You are on page 1of 34

Gift, Pleasure, Sacrifice: Bataille and the Bodily Ethics of the Common By Matthew Bost What you are

stems from the activity which links the innumerable elements which constitute you to the intense communication of these elements among themselves. These are contagions of energy, of movement, of warmth [] there where you would like to grasp your timeless substance, you encounter only a slipping, only the poorly coordinated play of your perishable elements. -Georges Bataille, Inner Experience consumerism negates pleasure and time so as to accrue capital to money and hence its ultimate function is not to produce pleasure but rather to annul time by deferring it so as to produce capital for capital. To widen the sphere of pleasures, on the other hand, means to produce more and more pleasures that in the end capital must pay for. -Cesare Casarino, Time Matters

In this paper, I attempt to articulate the work of Georges Bataille to a debate within the philosophical and political literature surrounding the concept of the common. I argue that this conversation is doubly productive. To discussions of the common, Bataille adds a useful anthropological and (in his sense) economic vocabulary. This vocabulary functions in a scalar manner to provide insights at two levels. First, at the level of corporeal interaction, Batailles theory of eros and limitexperience provides one way to think through questions of the body and its pleasures with respect to the common. At the interpersonal level, the theory of corporeality grounds one of discursive communication in a way that addresses both everyday interaction and the place of ascesis or mystical experience with respect to the revolutionary liberation and constitution of subjectivity. Third (and adding further to the problem of a theological turn in thinking about the common), Bataille helps us think the previous levels through a theory of social institutions which accounts for both a need for such institutions and the need for (and possibility of) their being open to the potential of the common without capturing or foreclosing it. From the

perspective of the other major party to the conversation, Bataille, I argue that interaction with the concept of the common provides one potential way of making his concepts relevant to present political exigencies as well as one way of navigating some of their problems. Because discussions of the common have been both vast and diffuse, for spaces sake, I focus on a single, crucial discussion within this literature, that between the concepts of desire and pleasure as modes of revolutionary experience. Before beginning to discuss the problems that are the topic of this essay, some general points are in order. First, this is not an attempt to faithfully read either Bataille or the common as objectively part of some larger school of thought. Though an intellectual genealogy of those who have thought the common would undoubtedly turn up many points of intersection, the goal here is rather one of productionlet the concepts converse and their antagonisms emerge, allowing asymmetries and differences of all sorts come to light and be visible (Casarino 2008, 3) without an argument for historically veridical homology which would subsume one into the other, or both into a common framework, while at the same time translating both vocabularies into one another to produce new uses for concepts. Such production is nothing more than one potential ordering of Batailes fragmented and inherently partial oeuvre speaking to a series of authors, agonistic to one another in their own right, who have been taken up together for their common concerns and conceptual vocabulary. Moreover, just as a number of authors are taken up around the name of the common, so certain of Batailles interlocutors and those who have worked with his ideas will supplement his own work. Second and finally, given the space constraints of the essay, two major omissions are worth noting up front. There is an extensive interaction in Batailles texts between himself and some figures who might figure into

a genealogy of the common, in particular Nietzsche and Marx. While a close reading of these figures in this context would be helpful, embarking on it here would sacrifice conceptual productivity to exegesis. A similar omission will take place around Batailles interaction with ecotheory and the ecological commons-while the relationship commons/common will briefly be addressed at the end of the essay, it can only serve as an opening of the present work onto future research and an invitation to future conversation. Corporeal Communism One of the problems highlighted as most urgent by the literature on the common is the need to constitute a new type of subjectivity, one that is both as diverse as the various demands for equality and freedom from exploitation heard the world over and adequate to the revolutionary potential s and pitfalls posed by the present moment. This focus on subjectivity has in turn led to a focus on the corporeal-as Cesare Casarino puts it in Time Matters, The body and its pleasures emerge in Marx as the critical site for any form of class struggle and indeed constitute the battlefield on which the class war between materiality and idealism continues to be fought (245). A useful prolegomena, but what to do with it? Two further sets of distinctions in the essay provide an initial answer, or at least a sense of the stakes involved. First, a distinction is drawn between desire and pleasure as both facets of experience and sides in a philosophical debate. On one side, that of pleasure, lies the work of Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben; pleasure here (at least as it figures in Casarinos essay) is the continual dilation of intensity, the fulfillment of each moment with respect to cairos, the revolutionary event (Casarino 2008a, 232-3). By contrast(from this perspective) desire stinks of the assertion of ontological lack, and of a Lacanian conception of the subject in which such lack is both perpetually

unfulfilled and inherent in the structure of the Oedipal law that constitutes the subject. To the other half of the debate, embodied in the work of Antonio Negri and Gilles Deleuze (and which Casarino traces back to a common root in Spinoza), pleasure is desire captured; the affection of desire in the context of its reterritorialization into subjects and systems of governance . Desire, in an inversion of the above is the infinite plenitude of being, another name for infinite substance (Casarino 2008a, 231). While pleasure still has a place in this vocabulary, it is both the negative interrupt[ion of] the infinite process of desire and a way of talking about a limited strata of human existence, one already bound up in a totalizing logic of power by its very nature. Casarino attempts to retain both of these concepts in their difference while granting positive value to each. Pleasure becomes the fold of desirethe immanent point of tangency between our bodies and desire (244). On the one hand, this allows a potential revolutionary value to pleasureit need not interrupt desire but can instead work to open bodies to it, continually dilating our sphere of pleasures (243), our capacity to experience collective affect and intensity without negating or dissipating itself. On the other, Deleuzes ontological vocabulary, and through it Negris critique of the moment of pleasure as exception, are substantially retained. Pleasure is a fold of desire; it is how we experience, and are undone by, the experience of desiring substance as subjects, subjects into which our subjectivities must inevitably return-but (potentially) changed for the better. If the above distinction delineates pleasure and desire as two aspects of the experience of substance, Casarinos second distinction adds an ethical valence to the ways one might have this experience and the effects it might have on ones life. We are given three potential economies of pleasure, two caught up in the logic of capital, one potentially libertatory. These economies simultaneously manifest larger

