This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
SubStance, Issue 119 (Volume 38, Number 2), 2009, pp. 63-88 (Article)
Published by University of Wisconsin Press DOI: 10.1353/sub.0.0046
For additional information about this article
Access Provided by Emory University Libraries at 10/26/11 6:48PM GMT
Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille
How to Look Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille1
Death’s place in psychoanalysis is very problematic. Beginning with Freud, death can be variously said to have been repressed, reduced, pathologized, or forgotten altogether.2 Within Freud’s writings, however, one article stands in contradistinction to this trend, by making a claim for death’s centrality. Although it has received relatively little attention, “Thoughts for the times on war and death,” published in 1915, is a fascinating discussion about our attitudes towards death, which comprise both a “cultural-conventional attitude” that Freud so pertinently, almost wickedly, criticizes, and the attitude common to the unconscious and to primeval man. The cultural conventional attitude is characterized by continual rejection of death: we put it away, refuse to talk about it, attribute it to chance events (“Thoughts” 291-92). For primeval man, and in the unconscious, death is wished for when it is the death of an other but is denied as regards oneself. However, while it is exceptional in bringing the problem of death to the fore, “Thoughts for the Times” does not constitute a clear-cut alternative to the psychoanalytic sidestepping of death. It is, rather, full of sharp tensions and contradictions. Upon close reading, the text reveals itself to be the compromise formation of two different approaches. Freud’s call, in the final paragraph, “to give death the place which is its due” in psychic life, and his contention that life is impoverished when we fail to do so, simply cannot be reconciled with his stubborn insistence, in the very same paper, that no place within the mind can be allotted to death. Freud insists upon this because death cannot be represented, and because fear of death is always secondary to other psychic factors. His call to abandon the “cultural-conventional” treatment of death in favor of that of primeval man or of the unconscious is found to be devoid of any sense, the latter being no less repressive of death or ignoring it than the former (Razinsky, “A struggle”). “Thoughts for the times” then, is a major exception, but an insufficient one. One gets the feeling that there is unfulfilled potential for a change
© Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin System, 2009
SubStance #119, Vol. 38, no. 2, 2009
64 Liran Razinsky here. not theoretically developed. so focused on death. which will offer a new reading. yet recognizes them as crucial and problematic and therefore attempts to overcome them. and on our attitude toward it. how can the knowledge of our future death gain access to our life? And. and have to be put together and interpreted in order for the way out to be clear. Through a reading of Freud’s text— again. This other line of thought will be that of Georges Bataille. so reluctant to admit of its psychic influence. That death defies representation is the basic tenet underlying Freud’s approach. and completely abandoned in later writings. juxtaposing as it does two thinkers from separate intellectual spheres. 2. and all the more so with regard to the issue of death: Bataille. Yet he seems to accept this without further investigation. 2009 . 38. Although he has strong tendencies in more “existential” directions. reiterating old positions. no. Freud seems to be hampered by certain psychoanalytic presuppositions. Interestingly enough. and without any direct link between the two authors. The three questions that it attempts to answer are: Can we or can we not grasp death? If we cannot. in fact. in addition to a Bataillean interpretation of Freud’s text. an exploration of basic psychical dynamics regarding death. Such a coupling is far from intuitive. and Freud. and address the text “sideways” with another line of thought. This is my aim in what follows. serious resemblances can be found between their texts on death. Vol. but these indications are only dispersed in the text. a praxis with specific structuring elements. Bataille struggles with similar contradictions. provide us with some clues to a possible way out of the paradox. My starting point here is the issue of death’s representability. But should it really be so? In the following pages I will focus on Freud’s paradox of the irrepresentability of death and its consequences. What seems useful is to divert from the psychoanalytic line of thought. This paper aims to display these resemblances and to offer. as depicted in his text. probably the most important psychoanalytic paper on death—I will attempt to demonstrate that it does. it is this proposition—that death cannot be represented—that holds him back time and again. Freud with Bataille? An odd couple. and his entire analysis is biased as a result. In bringing them together we can give a twist to Freud by reintroducing death into his system. is there a moral to handling death or integrating it in our life? SubStance #119. concerning the implications this impossibility or possibility may have on life itself.
the civilized man will carefully avoid speaking of such a possibility in the hearing of the person under sentence” (Freud. 38. but is very alive while doing that. in the second case we do so out of moral consideration or natural reluctance. we fail. Thus Freud moves directly from the impossibility of representing our own death. 2009 . One can try as much as one likes to dispose oneself of oneself. Hence the psycho-analytic school could venture on the assertion that at bottom no one believes in his own death. “Thoughts 291). in behavior and in thought. he or she will not be able to get rid of his or her presence as the person who carries this mental act. and whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators (daß wir eigentlich als Zuschauer weiter dabei bleiben). True. he recognized it in the case of another much more willfully than we do—indeed he wished for the other ’s death. to put the same thing in another way. This latter attitude of avoiding even the thought. from that of primeval man and that of the unconscious. or. One attempts to imagine oneself as dead. We try to avoid death in any way. but with a fundamental difference: Whereas in the first case we do so because it is impossible. The self is presented as a spectator. not to say the mention of another’s death. no. says Freud. (“Thoughts” 291) This basic claim—that death. to a consideration of our response to the possible death of the other. Vol. that in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality. One cannot be both the object and the subject of a thought at the same time.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 65 The Problem The argument I wish to focus on here is the one Freud brings forth in the opening lines of his paper: It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death (der eigene Tod ist ja auch unvorstellbar). SubStance #119. Although primeval man resembled us in that he did not grasp death as annihilation in his own case. he says we do not think either of our own or of the other’s death. when being an object means being a dead one. The citation directly continues: “When it comes to someone else’s death. Let us examine Freud’s variation of the argument for this claim: that whenever we attempt to imagine our own death. our death. The argument creates a split within the personality. is ungraspable—has been made repeatedly in philosophy. with all the distance this position entails between the one that sees and the objects of his or her perception. for we are still present as spectators. The argument is built like the Cartesian cogito. differs radically. This attitude still characterizes our unconscious today (“Thoughts” 296-297). 2.
The first is “Hegel. This idea of course negates the former two. though. we should always look for something else. 2. The second text is “Sacrifice. 2009 . But in order to do so. We thus have a clash between the more existentially-oriented first two ideas and the reductionistic implications of the third one.” and our reluctance and inability to do so. Bataille’s interest revolves around the following SubStance #119. we need Bataille to guide us. It seems. we can draw the lines between the dots. that Freud does give us some guidelines as to what direction to follow if we want to settle the contradictions. 38. how can we conform to the obligation to take death into account if it is in our nature and in the nature of death that we cannot do so? Second. It slides on it like oil on water and cannot penetrate the deeper levels of the mind. no. of giving it “the place […] which is its due. and the idea of death is so difficult to bear that we can hardly think of it. But the ideas that Freud concludes from this third tenet are that death is never a primary occupation in the mind: whenever we see fear of death or the thought of death in a person. I will focus here on three of them. It might seem as if these three propositions all belong to an existential frame of mind: Life is more meaningful when the thought of death is present in it. people tend to flee the issue of death and evade the thought of it. and the third is the section on sacrifice from “Literature and Evil” (1973 ). In this text. why do we fear death and push it aside. * * * Bataille wrote a number of texts that dealt with themes of death and sacrifice. We can use these hints as elements in an interpretation that will render them valuable. if it cannot reach us? Why push it away if it cannot influence our deeper levels of thought and feeling? What Freud struggles with without recognizing is explicit in Bataille. a thinker whom he always read through Alexandre Kojève.3 Let us then follow Bataille and see both the problem that troubles him and his solution. Bataille sees a dialectic where Freud only recognizes isolated. The problem that Freud puts forth in his third proposition is that death is inaccessible to the mind. First.” which forms part of his “Theory of Religion” (1974 ). Death and Sacrifice” (1955). It is noteworthy that Bataille’s papers on the subject neither mention nor refer to Freud. Bataille tries to solve a contradiction he sees in Hegel. the Festival and the Principles of the Sacred World.66 Liran Razinsky It is as though Freud recognized in this rich text at once both the necessity of integrating death into life. With Bataille. contradictory elements. Vol.
