutedismem"Spiritattainsits truthonlybyfinding
berment.It does not attain that (prodigious)powerby being the
Positive that turns away from the Negative. . . no, Spirit is that

poweronlyin thedegreeto whichit contemplatestheNegativeface


to face [and] dwells with it . . ."

ofsacrifice
Ifone takesintoaccountthefactthattheinstitution
is
incarnatedin Man's
practicallyuniversal,it is clearthatNegativity,
ofHegel,butalso thatit
construction
death,notonlyis thearbitrary
in
of
has playeda role thespirit thesimplestmen,withoutanycom7. The Phenomenology
ofSpirit,chapter8: Religion,B.: Religionin theformof
Art,a) The abstractworkof art (434-35). In thesetwo pages,Hegel dwellson the
disappearanceof objectiveessence,but withoutdevelopingits consequences.On
thesecondpageHegellimitshimselfto considerations
properto "aestheticreligion"
(thereligionoftheGreeks).
8. Still,althoughanimalsacrifice
seemstopredatehumansacrifice,
thereis nothingtoprovethatthechoiceofan animalsignifies
theunconsciousdesiretoopposethe
animalas such;manis onlyopposedto corporealbeing,thebeingthatis given.He is,
furthermore,
justas opposedto theplant.

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GEORGES BATAILLE

19

mon groundscomparableto thosewhichare regulatedonce and for


all by the ceremoniesof a Church-but nonethelessin a univocal
to see thatacrosstheworlda communalNegamanner.It is striking
tivityhas maintaineda strictparallelismin the developmentof
whichhave the same formand the same
ratherstableinstitutions,
effects.
WhetherHe Lives orDies, Man CannotImmediatelyKnowDeath
I shall speak laterof the profounddifferences
betweenthe man of
sacrifice,
actingin ignorance(unconscious)ofthefullscope ofwhat
to theimplicationsofa
he is doing,andtheSage (Hegel)surrendering
Knowledgewhich,in his own eyes,is absolute.
the questionofmanifesting
theNegaDespite thesedifferences,
tivestillremains(andstillundera concreteform,i.e.,at theheartof
whoseconstitutive
elementsareinseparable).
The privitheTotality,
ofNegativityis death,butdeath,in fact,reveals
legedmanifestation
it is his natural,animalbeingwhosedeathreveals
nothing.In theory,
Man to himself,but the revelationnevertakesplace. Forwhen the
himdies,thehumanbeinghimselfceasesto
animalbeingsupporting
be. In orderforMan torevealhimselfultimatelytohimself,
he would
have to die,buthe wouldhave to do it whileliving-watchinghimselfceasingto be. In otherwords,deathitselfwouldhaveto become
(self-)consciousnessat theverymomentthatit annihilatestheconscious being.In a sense,thisis whattakesplace (whatat least is on
thepointoftakingplace,orwhichtakesplacein a fugitive,
ungraspIn thesacrifice,
able manner)bymeansofa subterfuge.
thesacrificer
identifieshimselfwiththeanimalthatis struckdowndead.And so
he dies in seeinghimselfdie,and even,in a certainway,byhis own
will, one in spiritwith the sacrificialweapon.But it is a comedy!
Atleastitwouldbe a comedyifsomeothermethodexistedwhich
could revealto thelivingtheinvasionofdeath:thatfinishing
offof
the finitebeing,whichhis Negativity-whichkills him,ends him
and definitively
suppresseshim-accomplishes alone and whichit
alone can accomplish.ForHegel, satisfactioncan only take place,
desirecan be appeasedonlyin the consciousnessofdeath.Ifit were
based on the exclusionof death,satisfaction
would contradictthat
whichdeathdesignates,ifthe satisfiedbeingwho is not conscious,
not utterlyconscious,of what in a constitutivemannerhe is, i.e.,
mortal,wereeventuallyto be drivenfromsatisfaction
bydeath.That