economic institutions (capitalist greed in the case of the first two, communism in the case of the third) and subjective cathexes of desire into these institutions. The figure embodying the first is the miser: misers form a cathexis on money as money, or in Marxs terns, money as the general form of wealth (Casarino2008a, 238). Psychologically, this translates to pleasure gained through an absolute sacrifice of time [] an attempt to step outside of time altogether, withdrawing wealth from circulation and hoarding it (238). If done to excess, this becomes a problem for capital, halting the circulatory flow necessary for it to accrue value, but in practice vis--vis workers, it becomes a practice of self-denial, whereby workers save enough at the times when business is good to be able to more or less live in the bad times, thus providing a reserve of wealth that acts as a safety net for potential crisis (Marx in Casarino 2008a, 240). The reverse side of this coin is hedonism or consumerism. Hedonism cathects desire onto money as capital or as the material representative of wealth (238). The hedonist gains pleasure through sacrifice [..]through incontinence [] hedonism presupposes an object which possesses all pleasures in potentiality (Marx in Casarino 2008a, 239), a slippery object which is continually deferred. In practice, this amounts to a permanent debt to the circulatory process of capital itself: each actual pleasure can then be realized only in the next pleasure, each present pleasure is always already waiting for the coming pleasure and hence pleasure is only achieved by not having any pleasure at all (239). In terms of labor, this manifests as a desire to continually work more and more to pay for the next products one consumesone is pulled ahead by an ever-slippery chain of products for which one must work to pay. Casarino articulates both of these along psychoanalytic linesmiserliness is neurotic addict[ion] to eternity, hedonism is hysteric addict [ion] to an always-already deferred future (239). Both share in a

metaphysics of lackthey can therefore be further glossed as attitudes toward death, either an attempt to ward it off through accumulation, or a continual deferral shuttling from object to object. While a psychoanalytic (more specifically Lacanian) narrative is helpful for thinking the dynamics of these attitudes toward money/fulfillment/death, it is here that Batailles usefulness first becomes apparent. Before discussing the third, revolutionary, type of pleasure, I set out a basic outline of Batilles system; following this, I translate the above dynamics into his terms and unpack some of the implications of this translation. Cosmic Debauch The most immediate intersection of the above with Batailles work comes through the description of both forms of capitalist pleasure as economies of sacrifice, through abstinence (miserliness) and incontinence (hedonism) respectively (239). This term holds a central place in Batailes thought, functioning at both an individual level and a social one, a place that will become clear after a more general outline of his work. For Bataille, our status as individuals entails an essential alienation. Because we produce sexually, rather than through syzygy (as bacteria do, for example), we are inherently discontinuous; instead of a splitting at the cellular level, whereby the birth of new organisms entails the death of the old (a moment of discontinuity in general continuity), we are faced with the reverse situation (Bataille 1986, 12). We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation, our alienation only broken by evanescent instant(s) of continuity between two or more organisms (12, 13), a process to which Bataille gives the name eroticism. While the sexual connotation is certainly intended here, Bataille means the term in a broader fashion than conventional use of the term allows. Eroticism for Bataille is the (always forceful) interruption of discontinuity; this interruption is bound up with both its

experience as violence, and with its relation to death. As Bataille writes, discussing physical (sexual or physically violent) eroticism specifically: existence itself is at stake in the transition from discontinuity to continuity. Only violence can bring everything to a state of flux in this way, only violence and the nameless disquiet bound up with it. We cannot imagine the transition from one state to another one basically unlike it without picturing the violence done to the being called into existence through discontinuity [e.g. ourselves]. Not only do we find in the uneasy transitions of organisms engaged in reproduction the same basic violence which in physical eroticism leaves us gasping, but we also catch the inner meaning of that violence. What does physical eroticism signify if not the violation of the very being of its practitioners? (17) This focus on violence at first appears antisocial, even psychotic. Once the basic mechanism is grasped in its inner meaning (17), however, Bataille tells us we can isolate three aspects of eroticism, none of which necessarily entail injurious physical violencewe can bridge the gap of our separation and confront our own finitude through physical eroticism (actual violence, sexual activity or other extreme physical experience), emotional eroticism ( the devices of courtly love or communication or other forms or intellectual exaltation), or religious eroticism (mysticism, meditation or religious ritual) (21). The mechanism of all of these may fundamentally said to be a violation of subjective boundaries, but not one of violence done to one self and anotherif it were truly destructive [] the quality of the erotic act would be no more enhanced than through the roughly equivalent procedures just described (18). The important thing is the breaking down of established patterns, situational or social (18), the transgression of habit and convention. The common dynamic of all

of these procedures is sacrifice, physical or notwe violate the parameters of our own being with respect to another person, a deity, or a generalized outside, the earth, universe, or other object. In so doing, we temporarily confront the end of our discontinuity and identity as discrete subjects-our own death. We temporarily sacrifice ourselves to the being or object on which our eroticism focuses. This