Survival. and is opposed to nature. according to Bataille’s reading of Hegel. the Spirit reaches its fullest realization.5 However. man dies as well (Bataille. 288-89). and he can do so through his willingness to renounce his own animal existence. man turns himself from animal to human (“Hegel” 338. “Hegel” 331. This prolonged sojourn is the magical force which transposes the negative into given-Being. when contemplating the Negative or death. The contradiction Bataille is attempting to solve is very close to the one we met in Freud. Hegel praises the Spirit’s ability to maintain itself in the presence of death. 2009 . is an animal quality.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 67 famous paragraph in Hegel’s Phenomenology which concerns the spirit’s attitude to death: to uphold the work of death is the task which demands the greatest strength. resembles the human being in its higher abilities. for Bataille Hegel’s description entails an inherent contradiction: the condition for the Spirit’s realization is its “absolute dismemberment. Spirit attains its truth only by finding itself in absolute dismemberment. On the one hand. 282-83)4 There is no need to dwell here at length on Hegel’s terminology. and self-consciousness is established. translation modified. Vol. Bataille carries this even further: The willingness to approach death is essential. Freud’s claim is that we cannot think of ourselves as dead. 286). He is not a slave to his survival instinct. it is at the moment of its own demolition that it becomes itself.6 Thus. but that life which assumes death and lives with it.” and thus. (Hegel 19. It is not that (prodigious) power by being the Positive that turns away from the Negative. no. as when we say of something: this is nothing or (this is) false and. […] Now. For the purposes of the current inquiry. Spirit is that power only to the degree in which it contemplates the Negative face to face (and) dwells with it. because in doing so we still have some cognizance of ourselves SubStance #119. how can we fulfill our being? That life’s ultimate accomplishment will be its suicide seems to Bataille an unjustifiable dead-end. for Bataille. and spares itself destruction. Man is willing to approach death and is thereby human. no. In fact. By accepting death. 38. the meaning of “Spirit”. and he is revealed to himself as man. He gains sovereignty through his willingness to risk his life. and yet we perish in its presence. “Hegel” 336. The animal within man—his natural nature—dies. if facing the negative is a necessity. pass from there to something else. The moment of crystallization is the moment of shattering. the life of Spirit is not that life which is frightened of death. But with the death of the animal that supports him. having (thus) disposed of it. Bataille shares this worldview: Man fights against nature to establish himself as Man. to be near death. What he attempts is to find a way out. Every animal is concerned with its survival. 2. Cited by Bataille.
this absurdity of death. both as spectator as performer. and not. although this problem has not been linked to Freud. which of course can only happen when the subject dies (22). that I die. For example. were at a certain period haunted by the problem of witnessing one’s own death (John Gregg explores the problematics in detail in his Maurice Blanchot and the literature of transgression.68 Liran Razinsky as alive. 39-40). in L’âge d’homme. and to a lesser degree. And a great share of the terror which I experience at the idea of death derives perhaps from this: bewilderment at remaining suspended in the middle of a seizure whose outcome I can never know because of my own unconsciousness. A similar problem is explored by Bataille’s friend Maurice Blanchot. He links it directly to the theatrical experience. then. Vol. For Bataille this impasse (in Hegel. The theater for Leiris is the arena in which we encounter death (45-47). 2009 . in a chapter devoted to death. in his autobiography. especially in chapters one and three). 2. Leiris develops similar notions. This kind of unreality. It is in fact representative of a whole group of French authors. Leiris writes: I cannot say. Maintaining the thinking mind in the presence of death is impossible. “Aliveness” and death cannot co-exist. The spirit must either renounce its attempt to contemplate death. or it will have to give up life and die in the very attempt. In Hegel we see the other side of the same problem.7 Bataille’s focus on this paradox is not unique. For both authors. (Manhood 50) Elsewhere. The representation is impossible because we remain alive. As an autobiographical writer. the thinking of death is impossible. as is my project here. the same SubStance #119. He links death to the persistence of the world after an individual’s disappearance and—vice-versa—one’s own survival to the disappearance of everything else (Fourbis 31. a link we shall see shared by Freud and Bataille. influenced by Hegel as mediated through Kojève’s reading. the paradox finds expression in the work of Bataille’s friend Michel Leiris. as some may think […]. in theatre and art. he speaks of his quest to possess himself in totality—a wish that inevitably will be frustrated by the fact that totality can only be achieved when the last gap in self knowledge—the fascinating and elusive gap of death itself—is sealed. is […] its radically terrible element. Either we survive as a thinker or we perish in death. This description stresses the contrast between the “aliveness” of the psyche and the “deadness” of its object. in his writing about suicide (where he mentions. 38. since – dying a violent death or not – I am conscious of only part of the event. who. in passing. as he understands him) is misleading and can be avoided in the phenomenon of sacrifice. no. what might make it acceptable. strictly speaking.
Thus we see that the stakes are high. at the same time. we are burned in its fire. We did not fool death. not a mere subterfuge. to meet death through an other’s death. In sacrifice. 38. 7). and yet remains open. one might ask. one mistakes two kinds of death. “Hegel” 335-36. In the sacrificial ritual. however. but it is possible to imagine it with the aid of some mediator. especially autobiographical writing. he insists that full consciousness is the condition of achieved death. for Man meets death face to face in the sacrifice. Moreover. the voluntary and the involuntary. he sojourns with it. In this way the paradox is overcome. The free. 286). In another passage by Bataille. but. where language is used to establish a subject and to overcome death while at the same time making that subject dissolve (L’Écriture 105. or did we merely fabricate a simulacrum? Bataille insists elsewhere. man destroys the animal within him and establishes his human truth as a “being unto death” (he uses Heidegger’s term). What is at stake is the attempt of the subject to grasp itself in totality. but death itself hampers this very attempt. this one from the introduction to Guilty. Yet on some level this other’s death must be our own as well for it to be effective. Blanchot explains that the expression “I kill myself” (“Je me tue”) discloses the problem: I and myself are necessarily not the same entity. Sacrifice provides a clear manifestation of man’s fundamental negativity. no. death is approached voluntarily by Man. Returning to Bataille. is it really death that we encountered. 2009 . and yet. this is a problem of writing itself. in the sacrifice. “The book is a monument. It might be impossible to imagine our own death directly. He stresses the SubStance #119. In suicide. that sacrifice is not a simulacrum. The sacrificer both destroys and survives. “but an empty one” (42). One never dies in the first person. We can approach death and yet remain alive. a real impression of horror is cast upon the spectators. sovereign I is not the one who will be the object of the suicide (L’Espace 117-34). Vol. in the form of death (Bataille. Bataille’s idea of the sacrifice also addresses Freud’s paradox. For Blanchot. he preserves his life. Sacrifice burns like a sun. spreading radiation our eyes can hardly bear. and calls for the negation of individuals as such (“The Festival” 313.” writes Gregg. says Bataille. yet such consciousness is abolished by death (241. cited in Gregg 44). says Bataille. it answers the requirements of the human.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 69 paragraph by Hegel). why does he believe sacrifice to be a solution to Hegel’s fundamental paradox? For him. 2. 215). and indeed this is the case. This attempt necessitates bringing death into the account.
