Copyright © 2002 BSA Publications Ltd® Volume 36(4): 925–940 [0038-0385(200211)36:4;925–940;027712] SAGE Publications London,Thousand Oaks, New Delhi

Desiring Desire: How Desire makes us Human, All too Human

Anthony O’Shea
University of Sunderland


This paper will consider three major conceptions of desire and how they relate to the human condition. For many desire is conceived either as lack, a ‘desire-for’, or as some affirmative force that enables us to ‘reach beyond ourselves’.This is desire reduced to a dualism in order to negate one pole in favour of the other. Georges Bataille offers a third way, where the two form a complex dialectic such that desire is both lack and affirmation. His theory demonstrates how desire reveals the sacred as a transcendental immanence rather than psychic ideal and where the profane follows rather than precedes the sacred. His desire is one that conceptualizes us as humans that occasionally catch glimpses of the sacred but these glimpses are insufficient to have and to hold it. For Bataille we cannot become God, we cannot have the sacred because we are human, all too human.

desire / Georges Bataille / profane / sacred / transgression

Desiring Desire. How Desire Makes us Human, All Too Human


esire is one of the most important issues for contemporary philosophies of the human condition (Silverman, 2000); it helps make us what we are and differentiates us from animals and objects. I will argue, following Georges Bataille, that desire is too often conceived in terms of a simple duality. Although Bataille has come to be seen as an important theorist in


but in fulfilment the desired object is lost. expressed in Nietzschian terms as the will-to-power. This desire has both end point and objective – satiation through acquiring and negating the desired object. but it is not a ‘desire-for’. once possessed. no bottom and no end-point that may be achieved and negated. For many. all too human. it is an opening to and acceptance of the other. ever sate. 1961: 34). but deepens it’ (Levinas. Whilst Nietzsche’s human is only ever human. In order to do this I will also consider Bataille’s co-related concepts of the sacred and transgression. Hegel’s becomes more than. I drown in the experience. it can only deepen: this desire has no limit. Beyond limits and identity I am opened up to the infinite by desire. This desire desires only desire. in so doing. neglected or negated in favour of the other but a complex dialect where both confirm. negated and loses its value. There is the religious ecstasy that makes saints divine as a desire of rather than for the sacred that is ‘beyond everything that can complete it … the Desired does not fulfil it. Rather than making me more than I am. we cannot control it. In this paper I will first consider the concepts of ‘desire-for’ and affirmative desire before considering Bataille’s understanding of desire and how this may impact on sociology more generally. a complex dialectic where one remains immanent to the other. Leaving philosophy to one side momentarily. It posits the human condition as both nostalgic and one that. This is not a human desire. When immersed in my baby’s plenitude. More than us and beyond our control. I will argue that Bataille communicates desire in these terms and. at least since Hegel’s Phenomenology and possibly since Plato and Aristotle. it does not stem from us. we seem to experience desire subjectively as this affirmative force. I . My second purpose is to introduce Bataille to the field of sociology. Desire is neither affirmative nor negative but both. when fulfilled. not as Nietzsche’s final self-overcoming human but as a Hegelian subject that will become God. one that I can never fulfil and never. even though neither is sufficient by itself. I am lost to and dissolved in it. This requires an understanding of desire figured as both lack and as affirmation.926 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 contemporary philosophy and cultural studies there is still little engagement with his works elsewhere. Such a positive and affirmative desire is not limited to religious ecstasy. the object loses its very desirability. desire is conceived in substantially negative terms as a ‘desire-for’ something that can be fulfilled. The desiring subject no longer desires what it has. it is an anti-humanist desire.1 Rather like drowning in love. to the infinite. Desire is not some simple dyad whereby one part may be ignored. complete and help to constitute the other (Bataille. I subjectively experience affirmative desire that is more than I am. desire can never be fulfilled. it is not lack. As an important facet of the human condition it must also be ultimately a negative yearning for human completion. will ultimately be superseded. reveals how the human condition is based in and lost to desire. 1954). human. we are not satiated but seek more. and so ceases to be. it nonetheless makes us human. For others.