sacrifice produces feelings of obscenityour name for the uneasiness which upsets the physical state associated with self-possession (17), a feeling at once ecstatic and revolting, divine and demonic and in which the two sets of affects become indistinguishable from one another. Batailles description of the economy of the self is scalar; the same processes occur on the social level. Bataille divides human experience into a prior animal one and a social one. The rise of a strictly human experience occurs when men (sic) made tools and used them in order to survive, and thenfor less necessary purposes (31). A further distinction can be made between tool-making in itself (as we might observe in certain other primates) and this ever-expansive use of tools for less necessary purposes, as well as for making more advanced tools: In a word work. (30). This division into animal (realtively homeostatic, instinctual, isolated) existence and human (recursively expanding and productive, partially conscious, social) existence carries a concomitant division into the taboo and the permitted. Taboos work in the interest of maintaining more structured, reasoned, productive existence against the instinctual violence characterizing animal existence. Bataille writes: Man (sic) has built up the rational world by his own efforts, but there remains within him an undercurrent of violence. Nature herself is violent, and however reasonable we may grow to be, we may be mastered anew by a violence no longer that of nature, but that of a rational being who tries to obey but who succumbs to stirrings within himself which he cannot bring to heel (40) As humans, we are continually trapped between the will to master our desire and its indefatigable pulse. A few things are worth noting in this passage and the sentences which surround it. First, according to Bataille, our rational, human existence is

fundamentally untenable. Regardless of how well we think we have mastered our excess, this mastery is only ever a fiction. Second, while it might be correct to call such desires inhuman (or outside the human), it would be incorrect to label them animal-this is not a discrete state of nature, but rather an outside retroactively constituted by our will to order our existence. Third, drawing on the surrounding passages, this irruption of inhuman desire into human reason is mirrored in a concomitant division of time into labor time and the time of excess. Work produces a relaxation of tension thanks to which men (sic) cease to respond to the immediate urge impelled by the violence of desire (41)work allows us to time bind and produce knowledge. It also entails deferred gratification. While our impulses confer an immediate satisfaction upon those who yield to them, work promises to those who overcome them a reward later whose value cannot be disputed except from the point of view of the present moment (41). Work, for Bataille, is collective time: it is the concern of men acting collectively and during the time reserved for work, the collective has to oppose the contagious impulses in which nothing is left but the immediate surrender to excess, to violence (41). Though not strictly individual (its impulses are contagious), the time of eros is inescapably the time of inner experience (29). Even as it calls [individual] being into question, it is only ever experienced, according to Bataille, as a subjective opening onto an outside and is never productive of a discrete object which one can point to as the product of collective action. Moreover, while the violation of subjectivity characteristic of erotic experience requires an other of some sort, that other can just as easily be a statue of a god or ones own mindit need not be collective. The dividing line between these violent impulses and the time of reason, labor, and social convention may be termed taboo from outside the perspective of social

space-time and transgression from within it. The act of transgressing a taboo is a sacrifice. The above dynamic-inhuman desires versus work time-is enforced through a series of taboos, of which the most fundamental govern death (42) and reproduction (55). These are two sides of the same prohibition. Life is always a product of the decomposition of life. Life first pays its tribute to death, which then disappears, then to corruption following on death and bringing back into the cycle of change the matter necessary for the ceaseless arrival of new beings into the world (55). Eroticism, given the above definition as interruption of continuity into discontinuity, translates the unity at the heart of both taboos into the ambivalence at the heart of erotic experience. The simultaneous revulsion and ecstasy we feel at being pushed out of ourselves speaks to its ambivalence; we are trespassing on the ground of both decay and corruption and the creation of new life. As the dichotomy between desire and order would indicate, prohibitions on the desire to commit these prohibited acts are inevitably transgressed. This can occur in two ways, the first of which is inherent to the foundation of the law itself: if some violent negative emotion did not make violence horrible for everyone, reason alone could not define those shifting limits authoritatively enough. (63) Alternatively, often in socially prescribed situations, transgression is permitted. Within Batailles system this permission functions as a kind of inoculation, either as a proscriptive example, violence which enforces the law along the lines above (war, capital punishment, royal incest), or as a selective relaxation of social control, as in carnival situations, funeral rites and festivities (66) which function to absorb and bound the excess, or sacrificial acts on sacred days or to commemorate a material excess within a society (the most extreme example of this in Bataille is his discussion of Aztec human sacrifice in Bataille 1988, 45 ff.) These controlled excesses let off collective steam, working to

enforce social stability. Occasionally, however, as in the death of a sovereign, excess spills over its socially prescribed bounds. Bataile quotes Roger Callois discussion of the death of a Fijian king: disorder takes place during the critical period of decay represented by decay and death, exhausting itself when the flesh has rotted off the bones of the king (Bataille 1986, 67). Eventually things settle, and order restores itself. The above is a good description of Batailles social theory, but it is merely descriptive. In Batailles terms, it would be a particular (because specifically human) theory of society (Bataille 1988, 38), one given from within the perspective of a social order, and which takes deviations from that order as exceptions which resolve themselves into order. Stopping here would leave Batailles ontology completely inverted. To understand the larger context in which the above dynamic of taboo and transgression takes place, it is necessary to turn to a general, that is, cosmic scale. For Bataille, any economic (or other social theory) founded on lack is dangerously partial. Instead, the founding principle is the reverse: any system (any reaction in the universe) produces an excess, one which cannot be recouped or made productive. The paradigmatic example is the sun-it throws off enough light, heat and gravitational force to generate and sustain all our lives and those of the entire solar system, but the vast majority of its energy passes us by, going nowhere. At the level of the planet earth, especially of living matter in general, energy is always in excess (23). Economic and social theory which confines itself to the supposedly closed system of a society, even a global one, misses this movement completely. While scarcity exists for particular beings (23) at this or that historical and sociopolitical conjuncture, this scarcity is at most a temporary break in the flow of excess. The larger economic question, then, becomes how the wealth is to be squandered.

