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Jean-Michel Heimonet - Bataille and Sartre: The Modernity of Mysticism - Diacritics 26:2

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Copyright 1996 The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.Diacritics 26.2 (1996) 59-73
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Bataille and Sartre: The Modernity of Mysticism

Jean-Michel Heimonet 1
It is always relatively surprising to see how the great minds of an era manifest a kind of blindness when it comes to judging their peers, whether one is thinking of Balzac as the reader of Stendhal or Gide as the reader of Proust. This is undoubtedly because any truly forceful mind is also a mind so obsessed and fascinated by its own way of apprehending the world that it can admit no other system of reference, no other range of values than its own. From this point of view, "A New Mysticism," the article that Sartre devoted in some bad faith to Bataille's Inner Experience when the book was published in 1943, should be accorded a prime place in the annals of great literary misunderstandings. There is no doubt that the brilliant philosopher of Being and Nothingness commits a strange blunder--strange, at least, for an intellectual of his stature--with respect to the conceptual sacrifice by which Bataille seeks to reveal and, at the same time, cast out modern man's nostalgia for the sacred. But is "blunder" the right word? Because everything in the book proceeds not as though Sartre had not understood, or badly understood, but rather as though he had pretended not to understand the true stakes that in turn are revealed and consumed by this impossible book. The harshness of his critiques, the vehemence of tone--poorly tempered by a forced irony--instead prove that Inner Experience had hit home, at a level unusual for intellectual polemics. Struck to the core, Sartre reacted. This explains why "A New Mysticism" is a "boomerang" text, or a revealing one, in the photographic sense, being more valuable for what it tells us about its author than for what it teaches about the object being criticized. It is a text in which the reader has to read what is not said, "between the lines," seeking the cause for the text's often flagrantly unjust and indeed petty and truistic assertions, in its defense system, or, to borrow a term from the field of psychoanalysis which Sartre so abhorred, in the author's "denials." To put it clearly, is not the presence of the sacred, this unknowable and virulent sacred, which seeps out of every part of Bataille's book, through the cracks and tears in its "form" and the paradoxical gaps in its "content," also the presence that ceaselessly haunts, with its shadow and disturbing light, the thinking of the last great philosopher-monster? In his didactic concern to be convincing, Sartre divided his article into three parts, the first two dealing respectively with "form" and "content," the third functioning as a verdict. Viewed fifty years later, such a division applied to a text as anti-academic as Inner Experience might seem comical. It points, however, to the seriousness being
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accorded in Sartre's text to knowledge as organized within the academy and to the institutional function of the academy. From one end of the text to the other, Sartre acts as censor and judge, pitilessly pointing out, with the derisive scorn of the specialist, the philosophical naivet of "Mr. Bataille," particularly his rapid and unprofessional reading of Jaspers and Heidegger, which Bataille knew only in translation [see "NM" 194]. Sartre's superior mandarin attitude explains why his first task had been to divide literary and philosophical history into two "frames of mind." Although original, Bataille's style and writing already had their place in a "tradition," which is that line from Pascal to the surrealists, by way of Nietzsche, made up of writers anxious to express (themselves), writing down their [End Page 59] thoughts as they come, helter-skelter, in the exalted illumination of the moment, even before being located and fixed within the design of an argument. In modern writers, this tradition had become even more intensified. Disregarding the classical writerly values of restraint and modesty, the writer seeks to express not only his mind but also his body and its living reality, to establish with the reader a sort of "carnal promiscuity." Thus we get Breton, who does not hesitate in his novels to confide "the most puerile details" of his personal life. This tendency, which Sartre describes as "exhibitionist," is equally characteristic of Bataille. However spiritual the "ulcers" and the "scars" he reveals with a certain delectation as testimonial to human misery, the impetus that continually animates his writing is the desire to bare himself, to achieve a degree of existential authenticity and depth, stripped of convention. Finally, the religious element in which Inner Experience is immersed is even more closely allied to Nietzsche's style in Ecce Homo or The Will to Power; there is the same "breathless disarray," the same "passionate symbolism," the same "prophetic preaching tone" [176]. One might as well say that what the representatives of this tradition share is a pathic use of thought and speech, the power of an unbridled affectivity, which leads them to scorn "the serene craft of writing" [177]. In his relation to this tradition, already suspect for its irrationalism and vitalism, Bataille embodies excess. He takes the tradition to its most fierce and in the same move gets out of it. In Pascal, and even still in Nietzsche, passion is restrained in argumentation and organized thought; in Bataille, on the other hand, passion literally blows apart the frame of discourse: "feeling is everywhere," "at the beginning and at the end" [177]. But what Sartre finds really outrageous is that this feeling is still speaking: it is not at all meant to resolve itself in shouts or in silence. If one is to believe Sartre, Bataille "hates" language; he hates it as a kind of screen interposed between thought and life, posing an obstacle to living, immediate and sufficient expression ("Mr. Bataille would like to exist here and now, whole and immediate" [178]). To satisfy this "hatred," the strange goal of Inner Experience will become the sacrifice of words, but--so as to make the torture perfect--to sacrifice words by using words themselves, by burning them, dispensing them heedlessly, so that language is compelled to say that which goes beyond language [see 179]. 1 This interpretation, which posits a language holocaust, paradoxically intended to regenerate language by confronting it with its other, with the ineffable of passion and will, is not exactly Sartre's interpretation but rather more our own. Sartre, for his part, is divided and ambivalent in his attitude toward this sui generis sacrifice of discourse. At the outset, he sees nothing (or does not want to see anything) other than a technical problem, a literary game, one of those "exquisite irritations" that an author might impose on himself as a challenge and stimulus to his writing. Or, since his aim is to disparage Bataille, Sartre describes this sacrifice of words as something like the handicap a billiard player voluntarily takes on, all the better to show off his skill, by "tracing squares on the green felt [tracer des cadres sur le tapis vert]" [180]. In other respects, one is inclined to wonder to what extent the purpose