And so he dies in seeing himself die” (“Hegel” 336. Bataille offers a solution applicable to Freud’s argument. meeting death is a need. and that in his struggle with a related paradox. whether facing reality or within the cosmos of his thought. not uncalled-for. 2. it would not.70 Liran Razinsky element of identification: “In the sacrifice. we remain as a spectator. perhaps one that is closer to us. If it were us. SubStance #119. The two modes through which the contradiction can be avoided involve the presence of other people. Let us first return to Freud’s argument of the impossibility of the representation of death. Having tried to mirror ourselves in a specular way and failed.” Note that both possibilities of meeting death—in the sacrificial-ritual we have just explored. no.” writes Denis Hollier. we cannot be said to have met death. We shall now see ambiguous hints in Freud’s own text toward a similar solution. in the end. in any way. Without it. imagining. the sacrificer identifies himself with the animal that is struck down dead. 287). In Hegel and in Freud the problem was stated as relevant to the individual alone. Yes. accompanied by the critical revaluation of values. and examine the issue of the possible encounter with death in a more modern context than that of sacrifice. as one could imagine one should be. we would die in the act. but it is essential that we do so. The point in the argument is that we remain spectators. Not specters. Speculation or thought about death fails because of the position of the spectator. watching. 38. having survived one’s own death. to which we now turn—are social. and we must remain as spectators. Bataille’s description recapitulates that of Freud. 2009 . recasting the problem as one of spectatorship. Thus it is through identification and through visual participation in the dying that a solution is achieved. Thus it is through identification.8 A Visit to the Theater We have seen that Freud argues that death is ungraspable. for Freud insists on the visual. Significantly. that a solution is achieved. “unless the one performing it identifies. but renders it positive. Also noteworthy is Bataille’s stress on the involvement of sight: “and so he dies in seeing himself die” (“Hegel” 336. Bataille’s solution is achieved through an expansion of the horizons into social existence. perceiving. which renders the meeting with death crucial for “humanness. “There is no sacrifice. and in theatre or art. We must meet death. be our death. we note that we are still in there. through otherness that is partly sameness. but spectators. If it were a complete other. Vol. 287). with the victim” (166). which brings him close to Freud’s view of the nature of the problem.
again as the context shows. There alone too the condition can be fulfilled which makes it possible for us to reconcile ourselves with death: namely that behind all the vicissitudes of life we should still be able to preserve a life intact. even manage to kill someone else. it is not in relation to the problem of the representation of death that he pens this passage that looks. being controlled by fear (Freud’s point in the passage that precedes the one on the theater) finds some surrogate satisfaction. among others). superficial and limited. In the realm of fiction we find the plurality of lives which we need. In any event. like a burst of literary imagination rather than a serious discussion. Hoffman. Freud’s description stresses another point: the survival of the spectator and the necessary detachment implied by the possibility of replacing one hero for another. for “behind all the vicissitudes of life we should still be able to preserve a life intact. one should note that it is marginal in Freud’s text. by proxy. Lifton. it is. neither do those who have studied the question of death in Freud (Rank. Schur. Vol. More important than the question of its marginality. the solution of the coward.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 71 But more than the visual. Theater does not reveal anything to us about death. There we still find people who know how to die— who. which tries hard to ignore it. what takes places in the theater belongs to the cultural-conventional attitude to death. In that SubStance #119. as can be seen from the context of this passage. Yalom and Piven. no return-match. but with the difference that we can start no second game. indeed. we even benefit from his death: this is what we seek. In his description theater is a sort of bourgeois solution. For Freud. Freud does not return to it. attention should be given to what Freud does in this passage. no. where one false move may force us to resign the game. our own survival. yet we survive him. Freud continues: It is an inevitable result of all this that we should seek in the world of fiction. and are ready to die again just as safely with another hero. For it is really too sad that in life it should be like it is in chess. 2. We die with the hero with whom we have identified ourselves. Freud stumbles on the idea of theater more directly. Having described our tendency to push death away from life and thus to live an impoverished life. that replaces meeting death in person. does not treat it in depth. (“Thoughts” 291) Although the passage is compelling. Becker. with much poetic force yet of little relevance to the entire article. He who is unwilling to risk his life. 38. in seeing others pretend to die.” Thus not only do we survive the hero. 2009 . Less than two pages later. at least at first. in literature and in the theatre compensation for what has been lost in life. the use of the term of spectators (Zuschauer) carries us swiftly into the domain of the theater. a mild compensation. More lip-service to death than a true encounter.
“…Just as certain insects. literature in general. trying to force ourselves to represent it. that it is not merely a game. Theatrical art. 2009 . and the sacrificial rituals are essential to us: through them we become human. we convince ourselves of our immunity and invulnerability. Bataille reminds.72 Liran Razinsky description.” but to “allow…them to grow within it” (La SubStance #119. 69). But the perspective differs. Theater. for we can familiarize ourselves with death and distance ourselves from our animal nature. stresses that we really do get a glimpse of dying there. be it tragedy or comedy. and tell ourselves: “After all. Bataille’s phrasing is almost identical to that of Freud. Theater. it is a question of our identifying with some character who dies. where theater is regarded as much more serious. no. It is a delicate yet crucial nuance. it brings us nearer.”9 Thus there is no real danger. He also views the encounter with death as an existential necessity. not as some entertainment. in various cultural ways (sacrifice. And third. and he attempts to explain why: if. “so we all flock to an area at the opposite end of the scale from death. in given conditions. Instead of moving us away from death. The entire artistic setting helps us: we can always step out of the enchanted dream. to head away from it. there is a twist of value: for Bataille we actively try to bring death closer. art). The mainspring of human activity is generally the desire to reach the point farthest from the funeral domain. “Hegel” 337. as we have seen. we come to the theater in order to make sure that we keep death away. flock towards a ray of light. Night after night in the theater. 287). in contrast with Freud (under the above reading). which is. Theater. who offers an alternative view. is the heir to religion. and of believing that we die. Theatrical representation evolved from the sacrificial rite and still maintains its essence. Theater. once again to confirm ourselves in our complete rejection of death. to enable us to come close to death (La Littérature 214. is just a play. although we are alive (Bataille. We come to meet our “aliveness” again.” Bataille writes. it is only a show. overcomes Hegel’s paradox: “In tragedy. at least. 2. theater offers an element in life that goes in the opposite direction. But is theater really that meaningless? Is the encounter with death there really a missed encounter? We shall now turn to Bataille. crucial for Man to be human. It serves a deep need in us. no real undermining of our security. the goal of all life is to push death aside. only a story.” Yet it is sometimes necessary for life not to “flee from the shades of death. 38. Freud seems to suggest. he says. Bataille. Vol. is very serious for Bataille. out of the willing suspension of disbelief. according to Bataille’s description.