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20

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is whythe consciousnessthathe has ofhimselfmustreflect(must


themovementofnegativity
whichcreateshim,whichmakes
mirror)
a man ofhim fortheveryreasonthatit will one daykill him.
He will be killedby his own negativity,
but forhim,thereafter,
therewill be nothingleft;his is a creativedeath,but if the consciousness of death-of the marvelousmagic of death-does not
touchhimbeforehe dies,duringhis lifeit will seemthatdeathis not
destinedto reachhim,and so the deathawaitinghim will not give
him a human character.Thus, at all costs,man must live at the
momentthathe reallydies,or he mustlive withtheimpressionof
reallydying.
KnowledgeofDeath CannotDo Withouta Subterfuge:
Spectacle
This difficulty
proclaimsthenecessityofspectacle,orofrepresentationin general,withoutthepracticeofwhichitwouldbe possiblefor
us to remainalien and ignorantin respectto death,just as beasts
are.Indeed,nothingis less animalthanfiction,whichis
apparently
moreor less separatedfromthereal,fromdeath.
Man does not live bybreadalone,butalso bythecomedieswith
whichhe willinglydeceiveshimself.In Man it is theanimal,it is the
naturalbeing,which eats. But Man takes partin ritesand performances. Or else he can read: to the extentthat it is sovereignauthentic-, literature
prolongsin himthehauntingmagicofperformances,tragicor comic.
In tragedy,9
at least,it is a questionofouridentifying
withsome
characterwho dies, and of believingthatwe die, althoughwe are
butit has
alive. Furthermore,
pureand simpleimaginationsuffices,
orbooks,
thesame meaningas theclassicsubterfuges,
performances,
to whichthe masses have recourse.
Agreementand DisagreementbetweenNaive Behaviorsand
Hegel's Lucid Reaction
withtheprimary
theme
Byassociatingit withsacrificeand,thereby,
in performances),
I havesought
ofrepresentation
(inart,in festivals,
humanbehavto demonstratethatHegel's reactionis fundamental
ior.It is not a fantasyor a strangeattitude,it is par excellencethe
on.
9. I discusscomedyfurther

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GEORGES BATAILLE

21

It is notHegelalone,it is
expressionendlesslyrepeatedbytradition.
all ofhumanitywhicheverywhere
alwayssought,obliquely,to seize
whatdeathbothgaveand tookawayfromhumanity.
BetweenHegel and the man of sacrificethereneverthelessremainsa profounddifference.
Hegel was consciousofhis representationoftheNegative:he situatedit,lucidly,in a definitepointofthe
"coherentdiscourse"whichrevealedhim to himself.That Totality
includedthe discoursewhichrevealsit. The man of sacrifice,who
lacked a discursiveconsciousnessofwhathe did,had onlya "sensual" awareness,i.e., an obscureone, reducedto an unintelligible
emotion.It is truethatHegelhimself,beyonddiscourse,andin spite
receivedtheshockof
ofhimself(in an "absolutedismemberment,")
Moreviolently,
aboveall,fortheprimary
deathevenmoreviolently.
reasonthatthebroadmovementofdiscourseextendedits reachbeof the Totalityof the real.
yondlimits,i.e., withinthe framework
Beyondtheslightestdoubt,forHegel,thefactthathe was stillalive
The man ofsacrifice,
on theotherhand,
was simplyan aggravation.
maintainshis lifeessentially.He maintainsit not onlyin the sense
ofdeath,but [also in the
thatlifeis necessaryfortherepresentation
sensethat]he seeksto enrichit.Butfroman externalperspective,
the
palpable and intentionalexcitementof sacrificewas of greaterinofHegel. The excitementof
terestthantheinvoluntarysensitivity
which I speak is well-known,is definable;it is sacred horror:the
richestandthemostagonizingexperience,
whichdoesnotlimititself
but which,on the contrary,
to dismemberment
opens itself,like a
theatrecurtain,ontoa realmbeyondthisworld,wheretherisinglight
all thingsand destroystheirlimitedmeaning.
ofdaytransfigures
Indeed,ifHegel'sattitudeopposeslearnedconsciousnessand the
ofa discursivethinking
limitlessorganization
to thenaiveteofsacrifice,stillthatconsciousnessandthatorganization
remainunclearon
one point;one cannotsaythatHegelwas unawareofthe "moment"
of sacrifice;this "moment"is included,implicatedin the whole
movementof the Phenomenology-whereit is the Negativityof
death,insofaras it is assumed,whichmakes a man of the human
animal.Butbecausehe didnotsee thatsacrifice
in itselfborewitness
to the entiremovementof death,10the finalexperience-the one
10. Perhapsforlack of a Catholicreligiousexperience.I imagineCatholicism
closerto paganexperience;I meanto a universalreligiousexperience
fromwhichthe
distanceditself.Perhapsa profound
Reformation
Catholicpietycouldalonehaveintroducedtheinwardsensewithoutwhichthephenomenology
ofsacrifice
wouldbe im-