unified. 1980. Sartre. a subjective position that must be overcome by the process of aufheben in the continued pursuit for self-knowledge. technologies of desire/knowledge. 2000). and is every place in which it finds itself’. This pursuit is some teleological series of improvements or self-overcoming: we progress towards an historical end by reflexively recognizing something as different before we internalize it in order to understand it. if desire is the drive for self-knowledge. we experience desire through our drive for self-understanding as a ‘questioning of identity and place’. where better is a more complete understanding of itself. This drive for self-knowledge is an attempt to recover an original Totality from which everything stems. the Hegelian subject is not a self-identical subject who travels smugly from ‘one ontological place to another. unified beings driven by a desire for self-knowledge as a means to Absolute Knowledge. desire and subjectivity remain within the . nonetheless. know it and then negate it. For Judith Butler (1987: 8). to limit. Desire both starts from and is experienced by the conscious subject who continually negates others that it encounters but never negates itself. In effect the self-knowing subject encounters an external being that it desires to know in order that it may itself achieve a better self-understanding. to go beyond. it pushes back its boundary of self-knowledge without ever attempting to rupture it completely. The reflexive being can only come to understand itself as reflexive through lived experience: reflection cannot reflect on what constitutes reflection. Lacan Hegel’s (1807) Phenomenology of Spirit presents a philosophy of the human condition based on a principle of dialectical reasoning. Bataille’s desire constitutes us. curb and suppress it through our development of. This period of reflexivity means that the subject momentarily recognizes itself as incomplete. unified subject as it drives for self-knowledge. Hegel. We come to know our world through self-reflection and by internalizing everything that we encounter. Each assimilation places the object as immanent to the subject and develops the subject’s self-knowledge by supersession (aufheben). autonomous subjects travelling upon a linear. to paraphrase Foucault. teleological path to knowledge. Selfknowledge is tied to experience as a phenomenology. we feel and experience its force but it forever remains beyond our limited human capacity to know and understand it.Desiring desire O’Shea 927 will argue that Bataille’s conceptualization is based on a complex interweaving of anti-Hegelian and non-phenomenological philosophy (Foucault. For Hegel we are autonomous. Hegel’s concept of desire contains a number of substantive issues. O’Shea. control. Read in such a way. Kojève. then it must also be experienced as the ground for this drive. Therefore. For Hegel we are selfsufficient. Desire thus becomes a movement of negation whereby the subject fixes its other in order to objectify it. Fulfilling Desire – the Desire as a ‘Desire-for’. We attempt. Ultimately everything becomes enclosed within a selfknowing. it is its travels.

Human desire. ‘To be man means to reach toward being God. distinct and separate from the world. Our desire is to become a personalized God that represents a future possibility. Or if you prefer. It is a form of passive nihilism that seeks to negate difference and change. it is a desire to negate externality and difference. conscious. The former here is merely a physical need or urge to fulfil a sensation of lack. Hegel. a desire to become the object of the other’s desire. Whilst Hegel presumes a form of theologically-based teleology of history.928 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 pre-given. rational being. to complete itself by becoming a being-in-itself. For Sartre we desire to become God but God is a nothingness. as the I that is essentially different from. ‘man is formed and is revealed – to himself and to others – as an I. something that we want to become. Alexander Kojève (1947) offers a re-reading based on Hegel’s assumption that humans are unproblematically part of and therefore able to comprehend the world. rationality and reflexivity attempts to hide desire and that our conscious selves are not coherent but fractured and inconsistent. or no-thingness and a desire to be a nothingness is a desire to be anything. For Sartre the latter is characteristic of conscious beings whilst the former refers only to beings that remain non self-conscious. We desire to become God. Sartre (1943) distinguishes being-in-itself from being-for-itself. He radically extends Hegelian negation to its limit so that human desire is a desire for the negation of the ‘non-I’ in pursuit of human subjectivity. and human desire. 1943: 566). Kojève and Sartre posit human desire as something that ultimately reveals the human subject to itself through the self-reflection of a coherent. This ‘I’ only becomes truly human when it encounters and recognizes another ‘I’. without self-awareness and hence selfidentical. For Kojève (1947: 4). human desire forms the self-conscious ‘I’. we attempt to become what we believe our desired other desires. not in order to understand ourselves but to be desired. It grounds self-transformative actions. however. and radically opposed to. the “non-I”’. teleological boundary that Heidegger (1977) comes to reject. Human desire here is the need for recognition. We continually desire to be everything in order to gain complete selfunderstanding. This grounds a freedom to choose anything. links the satisfaction of a need with self-reflection. This is a desire to be what we are not. The desire of being-for-itself stems from lack. Kojève’s concern is to understand the human condition in terms of human action and free will. 1943: 566). This introduces a contradiction: we continually desire to be what we are not but to achieve it requires the negation of our own self-consciousness. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. God is an absence that can only be filled through our own negation: ‘man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. or animal. Man is a useless passion’ (Sartre. Lacan (1982) reverses this to argue both that our selfconsciousness. man fundamentally is the desire to be God’ (Sartre. Kojève distinguishes between natural. to be self-identical. desire leads to the existential freedom to choose what we are and can become: ‘man is the desire to be’ (Sartre. We are distinct from and therefore cannot achieve a perfect understanding or communion with the natural world. for . 1943: 615). Desire.