it brings us into contact with it and thus illuminates the rest of our life.” By coming close to death. according to Freud’s text.” Even if only to reaffirm our “aliveness.” When we laugh in the theater. it is because for a moment it is as though we have risen beyond the horror.” and it is done in order to arouse anxiety in us. to the symbols of its emptiness.” it is noteworthy that we seek it.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 73 Littérature 212-13. even SubStance #119. whereas here. also provides us with a model for another approach to death. this decline which our entire activity endeavors to avoid. italics in original). for a moment we are not busy fearing death: at that moment we come to understand something about the presence of death.” Theatrical representation. Returning to Freud. and can have a different perspective on life. it was a limitation we encountered. Sacrifice is of the same nature (213-14. concerning the theater. “revive [the shades of death] voluntarily. in spite of ourselves: “we must. Our laughter or our tears signify that for a moment. 68). Even if what we wish in theater is to “be able to preserve a life intact.” One of our ways to do so is art. that we remained alive (or was it? We shall see later). there is a difference. There. Theater thus has a liberating power. no. For a moment we are. Moreover. Yet if it appears light. such laughter “brings us out […] from the impasse in which life is enclosed by those whose only concern is to preserve life” (214. these lacerations. we can try to read his passage through Bataille’s lens and ask whether the theatrical-artistic possibility is really so superficial. Bataille is aware. it is something we seek: to meet death and yet “preserve a life intact. indeed. Not that we die in the theater. 66-67). “The arts […] incessantly evoke these derangements. we really live it. We might have remained alive. Vol. we can see that Freud does actually offer something there. as is Freud. It frees us from the concern of pushing death aside. by entering those “regions that wisdom tells us to avoid.” Bataille insists. we get “a heightened consciousness of being. 2. Reading against the grain. “There we still find people who know how to die – who.” we do display a certain magnetic attraction towards death. but with some integration of death into this “aliveness. 67-68). namely our survival after the representation. It teaches us that “when we flee wisely from the elements of death. one that does not shun it. as it were. 2009 . we merely want to preserve life.” whereas. “death appears light to us” (La Littérature 214. Although the result is similar to that described in the paradox of the impossibility of the representation of death. free from that compulsive need. in a peculiar light. 38. constantly busy with fleeing death. 68. that by surviving the protagonists we only affirm life once again. this should not be done passively.
we might still be temporarily seized with apprehension of death. protective person. For if we identify. in theater we manage in some way. Bataille radicalizes that possibility. unintentionally perhaps. Blind as we are to our own death. It means that although the overall outcome is that we are only reassured during the spectacle itself. although it insists on the irrepresentability of death. 2009 . vicariously through a mirror. theater is not a solution for him. of essentially knowing that we will remain alive. One can lay stress on that encounter or on the fact of remaining alive. Death perhaps cannot be looked at directly. with the hero. Although Freud deems the estrangement of death from psychic life a problem. on the other hand. but it can be grasped sideways. Again. is the death of an other.74 Liran Razinsky manage to kill someone else. In that.” Those people do not embrace our own cowardly evasive attitude to death. and in other circumstances blind to the death of the other. Theater may not represent death. but it does manage to present us with a model of how to approach it. we are the same. In a sense. in the theater. emerges as a kind of requirement for our ability to really identify with the other. as we have seen and shall see. The idea common to both authors—that we can meet death through the other and yet remain alive—is ambiguous. This hybrid position seems to be the opening through which recognition of death might enter our sheltered. to experience death. theater emerges as a much more compelling alternative. but a nuance that makes all the difference. close to us through our identification with him.10 Thus Freud’s text. The crucial element here is that death. a possible way out of the paradox through turning to the other. indirectly. as Freud says. different. Vol. into the equation of death helps break out of the Cartesian circle with both its incontestable truth and its solipsism and affirmation of oneself. 2.11 Freud SubStance #119. it means that there is a certain link between him and us. The safety that theater provides. estranged from ourselves. With Bataille however. 38. they are not obsessed with keeping themselves at a distance from death. to use Perseus’s ancient trick against Medusa. The introduction of the other. Although turning to the other looks protective at first. both similar to and different from oneself. it is a matter of a delicate nuance. it might still shake our affirmation of ourselves to a certain degree. no. actually offers. albeit limited. In part this seems due to the hybrid status—split between otherness and sameness—of the hero in the theatrical representation or the literary work: on the one hand. They approach it. it paradoxically enables us to really get a taste of death.
his child.” he continues. But along with Bataille. Yet his or her otherness. which means my reassurance of my survival. psychology and religion sprang. we can take this other more seriously. 2009 . 2. one’s blind spot. there would be no acknowledgement of death. However. oneself. he was forced to learn that one can die. the death of the other seems more explicitly a crucial point for Freud as well—one passage where death does not seem so distant. but his text can also be read as supporting the first. But almost always it is as though through the discussion of the other Freud were trying to keep death at bay. says Freud. It is from this point. Then. 38. the description is there and is very telling. and “his whole being revolted against the admission. we have that special admixture of the other being both an other and oneself that facilitates the encounter with death. as described above—namely that he wishes it in others but ignores it in himself. Freud comments on the attitude of primeval Man to death.12 I have described elsewhere (Razinsky. Once again. his friend […]. yet we can still get a glimpse of death when it is an other that dies. In one passage in his text. Once again. Imagining our own death might be impossible. for he had tasted it in his pain about the dead” (Freud. too. in his pain. and his whole being revolted against the admission. Primeval man witnessed death.13 SubStance #119. “But there was for him one case in which the two opposite attitudes towards death collided. it is through the death of the other that man comes to grasp death. “Thoughts” 294). is no less crucial. It occurred when primeval man saw someone who belonged to him die—his wife. “A Struggle”) how Freud’s reluctance to admit the importance of death quickly undermines this juncture of the existential encounter with death by focusing on the emotional ambivalence of primeval man rather than on death itself. and a stranger whose death pleased primeval man. (“Thoughts” 293) Freud goes on to explain that the loved one was at once part of himself. for if it were not present. Both the fear of death and the death wish are often focused on the other as their object. Something of myself must be in the other in order for me to see his death as relevant to myself. that philosophy. no. Freud continues. An Encounter with Death Death in Freud is often the death of the other.” ”Man could no longer keep death at a distance. The benefit in bringing Freud and Bataille together is that it invites us to that second reading.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 75 tends to opt for the second possibility. one’s own death always being. Vol.
2009 . that is what happens to primeval man when the loved one dies and why his “whole being” is affected. Vol. limited in being the thought-content of someone else.14 As Bataille says. which renders true apprehension of death possible. for the radical difference of both from me as a subject will remain intact.76 Liran Razinsky I mentioned before Heidegger’s grappling with a problem similar to Bataille’s paradox. both self and other. Moreover. the death of the other is always the image of one’s own death” (“Hegel” 341. 38. He himself is no longer sure of his identity. the object. but in such instances. of the “fusion of beings” in these moments of intensity (“The Festival” 307-11. La Littérature 215. Watching the dead object will no more satisfy me than imagining myself as an object. Bataille speaks of the dissolution of the subject-object boundaries in sacrifice.16 The Highest Stake in the Game of Living Thus far we have mainly discussed our first two questions: the limitation in imagining death and the possible solution through a form SubStance #119. which is pretty much the same. The show and the spectators. 70). taking part in the world of objects. a subject. which he shares with Freud. 210-13. primeval man understood that he is the same for other subjects as other subjects are for him—that is. Possibly. Possibly what man realized before the cadaver of his loved one was that he himself is also an object. an object. no. be indifferent to his existence. In a famous section Heidegger mentions the possibility of coming to grasp death through the death of the other but dismisses it. It is part of Heidegger’s claim. through real identification. it was clear—there is the other. 291). it seems to me. Psychologically nothing limits him. essentially since the other in that case would retain its otherness: the other’s death is necessarily the other’s and not mine (47:221-24). they can wish him dead or.15 while an object implies limited existence: limited by other objects that interact with it. But the possibility that seems to emerge from the discussion of Freud and Bataille is that in-between position of the person both close and distant. this is what really shakes him. and understand that he is not only a spirit but also a thing. limited in space. Before. and there is oneself. 2. The encounter made primeval man step out of the psychological position of a center. and not only a subject. not only a spectator. regarding the Irish Wake custom where the relatives drink and dance before the body of the deceased: “It is the death of an other. whom one wants dead. For in a sense a subject subjectively never dies. When he understood this. transparent to itself. Thus we return to the problem we started with—that of the necessary subject-object duality in the process of the representation of death. that one’s death is unimaginable. he understood death.