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of this technical observation is to reassure, a little bit in the way one might sing or joke to disguise one's anxiety. From start to finish Sartre has alway remained a classical writer, one for whom language is not a problem but a simple instrument, accessible and compliant, for the transmission of a message. In this light, Sartre's literary work--his plays and novels--is only the reworking of the philosophical theses it serves to popularize. What is shocking about the form of Inner Experience is that it casts doubt onto the reassuring conception of language as instrument. The "slippery sentences" with which Bataille stretches and suspends the meaning of words shatters Sartre's vision of a coherent and intelligible world [see 118]; such sentences, responsible for drawing the reader into the "ineffable" as if into [End Page 60] a trap where reason founders, are the product of a monstrous and, at the least, explosive mix of psychic proceedings. Bataille does not limit himself simply to exalting passion but goes further by wanting to make it live with its opposite, with that which, in the usual economy of speech, is supposed to exclude passion--or at least to extinguish it. As early as the foreword, the author of Inner Experience informs his reader of his intention to arrive at "a synthesis of 'rapture' and 'rigorous intellectual method,'" of "'emotional knowledge'" and "'rational knowledge'" [177]. Repeating the founding gesture of romanticism, he commits the logical heresy of mixing "poetry" and "philosophy." Again Sartre sees in this only a "circle"--vicious in all its points--where discourse keeps going around and around crazily without coming up with anything positive [179]. It is no less true that this self-sacrifice of language offends his taste for a stable truth, one that is reducible to a concept. In addition one should not misunderstand the meaning of the "praise" at the end of the first part of the article. The magnanimous professor Sartre finishes up by conceding to the pupil Bataille the innovative aspect of his writing. In spite of "a little hollow emphasis and some clumsiness in the handling of abstraction, Inner Experience is, according to Sartre, a contribution to the rejuvenation of the art of the essay, the form of which seemed to have been fixed since Voltaire. But what is this appreciation worth in the wake of a critique denouncing the incompetence (the unprofessionalism) and the vacuity of the book? Moreover, Sartre himself is quick to take back what he has just conceded. For, as he says, "form is not everything." Which is a way of saying that form is nothing if not the most superficial, the most playful, and, because of its artifices, the least trustworthy aspect of discourse, the part that is used (by Bataille) to cover up the nothingness of the "content," which finally is the only thing that matters [185].

The entire second part of Sartre's essay, which concentrates on the examination of this "form," will be to demonstrate the essentially perverse and noxious character of Inner Experience. As heir to the Enlightenment, and on his way toward Marxism, Sartre reproaches Bataille for having God survive his own death, and for inventing, by way of a detour through a critical approach pushed to its limits, a new form of religion, independent of dogma, rites of worship, and a church, and all the more impossible to exorcise since it is based, as in Kierkegaard, on lived experience--in the sense in which German phenomenology uses the term Erlebnis [see 189]. As rudimentary as it seems, this strategy is not lacking in efficiency. Once the cardinal stakes underlying experience have been uncovered, the issue for Sartre becomes not just removing or invalidating these stakes but, in a much more perfidious manner, turning them back on themselves, in such a way that each thesis, once
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stripped of the mask of its "form," will appear, with respect to its "content," as the opposite of what it declares. Bataille defines inner experience by opposition to traditional mysticism; the sacred that is revealed is not tied to the attainment of transcendence but results instead from the exercise of the critical faculties, through the infinite questioning of thought and language. To counter this, Sartre will have to prove that Bataille is a "real" mystic, not simply a "devout Christian" but a Christian "ashamed" of being a Christian [183, 217], whose so-called "sacrifice of words," conducted by means of "nonknowledge," is only an ingenious rhetorical effect intended to disguise the "totalitarian" character of his discourse [see 182]. In the same way, Sartre will show that this verbal sacrifice, which results in "de-sacralizing" the subject, bringing it down off its pedestal, reducing its power and its will "to be everything," is in reality nothing but the obverse of erecting the subject as sacred; it is the art of turning an "auto-da-f" into an "apotheosis" [214]. From the bottom of his abjection Bataille remains above, looking down on common humanity. As an "edifying [End Page 61] narrative," his work is the story of a "second descent": returning from an "unknown region," he "descends again among us" to drag us along in his fall [183]. Finally, Bataille's desire to "lose himself," the exigency of a universal "communication" with the rest of the world, is contradicted by the hierarchical and elitist vision of Inner Experience. An adept of "the doctrine of pain" [dolorisme] [217], Bataille does not write, as he claims, for an audience of his "equals" but for his "zealots" [zlateurs], for the "apprentice mystic" (one might say "sorcerer"), who, as he does, values suffering and torment for their own sake as supreme [181]. Looked at in detail, each of these criticisms by Sartre is without interest. It is more relevant to point out the motive for their tendentiousness. This motive, as we have already seen, is based on contradiction. Bataille utilizes the "techniques" of philosophy to narrate a spiritual "adventure" alien to its framework, alien to the nature of its knowledge and to the scope of its aims [see 190]. In this regard, it is curious that Sartre is unaware, or pretends to be unaware, of "heterology," that science of the sacred set free from the church, which Bataille developed in several articles at the beginning of the 1930s, in particular, "The Idea of Expenditure" ["La notion de dpense"] and "The Psychological Structure of Fascism" ["La structure psychologique du fascisme"]. Sartre's is indeed a feigned ignorance, since his references to the ritual of amok, to the ceremony of potlatch, and to the "effervescence" of festivals are enough to show that Sartre is familiar with the texts of Bataille relevant to the critique of usefulness and to the analysis of the fastuary, unproductive aspects of expenditure [see 212]. In a thinker who boasts about knowing everything, this omission serves strategic goals, showing that it is easier to forget rigorous and philosophically irrefutable texts than to refute them. And all the better if covering up the theoretical premises underlying experience allows Sartre to reduce experience to a moment of pure illumination, an instant of affective ecstasy, which is valuable only to the person who has undergone it. We should recall that heterology, the science of "unexplainable difference," as Bataille himself defined it [OC 1: 345], proceeds according to the negative method that is specific to the mystic. Like God, heterogeneous reality cannot be defined by what it is, by the enumeration of its predicates or of the positive qualities that make it up. It is possible to speak of this reality only in an indirect way, by a methodical