Desire. It is the repression of Oedipal desire that both constitutes and limits desire: desire can only be present with its own prohibition. This development necessitates a split of ‘the libidinal unity with the maternal body’ (Butler. attempt to do so. For Lacan our unconscious precedes the development of our selfconsciousness. Our essence for Hegel is grounded in a nostalgia for Absolute Knowledge. at least in part. For Freud the castration complex is mythical and outside history (Mitchell. an incestuous drive repressed by the Law of the Father. 1982) but for Lacan the Law is symbolic of and reveals the present symbolic order in which we must find and take our place. Desire comes from the unconscious but reveals it as something that we cannot fully know and hence we cannot fully know ourselves although we may. 1982: 49). 1987: 186): the child becomes aware that it is a separate being from the mother. From Hegel the concept of desire as ‘desire-for’ has developed up to a point where Lacan figures it as an unfulfillable drive of the human unconscious but remains couched in negative terms. (Rose. A return to unity would entail a negation of the very individuality of the subject and so desire becomes a longing for something that cannot be achieved and can never be fulfilled. . This term functions as the Law that is both beyond the mother-child dyad and ruptures it and is represented as an imaginary phallus – a ‘desire-for’ that satisfies lack – and symbolic – recognition that desire is unfulfillable. Sexual identity is not given but is represented as this biological difference and excludes other forms of representation. for Lacan. whilst still arguing that it helps to constitute the human condition. 1987: 192). represents sexuality as presence or absence. Philosophies of affirmative desire attempt to question this essentialism. where the stability of meaning and language start to slip and falter. ‘the Woman’ (Lacan. Here the other is also our own unconscious that we can only ever partially know. as the fantasy of our unconscious. These negative connotations cover over a potential essentialist concept of the human condition: we are human because we desire. is a desire for the other. for thorough recognition through the recovery of pre-Oedipal union’ (Butler. Lacanian desire stems from an unconscious recognition of a lack rooted in a repressed Oedipal desire. ‘man is not woman’. by placing desire beyond us. Desire comes from our unconscious as an unfulfillable. nonetheless. that is biological sex. Freud’s castration complex. for Kojève recognition and for Lacan our subconscious. For Lacan the child’s desire is not for the mother but for the third term beyond the mother that refers to the father as a function rather than as an entity. is part of our sub-conscious and surfaces through the cracks in our selfconsciousness. unconscious yearning to reunite with the mother. Desire here is a longing for a return to the original mother-child unity: this desire is nostalgic. Desire is not some move by the conscious rational subject to know itself but the difference between our biological need or drive and a ‘demand for love. For Lacan desire and the phallus become constitutional of (sexual) identity but where the presence or absence of the phallus. 1982).Desiring desire O’Shea 929 Lacan.

For Deleuze (1962: 72) desire seeks its own limit and is the means by which we nihilate the circle of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return: The eternal return … necessarily produces becoming-active by reproducing becoming. Deleuze argues that the Eternal Return is the essential thought experiment for humanity whereby we continually attempt to re-affirm our sovereignty. Deleuze argues that any concept of desire as constituted by a ‘lack’ assumes that desire is this reactive form but desire is and can only be the active form because desire seeks its own limits through the Eternal Return. It is productive and life affirming. Failure to undertake it is a rejection of our potential ability to exceed creatively limits imposed on us by society. we can both affect the other and be affected by it. different from what we (presently) are. The test represents a chance to experiment continually with possibilities. This desire is not the self-conscious subject’s attempts to know. and is related to our capacity to respond. Deleuze’s desire is linked to his reading of Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return. to attempt to find new ones that exceed the bounds of our current cultures and social forms. our status as becoming-subject. Rather like Foucauldian power. This affirmative desire is a ceaseless and labyrinthine movement without origin or ground. We cannot respond to something that we cannot experience and. a continual affirmation of life that is beyond and continually challenges the force of negative or reactive nihilism. 1972. understand. difference. 1980) offers a desire that challenges the previous accounts of desire as lack. Force itself cannot become an object and remain Force and so only the active form of desire can be returned by the Eternal Return. .’ Deleuze argues that the condition of the Eternal Return means that reactive forces cannot continue to exist as force within the operation of the Eternal Return: everything can only be returned as self-affirming or as a (dead) object. As Brian Massumi (1992: 41) puts it. Passive force does not affirm itself but rather opposes active force and so must either become active or become an object in the Return. He postulates desire as the active form of Nietzsche’s will-to-power that ceaselessly drives towards and seeks its own limits. in response.930 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 Desiring Desire – The Affirmative Desires of Deleuze. A generative cycle develops between our capacity to be affected by and affect the external world. This quote is worth considering at some length because it helps exemplify how and why active desire constitutes the human condition. It is a continuous openness and ability to respond to and be affected by. slave morality and law. In being open to difference we become more than we (presently) are. Levinas and Kristeva Gilles Deleuze (1968 and. with Felix Guattari. fix and negate the external world. Desire is the means by which we affirm ourselves by increasing our capacity and ability to be affected by the world. This is why affirmation is twofold: the being of becoming cannot be affirmed without also affirming the existence of becoming-active. desire flows and is experienced but cannot be traced to some origin. it is the chance to ‘dare to become all that you cannot be.