Production is inherently leaky, and any attempt to capture the things it produces (whether the production is human or not) is, like a river into the sea, bound to escape and be lost to us (23). Both at the social and general level, the process of negotiating with what escapes a given system is called sacrifice. This negotiation has two aspects, the first of which is the common core of violent rupture discussed above as both erotic experience and the transgression of social law (the obscene or, in Kantian terms, the sublime) and, at a nonhuman level, the inevitable wastage of energy accompanying any reaction . Given this general perspective, the rupture becomes the ground which social and subjective systems strive futilely to contain, and will inevitably release in some way. This is where ethics comes in: We can ignore or forget the fact the ground we live on is little other than a field of multiple destructions, or we can choose to open ourselves to and negotiate with these destructions. Our ignorance only has this incontestable effect: It causes us to undergo what we could bring about (23), often violently. This need for decision delays itself somewhat through mechanisms of social or individual growth: at the individual level, an organism can reproduce or individually grow and develop (improve its physical condition) and at the social level a society can grow within its limits of resources or physical space. Once an initial limit is reached, the system either expands or expends in order to negotiate its excessive production. The mechanisms for bringing about rupture are many; those Bataille analyzes can be roughly grouped into six categories, which mix in the context of a given society. First comes actual violence: planned war economies (such as that of early Islam, see 81 ff., or armies fighting a war for territory), who expend excess by putting resources into their militaries and expand their territory and control over resources through conquest. Second come violent sacrificial societies, of which the

given example is the Aztecs (p. 41, ff.), who expend through both actual human sacrifice and through investing resources into the ritual implements and apparatus for the sacrifice as well as through the investiture of human resources into an often celibate priestly caste who perform the sacrifices and curb growth through their celibacy. A less violent subset of this category would include sacrifice of resources or animals short of the human, as can be seen in classical Greek culture or African diasporic traditions such as Vodoun. Third comes expenditure of resources in the construction of religious art or cultural monuments; Bataille takes Tibetan Buddhisms system of lamaseries as paradigmof this category (93), also using the examples of Renaissance and Medieval Catholicisms construction of cathedrals and finance of art and architecture (116). Here, too, there is often a celibate priestly caste who is attached to these institutions and the cultural artifacts they produce. Fourth comes circumscribed re-investment of excess into the human in holidays, feasts or carnivalesque pageantry. Subsidization of idleness is the simplest means for this purpose (119), but we obtain the same result if we ingest a substance, such as alcohol, whose consumption does not enable us to work moreor even deprives us, for a time, of the strength to produce (119), as well as if we consume food and other resources gratuitously (120). All of the above are provisional modes of expending excess; they fulfill Batailles ethical criterion of consciously bring[ing] about the inevitable leakage in society in various ways. The other two modes of expenditure are special cases in that they constitute two limit poles. They also help us to draw a finer ethical line within the general prescription to recognize excess in our economies. The first case is the most manifestly unethical; we undergo that which we could bring about, we foreclose the excess and attempt to close the system. This is the pole of capitalism, and the

drive to accumulate more generally. Following Weber, Bataille ties this mentality to the Reformation and the ascent of Protestantism. By placing a divine world free from compromise away from the negotiations of the secular world, Luther abstracted religion from its more manifestly social dynamics (123). With Calvin, this separation of material wealth from faith breaks down again, but in a different way: the good Christian had to be humble, saving, hard-working [] he even had to eliminate begging, which went against principles whose norm was productive activity (123). Religion becomes an impetus to productive activity, and economic wealth becomes proof that salvation has been attained (123), but the former subordination of economics to society is inverted (124). Tracing this trajectory to the present, and seeing it as fundamentally underpinning both Soviet state communism and global capital, Bataille figures it as a colossal foreclosure of the openness of the social system. Instead of negotiating with the necessity to expend excess, we deny that we need to, channeling production into ruthless accumulation and expansion. Imperialist expansion temporarily expends enough resources to avert global catastrophe, but Bataille sees the present of his own time as immensely precarious. Military expenditure in expansionism has given way on both sides of the incipient cold war to a nuclear arms race; Bataille sees this buildup of force as inevitably bursting at some point, potentially taking all of us with it. In general economic terms, the more one allows pressure (of humans, resources) to build without expending it, the more one denies the need to waste, the greater the chance of catastrophic collapse later on (see pp. 147 ff.). Here the tendency toward expansionist war finds its apotheosis in the potential for the cruelest and costliest conflict (169) the world has ever seen. To counteract this tendency toward war, Bataille juxtaposes another tendency, that of communism. The roots of this concept as Bataille discusses it are to be found

in what he considers the opposite of a rapine, of a profitable exchange or, generally speaking, of an appropriation of possessions (72), namely the economy of gift or potlatch. This is the only historical institution Bataille speaks of as adequate to the principles of general economyit is the return of lifes immensity to the truth of exuberance (76). Bataile outlines the general mechanism of the potlatch: people give gifts, either at a festival or on some other occasion. Giving translates into acquiring a power(70), in the sense that one demonstrates ones power to consume the wealth one is giving away, and in the process obligates the person to which one gives the gift to return the favor, and so on. Thus material power is lost, but an immaterial power is gained: one acquires a rank, a factor of prestige which in potlatch societies varies decisively according to an individuals capacity for giving (71). The giving is all the more productive in this sense if it is not usefulfeasts are better by this calculus than conventionally profitable trade. This process is contradictory in two senses. First, though material resources are squandered, the drive to rank is still the drive to accumulate; the one who gives makes waste itself an object of acquisition (72). Second, wealth and poverty may become inverted the closer one gets to annihilating all ones wealth, to the most abject poverty, the more one demonstrates ones power. A genuine luxury requires a complete contempt for riches, the somber indifference of the individual who refuses work and makes his life on one hand an infinitely ruined splendor and on the other a silent insult to the laborious life of the rich (77). In modernity, and on an international scale, Bataille sees this as a potential strategy for coming to a properly communist global self-consciousness. Here exists the possibility for the full possession of intimacy, with one another and with a sense of the sacred that allows us to be most open to our personal and social outside (189). Bataille sees a tentative