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enunciation of everything that it is not, of those elements that absolutely resist intellectual solutions. One is dealing here with absence, or the cognitive void; with "nonknowledge," which suggests plenitude; with words stumbling over that which surpasses them, pointing to that which is beyond words. Between such a method and the classical mystical approach, there is, however, an essential difference that Sartre refuses to see. While mystic discourse is a passive discourse modeled on amplitude of feeling, heterology remains, in fact, a science, hence, an active discourse, in that it can encompass (without ever attaining) its ineffable object only after having exhausted all the resources offered by human knowledge and mind. Whatever his detractor says, Bataille's discourse is not the product of an "anti-intellectualism" [180], but rather of a hyperintellectualism, with all the hyperbole and spiraling self-reflection [mise en abyme] of critical thought at its most demanding and most strenuous. As for situating this "new mysticism" in a tradition, it is not exactly the tradition evoked by Sartre that should be retained. Whatever Sartre says, classical writers such as "Pascal" or "Montaigne," or (why not) "Epicurus," even though their writing is characterized by looser argumentation and the effort to convey an immediate impression, cannot serve as reference points. The reason for this is simply a matter of cultural chronology, because the problematic of language as the only medium of human experience did not appear in their time with the acuity and the urgency that it has taken on for us. The awareness of a disturbance inherent to language is specifically modern; it marks, in the history of ideas, the very birth of modernity. As a sacrificial operation resulting from the [End Page 62] deploying of contradictions and from the crisis of discourse, Inner Experience belongs to the much more recent tradition of European romanticism. Since the end of the eighteenth century, when orthodox religion was brought down in ruins by the rationalist critique and by its own compromised relationship to earthly interests, thinkers had already posited a "poetic function of language," being what Jakobson would define a hundred and fifty years later as that sui generis quality of literary language, where the accent is put not on the referent, but on the "message as such," taken in for "its own sake," where "word is felt as word, and not as the substitute for the named object." It is this autotelic character of language, language as an end in itself, that Novalis uncovered in his famous Monologue. In its most human dimension, language does not serve as a vehicle for a set of contents, as a piece of information or a message that may be useful in a goal-oriented world. Language is intransitive: one does not speak in order to say "something specific," but "simply to speak." As the privileged medium of authentic communication between self-aware beings, the poetic word constitutes "a world in itself, for itself alone," in which words follow the example of "mathematical formulas," "playing exclusively among themselves, expressing nothing if not their own marvelous nature" [Novalis OC 2: 86]. Inspired by the philosophical idealism of Fichte, this verbal exercise corresponds to a displacement of the sacred; it represents an attempt to express the need for a transcendence freed from the churches. This is the displacement designated by the untranslatable German term Weltfrmmigkeit: to produce the sacred out of nothing, starting from the sole resources of the mind taking itself for its own object in a kind of language inflation. This autotelic vocation of discourse exhausting and expending itself in eternal questioning is equally at the center of the project that Frederic Schlegel undertook to compose a "grammatical mysticism." In his novel Lucinde, this mysticism takes the form of an infinite reflection and circling back of thought on itself: "Thought presents the unique attribute that, after itself, it more willingly takes on as its object whatever it may think
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about endlessly." And, in a perfect movement of spiritual autarchy, Schlegel could conclude that it is "in its own quest that the human spirit finds the secret it has set out to seek" [209-11]. The same idea of an absolute birth of the sacred, arising ex nihilo solely from the play and conflict of spiritual forces, is also found in the text of an article by Bataille published in 1939. The "great quest" on which the modern mind and modern art has embarked since the advent of romanticism is an expression of the sense that the sacred is missing in a world submitted to the goals of utilitarian reason: "It seems in retrospect that art, no longer having the possibility of expressing whatever comes to it from the external world as incontestably sacred--romanticism having exhausted the possibilities of renewal-- . . . could no longer continue if it did not have the strength to arrive at the sacred moment on its own resources"; "aware of the created elements in what it had always added to the world . . . , [art] could turn itself away from all past or present reality and create out of itself its own reality" [OC 1: 561-62]. Common to romanticism and modernism, this intellectual "mystique" is based on an identical principle, that of internal contradiction, out of which came Hegel's fortune. Long before the dialectical approach had become the prerogative of philosophy, had Novalis not written that "all production is accomplished by the union of opposites"? And in writers associated with early German romanticism (Frhromantik), the strategy of irony, based on the systematic exercise of paradox, aimed to demonstrate the inadequacy of linear thought. The function of irony is to "torture" discourse, to empty it of positive content by pressing it up against a blind spot, a symbolic no-man's-land that simultaneously reveals to the discourse its own finitude and its beyond. From the intertextual point of view, the principle of "nonknowledge" that gives Inner Experience its rhythm is the twin of what Novalis called nscience, according to which all true "knowledge" is only the ephemeral residue of an "ignorance," where the insatiable quest undertaken by the mind to push beyond its limits will necessarily take any knowledge ["Pollen" 221]. [End Page 63] [Begin Page 65] This tradition is the one that Sartre refused to take into account, for the simple reason that it upset his intellectual horizon, more precisely his vision of a world that can be reduced to History. Contradiction as practiced by the romantics differs in fact from Hegelian dialectic, as Marx would later appropriate it, in the fact that there is no Aufhebung, that the contradiction goes beyond (or infringes upon) the epiphany of a third term where the conflict of oppositions would be resolved and validated. So for Marx the contradictions that undermine bourgeois society must necessarily open out onto the "great eve" of the revolution and the victory of the proletariat. In the negative dialectic that informs Inner Experience, the conflict of oppositions takes place rigorously in the other direction. It is no longer centrifugal but centripetal; it goes not from the subject toward the external world but from the ego toward the interiorized world. Working at the level of language, this spiritual conflict is a conflict for its own sake; circumscribed within the limits of consciousness and representation, it plays the role of a catalyst intended to disturb, and hence to solicit discourse and throw it back into the enigmatic labyrinths of an endless self-sustaining questioning. For the engaged thinker that Sartre always wanted to be, this gratuitousness--Bataille called it "sovereignty"--of language, is unacceptable. Compared to the true dialectic, which aims to produce History by the surpassing of contradictions, experience is reduced to a narcissistic game. From Hegel (Sartre thinks), Bataille retains only the idea that "reality is conflict," but, like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, or Jaspers--all three under suspicion for being