As mentioned. 2. when the highest stake in the game of living. such as attempts at artificial flight. It becomes as shallow and empty as. It seems not to belong to Freud’s SubStance #119. What we shall now examine is Freud’s attempt to address that positive aspect directly. the unbearable intensity of our grief. vivere non necesse. but to familiarize ourselves with it: But this attitude [the cultural-conventional one] of ours towards death has a powerful effect on our lives. life itself. it loses in interest. however. the oddity of this citation cannot be over-estimated. yet on the other hand he accepts it as natural and inevitable. it results to some extent from death’s exclusion from unconscious thought (“Thoughts” 289.”) (“Thoughts” 290-91) Readers unfamiliar with Freud’s paper are probably shaking their heads in disbelief. We are paralyzed by the thought of who is to take the son’s place with his mother. how. 38. due to true hesitation between worldviews (see Razinsky. an American flirtation. the husband’s with his wife. The encounter with death. “A Struggle”). For him. in either a channeled. Vol. seems more and more to emerge as possessing a positive value. indeed as fundamental. if we can. Our emotional ties. Life is impoverished. We dare not contemplate a great many undertakings which are dangerous but in fact indispensable. as contrasted with a Continental love-affair in which both partners must constantly bear its serious consequences in mind. Freud’s text is very confused. Is it Freud who utters these words? Indeed. Not to distance ourselves from it. if a disaster should occur. an attempt that betrays. expeditions to distant countries or experiments with explosive substances.’ (“It is necessary to sail the seas. Thus the tendency to exclude death from our calculations in life brings in its train many other renunciations and exclusions. 2009 . Death cannot be represented and is therefore destined to remain foreign to our life. let us say.17 But then Freud suddenly recognizes an opposite necessity: not to reject death but to insert it into life. are not merely abstract or neutral ones. in which it is understood from the first that nothing is to happen. no. a deep ambivalence. overcoming the paradox of the impossibility of representation by involving oneself through deep identification. ritualized or a spontaneous encounter with the death of an other. of the value of integrating death into our thoughts. that we now see is possible. make us disinclined to court danger for ourselves and for those who belong to us. The questions of whether we can grasp death and. it is not necessary to live.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 77 of praxis. One manifestation of this confusion is Freud’s position regarding this cultural-conventional attitude: on the one hand he condemns it. Yet the motto of the Hanseatic League ran: ‘Navigare necesse est. We shall now turn to our third question. 296-97). We have seen that Bataille’s perspective continuously brings up the issue of the value of approaching death. may not be risked. the father’s with his children.
or that. 68). This is stressed at the end of the article. and on how SubStance #119. that embracing death is impossible. concerning the place of death in psychic life. He seems to articulate better than Freud the delicate balance. When we invest all of our effort in surviving. Paradoxically. It is not quite clear if the problem is that we do not bring death into our calculations. in order to establish his humanity: a life that is only fleeing death has less value. In addition to being unusual. in Bataille there is a dialectic. where he encourages us to “give death the place in reality and in our thoughts which is its due” (“Thoughts” 299). as we have seen. 2009 . rather. It is only when the finite human being goes beyond the limitations “necessary for his preservation. calls for the contrary approach. Here again Bataille can be useful in rendering Freud’s position more intelligible. we tend to avoid death. But he also describes Man’s need to approach death from a normative point of view. Bataille. something of the true nature of life evades us. presents the following picture: It might be that. as the beginning seems to imply. in the paragraph under discussion. guided by our instincts. As I asserted above. 38. elsewhere in the text. Vol. The approaches of both Bataille and Freud are descriptive as well as normative. where he describes the cultural-conventional attitude and speaks of our inability to make death part of our thoughts. But since Freud also insists not only on a tendency within us to evade death. Freud carefully describes our tendency to evade death and. 2. between the need to walk on the edge. and praises uncompromising risk-taking and the neglect of realistic considerations. where in Freud there are contradictory elements.” that he “asserts the nature of his being” (La Littérature 214. as is suggested at the end But what I wish to stress here is that the passage actually opposes what Freud says in the preceding passages.18 The examples—not experimenting with explosive substances—seem irrelevant and unconvincing. it might be what will make life “more tolerable for us once again” (299). he is telling us that we cannot accept the situation where death is constantly evaded.78 Liran Razinsky thought. The meaning seems to slide. But we also seem to have a need to intersperse this flight with occasional peeps into the domain of death. but insists. Bataille describes a tendency to distance ourselves from death and a tendency to get close to it. but also on the impossibility of doing otherwise. One can hardly find any other places where he speaks of such an intensification of life and fascination with death. and the flight into normalcy and safety. no. the passage itself is somewhat unclear. In both the current passage and later passages he advocates including death in life. In a way. we actually bring it into our calculations too much.
It is along the lines offered by Bataille’s worldview that I wish to interpret them here. on to a realm beyond this world” and every limited meaning is transfigured in it (“Hegel” 338. which he interprets in a more earthly manner. intense. 38. 2009 . but it opens up for us something in life. The intuition is even stronger in the passage that follows. even though they sometimes seem to contradict it. “The sacred horror. like a theater curtain. the mediation of the intellect between us and the world lessens. his ideas on the shallowness of a life without death do not seem to evolve from anything in his approach. 210-213). no.” It “opens itself. but surely this cannot be the result of abstaining from carrying out “experiments with explosive substances. “Death could no longer be SubStance #119. risk-rejecting attitude is broken at once. where Freud discusses war (note that the paper is written in 1915): When war breaks out. this cowardly. Bataille lays stress on vitality. Vol. as it is for Hegel or Kojève. They are a demand of life itself. exceptionally heightened state of living. Bataille gives it an emotional twist. an impoverished. the repression of death is generalized and extended: “the tendency to exclude death from our calculations in life brings in its train many other renunciations and exclusions.” In addition. conservative. is stimulating.” he calls the emotion experienced in sacrifice: “the richest and most agonizing experience. Moments of intensity are moments of excess and of fusion of beings (La Littérature 215. 288). War eliminates this conventional attitude to death. and life is felt at its fullest. brings together life in its fullness and the annihilation of life. Freud does not give us a reason for the need to approach death. Moreover. Bataille calls this state. 2. or aspect of the world. and to extend it. This line of thought seems to accord very well with the passage in Freud’s text with which we are dealing here. he says. between the subject and the object” (“The Festival” 307-311.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 79 death simply cannot be the content of our thought. Bataille says. vivifying. Our participation is much more involved. Sacrifice. Death is not humanizing only on the philosophical level. The presence of death. shallow and empty life. 70). immanence or intimacy: “immanence between man and the world. Death is problematic for us. Life without death is life lacking in intensity. Sacrificial ritual creates a temporary. Death and other related elements (violence) bring life closer to a state where individuality melts. his sayings in favor of bringing death close are confusing and confused. We are not mere spectators in the sacrificial ritual.” Freud simply does not seem to have the conceptual tools to discuss these ideas. He says that life loses in interest.