in part. we are able to be more than how society would represent and constrain us. Hegelian teleological time and in so doing also opens us up to an infinity of possibilities when confronted by the face of the tout autre. present as a trace that reveals itself in the form of desire and ethical responsibility.Desiring desire O’Shea 931 For Deleuze the repressive form of force is more correctly a form of repressive power rather than desire. beyond the morals of our (historical) times. This is a moment that has no essentialist ground because it is beyond being. beyond essence. 1981). is an opening up to difference. ruptures our very being and leaves us both as non-coherent and as a continual outpouring of an excess of meaning. The artist realizes himself as an artist in the moment of creation – the artist does not precede the act but comes into being and is expelled. The tout autre is beyond our very being. knowing and coherent subject but insufficient and excessive. 1961. Emmanuel Levinas’ (1961) concept of desire as an ethic that opens us to the infinite. One is left wondering why such a society has not yet been achieved. thrown back as le rejet. yet always more than human. What affects us is the infinite desire that wells up at this moment of exposure to inter-subjective difference. completely other to it and any understanding we may have of being. Julia Kristeva (1974) presents a concept of excessive desire as a response to Sartre’s supposition that the artist. the other. as a coherent phenomenological subject. is this openness. through it. It cannot be fulfilled but opens to and necessitates an acceptance of. it is the capacity to affect and be affected that offers a potential for social improvement and progress and is thus affirmative since it makes us continually reach beyond ourselves and society and so constitutes the human condition as selfovercoming. desire makes us Human. Desire rends. channel or limit desire by constituting social rules. Kristeva responds by arguing that the artist is not some self-sufficient. rather than some historically-given belief in value and morality. This is a desire for the infinite as ‘the beyond’ of Hegelian history that is ethical. cannot be a revolutionary. a person of action. Revolution occurs . Deleuze’s concern with affectivity mirrors. Desire. for Levinas. and affirmative. For Deleuze. This desire bridges two subjects and acknowledges that both become other through desire and must lead to a more just society based on ethical action. something that she terms le rejet. Meaning is not contained by language but is always excessive and is not a Derridean différance but a jouissance that is both experienced and forces action in the present moment based on this excessive outpouring. Its very meaning is that it is excessive. Perhaps it is because this attempt to affirm the ethicality of the human condition as non-negation ends up negating the potential that the human condition is both good and bad. This confrontation with a being so totally other to us brings us to the very limits of our own existence (Levinas. however. The infinite is immanent rather than transcendental to the totality of human history. Power operates in order to curb. Levinas’s work (1961) lays bare a phenomenological affirmative desire that places the subject of desire into a relationship with some other. Ethics. For Levinas desire ruptures linear. structures and forms that attempt to subject and control desire.

This forces a deconstruction of meaning and the phenomenological subject.932 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 in the immediate. What is deconstructed is not the subject so much as the boundary between the intra. It is not a human ‘desire-for’ but desire’s own desiring of desire that forces us to revolutionary acts that continually risk us. in so doing. The human condition is not made more than itself through desire but continually opened up. Kristeva (1974) effectively figures desire as an immanence that is so excessive that we are forced to act. O’Shea. what was and what has yet to come is negated in the present moment of a praxis of being and not one that has yet to come as tout autre.and inter-subjective. 1981). the ‘desire-for’. though. Rather like Deleuze. At first blush this may appear to be the same position as Bataille’s (which I will explain below) but Levinas starts from and returns to the phenomenological subject that experiences difference. 1961. She leaves us. Desire may constitute us in the moment of excessive experience but it cannot be said or understood to precede the act: again this is no essentialist concept of desire. a ‘desire-for’ to be ‘otherwise than being’ (Levinas. with a quandary: if desire is affirmative revolution. reveal how . 1987. in so doing. What is of issue (Levinas. These various theories of an affirmative desire contain a null point at which negative desire exists. altered and dissolved in a revolutionary and destructive action. attempt to constrain an overflowing excess within language. conscious beings. 1967). The very excess of Kristeva’s (1974) le rejet forms the artist through and during the moment of artistic expression. peace and scientific language as well as poetry and revolution? In order to answer this we must consider the works of Bataille and. become everything and thus self-negate (Butler. It contains a vestige of what it ostensibly is not – a ‘desire-for’ the overcoming or negation of this other – without which desire would ultimately reach its limit. This desire contains a movement to overcome the self in order to be intersubjective: human as more than human. This is an excessive desire of the present. is spontaneous. Kristeva’s argument is based on Georges Bataille’s concepts of excessive consumption. exceeds meaning and rationality and is a praxis of jouissance. It is a desire to be what we are not. Any other being. For Levinas (1961) desire is a phenomenological ethics based on an openness to the tout autre where we experience the very limits and fragility of our ontological nature when confronted with the tout autre. 1981) is that intersubjective experience is more than and cannot be reduced to an intra-human understanding even though this is what we do as epistemological. This desire does not make us Human by making us more than human but reveals that we are human because we are incomplete. Unlike Levinas she does not differentiate desire as goodness since to do so would be to understand it. why does human society continue to exist? If desire is revolutionary. reduce it to words and meaning and. identity. why do we desire stability. for the present. Deleuze’s affirmative desire as will-to-power is a force that acts on another force. changed. for her this desire is a reaching beyond but is one that is revolutionary. 2000). transgression and desire (Bataille.