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romantics--he suppresses the "moment of synthesis," considering that conflict is "without solution." By offering the vision of a "man who creates himself as conflict," not through externalizing his decisions in the historical world but through the exacerbation of his internal tensions, Bataille committed what in the eyes of an "intellectual of the left" appeared as the worst of philosophical and political crimes: he substituted "tragic" for "dialectic," that is, the hyperconsciousness of the split between subject and object, or between consciousness and the empirical world, for the resolution of that split in action [see "NM" 188]. Finally Sartre's critique goes well beyond Bataille's book and uses it as a vehicle to criticize the romantic idea of Bildung, that is, to invalidate the power that idealism confers on the Ego to invent itself and its own world out of the depths of interiority, in an autarchic manner, without recourse to the external world of the senses. The absoluteness of the Ego and of the world is criticized for two correlative reasons. At first Sartre sees only narcissism evolving into egocentrism. Sheltered within its interiority, the Ego issues a challenge to the "void," to the absence of meaning in its surroundings; sanctified by its revolt the Ego becomes the "unique" one, the all-powerful negating subject of the real [see 194-95]. But this totalitarian narcissism also takes on another, its worst, meaning: it is synonymous with "uselessness." Inner experience, as Bataille sees it, refuses to participate in the practical and empirical side of human life; resolutely interior, it does not produce a political plan capable of changing the world. In other words, it lacks didacticism as much as it lacks efficacy. This will be Sartre's conclusion. By not deigning to "involve himself in the thick of new undertakings so as to contribute to building a new humanity that will surpass itself toward new goals," the anguishes of "Mr. Bataille" will remain "un-usable," in a kind of "ecstatic fainting" that is in no way different, as far as the future of human collectivity is concerned, from the "pleasure of drinking alcohol or sunning oneself on the beach" [228]. With a ten-year lead, the article in Situations heralds the polemic that will set Camus against Sartre at the moment of the publication of The Rebel [L'homme rvolt]. The same argument Sartre had used to disparage Bataille's "mysticism" would now be applied to Camus's "metaphysical" revolt, a revolt not against injustice or tyranny, that is, in and for history, but against the human condition. Unlike the situation of the slave who rises up against his enslavement, the metaphysical rebel is motivated by a rising up of his whole being against the absurdity of his condition; like the subject in Bataille's description of inner experience, the rebel's awakening to consciousness and dignity comes as a result of [End Page 65] a "conquest" over "nonmeaning." In the absence of a specific obstacle, which would have material form in the world of facts, revolt, writes Camus, "creates nothing." Existing before "every action, it contradicts purely historical philosophies in which value is conquered [if it is conquered] after action" [28, 32, 38, 365]. As one knows, the sovereignty and/or the absoluteness of this revolt being exercised for its own sake and against the "void," with no hope of producing, in any tangible form, some Aufhebung, is very precisely what Sartre and Jeanson found intolerable. The point of this polemic is to specify the radical antagonism between Sartre and Bataille concerning the role of the intellectual in society and, hence, the form and nature of the language of the intellectual. Among all the texts that Bataille wrote on the question of engagement, few have the decisive clarity of those he devoted to defending Camus against the editorial board of the journal Les temps modernes. Arguing against the interventions of Sartre and Jeanson, who reproached Camus for the Icarian aspect of his position--that of the "beautiful soul" soaring over history--Bataille objected that during the period when Stalin was taking up the relay
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from Hitler in the race to horror, the only profoundly human attitude no longer consisted in making History but in "revolting against it" [OC 11: 232]. This revolt joined up with Camus's revolt in that it excluded action--or, what amounts to the same thing for the intellectual, taking sides in words. To "revolt against history" in fact means to refuse to play its game, to refuse to supply it with new programs under the pretext of changing it; all this in order to distance oneself from history and to take a good look at it, questioning with an ever-sharper conscience the ways in which it drove "the human species to suicide." In a word, a revolt against history means to oppose and to substitute reflection for action, to question the real instead of plunging into it in the illusion that one is in control of it, as Sartre and Jeanson did when they took the worn-out schemas from class struggle and traditional Marxist ideas and applied them to the crisis at hand [234]. This being said, Bataille does not disguise the fragility of his position, in particular the risk of having it confused with a "foolishly verbal attitude" [232]. We have to recognize, however, that in 1952, at the beginning of the Cold War, such a position was not lacking in courage or relevance. It heralded particularly the democratic idea now prevailing of a universal community founded on public debate. Historical crises and violence will not be fundamentally resolved by action but rather by dialogue among the aware. Beyond theory, the revolt against history comes out of an ethics, from a general human attitude toward the dangers and trials of existence. And since man is reciprocally, and most indissociably, historical animal/symbolic animal, this ethics remains entwined with and in language. A fact that brings us directly back to Inner Experience. The unity of the book is to be found in its debunking trajectory, the intellectual "torture," which Sartre mocked, to which the subject submits in order to rediscover the other. Moved by the desire to be "all," to be "God Himself," the self measures its finitude by going "to the farthest possible reach of the human," inasmuch as this reach corresponds to the extreme end of consciousness/conscience [conscience] and of language [OC 5: 19]. As long as it remains human, revolt is objectively limited by the necessity of proceeding according to the law of signs and representation. The practice of this law reveals to the practitioner the two cardinal virtues of discourse in the domain of moral meaning and ethics: 1. The insurmountable distance that separates desire, as an aspiration to totality, from its delayed translation into signs and symbols (the gap in which the Ego learns to laugh at what is most important to it is exactly what romanticism means by irony). 2. The fact that this distance is linked to the presence of a medium the necessary/universal character of which restores the subject to its proper level and place: to the level and place of others, within the limits of the circle constituted by the totality of conscious beings with whom it must communicate each time it is manifested as human. [End Page 66] It is with these two necessary and universal attributes of the medium of language that inner experience leads to the dissemination of the Ego within the enclosure of signs that it has tried to break out of, and to its communication with the rest of the world. Several passages in the book--which Sartre is careful to cite--consider the excessive practice of discourse as the strongest and the most tenuous bond that attaches, indeed alienates or even "condemns" the Ego to the other--doing so even in spite of the Ego's desire to dominate the other. "The third element, the companion, the reader that moves me, is discourse. It is he who speaks in me, who maintains in me the discourse which lives for his sake." And further on: "The subject of inner experience, wherever it may reside . . . is the consciousness of others" [75,