historical opening for this process in the Marshall plan (an expenditure without reserve from an advantaged United States to a ruined Europe), but given both the use of that plan to break up postwar socialism in Europe and the development of the mentality Bataille fears so much since, it is obvious that this potential, if it in fact existed, was not realized. Now that the breadth of Batailles social theory has been surveyed, we can return to the common to ask, first, what such observations can do for our economy of pleasure and second, what they can do for the institutional practice of the common. Consumerist Excess The above typology of ways of negotiating excess maps on to the two capitalist pleasure economies discussed previously. It is easy to see the first type of economy, that of the miser, in economies of accumulation, combined in various measure with the expansionist tendencies of war economies and the violent ones of economies of sacrifice. At the level of accumulation, there is a double movement. Money becomes the general form of wealth, translating incommensurability into equivalence, then this equivalence attracts desire so that specific desires for different types of resources become the drive to accumulate in its purest sense. War and expansion are the byproducts of this drive; war first in imperialist expansion (more wealth, hence money) and then in a purified accumulation of death itself (the stockpiles of nuclear weapons as metonymy for the accumulation of resources at the expense of the rest of the worlds health and happiness). The sacrificial component follows from this plunder, and becomes clear when we realize that the boss wishes his own workers to practice this [accumulation]for he experiences all other workers not as workers at all, but as potential consumers (Casarino 2008a, 240) to which, if we look outside the core of global capital, we might add: or expendable labor, bodies to be harvested as

resources. The miser accumulates and expands from the point of view of his or her personal and institutional investments (in a corporation or national economy), but all others become sacrifices, either indirectly through denial of resources (underdevelopment, hoarding of food, water and other necessities) or directly through their use to produce more goods or to consume what little they are given by the system. This schema works with some minor translations; hedonism, on the other hand, poses problems, at least for one invested in Batailles exaltation of the potlatch economy. In many ways, hedonism works like a perverse version of such gift economies: one accumulates only in order to spend, discarding products as one moves on to the next consumer experience. There is even a disturbing congruity of terms: Bataille refers to gift economies as societies of consumption in contrast to societies of enterprise (Bataille 1988, 45) and the reactionary valence of economies of prestige has been theorized by theorists of social or symbolic capital such as Pierre Bourdieu, among others. One can even find traces of this mechanism in contemporary commercials, or as one recent car ad says: The day you give someone a Lexus is just the first of many memories youll make with them. Like Batailles endorsement, in his own time, of a plan that while built around generosity virtually and in mechanism had a thoroughly reactionary effect in practice, this problem may be a product of his own historical context (prior to the most egregious excesses of the culture industry), or an inherent problem with his theory and the alternatives he offers to capitalism. While I believe the former hypothesis, a few more words on the convergence between general economy and the economy of pleasure and desire are in order before exploring it. Beyond a specific mapping of modes of expenditure onto economies of pleasure, several general points of comparison emerge between Batailles system and

the problematic of pleasure/desire outlined above. First, if we were to position Bataille along the axis of the debate, he would (along with Marx and Spinoza) be one of the thinkers who refuses to choose (Casarino 2008a, 231) between pleasure and desire. More precisely, Batille becomes a thinker of the boundary between the two, describing in detail the bodily experience whereby one literally comes outside of oneself (233), and he both thinks this problem through its micro-corporeal dimension (what it feels like to be a body undergoing such an experience) and the macrocorporeal dimension of the ways social bodies negotiate such experiences and the political valence of various strategies for this negotiation. Second, and following on this observation, Bataille adds conceptual precision to the strata of the experience of desires infolding into a subject. At one level, we have the experience of an individual undergoing erotic experience, an opening onto the outside; at another, the way this opening onto the outside interacts with the stability (or disruption) of a larger set of conventions and social frameworks, and at a third level, the opening of the social framework itself onto its own outside, and the way it negotiates these experiences collectively. The examples of miserliness and hedonism can be more finely parsed (in a way that takes a first step toward resolving the difficulty above) through this tripartite schema. Miserliness is accumulative (hence deceptive, unethical) at the first and third levels of the schema, but not at the second: one accumulates personal wealth and saves for the bad times insofar as one is a member of a particular economy, class or corporation. At the second level, that of individual experience opening onto a social outside, we have expenditure, sacrificial in Batailles terms, of those outside ones individual or corporate interest. Calling this sacrifice ethical, however, would be problematic insofar as its cruelty only occurs in the interest of a larger closed economy of accumulation, that of global capital. This larger, closed