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22

Yale FrenchStudies

peculiarto theSage-describedin thePrefaceto thePhenomenology


was at firstinitialand universal-he didnotknowto whatextenthe
was right-withwhatprecisionhe describedtheintimatemovement
of Negativity;he did not clearlyseparatedeathfromthe feelingof
sadnessto whichnaiveexperienceopposesa sortofshuntingyardof
the emotions.
Pleasureand the Sadness ofDeath
ofdeathforHegelthatinspired
Itwas preciselytheunivocalcharacter
fromKojeve,whichapplies,again,to the
thefollowingcommentary
theidea of
passagefromthe Preface:(K, 549; TEL, 551). "Certainly,
deathdoesnotheightenthewell-beingofMan; it doesnotmakehim
happynordoes it givehim anypleasure."Kojevewonderedin what
withtheNegative,froma
resultsfroma familiarity
waysatisfaction
toreject
tete--tetewithdeath.He believedithisduty,outofdecency,
The factthatHegel himselfsaid,in thisrespect,
vulgarsatisfaction.
itselfin absolutedismemthatSpirit"onlyattainsit truthbyfinding
in principle,
withKojeve'sNegation.Conseberment"goestogether,
quently,it would even be superfluousto insist.... Kojevesimply
man's
states that the idea of death "is alone capable if satisfying
to
be
which
.
.
the
desire
Hegel
places
.
"recognized,"
Indeed,
pride."
couldbe expressedin an intrepid
at theoriginofhistoricalstruggles,
toitsbestadvantage."Itis
attitude,ofthesortthatshowsa character
only,"saysKojeve,"in beingorin becomingawareofone'smortality
or finitude,in existingand in feelingone's existencein a universe
his liberty,
withouta beyondorwithouta God,thatMan can affirm
andhis individuality- uniquein all theworld-and
his historicity
possible.Modem knowledge,much moreextensivethanthatof Hegel's time,has
assuredlycontributed
to thesolutionofthatfundamental
enigma(why,withoutany
butI seriouslybelievethata
plausiblereason,has humanityin general"sacrificed"?),
correctphenomenological
descriptioncould only be based on at least a Catholic
period.
-But at anyrate,Hegel,hostiletobeingwhichdoesnothing,-towhatsimplyis,
in militarydeath;it is throughsuchdeath
and is notAction,-was moreinterested
thatheperceivedthethemeofsacrifice
(buthe himselfusesthewordina moralsense):
he statesin his Lecturesof 1805-06, "and war are the
"The state-of-the-soldier,"
ofthepersonal-I,
thedangerofdeathfortheparticular,-that
realsacrifice
objectively
ofhis abstractimmediateNegativity
. . A"(inHegel,SdmtlicheWerke,
contemplation
to theReadingofHegel,558 [TEL,
vol. 20, 261-62. CitedbyKojevein Introduction
560]).Nonetheless,religioussacrifice
has,evenfromHegel'spointofview,an essential
signification.