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76]. It is necessary to differentiate between two types, or rather two regimes or two qualities, of discourse. Because it is not sufficient simply to speak or write, in order for the ethical function of discourse to be revealed. Ethics, or what one might otherwise call the sui generis limitation on desire, appears only to the degree that language has stopped being an instrument, when there is no longer any way for language to be used as a means aimed at expressing the interests (the "contents") of a so-called subject that existed before language. In order for the ethical function to intervene, discourse, taken to its extreme by the play of contradictions, has to turn back on itself, has to revert to its own mystery as well as to the mystery of an endless questioning in the course of which the former user of discourse must experiment with the objective synonymy between "nonknowledge" and "nonpower." This synonymy, the harsh fact that thought neutralizes action, totally escaped Sartre. He did not understand that the wrenching opposition between the self-sanctifying desire of the subject and the self-sacrificial reality of its practice represented the specific ethical dimension of Inner Experience. "Contradiction erupts (writes Sartre) in the condition of the subject thus torn between two opposing demands": the wish to be everything, to be "on top," and the necessity in which the subject is obliged, as a practitioner of excessive discourse, to lose itself in the multitude and dissolve into the totality of signs and conscious beings [see "NM" 203]. It is precisely this state of being torn that constitutes the reason for being, or the "content by default" of inner experience; it is what teaches the subject the human tragedy of the split between desire and duty, between liberty and morality, or, as Bataille writes, between "putting into action and putting into question" ["mise en action et mise en question"], 2 as with two poles between which one has to oscillate indefinitely without ever resolving to jump into history. This circular movement of a consciousness that has relinquished the power of shaping the world according to its desire or ideal is a further prolonging of the romantic tradition. It is the actualized expression of the founding idea of idealism as Fichte described it in The Science of Knowledge, which shows that "everyone is enclosed in the unique and large unity of pure spirit," inside a "circle" that "the finite mind can enlarge infinitely, but the boundaries of which it cannot cross." A true pragmatist, Sartre translates this spiritual obligation--that man must go through life meaningfully, that man can exist fully only in representation--as a "vain struggle," a "battle lost before it is waged." Self-probing and communication among consciousnesses are for Sartre only forms of disengagement, an "escape plan" allowing the subject to pull away from History ["NM" 203]. And in fact when one bases existence and freedom, as Sartre does, on the concept of the pro-ject, as the ability to externalize and turn vested interests into concrete reality by means of action, the "principle of experience"--that is, Bataille writes, "escaping the domain of the project [End Page 67] through a project"--cannot be anything but unacceptable, indeed aberrant [see 204]. This principle is, however, the ultimate form of the "revolt against history," a principle that sets the practical project of imposing one's will on the world against the completely different project of breaking out and getting beyond this control. In the attempt to escape the linear time of History, which is also the time in which projects are reified and accumulated, Bataille appears to Sartre as the last scion in a "family of minds" of a "mystical or sensualist" type, from Epicurus to Gide. Beyond any chronology, what the members of this family have in common is their avid desire to live "immediately and completely" by substituting for the "well laid-out life," the course of which is determined by the project and its attributes, such as
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"utilitarian memory" and "reasoning reason," the "immediate life," in which the subject exists intensely, on the edge of time, and at the peak of the "ecstatic" moment [216]. Obviously for Sartre all this is only an illusion or an illumination. The belief in the instantaneous to be found in Proust or Kierkegaard is, according to Sartre, impossible because it is alien to the ontological and anthropological reality of the "Ego," which is "temporal in its very being . . . , [and] needs Time to realize itself" [199]. These two visions of time and life, "well laid-out" and "immediate," rightly contrasted by Sartre, correspond indeed to two forms and, therefore, two ethical systems of discourse. On the one hand, there is linear discourse, didactic and heavy, the vehicle of a project, of a philosophical thesis or of a political choice that can only be realized in the historical process; on the other hand, there is circular discourse, an interrogative dialogue that takes place among conscious beings, in which the expenditure and the exhaustion of meaning act as a limitation on desires that have become powerless to achieve their ends, unable to plant themselves within their own solid representations in the expectation that History will somehow fulfill them. By mentioning the College of Sociology, that organism which during the 1930s had taken on the study of the presence of the sacred in the modern world, Sartre might have been remembering the way in which Bataille had collided with the "Hegelian" ideas of Alexandre Kojve. Against the ultrapragmatic Kojve, for whom the individual is fundamentally alienated in History but constrained to take part in it and find some resolution there or else be condemned to remain a "beautiful soul" bored to death in its own pure interiority, Bataille opposes the irreducible force of a "negativity without employment." At a time when any expenditure of human energy in "acting" or "doing" could not but be complicitous with collective suicide, Bataille claims for the sake of his own revolt and negativity the liberty of living at the margin of History, without letting himself be absorbed by its mechanism. "The open wound that is my life," he wrote in his famous letter to Kojve, "constitutes by itself the refutation of Hegel's closed system." Under these conditions, writing is presented as the ultimate result, the ultimate method of "doing," which allows the clear-minded individual to escape having to decide between the alternatives, largely viewed, of unemployment and crime. This does not mean that the activity of representing is a solution or an end in itself. Bataille specifies that his personal negativity "had given up its usefulness only after the moment in which it no longer had any use: this is the negativity of someone who no longer has anything to do and not that of someone who prefers to speak" [OC 5: 369-71]. This negativity, however, when confronted with itself, and in the absence of a pro-ject or goal that might be worth anything, is far from passive. It continues to act in the form of a critical work that is executed in and for consciousness by interrogating the process that drives it back into idleness. "Negativity emptied of content" (as Bataille calls it), the energy of which is inscribed in discourse and writing, no longer has to justify action, as it must in Sartre, but instead functions as a mode of reflecting on the meaning and limits of action. It thus becomes the privileged organ of human responsibility and commitment. This critical function of negativity restored to writing is exactly the goal (the "project") that inner experience takes on in order to produce itself: "Inner experience answers to the necessity [End Page 68] that I face--and all of human existence with me--of putting everything in question" [OC 5: 15].