and in both there is a certain snobbery around it. Death reveals life in its plenitude” (309. become interesting again. Our usual world.80 Liran Razinsky denied. which is opposed to the normal order of things and is therefore rejected. This is one reason for the threat of death: it ruins value where value is only assured through duration. no. Freud poses the same tension here. Life can only become vivid. People really die. the husband’s with his wife. has a price. “The power of death signifies that this real world can only have a neutral image of life […]. fresh. through the “accumulation of deaths” of others. as it is an affirmation of the intimate order of life. “Who is to take the son’s place with his mother. What is needed is exposure to death. 214). or else we are willing to risk it to some extent in order to make it more interesting. What Freud denounces is a life trapped within the cowardly economical system of considerations. and therefore limit our existence to the bare minimum. . It limits our life. to keep life intact. Freud’s claims hover in the air. indeed. As if there were an inherent tension between preserving life and living it. achieve a fuller sense of life. the sole focus on survival. Things are constituted as separate objects in view of future time. according to Bataille. . by the “future” function. Thus what is needed is more than the mere accounting of consequences. Both authors speak of a valorization of death. a sanguineous imprinting of death directly on our minds. We are forced to believe in it. is characterized by the duration of things. 212). rather than by the present. Vol. It also exposes the intimate order of life that is continuously hidden from us in the order of things where life runs its normal course. Life has. While the masses follow the natural human tendency to avoid death. neither shallow nor empty. like the American couple or those who are busy with the thought of “who is to take our place. Either we are totally absorbed by the wish to survive. Bataille’s “neutral image of life” is the equivalent of Freud’s “shallow and empty” life. as we have seen. taking death into consideration as a future possibility. more vital and valuable. the father’s with his SubStance #119.19 Yet again. 2. it has recovered its full content” (“Thoughts” 291). Death is not so much a negation of life. and interesting when death is witnessed directly. He contests. and by allowing themselves to approach death. 38. lacking any theoretical background.” the individualists do not go with the herd. Bataille supplies us with such background. It is precisely the economy of value and future-oriented calculations that stand in opposition to the insertion of death into life. Sacrifice is the opposite of production and accumulation. he tells us. Man “is afraid of death as soon as he enters the system of projects that is the order of things” (“The Festival” 312. . Survival. 2009 .
we are exposed through death to other dimensions of life. 210). With relation to the Hegelian system. Vol. sacrifice is said to foster more rain. but it is this insistence on replacement that leaves us on the side of survival and stops us sometimes from living the present. no. Rather. says Bataille. but only for a limited time and to a limited degree. between the subject and the object” (“The Festival” 307. which entails a glimpse into the intimate order of the world. but. crossing over into the realm where Man is revealed to himself through getting a glimpse at nothingness. characterized by intensity. 212).” in the words of Bataille. which inscribe it in the general order of things. lack of distinctions and “immanence between man and the world. Bataille speaks of the justifications of the sacrifice given by cultures. then. “conceals life from us” (“The Festival” 309. familiarization with death is necessary if life is to have its full value. Yet discourse is immediately brought up to seal what has been opened. The necessity to meet death is not due to the fact that we do not have a choice. we might as well succumb and give them an ordered place in our thoughts. But the tension between the tendencies—to flee death or to embrace it—is not easily resolved. And still. contrary to the very essence of sacrifice. 2. These explanations. 2009 . “The need for duration. and is part of what makes us human. and the evasive tendency always tries to assert itself. thereby achieving a certain amount of autonomy or sovereignty.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 81 children. as a form of SubStance #119. after the event: the ensuing horror and the intensity are too high to maintain. Thus Bataille’s solution—or actually the solution of the cultures that sacrifice—is only limited. and must be countered.20 Thus. to appease the gods. According to Derrida. maintain that if elements associated with death invade our life anyway. when death is left out. he remains within it. For both authors. is limited. he insists. he adds. Sacrifice is a gesture that is not directed towards an aim. Another Look at Speculation Both authors. (This seems to echo Derrida’s famous critique of Bataille in his analysis of that text. Bataille maintains that in sacrifice. for next comes another phase. the explanations are essential and cannot be eliminated. is possible. 38. life “as it is” is false and superficial. partial.” Of course there is an emotional side to the story. where life’s immanence is exposed in its totality. 291-2). or to help in war. But the exposure. ultimately. Bataille seems to want to step out of the system of signification. are always secondary (“Hegel” 342-3. As seen above. one could say that transgression. Thus. The sacrifice is always subjugated to some discourse that binds it to the utilitarian system. performed post-hoc.
The first is that indeed there was a meeting with death. no. once again life has won over it. Bringing in discourse to push away death will not prevent man from engaging again in the act of sacrifice.” Death might be irrepresentable. We immediately try to tame death. rather than in the clumsiness of our attempts. There is a process involved here. 38. and a starting point for more attempts at representation. was that death is either pushed away or gains full control. remains essentially bound to what it transgresses [Trahair 164.” Why do we repeat the act if it is doomed to failure? Why do we not understand that death simply cannot be grasped? It seems we are not satisfied with something. and failing again. 2. But in fact. we ourselves have made the effort to meet death. we approached it ourselves. We did approach it. This failure seems more and more to be rooted in the nature of death. But why do we “attempt to do so”? What disposes us to try to figure out death for ourselves? If Freud’s descriptions of how we avoid death were the sole truth. So. 2009 . in Freud and Hegel. or. but rather a beginning—a starting point for much psychic work. We are human.82 Liran Razinsky sublation. one should only take Freud’s words literally. thereby abating SubStance #119. Both the limitations and the reservations are valid to Freud’s case as well. for three reasons. 167]). and can be applied to his text. this is not a one-time act. Moreover. In a way. Yet this failure does not mean the whole enterprise is valueless. can it be otherwise? Is this partiality coincidental? If our starting point. but an ongoing process. but in a different manner. Third. but only at the second stage. Possibly. we might be back to square one. we seem to be back to square one. this time. from trying to approach death again. and whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators. more generally. we only try to do so because we know we will find ourselves as spectators. once again we remain spectators. yet this failure in representation is not an end point. Death cannot be represented qua death. yet we keep repeating it: “whenever (so oft) we attempt to do so. in the sacrifice or theatrical act. The attempt might be unsuccessful. and testifies to that encounter. Bataille would say. but it only comes into play after some encounter with death has already taken place. “It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death. Once again death cannot be looked at. It has not infiltrated our lives in spite of ourselves. The necessity to seal the breach made in the fabric of reality is inevitable. Rather. how would he explain that? The idea that there is a necessity for human beings to try to integrate death into their thoughts and into their lives seems more fitting here. because we have that necessity to familiarize ourselves with death. Vol.
We cannot grasp it.” There is a gap here. But there is more than flawed logic here. Trying to imagine death. not just rejection. we are still here as spectators. We try to avoid thinking of death. 2. the pure negative. to imagine. The failure to represent. no. We discover that we are still there. we try to grasp it in our thought. we attempt to meet death. Therefore Freud’s jump is all the more unjustified. SubStance #119. The nature of our attitude to death is at stake. but fail. In the same manner that sacrifice enables a transgression of the common order. As a result of the impossibility of representation. But death is presented to us in the terror it inflicts on us in certain events. 38. and miraculously the natural state of things is reinstated. Death’s presence is too unsettling anyway. everything is OK. or as an object of thought or imagination. This. fails. and then avoid it again. Representation fails. into discursive thought must result in failure. as is already noted by Hoffman (236). Vol. Freud grapples with it in his paper. is doomed to failure. through the mediation of an other. Binding what in its nature defies representation. should not mean death is unavailable to us. not always knowingly. to imagine it to ourselves. The problem is not that the attempt to imagine fails. as seen above. sensing its importance. We look around and make sure: yes. It does not mean anything about the availability of death to us.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 83 the anxiety. Freud concludes that in our unconscious we are immortal.” that we will not be personally touched by it. Grasping it would give us something else. Thus the failure to grasp death is significant. and the conclusion does not follow logically. to grasp it as it were consciously. There is this back-and-forth movement between us and the idea of death. discursive thought. The attempt at representation will therefore be similar to the sacrificial act or the theatrical experience: it brings us close to death and satisfies that need. while reinstating that order through the meaning given to the sacrifice. But it is also possible that the necessity to come close to death is what drives us to attempt representation. for it immediately seals any true apprehension of it. There is an internal contradiction in trying to do so. yet assures us in advance that it is only “make believe. is to try and clothe it with sense. The problem is that we attempt. The attempt to impose sense on it will necessarily distort death. That we remain spectators is only a manifestation of the problem. 2009 . to represent it. it can be very present to us when it breaks into our world. as Bataille explained. yet we are also attracted to it. It only means it is unreachable through understanding. The attempt to understand death. that “no one believes in his own death. only about its availability to conscious. but so does repression.