interest leads to the instrumentalization of the sacrifice, as well as the use of other humans as sacrificial object (which, while not explicitly condemned by Bataille, is certainly unnecessary in the context of his theory). Within the same vocabulary, hedonism is ethical/sacrificial at the level of individual experience (one continually gets off on buying new things and discarding old, sometimes even giving them away), but unethical/closed at the other two levelsat the individual-social level, one gives only to cement ones social status, and most often the discarding of old products only serves further material acquisition. This parallels Batailles discussion of the transformation of sacrifice into an object of acquisition, but as this sacrifice demonstrates the material wealth one continues to retain after the sacrifice (a surplus over ones needs), it is expenditure with reserve. At the level of a social outside, the system is likewise closed; we discard, but only to separate our waste products (harmful chemicals in electronics, plastics and Styrofoam, etc.) from the closed system of our socius, dumping them somewhere else. Taking up this more specific vocabulary produces a third general point, a problem rather than a convergence. Batailles ethics are very general, asking primarily whether a society acknowledges its excess or not. In both the solutions he offers his own moment and In his proviso that the violence of erotic experience or social expenditure need not be actually destructive, he seems to point to a finer ethical shading (better to give to the least advantaged rather than the most, better to sacrifice sexually or with generosity rather than violently), but never fleshes this out into a criterion or category. Moreover, his essentialization of the erotic experience (it is equally productive of the experience he is talking about whether war or feast, sadism or communism) provides a barrier to differentiating between different ways of getting to the point he discusses. Using the vocabulary of pleasure and desire, we can more specifically

parse different types of erotic or limit-experience, each with its own economy of pleasure, which is productive, at the level of the social or inhuman outside, of different types of desiring systems. Fourth and finally, in a position that would seem to put him at odds with most, if not all of the literature on the common, Bataille would see gift-giving or limit-experience as fundamentally unproductive. This would seem to further divorce his position from both the specific politics of the common, and, more generally, any libertatory or progressive political project which takes production as one of its key terms. I will argue that if Bataille is read carefully, however, there is at least an opening for a particular type of productionit is just one radically alien to a utilitarian or capitalist conception. To explore these last two issues further, I return to Casarinos essay, and to his discussion of revolutionary pleasure. Production without Reserve: Eros, Communication, Mysticism, Power The quote from Time Matters at the beginning of this essay already gives us an idea of what a revolutionary pleasure might look like: a practice which both creates pleasure and continually widen(s) its sphere (243). The essay also discusses a few other features of such an economy of pleasure. These pleasures, like any other, imply a collective process of formation, but one adequate to the formless, unquantifiable, nonmeasurable quality of the experience outside capitals mechanisms of capture (233). This is due to a dual movement in the widening of pleasures sphere: there is both an elevation or quantitative change in degree of pleasure, the continual expansion of the sphere of nonwork, pleasures that capital must pay for (243) and, more radically (because it changes the fabric of the capitalist system itself rather than merely putting it into crisis) an intensive or qualitative change in kind of pleasure. This second move effects an ontological broadening of the sphere of pleasures rather than a quantitative one, constituting

new revolutionary subjectivities (243-4). This qualitiative change is glossed as cairos, a term which both Agamben and Negri have picked up in their own way to designate a stop[age] of time, its revolutionary, qualitative alteration (for Agamben), and the unique exigency of the present moment for revolutionary action, the time of decision (for Negri). Casarino also gestures toward a potential common ground between these projects and that of Gilles Deleuze in Logic of Sense, writing (in words that echo Deleuzes ethics of not [being] unworthy of what happens to us (Deleuze 2004, 169) of the quality of the moment as an eventThings happenand of our ability to affirm these things as necessary and actively turn [] them into lives and worlds of our own making over and over again (Casarino 20008a, 233). Batailles time of eros adds to this, but in order to see how, it is necessary to explore four problems: those of the overlap of his theory and terminology with that of hedonistic consumerism, his assertion of the non-productivity of expenditure, raised above, as well as two more conflicts between his work and the literature on the common, those of the place of mysticism and communication in an ethics of surplus or excess. Resolving the first problem is the easiest; it can be done within the tripartite division given above. Both of the capitalist economies described work by managing expenditurea miser expends at the global level, but does so in the interest of personal accumulation insofar as he or she is attached to a particular set of social groups. The hedonist expends at the personal level, but does so in the interest of social status (leveragable toward economic gain) and reinvestment in the closed economy of capital. A revolutionary economy would be open on all three levelsone gives of oneself and the things which happen to one, unreservedly to a society which is likewise open to its own contingency. There is no attempt to reclaim or close off the system at any level other than the minimum required to continually expand ones

power to give and open oneself to the outside. This allows a further ethical shading to Batailles discussion of historical expenditure: some systems (Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, capital) expend (or deterritorialize) resources outside the productive sphere of their respective societies, while reterritorializing them onto a specific hierarchy of power relations, in the form of a priestly class or the king who gives the feast and to whom one is now indebted. Othersand the closer we come to this point, the closer we come to communismmove away from this debt economy. One gives, not to the point of self annihilation, but to the point of continually dilating the boundaries of ones own subjectivity. One deterritorializes material or intellectual resources, reterritorializing them onto a collective, mutual framework of support and production a general intellect or association; this network of support further deterritorializes and then returns, not onto an axiomatic or global economic body, but onto an ecological onewe ride the wave between maximum giving of our collective resources, openness to the outside, and the collapse of the emergent system that is human society. Exploration of the other three problems of this section will clarify the first mechanism; the second will form the substance of the essays conclusion. Production: the term still nags. Of all the aspects of Batailles economics, one of the most emphatic is that expenditure does not produce. To treat it in a manner commensurate with its power, we must treat it like a river into the sea. Using Batailles words and composing in his spirit about the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti, Alphonso Lingis writes: The state of ecstasy then is not any kind of project. It is even indifferent to the effects that may result from it. It is remote from all morality unless it be the morality of the Bhagavad-gita.Ecstasy explains nothing, illuminates nothing and justifies nothing, Georges Bataille wrote. It is nothing more than a flower, necessarily as incomplete and as perishable as a flower (Lingis 2004, 175).