Bataille (1954. based on Bataille’s anti-Hegelian and non-phenomenological philosophy. In so doing he reveals desire as a monad separate but immanent to the human condition that continually reveals the sacred to us and that also immediately opens the ground for the profane so that we can attempt to communicate our experience. In order to understand desire we need to understand it as both negative and affirmative. Durkheim conflates the sacred with a profane religiosity (Bataille. 1973) argues that in prehistory humans attempted to split the original sacred. that offers a third desire and reveals how this may be of significance to sociology. We are in this sense driven to communicate by desire first. our attempts are only ever temporary. communication. the sacred is both prior to and immanent to the profane and modern societies. distinct forces but are instead a monad. desire is an excessive experience that reveals the sacred. but is not reducible to it. We attempt to understand and communicate this experience but communication does not precede it. The sacred is but a psychic creation of society: it follows our need to have a sense of a collective social ideal rather than our experience of our real societies.Desiring desire O’Shea 933 negative and affirmative desire are not separate. Desire is a primary force and communication is but a secondary affect. Levinas and Kristeva reverse this to argue that it is affirmative. Whilst Bataille may owe much to Emile Durkheim (1912) he nonetheless offers a concept of the sacred and the profane that is significantly different. This carries with it a concept of a reflexive and phenomenological subject where desire for the ideal can only follow the communication and establishment of the ideal at a social. For Bataille. Bataille – Passion and Desire From Hegel through to Lacan. 1973). In Bataille’s terms. for Bataille. an understanding of desire develops through profane communication only after the experience. and is capable of rupturing. 1967. It is the very excess of desire that overflows and forces us to communicate. It is in this way rather like Foucauldian power: whilst we may attempt to know and understand desire in order to curb and limit it. For Durkheim (1912) society exists prior to the sacred and is a means by which we may express our passions and desires. for instance. I will argue that Bataille extends Durkheim (1912) to offer a concept of the sacred as immanent to the profane. None offers a sufficient conceptualization because they separate desire into a duality and then negate one in favour of the other. Desire remains more than. Natural World into a profane and a sacred world as an . I will argue that. It is this very difference. the profane. collective level. Indeed this act of negating reveals that negative desire exists at the very heart of affirmative desires. The excess of desire brings us together and so helps constitute the profane and social life in order that it finds release through. Communication is only a technology of the profane and is never enough to capture desire. desire is figured in negative terms whilst Deleuze.

an angel found wanting by God. however. In effect the sacred becomes something separate to us and which we can never hope to obtain because it lies beyond our profane world bounded by law. What returns is not the original phenomenological subject that can reflect upon itself. joy. ruptures us momentarily. desire takes us. It is the rise of an angel through desire to the sacred only to be followed by the expulsion and fall of Lucifer. not its exceptions. public executions and torture and more private ones. It is transcendental. laughter (Bataille. This rending experience of desire that reveals the sacred is anti-Hegelian and non-phenomenological. they are too limited and cannot adequately describe the sacred. marriage. we remain destined to die. contaminated by. It is ephemeral. We. fleetingly and teasingly. 1982).934 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 attempt to negate. pain and desire are the excesses of everyday life. For Bataille. us and one completely beyond us that transcends our understanding and knowledge. hope. sex. to reveal the sacred and then is gone. We cannot attain the transcendental because it is always other to us and as The Other (Lacan. What moves us is a desire that rends our being. contra Durkheim. Desiring to Communicate Bataille’s story is one of a continual cycle of experience. are aware of this increasing separation whilst retaining a desire for the sacred. There is no self-aware Phoenix that rises from its own ashes and that can give meaning. love. ideal or pure societies. Peter Tracey Conner (2000) contends that Bataille’s point is that the ecstatic experience is the exception: different to and beyond everyday life. Bataille’s sacred. 1976). does not follow the profane as some psychic fantasy of an ideal. leaving us incomplete but needing to communicate this rapturous experience (Bataille. the violence of the Natural World. joy. passion. only a ruptured human that experiences its own . yet is more than us and beyond meaning and words (Bataille. 1973). but not enough for the sacred (O’Shea. This led to a second separation of the sacred as both a world that is inherent in. orgies. The desiring subject is lost in and to desire: we do not possess desire. These are human conceptions. only occasionally glimpsed through the rending of desire. Such moments can occur in mass events such as the Mardi Gras. the sacred is immanent. beyond any human concept of good or evil. or immanent to. war. 1967. 1954). form and reality to the world. as humans. The sacred becomes more transcendental as the profane world attempts to establish itself. We are both faced with a feeling of loss of the sacred whilst paradoxically desiring it and yet fearing the implication that the sacred as immanent requires – the return to the violence of the Natural world. feast days. Separation can only ever be temporary. or deflect. In all of these we can become caught up in a desire so strong that we transgress the rules and taboos of our world because we are able to face up to and accept the realization of death. laughter. 2001a). The sacred also remains immanent as an inner experience that we can recoup at moments when we transgress the rules of our profane world.