In his critique of Inner Experience, Sartre confuses two textual aspects that are
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mutually resistant. On the one hand, its style, where the authenticity of the text lies, and the symbolic charm by which its words acquire universal meaning; on the other hand, its didacticism and its engagement on the level of a so-called "content," according to which the text is supposed to provide answers that can be applied in the world of achievable ends. With a belatedness that is surprising in regard to the theory of his time, Sartre does not seem to understand that the "content" of a text is found above all in its "form": the strategic treatment applied to the language within which this text is produced. On the ideological level, it is significant that this utilitarian conception of writing bears a resemblance to the communicational theories of Jrgen Habermas. Like Sartre, Habermas bases his critique of the romantic and modern tradition--in which he would situate Bataille--on the two criteria of contradiction and circularity. For this he borrows from the linguistic pragmatics of K. O. Apel the concept of "performative contradiction," which serves to designate every speech act in which "the propositional content contradicts the affirmation" [Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action 80, translation modified]. According to this criterion the "discourse of modernity"--the paradigm of which can be traced from the earliest German romantics to the theoreticians of the 1960s (Bataille, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida . . .)--is defined as a narcissistic or reflexive discourse, which the systematic search for and use of contradictions for their own sake condemns to "go around in circles" without ever producing any positive content. In this type of discourse, Habermas explains, the aesthetic or philosophical value of a work does not come out of the harmony between "form and content," "external and internal," "individual and society," but is due to the maintenance of an infinite, self-sustaining tension in the absence of an answer and to "the necessary failure of an impassioned search for identity" [Philosophical Discourse of Modernity 112, translation modified]. It is no coincidence that this analysis aims equally to denounce the "mysticism" of modern discourse ever since the time of the romanticism of Iena with its dangerous tendency to reject the "conquests of Western rationalism" [Philosophical Discourse 121, translation modified]. By evoking the "rather grotesque" attitude that consists in "playing around with the ecstasy of religious and aesthetic inspiration" [366], Habermas echoes Sartre. For, as Sartre sets out in his article in Situations, it is just as much Bataille's "religiosity," his faith in an unspeakable, unsayable, and unrepresentable real, that is scandalous. Once the end of knowledge has been attained, far from arriving at the conclusion (as Goetz does in Sartre's play The Devil and the Good Lord) that heaven is empty, the practitioner of inner experience persists in his error and raises the stakes. He does not make the "vow that was expected of him," that is, "that there is no transcendence." Instead of "discovering man," he throws himself into "rediscovering God" ["NM" 218]. Again Sartre prefers to ignore the distinction Bataille makes at the beginning of the book between "confessional experience," where the revelation of transcendence constitutes a "haven," a gratifying result which compensates the practitioner for his efforts, and his own critical experience, which, "reveal[ing] nothing . . . can neither provide the foundations for belief nor leave belief behind" [OC 5: 15, 16]. As we have pointed out, the critical radicalism of this experience, which, being "born of nonknowledge stays there" indefinitely [15], leads to the humiliation of the subject, from whom is wrested all power to materialize his desire in action. Now it is precisely toward the support of such power, charged with carrying out [End Page 69] the positivity in meaning, that the utilitarian pragmatism of Sartre and Habermas leans, toward the possibility for man--using Heidegger's words--to install himself as "lord over 'individual being [tant].'"
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It may be said that just as Sartre wants to "make History" by refusing to waste his negativity in a textual game, he also wants power. It is rather ironic, then, that the "mysticism" he denounces in Bataille applies just as well to a certain aspect of his own work. With this difference, however: if Bataille's mysticism is practiced in pure loss, since it results in the desanctifying of the subject, Sartre's mysticism is oriented instead toward tangible assets accumulated with the aim of sanctifying the subject and turning it into a being superior to most men. Take Nausea, for example, that philosophical novel only poorly disengaged from surrealism (from "surrealist sorcery" as Sartre now calls it) ["NM" 211]. When he sententiously criticizes the manner in which Bataille "pushes away the reassuring constructions of reason in the name of 'the Ego's experience'" and reproaches him for his "strangeness" regarding the world [192-93], Sartre seems to forget that several years earlier he himself had made a few twists in the relation between words and things, between rational and real, between lived experience and its representation in the order of discourse, the fundamental theme of Nausea [La nause]. If in 1943 Sartre had become the herald of the "pro-ject" and of the "well laid-out" life, where the individual acquires an identity by participating in collective history, the situation ten years earlier was different. Roquentin's problem is, in fact, Time. Reluctant to search for the truth of existence in Monsieur de Rollebon's past or in his own travel memories, he comes to this conclusion: "A man is always a storyteller . . . ; he tries to see his life as if he were telling it. But one has to choose: to live or to tell" [La nause 62]. Putting things into words, into the chronology of discourse or story, is only a convention, an artificial order meant to disguise the contingency of what is and what happens, and to provide man with the illusion of control. Roquentin's energy will then be devoted to the attempt to escape time, to cross the threshold of linear time where life, like the old woman he sees from his window, limps along in place, in the absence of all novelty, project or story: "This, then, is time, naked time, which comes slowly into being, which makes us wait, and when it comes, you feel sick because you realize that it was there all along. . . . It is a tarnished newness, with the bloom faded, the new that can never surprise" [51]. What is interesting is that this flight of Roquentin from linear time remains very much in the "beautiful soul" style; his escape is procured for him through a means that the author of "A New Mysticism" would deem narcissistically idealistic: through art. First music, then literature. The jazz melody, "rag-time," possesses the magical virtue of substituting a necessary sequential chain of notes for the "flaccid" time of existence. Like the perforated roll in a hurdy-gurdy or a player