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23

GEORGES BATAILLE

have thembe recognized.(Ibid.).ButifKojevesetsaside vulgarsatisfaction-happiness-he now also sets aside Hegel's "absolutedisis noteasilyreconciled
memberment":
indeed,suchdismemberment
withthe desireforrecognition.
in one point,
Satisfaction
and dismemberment
coincide,however,
butheretheyharmonizewithpleasure.This coincidencetakesplace
in "sacrifice";it is generallyunderstoodas thenaive formoflife,as
everyexistencein presenttime,whichmanifestswhatMan is: the
noveltywhichhe signifiesin theworldafterhe has becomeMan, on
the conditionthathe has satisfiedhis "animal" needs.
At anyrate,pleasure,or at least sensualpleasure,is such thatin
touphold:theidea
wouldbe difficult
respecttoitKojeve'saffirmation
and
in
in
a
certain
certainmanner
ofdeathhelps,
cases, to multiply
the pleasuresof the senses. I go so faras to believethat,underthe
theworld(orratherthegeneralimagery)ofdeath
formofdefilement,
is at the base of erotism.The feelingof sin is connectedin lucid
consciousnessto the idea of death,and in the same mannerthe
feelingofsinis connectedwithpleasure.11Thereis in factno human
in its circumstances,
withoutthe
pleasurewithoutsomeirregularity
of
breakingofan interdiction-thesimplest,and themostpowerful
that
of
is
which, currently
nudity.
Moreover,
possessionwas associatedin itstimewiththeimageof
sacrifice;it was a sacrificein which woman was the victim....

That

itrefers
associationfromancientpoetryis verymeaningful;
backto a
precisestateofsensibilityin whichthesacrificialelement,thefeelingofsacredhorroritself,joined,in a weakenedstate,to a tempered
pleasure;in which,too,thetasteforsacrificeandtheemotionwhich
totheultimateuses ofpleasure.
itreleasedseemedinno waycontrary
liketragedy,
was an elementofa
It mustbe said too thatsacrifice,
celebration;it bespokea blind,perniciousjoy and all the dangerof
thatjoy,and yetthisis preciselytheprincipleofhumanjoy;it wears
out and threatenswithdeathall who getcaughtup in itsmovement.
Gay Anguish,AnguishedGaiety
To theassociationofdeathandpleasure,whichis nota given,at least
is notan immediategivenin consciousness,is obviouslyopposedthe
11. Thisis at leastpossibleand,ifitis a matterofthemostcommoninterdictions,
banal.

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24

Yale FrenchStudies

ofconsciousness.In prinsadnessofdeath,alwaysin thebackground


beforedeath."In prinhumanity"recoilsin horror
ciple,consciously,
ciple,the destructiveeffectsofNegativityhave Natureas theirobwith
ject.ButforMan's Negativityto drivehimintoa confrontation
danger,forhim to make ofhimself,or at least oftheanimal,ofthe
negation,the
naturalbeingthathe is, the objectofhis destructive
is his unconsciousnessofthecause andtheeffects
banalprerequisite
ofhisactions.Now,itwas essentialforHegeltogainconsciousnessof
Negativityas such,to captureits horror-herethehorrorofdeathbyupholdingand bylookingtheworkofdeathrightin theface.
Hegel,in thisway,is less opposedto thosewho "recoil"thanto
thosewho say: "it is nothing."He seems to distancehimselfmost
fromthosewho reactwithgaiety.
I wantto emphasize,as clearlyas possible,aftertheirsimilarity,
the oppositionbetweenthe naive attitudeand thatof the-absolute-Wisdom of Hegel. I am not sure,in fact,thatof the two attitudesthemorenaiveis theless absolute.
I shallcitea paradoxicalexampleofa gayreactioninthefaceofthe
workofdeath.
The IrishandWelshcustomofthe"wake"is littleknownbutwas
It is thesubjectofJoyce's
stillpracticedat theendofthelast century.
ofFinnegan(however,
lastwork,12 FinnegansWake-the deathwatch
at best).In Wales,the
the readingof thisfamousnovel is difficult
coffinwas placedopen,standingat theplace ofhonorofthehouse.
The dead man would be dressedin his finestsuit and top hat. His
who honoredthe departedall
familywouldinviteall ofhis friends,
the morethe longertheydancedand the deepertheydrankto his
health.It is thedeathofan other,butin suchinstances,thedeathof
the otheris alwaysthe image of one's own death.Only underone
conditioncould anyoneso rejoice;withthepresumedagreementof
in
the dead man-who is an other-, thedead man thatthedrinker
his turnwill become shall have no othermeaningthanhis predecessor.
This paradoxicalreactioncould be considereda responseto the
desire to deny the existenceof death. A logical desire?Not in
theleast,I think.In Mexico today,deathis commonlyenvisagedon
the same level as the amusementsthat can be foundat festivals:
12. On thesubjectofthisobscurebook,videE. Jolas,"Elucidationdumonomythe
in Critique(July1948):579-95.
de JamesJoyce"