however. our fear of becoming undifferentiated. Our fear of death marks us as human. As anti-Hegelian and non-phenomenological. Any transgression of the profane world therefore means that we must face up to and overcome our fear of death. however. The profane social world with its rules exists to distance us from but cannot deny or negate death. ‘We have in fact only two certainties in this world – that we are not everything and that we will die’. There is the brute certainty of death that we cannot deny and which comes to every living being. Nor is there some improved Hegelian traveller that experiences desire. is culturally and socially based and indeed is formative of culture and society (Bataille. Transgression occurs only when the subject returns to the profane: transgression requires the existence of rules and taboos and a subjection to them. Our fear stems from our fear of total annihilation. Fear of violence leads the profane world to establish a separation between itself and the Natural world through the creation of cultures and societies and their maintenance by the establishment of rules and taboos. What is expended by desire is an Icarus. He argues that this still forms part of being and so we are open to imperatives and desires that stem from this and are neither entirely of the profane world nor entirely rational. For Bataille (1954: xxxii). radical (anti) Hegelian nature of Bataille’s thought. exposes us to death and places us beyond being and transgression. Bataille does not suggest that we. burnt by the Sun. is conceptually different from this and differentiates us from every other living thing. of a priori fear of death is embedded with the homogeneous and a return to the Natural World. 1954). We have come to fear death as the total annihilation of our being only because we have become separated from the Natural world. At the very moment of touching the sacred the subject is both lost to and beyond the profane and its rules and taboos: in a sense there is no transgression at this moment as there is nothing to transgress. The profane as the world of rational endeavour that denies death. Death takes on two forms within Bataille’s thought. demands that rules . Bataille’s subject does not choose to transgress but transgresses because of the excessive movement of desire. The dialectical. An acceptance. have either negated or never had an animalistic nature. For Bataille (1967. Death is thus the limit experience of our profane world. the loss of our individual being to become a non-being. 1967. attempts to separate us from or reduce the violence of the Natural world through scientific. 1973). and it is this fear that led to the development of the profane and modern societies. sublates the desired object and becomes more than it. Desire momentarily reveals the sacred. The profane world. wanting to return to it even whilst knowing that it is insufficient to contain the very experience of desire and the sacred. the world of work. 1973) our fear of death marks us as human. as humans. 1954. as individuals. or absence. rational endeavours aimed at understanding and increasing our separation from the Natural world achieved by the creation of technologies. Our fear of death. Rules are not facts or immutable certainties but technologies of the profane (Bataille. found wanting by it.Desiring desire O’Shea 935 insufficiency.

they exist to limit change. The profane world of rules requires transgression yet transgression can never be total. but also how we transgressed. the ‘desire-for’. The rule does not precede transgression. a ‘desire-for’ knowledge and the sacred. society would ossify and humans would cease to be human. natural imperatives of our animalistic nature. occurs in and is part of the profane. Bataille’s dialectic is a complex dance where desire reveals the sacred as what affirms and is beyond the profane yet demands that we return to the profane and reveals a second form of desire. A speed limit of 30 mph is dependent on preventing a vehicle from exceeding this speed and presupposes both the existence of such a vehicle and a wilful driver’s intent to exceed it. They become inviolable. Without change a rule becomes fact. Without transgression rules or taboos cease to be. rules don’t exist just to be broken. For Styhre we transgress because we are human: ‘eroticism [a form of transgression] is based upon the desire of human beings to be beyond themselves’ (Styhre. some understanding of what is and what is not transgressive. we do not transgress because we are human but are human because of transgression. Transgression is both a displacement and a questioning of a rule altered in transgression: rules are not facts. desire makes us transgress. a desire to know and understand our excessive experience. The first movement places us beyond the profane into the sacred. As Guerlac (1997) argues. The second move requires that we are returned to the profane. Knowing and knowledge are part of the rational and profane. The desiring subject is now beyond rules and taboos and so does not transgress them but can self-affirm itself. reveals the sacred to us and then forces us back to the profane. Whilst Styrhe (2000) is correct to quote Bataille as saying that ‘transgression piled upon transgression will never abolish the rule’ (Bataille. they become immutable facts or truths which exist without recourse to the profane world (Styhre. Transgression does not affirm the rule but affirms that the profane world has a need for rules and taboos.936 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 and taboos can only be understood with their inverted form – transgression. This requires that we communicate our self-affirmation. What is important is that transgression is not the simple act of either a knowing or a revolutionary subject but occurs as the second part of a double movement that follows excessive desire and joins it to the profane (Bataille. Rules depend on what they are designed to prevent. what is rule-following and what isn’t. transgression is immanent to the rule (Guerlac. we do not desire. the place of rules in order to affirm to that we are self-affirming. 1997). desire overwhelms us. 2000). To know requires a system of reference. Communication requires that we need not only to understand how and why we were self-affirming rather than subjected to social rules. In the profane we are contaminated by desire. A rule can only exist with transgression as its other. his conclusion that transgression reinforces the rule is not. 2000). Yet transgression for Bataille demonstrates that we are not the centre of existence. they imply and exist within each other. 1957). Transgression thus follows self-affirmation. Desire places us beyond a social identity and then requires that we either return to or construct a new one and com- . 1957: 48). 1954.