Above all. It is now. The current paper. whether successful or failing. 2009 . half-other. with both its evasive pole and its attraction to it. the latter both motivates the need for grasping and is motivated by its failure.84 Liran Razinsky Thus. We also see that the question of the possibility or impossibility of grasping death stands in a serious dialectic relationship with the question of the value of integrating death in life. what emerges is their interconnectedness. First we saw that the question of how we can grasp death is intrinsically related to the question of whether we can do so at all. arm for war. para mortem. the attempt to represent. he is perhaps delineating this back-and-forth movement. It is the integration of Bataille’s ideas with those of Freud that helps illuminate these connections. is important for what it is—an attempt to approach death—for leaving death out requires too high a price. for there is no place for it. taking place in life. Looking back at our three questions.21 I have examined both the elusive difficulty of grasping death itself. and the solution that seems to emerge from the texts of both authors—namely that death could be grasped through some praxis that involves the concrete other as a mediator. enriching the limited picture Freud presents of contradictory elements whose contradiction. If you want to endure life. At a higher level. It would be in keeping with the times to alter it: Si vis vitam. the difficulty of grasping death was discussed as part of the attempt to get a hold on it. while the encounter with it is done in praxis. a hold that necessarily distorts its object. having come this far. (“Thoughts” 299-300) The Hebrew University of Jerusalem SubStance #119. 38. para bellum. when in the last paragraph he advocates taking death again into consideration. no. moreover. If you want to preserve peace. Vol. yet contends at the beginning of the text that it is impossible. is not recognized. not for the obvious reason that the second answers the former. that Freud’s concluding words become more loaded with meaning: We recall the old saying Si vis pacem. was concerned with exploring some of the complexity of the attitude to death. 2. half-self. through reading Freud together with Bataille. but since part of the difficulty in grasping it is precisely the attempt to grasp it in thought. prepare yourself for death.
Hegel. 2009 . 212-16. Leiris. 1979. A. “Hegel. London. 7. New-York. Hollier. The Bataille Reader. la Fête et les Principes du Monde Sacré. “Death Anxiety and Adaptation to Mortality in Psychoanalytic Theory. 1927.” From Théorie de la Religion.” From Theory of Religion. Piven. “On the Strange Case of the Attitude of Psychoanalysis towards Death. Phenomenology of Spirit. Denis. 1988. Alan Bass. “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve. Knopf. 1997. Gregg. Intro. NJ: Princeton University Press. New York and London: Marion Boyars. 326-45 —. 1989 . Paris: Gallimard.” The Annual of Psychoanalysis 7 (1979): 233-69. G. “Driving Death Away: Death and Freud’s Theory of the Death Drive.Vol. Trans Richard Howard. F. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Paris: Gallimard. 1988. —. 1950 . Trans. Death and Sacrifice. —. Georges. 1996. Rank.” Standard Edition. Fred. Eds. Sigmund. London: Hogarth Press. 2009. Vol 5. 1988. Oxford: Clarendon Press. NY: The Free Press. 1994. Lifton.” 1961. —. Oxford: Blackwell. 273300. Blanchot. Liran. Greenwich. —. Vol. “Guilty. Ed. 1913. Vol. San Francisco: The Lapis Press.” Psychoanalytic Review 94. Fred. New York. Hoffman. Trans. Michel. Bruce Boone. Death and Delusion: A Freudian Analysis of mortal Terror. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Manhood. J. the Festival and the Principles of the Sacred World. Denis. W. 1957. L’espace Littéraire.3 (2007): 35588. The Denial of Death. no. la Mort et le Sacrifice. Oxford: Blackwell. —. Being and time.” Literature and Evil.” 1955. Gallimard. 281-361 —. Botting and Scott Wilson.” Bataille: A Critical Reader.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 85 Works Cited Bataille.. 1992. 1973. NY: Simon and Schuster. Otto. “Le Coupable. —. NRF. Œuvres Complètes. SubStance #119.” From La Littérature et le Mal.1 (2007): 149-64. —. Eds. “Le Sacrifice. NY: Alfred A. —. 1988. CT: Information Age Publishing. New York. Ernest. 1974 . Eds. Martin. 13. 2004. James Strachey. England: The MIT Press. Trans. 235-392. JessieTaft. 102-138 Freud. 12. 66-70. 14. Princeton. Irwin. Trans Alastair Hamilton. Vol. “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death. New York. Totem and Taboo. Robert. in review. Against Architecture. Vol. Betsy Wing. John. 1977. Razinsky. —. Œuvres Complètes. 9. Maurice Blanchot and the Literature of Transgression. Hollier. Becker. Gallimard. 1997. 1998. 1973.. Botting and Scott Wilson. Trans. “A Psychoanalytic Struggle with the Concept of Death: A New Reading of Freud’s ‘Thoughts for the Times on War and Death’.V. 2. 210-19. “The Sacrifice.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 43. The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of life. NY: State University of New York Press. 1-161. Œuvres Complètes. 1955. Paris: Gallimard. Œuvres Complètes. Jerry. Vol. Heidegger. The Writings of Georges Bataille. Oxford: Blackwell.“Hegel. Fred Botting and Scott Wilson. Will Therapy and Truth and Reality. Jacques. Paris: Gallimard. Z.” Trans. “Le Sacrifice. Fourbis (La règle du jeu II). Massachusetts. 1988. 279-95.. Cambridge. (1915). “Sacrifice. Miller. Venice. 38. 1955 Derrida.” The Bataille Reader. Trans Joan Stambaugh. Maurice.