While dangerous to the social order, dangerous to [the] sel[f], ecstasy from this perspective has no positive political valence (175). Of the Haitian situation, Lingis remarks that the ecstatic reception of Aristide which occasioned his article was to be without consequence (176). For himself, likewise, there was nothing I could bring back from the garden of the presidential palace (176). Such evaporative social effect seems antithetical to a project of the common. In the first place, both Casarino and Negri emphasize the need to account for production, both in the political form of an anti-capitalist project and the subjective one of the reconstitution of political subjects. In the second place, if taken at face value, the above description effectively returns us to the apolitical reading of Bataille touched on above. If excess ha s no positive political value, if it is only ever the not-social, then it is neither possible to reactualize it in positive ways nor to divorce it from the historical air of bloody war and sacrifice that it carries with it. At most, we can reduce the qualitative toll this takes: tribal war instead of nuclear. Finally, production appears as a general political question, in the context of a return to labor-time. Bataille deals with this by making it a negative; it is the inevitable lapse back into order following the death of the king, or its controlled re-imposition once the ritual has ended. If we are to refuse to choose between stoppage of time and productive time, however, we need a further articulation of production to a society based on excess, a discussion of what production looks like in such a culture. Such a theory can be extracted from Batailles own work through both a reading of the Lingis quote above and of the examples given earlier. About Lingis, we can say that while he is perceptive in seeing the crowd around Haitis presidential palace as a recalcitrant excess, an ecstasy much like Bataille describes, he sells both himself and the crowd short. For his own part, he clearly did bring something back

from the palacematerial for a paper that was later published un a book, circulated, discussed and cited. This is not at the level of a direct intervention in the politics of the moment, but it is something nonetheless. Second, granted that the dreary political business as usual of early 21st-century Haiti reasserted itself soon after Aristide returnedthat does not mean, however, that the crowd could not have been creatively mobilized, the excess channeled constructively (without being contained). It means that the virtual potential inherent in the moment was actualized through foreign intervention (the Marine helicopters carrying the President to his home) and publication (capture) in various global media channels, rather than in the energy of the crowd. To situate both of these points in Batailles theory, it is helpful to turn to three of his own examples, the sun, ritual sacrifice and the potlatch. The sun throws of light and heat, excess from its perspective. Some of this excess coagulates (figuratively) around the solar system, earth, human society. The rest flows away from our perspectivebut it still goes somewhere, intersecting with other planetary bodies, stars, being sucked into a black hole. A similar dynamic can be observed in a sacrifice: if a feast is cooked or an animal killed for a deity, some of the food may be eaten-what is offered to the deity is disposed of somewhere, in a specific sacred spot or elsewhere. This food is waste from the point of view of the human, but animals may eat it, in may enrich the soil or generate a bacteria colony through its decomposition. The final example is the most explicit from a political perspective: what is generated is prestige, waste itself made an object of acquisition (Bataille 1988, 72). Production thus always occurs, in keeping with a principle at least as close to the heart of Batailles system as waste: every action produces an excess. Based on these examples, we can reframe the difference between expenditure and accumulation. A use of some object is accumulation if an

attempt is made to capture it at the systemic level at which it was produced (whether that be a social system or a natural one). It is expenditure if it jumps levelsthe stellar to the terrestrial, the altar to the cremation ground, extension to thought; an eternally, circulating gift to the universe which definitionally generates no surplus value for those circulating it. At its most intensive level, the answer to the question of what is produced through ecstasy, through the challenge to our own being, is answered by Lingis in the preface to the same book from which the above is taken: what is produced are relations such as trust and physical intimacy openness to the sensibility and forces of another (Lingis 2004, xii). I undergo ecstatic experience with others, one or many, we come out of ourselves together and dwell in each others vulnerability to produce affects which go beyond the attitudes toward images and representations (xii) we project on one another in conventional conversation (x): the trust productive of ever more full honesty, the courage which leads me to sacrifice myself in a collective while remaining singular. We produce relations which can hold one resolute and lucid as death approaches, and despite the fact that the other will be forever unknown to our consciousness (x). These produced relations carry outside the ecstatic situation to bring us closer when they have passed, an affective communication that underlies and increases the plenitude of the discursive, a shared vocabulary of lovers or friends which produces itself out of their bodily intimacy, rather than the reverse. This leads to an overhaul of Batailles prestige economy: extravagant giving at the individual produces something on the immaterial, communicative level of the social, but this immaterial production is a virtual tendency actualizable in a number of ways. It can re-accrue onto the giver (the least open) in the form of prestige, or produce relations of trust and open community. There are also strata of materiality: we can allow the reference to Foucaults bodies and

pleasures at the end of Casarinos essay (245) lead us to an interview at the end of Foucaults life where what is produced from shared sexual experience is friendship, a relation outside the norms of contemporary capital, and new practices of sexuality, new powers of bodily articulation (Foucault 2006, 135 ff.). At a more material level, then, ecstasy can also re-code itself back into social practices, but in a form which displaces them and creates new practices. The degree to which this becomes revolutionary production (as opposed to capitalist innovation) will depend upon whether the system closes itself off at the level of the social, articulating the new practices to the dead social relations of profit and equivalence, as opposed to its potential openness to contingency. In this light, mysticism and semantic communication become specific forms of this impulse to time-bind or create new socially valent practices, which I turn to now. Mysticism is the stickiest of these social practices, insofar as it has been critiqued from a variety of Marxian angles over the years; here I will focus on Negris critique, as it is closest to the current discussion. Negris critique of mysticism forms the central part of his critique of Benjaminian Jetztzeit, or zero time. This critique has two aspects: first, it posits revolutionary moment as exception. It becomes a form of time is measure insofar as it is made the negative; the time of not-work (Negri 2003, 115). For Negri, this leads to a revolutionary apocalypticism that is simultaneously worship of death. The practice of absolute now-time appears as a culture of the practice of death, the abduction of time from being (114). Because of this status as exception, Jetztzeit becomes mini-crisis, a little stoppage or revolutionary moment in miniature, which better allows capitalism to innovate and stave off its antagonisms it is mysticism, and mysticism always stinks of the boss (112). This critique of exception as apocalypticism also informs the second point. The Jetztzeit is