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GEORGES BATAILLE

25

skeletonpuppets,skeletoncandies,skeletonmerry-go-rounds-but
thiscustomis associatedwithan intensecult ofthedead,a visible
obsessionwithdeath.13
IfI envisagedeathgaily,it is not thatI too say,in turningaway
"it is nothing"or "it is false."On theconfromwhatis frightening:
trary,
gaiety,connectedwiththeworkofdeath,causesme anguish,is
accentuatedbymyanguish,and in returnexacerbatesthatanguish:
ultimately,gay anguish,anguishedgaietycause me, in a feverish
whereit is myjoy thatfinally
chill,'4 "absolutedismemberment,"
tearsme apart,butwheredejectionwouldfollowjoywereI nottorn
all thewayto the end,immeasurably.
Thereis onepreciseoppositionthatI wouldliketobringoutfully:
on the one hand Hegel's attitudeis less whole than thatof naive
but thisis meaninglessunless,reciprocally,
one sees that
humanity,
thenaiveattitudeis powerlessto maintainitselfwithoutsubterfuge.
Discourse Gives UsefulEnds to Sacrifice"Afterwards."
I have linkedthe meaningof sacrificeto Man's behavioronce his
animalneedshavebeensatisfied:Man differs
fromthenaturalbeing
whichhe also is; thesacrificial
gestureis whathe humanlyis,andthe
spectacleofsacrificethenmakeshis humanitymanifest.Freedfrom
animal need,man is sovereign:he does whathe pleases-his pleasure.Undertheseconditionshe is finallyable to make a rigorously
autonomousgesture.So longas he neededto satisfyanimalneeds,he
had to actwithan endin view(hehad to securefood,protecthimself
fromthecold).This supposesa servitude,
a seriesofactssubordinated
to a finalresult:thenatural,animalsatisfaction
withoutwhichMan
properly
speaking,sovereign
Man,couldnotsubsist.ButMan's intelligence,his discursivethought,developedas functionsofservilelabor.Onlysacred,poeticwords,limitedto thelevelofimpotentbeauty,have retainedthe powerto manifestfull sovereignty.
Sacrifice,
is a sovereign,autonomousmannerofbeingonlyto
consequently,
the extentthatit is uninformed
by meaningfuldiscourse.To the
extentthatdiscourseinforms
is givenin termsof
it,whatis sovereign
13. This cameoutin thedocumentary
whichEisensteindrewfromhisworkfora
longfilm:i VivaMexico!The cruxofthisfilmdealtwiththebizarrepracticeswhichI
have discussed.
14. Reading"chaudet froid"for"chaud-froid,"
whichmeansa dishprepared
hot
butservedcold.

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26

Yale FrenchStudies

servitude.Indeedbydefinition
whatis sovereigndoes notserve.But
simple discourse must respond to the question that discursive
thoughtasks concerningthemeaningthateach thingmusthave on
the level of utility.In principle,each thingis thereto servesome
purposeor other.Thus the simple manifestation
of Man's link to
annihilation,the purerevelationofMan to himself(at themoment
his attention)passes fromsovereignty
when deathtransfixes
to the
primacyofservileends.Myth,associatedwithritual,had at firstthe
butdiscourseconcerning
impotentbeautyofpoetry,
sacrificeslipped
intovulgar,self-serving
interpretation.
Startingwitheffects
naively
such as theappeasingofa godorthe
imaginedon thelevelofpoetry,
discoursebecametheabunpurityofbeings,the end ofmeaningful
The substantialworkofFrazer,
danceofrainorthecity'swell-being.
thatwerethemostimpotent
who recallsthoseformsofsovereignty
theleastpropitiousforhappiness,generally
and,apparently,
tendsto
reducethemeaningoftheritualact to thesame purposesas laborin
thefields,and to make ofsacrificean agrarianrite.Todaythatthesis
butit seemed-reasonable
ofthe GoldenBoughis discredited,
insofar
who
sacrificed
inscribedsovereign
as thesamepeople
sacrifice
within
theframeofa languageofplowmen.It is truethatin a veryarbitrary
manner,whichnevermeritedthecredenceofrigorousreason,these
people attempted,and musthave laboredto,submitsacrificeto the
laws of action,laws to which theythemselvesweresubmitted,or
laboredto submitthemselves.
on theBasis
Impotenceofthe Sage to AttainSovereignty
ofDiscourse
of sacrificeis not absolute either.It is not
Thus, the sovereignty
absolute to the extentthat the institutionmaintainswithinthe
worldof efficaciousactivitya formwhose meaningis, on the contrary,sovereign.A slippagecannotfail to occur,to the benefitof
servitude.
IftheattitudeoftheSage (Hegel)is not,forits part,sovereign,
at
leastthingsfunctionin theoppositedirection;Hegeldidnotdistance
he cameas
himselfandifhe was unabletofindauthenticsovereignty,
near to it as he could. What separatedhim fromit would even be
werewe not able to glimpsea richerimage through
imperceptible
these alterationsof meaning,which touch on sacrificeand which
have reducedit froman end to a simplemeans. The keyto a lesser