Transgression and communication are limited. Losing the Subject All the above is merely cool words and even colder theory. we can experience but cannot contain it. Both negative and affirmative. There is no coherent author and reader of a text.2 What I have not achieved in trying to explain. understand and. finally. Whilst an active desire places us beyond the profane we are returned to and left with a ‘desire-for’ communication. it reveals the sacred but demands that we are limited to an incomplete understanding of it in the profane. Desire also expels us from the sacred. It is excessive to us and this very excess forces us to communicate as a means to try to contain it. it does not mediate between good and evil. Communication is thus a means of ‘desire-for’. We are not human because we desire. repeat it. a desire to negate difference. defers them and makes them different (O’Shea. ultimately. We can neither contain desire nor reduce it to understanding and language. forces us to socialize in order to communicate our experience of desire as a means to know. a need for self-knowledge or recognition. but one that must be returned to language. As a force external to us. a technology of desire: it does not proceed desire. not our ends.Desiring desire O’Shea 937 municate it to ourselves and others. it leads us to ecstatic experience and forces us to communicate the experience. desire fluidizes subject. temporarily limited and contained by the profane. understand and express desire. In order to know. indifferent to us. contra Durkheim. Desire takes us to the sacred and reveals. a desire for sovereignty. no phenomenological subject. It is not ethical. it seems. incomplete and follow excessive desire. Yet even a return can never be a return of the selfsame. only in them. Desire is immanent to the profane. Nor is it a drive or motive force internal to us held in either our conscious or unconscious self as Sartre and Lacan argue. desire desires desire. to recapture it. however much we may desire it. All are present in Bataille’s works and. the pure. Desire acts on and produces desire. Kristeva’s revolution in language. shows us glimpses of the sacred and so reveals us as incomplete. because both society and the subject have changed. understand or know desire is to communicate . we are only human and insufficient for desire. we are never more than human. communicate this experience we come to realize that we have transgressed. a revolutionary action. It is. we do not experience desire through communication but attempt to express the experience of desire by communicating. It leaves us gasping for breath and desiring to know what has happened and wanting to repeat the experience. or ground goodness: it is inhuman. 2001b). Desire is not simply some lack. It is also not just an affirmative force that makes us Deleuze’s trans-human. as Hegel and Kojève would have it. a desire for revolution and transgression and a desire to communicate transgression. meaning and truth. This is desire as a monad that is nonetheless multiple: the animalistic desire to fulfil a feeling of lack. it as immanent and prior to the profane and society. desire reveals us as human because we are incomplete.

However even an understanding of desire as a complex monad is ultimately incomplete since any understanding must of itself utilize meaning. Over a quarter of a century before he had left me on my 7th birthday with the words. . Empty words that are not full enough for meaning. My estranged father died and my partner gave birth to our daughter. It seems that I must now. for all their veracity. each moment away is an infinity that is too much. I desired completion. Beyond the physical similarities I am not his son. something must always remain lost in communication. I don’t care that this transgresses the norms of academia. all the while knowing that it isn’t enough. Each moment I spend with her is not enough. each resulted in my losing myself and wanting to communicate. from Bataille’s theory to myself as subject of desire in a narrative of vulnerability (Banks and Banks. nonetheless. ‘you will never be the son I wanted’. These tools of the profane cannot sufficiently capture the excess that is desire. I desired to lay the ghost that haunted me but I found no catharsis in Cape Town or in his death. death. since to do so can only provide an incomplete depiction. I spent 25 years trying to find myself in this overwhelming absence and finally went to his South African hospital bed. but both. He asked his son for forgiveness and I could not give him that: I am too insufficient for that. that desire is a. I can find no words adequate to express this desire and all the hopes and dreams I have for her. My father died some 18 months after I had met him for the first time after an absence of 25 years. and eventually died. Conclusion I have argued. it deepens and one that I yearn to communicate. He was suffering. Each involved an experience of desire. I do it because I must and then seek to justify it after by professing to write and talk about desire. or indeed any of the others. I hide this desire of desire behind a professed ‘desire-for’ knowledge. We may well understand some of ‘our’ desires in terms of ‘desire-for’. I talk about her constantly. if not the. following Georges Bataille. understanding and language. they offer only part of the picture. So from the sublime to the ridiculous. or vice versa. subjectivity and the sacred. we must make the attempt to communicate and so come to a better understanding of ourselves as insufficient to the experience. driven by an insatiable desire to be his son or at least lay his ghost. This desire goes unsatiated. slip through these words and loose myself in the heat of desire.938 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 desire. only an emptiness that I can’t fill. We do not desire because we are human. from emphysema. My daughter was born 12 days after my father died. show pictures of her to anyone and connive to include her in papers I write and present at conferences. indeed have no choice but to. To better understand the human condition requires that we better understand desire as neither negative nor affirmative. Desire remains beyond language but. It is not enough to preference the negative over the affirmative. This is not a denial of the force of Hegel’s argument. each was excessive. This is a desire that has no end. I achieved neither. But (an) understanding is not necessarily complete knowledge and. basis of the human condition. 1998): January 2000 was a momentous month for me. a motivation grounded on lack.