“Driving Death Away”). This negative action. is to be achieved only in its death and never before. Irvin. “On the Strange Case”. I will not deal here with other influences on Bataille relevant to the issues discussed here. 2. Hegel and Derrida. 2. 5. 191-212 Schur. Becker. Freud. 1995. Hegel sees death as already involved in the work of the mind. is already clear to Hegel. Piven. as later. I shall here give a brief explanation. Another point that needs elaboration concerns the consciousness of death. 38. This is part of the paradox. Trahair. the second to the English translation. NY: International Universities Press. Death is thus the essential element of discursive knowl- SubStance #119. Heidegger is only briefly discussed. France: Éditions Belin. transformation. 280. NY: Basic Books. Hoffman. Yalom. 6. 332. 1980. the first page number refers to the original French text of Bataille. required for a full understanding of Being. 2009 . Vol. The paradox Bataille points to. Dasein no longer exists. While doing so in any depth would take us too far from the aim of this paper. Lisa. 7. Denis Hollier. Lifton. 4. Dasein’s totality. Bataille. Notes 1. For the question of Bataille’s use of Freud see Roudinesco. 3. Heidegger grapples with a similar problem in Being and Time (46:219-21). I would like to thank Betty Rojtman for her illuminating comments on Bataille’s work. Living and Dying.” Georges Bataille Après Tout. 1972. based on the descriptions of both Bataille and Kojève. under that description. before the negating agency. who therefore replaces the necessity of death itself with the revelation of Man to himself by the willingness to risk one’s life. Yalom. New York. Existential Psychotherapy. Mere dying will not do the job. Max. he also negates himself. In order to fully understand the necessity for the spirit to be in the vicinity of death and to have it as a content of thought one needs to examine both Hegel’s philosophy and Kojève’s interpretation. The impasse or difference between Hegel and Bataille can be described in terms of discourse and conceptualization of death. “The Comedy of Philosophy. which consists of dividing and abstracting. D. As Denis Hollier succinctly notes (50-1). and Razinsky (“A Struggle”. manifested in the form of negation. “Hegel” 327. I also wish to thank Denis Holier for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. while in death. Elisabeth. 283-84). Here. and can make no use of its totality which. The subject himself is part of reality and thus should also be an object of the discourse. Ed.86 Liran Razinsky Roudinesco. 286-87). he must also be conscious of that death. and not of being dead. New York. The presence of death does not suffice. and which one can already find in Kojève. seems never accessible to it. For man is nature as well. “Bataille entre Freud et Lacan: Une Expérience Cachée. to which the current paper owes much. It is negation that differentiates the human being from the animal (Bataille. “Hegel” 336. since consciousness of death can only be of death in the future. From here the idea develops that it does not suffice that man dies. 283). does not stop at man himself. The spirit’s essential nature is nothingness. The discourse of the speaking subject must encompass reality in its totality. and if he negates nature. no. destruction.” Angelaki 6. See Rank.3 (2001): 155-69. or the animal within him (33132. which is man’s most salient attribute. such as Artaud or Nietzsche. but is rather applied to man’s own existence. it must be accompanied by the consciousness of it. Self-consciousness must include consciousness of negativity and of the death that makes Man Man (Bataille.
which might indeed have played a crucial role in forming primeval man’s attitude towards death. 2009 . and if it was the danger alone for himself and not the actual death. For if it were only his enemy he would reject it. of course. It is noteworthy that the first result of this recognition of death is the invention of the soul. 13. moreover. would remain defensive. it liquefies. and in that identification we are both him and ourselves. the above qualification. but an actor playing him. we are both ourselves and different from ourselves. 11. they reinforce one another (340-42.Looking Death in the Eyes: Freud and Bataille 87 edge. “the division of the individual into a body and a soul” (Freud. 9. and this is why his whole being revolted: death could really touch him. and death—which works against rigidity—is necessarily missed by it rather than integral to it. 290-91). We ourselves are split. For Bataille. Thus we have reestablished the first di-vision implied in ourselves having to be spectators. he both willed it and was afraid of it. no. Thus not only is there a difference. but actually yielded to its power by relinquishing some of his power in the world in favor of the world of spirits (93). the systematic petrifaction is in a way part and parcel of thinking itself. 8. however. primitive man might have tried to dismiss the importance of death and to defend himself against it. Bataille describes customs in which the relatives of the deceased dance and drink in front of the body (“Hegel” 341. Thus Freud’s stress on ambivalence is nevertheless interesting. it is not real: the hero does not really die.” Conceptualization necessarily eludes it. his analysis does not resemble that of Bataille in that he does not see sacrifice as a means to meet death. and so we are as safe as can be. It necessarily accompanies anxiety and exacerbates it. nor in Bataille’s commentaries on Hegel. The artistic setting is limited in time and space. 289-91). If it were his own self that had died he would. anxiety and elation. “Death fluidifies. “Thoughts” 294). and in rejecting. he would be anguished but not gay. Gaiety is no denial. Note that from a psychoanalytic point of view. In theater there is an other with whom we identify. self-other. The emotions aroused by sacrifice are complex: both horror and pleasure. In Hegel’s master and slave dialectics. he is not himself. noting that in the invention of souls and in attributing so much power to them. His gaiety made him more open to the experience and therefore all the more anxious. In the case of a loved one. he would not approach death of his own volition. 12. He makes an interesting point. 38. This adds to the description in the above paragraph. and the conception. It does not remain preserved in death as Hegel would want it. says Bataille. There is more to facing death than sadness. being both close and distant. in the case of real death. and the death of the one is not the death of the other. The difference reflects a distinction between two conceptions of the theatrical impact: an Aristotelian conception that focuses on catharsis. 14. It can be enriched if we combine it with Bataille’s own concept of an emotional ambivalence that is also part of the experience of facing death. Re- SubStance #119. albeit on a different level than the one originally proposed by Freud. holds for any loved one who dies. but there is an internal difference due to identification. of Artaud and others. and to Freud’s insistence on ambivalence. and linked it directly with death. It does not cancel death. facing death can be seen as imbedded in an interpersonal context. within the limits of the theater hall. Only later do the abstract concepts become a rigid system. but rather as a means of pushing it away. of defending oneself against it. not be there to experience it. and even there. although we see this neither in the passage cited here. in contrast. Vol. The mixture and ambivalence regarding the dear one are necessary. 10. It is perhaps worth noting that while Freud himself thoroughly analyzed sacrifice and other rituals in his Totem and Taboo. which stresses the disturbance of normal life achieved in theatre. 2. from the point of view of the situation.
38. the idea that “a sort of Solipsism. 18. The soul. a position whose justification would however be beyond the scope of the current paper. This is of course true only from a certain point. for it is my position that the death drive has nothing to do with the necessity of approaching death for human life to be full.” for a fuller discussion of this. In Totem and Taboo Freud cites. no. But it remains that Freud describes our tendency to reject death. it does present oneself as divided. which overlaps the psychoanalytic idea of omnipotent narcissism. the spectator. Actually Freud is mocking two types here. 2009 . which is what makes the discussion of it so relevant for us here. regarding some of Freud’s formulations in that article: “the language of cognitive limitation is hopelessly entangled with the language of defensive avoidance” (237). . See Razinsky. 2. it is also the case that Freud’s description of the encounter with physical death does not end with the horror itself. which is for him of the birth of culture. As we have seen. First are those who ignore death. The tendency in both is to move away from death. or with the role of death as constitutive of humanity as presented here. Although the paradox stresses the impossibility of stepping out of the subject’s position. This passage can be added to several others in Freud’s writings that demonstrate how his insistence on keeping death away from the psychoanalytic theory is opposed to the overwhelming reality of death in human life. 16. in the other. It is intentional that it was not linked to the ideas on attraction to death presented above. “A Struggle”). to place ourselves. and biases him time and again into somewhat strange statements that remain unique. Returning to Freud’s original paradox one may note that the failure to imagine oneself dead is only a partial failure. or Berkleianism . religion and philosophy are invented out of necessity to overcome the encounter with death. On the other hand there are those who are too preoccupied with it. Here then is one such case. Yet from a certain philosophical perspective. in thought and behavior. 19. “Driving Death Away. who fear it too much. but rather in a post-hoc stage. as far from it as possible. estranged from the rest of the corpus of his writings. bury their head in the sand and do not think of the consequences. SubStance #119. . being at once in the position of a subject and that of an object. and does not dispute. Vol. 17. Subject also implies being subject to. As put by Hoffman. 15. and from a sociological point of view appears as limited as can be. Some readers might feel that Freud’s theory of the death drive is relevant to the current paper. and treats them as one (Razinsky. the subjective point of view is indeed unlimited. In the one.88 Liran Razinsky member that Freud characterizes the unconscious attitude as similar to that of primeval man. operates in the savage to make him refuse to recognize death as a fact” (90n). we avoid the thought. we avoid the thing (death). 21. Freud is caught here in confusion between the “can not” and “will not” regarding the representation of death. 20.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.