piano, the melody "crosses our time from one part to the next," "tears it from its dry little points" [39], and "like a scythe, slices the insipid intimacy of the world" [243]. Indeed what is taking place here is an inner experience and not simply a distraction or entertainment. When the singer's voice "rose up in the silence," "crushing our miserable time against the walls," "something happened"; Roquentin takes possession of the world again, and, at the same moment, of his own body: "I felt my body harden and the Nausea disappeared"; "my glass of beer . . . becomes hard, indispensable," the client's head possesses "the obvious, the necessity of a conclusion." Stranger to history and to linear time, "there is another time" [30]. Roquentin doubtless knows that music "does not exist" [243]; it is no less the supra-natural or supra-existential agent of an ek-stase that snatches him away from the Nausea, from the entrapment and partisanship of things. One could say the same thing of those "perfect moments" that he struggled to concoct during his life with Anny. Bataille himself was not deluded in this, since he notes in his article "The Sacred," about the very notion of
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"instant" in mystics, that "J.-P. Sartre, in Nausea, had already spoken of "perfect moments" and "privileged situation" in a meaningful way" [OC 1: 560]. And indeed, for [End Page 70] the Sartre of 1935, everything points to believing that there is something "beyond meaning," which is the very definition of the sacred. Each crisis of nausea begins with the gap between words and things, the consciousness of a profound inadequation between concept and lived experience. Reality surpasses lexicon (that is, the norm), either from above or from below. Sometimes things are endowed with "a funny little meaning that surpasses them" [190]; sometimes they remain just the opposite, "above all explanation" [183]. But these two extremes join up again to circumscribe an ineffable space of meaning, resistant to intellection. Thus, at the moment of the main crisis in the public garden, as Roquentin is facing the chestnut tree, each aspect of the root represents an excess, is "too much" with respect to what can be said about it. Like Adolph's suspenders, which "were not purple," the root of the tree "was not black," Roquentin remembers. "Shady" and indeed forcibly "unnameable" things are apprehended according to an approach specific to the mystic: by negation, by depleting or sacrificing language in order to check off everything that things are not. "Black? I felt as if the word were deflating, being emptied of its meaning. . . . Black? The root was not black, black was not what was on this piece of wood--it was . . . something else [183]. This "something else," or, as Bataille would put it, this "inexplicable difference," where "the true secret of existence lies" [190], is in a book--of which the actual book, Nausea, would itself be the sketch--and it is in a book where Roquentin will undertake his quest for that secret. In the same ways that "the Jew and the Negress" have been "saved" (in the very religious and even very Christian sense of the word saved, "washed from the sin of existing") by music [246-47], Roquentin will be saved by writing. But pay attention: not just any writing. The book will only be redemptive, so that its author can "look back on his life without repugnance" [248], if it remains distinct from every other book written before. To be so, it ought to be "another species of book": a "story," of course, but not "a history book," such as the one in which Roquentin got sidetracked by wanting to "resuscitate M. de Rollebon"; and especially not a "narrative," an artificial (that is, linear) book, constructed with a view to organizing existence. This book about nothing strangely recalls the Capital Book of Flaubert or Mallarm; like this Book, which, in Its form and in Its content, has not been "soiled" by any worldly, that is, prosaic, element, its value and power of salvation are drawn precisely from the fact that, being beyond the power of the human mind, it cannot be written. In the tradition of idealism, as with the inaccessible Grail, its purpose is to transcend the intolerable, dull opacity of chaos and to exist as pure aspiration, as an indeterminate tendency toward some supreme point where it would be possible to absolve existence. This iconoclastic book should be understood to suggest that there is "behind the printed words, behind the pages, something that would not exist, that would be above existence" [247, my emphasis]. Finally, we have seen Sartre criticizing the spiritual egotism and megalomania that led Bataille to sanctify himself and place himself above his contemporaries. But the quest for the heights seems also to characterize Roquentin himself. The hero of Nausea in fact possesses the essential traits by which Bataille defines the "heterogeneous" being, the individual whose unclassifiable or unusual ontological caliber causes him to stand out among his fellow men [see OC 1: 348]. From this point of view, Roquentin is clearly a special being, defined by a nervous temperament and special powers. Excluded from collective emotions ("I wondered, for a moment, if I were not going to love people. But after all, it was their Sunday, and not mine" [81]), he is presented as a sorcerer or a magician. In the gallery in the Bouville museum, he gives himself over to an exorcism, an "unbewitching" in front of the portrait of Jean Parrotin--an
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operation that he will repeat with the statue of Imptraz symbolizing the bourgeois order: "When one looks straight and directly at a radiant face (Roquentin observes), after a while, the radiance disappears." At first the image of Parrotin resists, but, little by little, under the powerful stare of his enemy (an enemy who is not, or not just, a class enemy but an ontological adversary), it liquefies and dissolves. Soon, nothing subsists any longer of the [End Page 71] haughty personage but "flesh . . . defenseless, bloated, drooling, vaguely obscene" [128-29]. A shaman, Roquentin is also a prophet. Looking out over Bouville, the modern Babylon infested with philistines, he foresees its apocalypse. This vision is again the prerogative of a being superior to most men: "How far I feel from them, from the height of this hill. It seems to me that I belong to another species" [220]. And indeed, human space is divided into two warring categories; on the one side, there is the One, Roquentin; and on the other, everyone else, middling humanity lumped together and uniformly despised as "they" or "them" [see 221]. On the one side, the supreme wise man, who has succeeded in piercing the "secret of existence"; on the other, those who neither know nor see, the "bastards" [salauds], as the book calls them. "As for them, they are completely wrapped up inside, they breathe this nature and they don't see it, they imagine that it is outside, twenty leagues from town. But as for me, I see it, this nature, I see it . . ." [221]. It is well known that thirty years later Sartre will publish his self-criticism. "I was seeing things," he writes in The Words [Les mots]. His first novel, in