Conner. Notes 1. Stanford. (1968) Difference and Repetition (transl. Banks (1998) ‘The Struggle over Facts and Fictions’. London: Allen Lane. (1988). I am indebted to one of the anonymous reviewers for this point. Tomlinson). Bataille. CA: Stanford University Press. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Deleuze. Desire reveals that we are humans because we are insufficient to contain desire. Butler. Ward Swain). and foreword by B. by H. A. (2000). Walnut Creek. J. (1989). Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (transl. Hurley). and indeed must. (1995). in Michel Foucault – Power: The Essential Works 3 (ed. G. (1967) The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. Page references refer to the English language translation throughout. and F. New York: Columbia University Press. G. New York: State University of New York Press. (1980) ‘Interview with Michel Foucault’. Hurley.A. New York: Free Press. (1988). New York: Zone Books. Seem and H. Bataille. M. Hurley). Breton. (1957) Eroticism: Death and Sensuality (transl. Banks and S. New York: Columbia University Press. do is experience desire and attempt to communicate the experience. G. Bataille. Sartre. Masumi). G. and F.P. . Boldt). (1997) Literary Polemics: Bataille. CA: AltaMira Press. by R. (1994). G. and introduced by L. Guattari (1980) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (transl. G. (1987) Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth Century France. (1987).R.P. Deleuze. M. S. by R. Guerlac. Foucault. Faubion). New York: Zone Books. by J. Paton).T. and Volume 3 –Sovereignty (both transl. (1954) Inner Experience (transl. by P. by J. (1976) The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. (1973) Theory of Religion (transl.Desiring desire O’Shea 939 We do not become more than human through desire. Lane). by M. (1986). 2. Hurley). All we can. Volume 1: Consumption (transl. (1983). G. and S. E. New York: Columbia University Press. Deleuze. New York: Zone Books. by R. Valéry. G. Bataille. London: University of Minnesota Press. London: University of Minnesota Press. (1983). Durkheim. Dalwood). References Banks. G. Bataille. (2000) Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin. (Volume 2 – The History of Eroticism. Banks (eds) Fiction and Social Research: By Fire or Ice.D. by R. in A. (1912) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (transl. San Francisco: City Lights. P. Deleuze. (1962) Nietzsche and Philosophy (transl. (1965).

J. J. J. by W. O’Shea. (1974) Revolution in Poetic Language (transl. ac. by H. Lacan. Massumi. New York: W. New York: Columbia University Press. by A. Miller. ed. http://www. Heidegger. University of Sunderland. by M.) J. A. http://www. (2001b) ‘Transgressing Transgression: A Reply to Alexander Styhre’. Norton. by J. E-mail:Tony.mngt. (2001a) ‘Haine de la poesie: Nonsense and the Absence of God’. Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. Mitchell and J.H. Mitchell. Levinas. Queneau.F.W. Mitchell and J. G. Sunderland. Lingis). Barnes). 1(1): 54–64.) Philosophy and Desire. A. J.Tyne and Wear SR6 0DD. Waller). Norton. Address: Anthony O’Shea. O’Shea. O’Shea.waikato. A. Rose). J-P.J. Norton. (2000) ‘Twentieth Century Desire and the History of Philosophy’.nz/ejrot/ Rose. MA: MIT Press. Sunderland Business School. Lovitt). Cambridge. M.waikato. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. (1977) The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (transl. Rose (eds. University of Sunderland: Unpublished PhD thesis.E. London: Routledge. Positivism and the Liberation of Transgression’. Kojève.) J. E. Silverman (ed. (1984). Silverman. Lacan. Ephemera. UK. Sartre.W. in . Nichols Jr) New York: Basic Books. London: Routledge. by A. A. Feminine Sexuality. (1961) Totality and Infinity (transl.W. by A. (1947) Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit (assembled by R. Electronic Journal of Radical Organizational Theory 6(2). Accessed 24 June 2002.V. Rose (eds. Peter’s Way. Lingis). New York: W. (1807) Phenomenology of Spirit (transl. (1992) A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari.oshea@sunderland. Bloom and transl. Kristeva. (1982) ‘Introduction – 1’. Levinas. (1982) ‘Introduction – II’. Styhre. New York: (2000) ‘Dying to Innovate’. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (1969). E. Electronic Journal of Radical Organizational Theory 7(1) Accessed 24 June 2002. Mitchell and J. by J. (1958). Findlay). Lacan. St. in Tony O’Shea Is a lecturer in Organizational Behaviour in the Sunderland Business School at the University of by A. (1969). A. H.940 Sociology Volume 36 s Number 4 s November 2002 Hegel. (1981) Otherwise than Being: Or Beyond Essence (transl.N. (1982) Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne (ed. foreword by J. in J. (2000) ‘Escaping the Subject: Organization Theory.W. (1943) Being and Nothingness (transl. Feminine Sexuality. New York: Harper Torch Books. B. Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne. The Hague: Matinus Nijhoff. He recently completed his PhD which utilizes the works of Georges Bataille as a means to understand innovation in organizations. (1977). Critical Dialogues on Organization. J.

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