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GEORGES BATAILLE

27

rigorousnesson the partof the Sage is the fact,not thatdiscourse


withina framethat cannotsuit him and
engageshis sovereignty
in Hegel's
whichatrophiesit,butpreciselytheopposite:sovereignty
attitudeproceedsfroma movementwhich discourserevealsand
which,in the Sage's spirit,is neverseparatedfromits revelation.It
cannever,therefore,
be fullysovereign;theSage,infact,cannotfailto
subordinateit to thegoal ofa Wisdomwhichsupposesthe completion of discourse.Wisdom alone will be full autonomy,the sovereigntyofbeing. .

. At least it would be ifwe could findsovereignty

the
bysearchingforit: and,in fact,ifI searchforit,I am undertaking
buttheprojectofbeing-sovereignly
projectofbeing-sovereignly:
preof
supposesa servilebeing!Whatnonethelessassuresthesovereignty
ofwhich
the momentdescribedis the "absolutedismemberment"
Hegel speaks,therupture,fora time,ofdiscourse.But thatrupture
itselfis not sovereign.In a sense it is an accidentin the ascent.
thenaiveandthesageones,areboth
Althoughthetwosovereignties,
of death,beyondthe difference
betweena decline at
sovereignties
birth(betweena gradualalterationand an imperfect
manifestation),
on yetanotherprecisepoint:on Hegel'spart,itis precisely
theydiffer
a questionofan accident.It is nota strokeoffate,a piece ofbadluck,
whichwouldbe forever
deprivedofsense.Dismemberment
is,on the
of
attains
full
its
writes
meaning.
("Spirit
only
Hegel
truth,"
contrary,
(but it is my emphasis),"by findingitselfin absolutedismemberIt is whatlimitedand imment.")But thismeaningis unfortunate.
poverishedtherevelationwhichtheSage drewfromlingering
in the
regionswheredeathreigns.He welcomedsovereignty
as a weight,
whichhe let go ...
Do I intendto minimizeHegel'sattitude?Butthecontrary
is true!
I wantto showtheincomparablescopeofhis approach.To thatendI
cannotveil the veryminimal(and even inevitable)partof failure.
To mymind,it is rathertheexceptionalcertainty
ofthatapproach
whichis broughtout in myassociations.Ifhe failed,one cannotsay
thatit was the resultof an error.The meaningof the failureitself
fromthatof the failurewhich caused it: the erroralone is
differs
perhaps fortuitous.In general,it is as an authenticmovement,
weightywith sense,thatone must speak ofthe "failure"ofHegel.
Indeed,manis alwaysin pursuitofan authenticsovereignty.
That
sovereignty,
apparently,
was, in a certainsense,originallyhis, but
doubtlessthatcould not thenhavebeenin a consciousmanner,and
so in a sense it was not his, it escapedhim. We shall see thatin a

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28

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numberofwayshe continuedtopursuewhatforever
eludedhim.The
essentialthingis thatone cannotattainit consciouslyand seek it,
because seekingdistancesit. And yetI can believethatnothingis
givenus thatis not givenin thatequivocalmanner.
TranslatedbyJonathan
Strauss

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