sum, would not have been anything but an error of youth, that of a man in a hurry to exist restlessly and as quickly as possible. "I succeeded at thirty years of age in this one thing: writing in Nausea--very sincerely, you can believe me--about the unjustified and primitive existence of my fellows and putting my own existence beyond question" [Les mots 210]. Still, this confession remains questionable. Like most of his characters, Sartre is himself a "crab"; an author "with two faces." With one, he sets about to dissipate the ether of thought and to recycle metaphysics into the general current of History; with the other, unknown to himself, indeed, even in spite of himself, his preoccupations lead him into the arcane reaches of the unthinkable. One can find this dichotomy also in The Devil and the Good Lord, the most positive (or antimystical) play of Sartrean theater, since, dealing with the "relations of man with God," or the relations of "man with the absolute," it claims "to replace the absolute with history" [Thtre de situations 272, 274]. Both agent of and guinea pig for this substitution, the character of Goetz is not unequivocal. He too has two faces. If for Nasty, the political leader of the peasants, Goetz has become "anyone," after his conversion to history, for Hilda, by contrast, who knows him deeply and intimately, he remains fundamentally and irreversibly other, heterogeneous and different from other men: "You will not ever be like them. Neither better nor worse: other" [247]. The entire didactic content of the play rests on Difference, which makes of Goetz a special and distinctive being, without any possible reversal or conversion. The question is one of a primary order, a question to which Sartre obviously does not reply, being himself the cause of this alterity: why can Goetz be nothing but excessive, above or below other men, but never on the same level, never on the same footing? Like Hegel, who betrays his romantic youth by wrapping Mind in the Prussian state, Sartre quickly forgets the initial title, Melancholia, 3 of his first novel: the sickness of "beautiful souls" smitten with the absolute. In the course of a university and literary career crowned with success, he cauterized his worry by erecting a perfect system of philosophical and political rationalization that would scarcely upset certain writings
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of his later years. This was also his way of forging a fail-safe moral philosophy. When he reproaches Bataille for his "two hundred pages of trumped-up considerations on human misery" ["NM" 221], Sartre is speaking as the spokesman of History. Sympathetic to Marxism and bard of the class struggle, he fulfills the role of the great figure (very French) of the intellectual of consequence, that is, "of the left," whose engagement, like that of Goetz, will be felt "among men." But one is forced to acknowledge that recent political developments have not borne him out. With the collapse of the Marxist empire, this last [End Page 72] decade will have proved that History could in no way "replace the absolute," for the obvious reason that History is itself an absolute. And of the worst kind: a sacrifice where it is no longer words but people who are the victims. It is not enough to strip the Absolute of the mantle of Reason in order to stifle its avid demands. Even when one seeks to compel metaphysics to "go down into the cafs," it still remains metaphysics, with its dual effects, often perverse, beneficial, or cathartic in one arena, injurious or ideological in another. If one admits that the quest for the sacred or the absolute represents an anthropological need in man, Bataille and Sartre are the spiritual embodiments of two divergent paths, one centripetal, the other centrifugal. The first revolts against History, the second wishes at all costs to make History. One looks for the absolute in writing, in the mise en abyme and the critical exercise of individual consciousness; the other looks for it in action, or in what takes the place of action for the intellectual, the guiding of collective consciousness. These are in fact the only two forms, diametrically opposed and antagonistical, of engagement by discourse. Translated by Emoretta Yang Jean-Michel Heimonet, Professor of French at the Catholic University of America, has published several books on Georges Bataille and the topicality of "romantic" thinking, including Politiques de l'criture (1987) and Politiques du symbole (1994). Emoretta Yang was graphics editor of Diacritics and assistant curator of Asian art at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. She works free-lance from her home in Ludlowville, New York.

1. In his essay on Manet (1955), Bataille gives a negative definition to "sacred": "That which, being only beyond meaning, is more than meaning" [OC 11: 157]. 2. This movement described by the term mise, where the self-subject puts its sovereignty into play, appears in the last pages of Guilty, which Bataille wrote during 1943-44, after the publication of Inner Experience. "Mise en action and mise en question are continually opposed, the one as acquisition for the benefit of a closed system, and the other as rupture and imbalance in the system" [OC 5: 385]. 3. We should, however, note that this change of title, substituting the profane term nausea for the more romantic one of melancholia, was not originally Sartre's idea. It was suggested by Gallimard [see Simone de Beauvoir, La force de l'ge 292, 308].

Works Cited
Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience. Trans. Leslie Anne Boldt. Albany: SUNY P,
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1988. Trans. of L'exprience intrieure. Paris: Gallimard, 1954.

________. Oeuvres compltes. 12 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1970-88. [OC]

de Beauvoir, Simone. La force de l'ge. Paris: Gallimard, 1960. Camus, Albert. L'homme rvolt [The Rebel]. Paris: Gallimard, 1951. Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. The Science of Knowledge. Trans. A. E. Kroeger. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1868. Habermas, Jrgen. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. Trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen. Cambridge: MIT P, 1990.
________. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Trans. Frederick Lawrence.

Cambridge: MIT P, 1987. Novalis. Oeuvres compltes. Vol. 2. Paris: Gallimard, 1975.
________. "Pollen." Les romantiques allemands. Paris: Descle de Brouwer, 1963.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Le diable et le bon Dieu [The Devil and the Good Lord]. Paris: Gallimard (Folio), 1972.
________. Les mots [The Words]. Paris: Gallimard (Folio), 1983. ________. La nause [Nausea]. Paris: Gallimard, 1983. ________. "Un nouveau mystique [A New Mysticism]." Critiques littraires (Situations

I). Paris: Gallimard (Ides), 1975. 174-229. ["NM"]

________. Un thtre de situations. Paris: Gallimard (Ides), 1973.

Schlegel, Frederic. Lucinde. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1971. [Citations are to French text editions. Quotations from cited French texts have been directly translated from the original texts.]
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