reactionary because it is unproductive, the time of revolution made zero-time, hence negative. Batailles thought can speak to both of these critiques. The first way, one which answers both points, is his inversion of the dichotomy Negri is talking about. Stoppage of conventionally productive time is in fact the norm, the basis for the halting and tentative organization that makes up life in the state. If it appears the reverse, it is because modern capital is particularly assiduous about foreclosing on its own foundations. Moreover, if it is made the norm, this state becomes positive Batailles economic model of the generation of excess shows that such stoppage can actually be characterized as an overflowing, revolutionary excess taking some of the system with it. This allows us to keep the basic mechanism of the zero-time, but invert the rhetoric Benjamin gives it. It might be apocalyptic in a literal sense, a rending of the social veil, but this rending exists as ontologically prior to the veil it tears. The question is then how to make such exceptions more and more the rule. The second point Bataille adds is a corrective to Negrieven if the monotonous time of measure should be labeled reactionary, there is no question that after communism takes global hold, if it ever does, there will still be toilets to be cleaned (or dug), infrastructure maintenance to be done, a whole spate of socially necessary activities which are somewhat inherently not that fun. Bataille reminds us that some accounting for these things is necessary if we are going to live an existence that could be called human (and if we wish to acquire and keep the power to recursively improve our capacities for action and production), but he is still careful to make heterogeneous, ecstatic time prior to the time of measure. The conversation about production above also shows that something like a zero-time or mystical time is effectively framed as another type of production, one (again) ontologically prior to and constitutive of, the social relations necessary for more conventionally material

production. Finally, we can read Negris own work elsewhere to dislodge his critique of mysticism from Bataille. Writing about Spinoza, Negri tells us that the employment of religious techniques and language to acquire greater power (as Spinoza does) is the negation of mysticism hence a tool of liberation because it aims at a preconstituted condition rather than a transcendent one (Negri 1991, 178)his example is the process in the Ethics part V, where Spinoza feigns a transition to beatitude and mental eternity to capture what has already been there all along. The use of what appear to be tools of mystical exaltation, in other words, are permissible, even progressive, provide they aim at the actualization of a preconstituted condition rather than a transcendent state. Batailles thought again adds to this, in a manner consonant with it, and troubles it somewhat. On the one hand, again, the ecstatic state is made ontologically priorit is there all along, it remains to actualize it. On the other hand (as, I would also argue, with Spinozas third type of knowledge) its presence is necessarily fleeting. The most one can do is position oneself (or ones society) to be maximally open to such experiences, able to take advantage of them when the opportunity arises. Batailles ethics is an account of such openings onto an immanent outsidehe provides both a historical analysis of how people have done so, and some mechanisms of the experience itself. To further immanentize mysticism, it is worth noting that it is not a separate domain of practice from those peak experiences already discussed, just one more stratum. Another such stratum is everyday communication. Here, in contrast to the discussion of mysticism, Negris critique of the exceptionalism of peak experience is a useful corrective to Bataille. Bataille discusses communication throughout inner Experience, generally in scattered, fragmentary form. The overarching theme, though, is that communication only takes place at the peaks of inner experiencewe

communicate only through ecstasy; everyday conversation is a poor imitation at best, an insidious lie at worst. Negris argument allows us to see the potential this argument holds for everyday experience. We should apply the same ethics to communication that we apply to peak experience, asking about a subjects openness to his or her own outside when he or she speaks (a criterion glossed by the risk of self inherent in conversation by rhetorical scholars sich as Wayne Brockreide in his article Arguers as Lovers, 1991), and about what is produced therefrom, without distinguishing the two sets of experience, other than pragmatically as above. Experientially, they become the shifting qualitative textures of the fabric of continual events, our openness to which measures both our economy of pleasures and our ethics. We can thus see the outlines of a larger spectrum: from those slow, careful buildings of relations and intensities characteristic of conversation, to a meditative induction of peak experience that appears as mysticism but is in fact largely separate from it, to a common production of texts or objects through the pleasures of physical or intellectual labor, to a bodily peak experience, often chemical or sexual, productive of (at one level) new practices and modes of bodily composition and, at another, the same relations of trust and intimacy produced by conversation or mutual contemplation, in fast-forward. How to articulate our institutions around these productions, then, is a key task for a new politics, one which forms the subject of a brief concluding note to the essay. Sacrificial Communism: Expenditure, Institutions and the Violence of the Common The function of shamanism is to implement what is forbidden, exactly and comprehensively as and why it is forbidden, but in specially segregated compartments of the socius [] An epidemic shamanismfeeding all the codes back on themselvesthreatens absolute social disaster. -Nick Land, Meat (or How to Kill Oedipus in Cyberspace)

Communication, finally, leads us to the level of institutions. Only a few brief notes are possible here, linking Bataille to other theorists of a social or linguistic common and drawing some tentative connections. A useful definition of political institutions here is provided by Gilles Deleuze who, writing about Spinoza, describes politics as an organization of encounters, forming a totality of compatible relations (Deleuze 1990, 262). This gives an initial sense of how the individual encounters described above circulate with respect to one anotherorganization into an association or institution is a way of continually potentiating individual openings onto the outside, as well as working to ensure their increasing expansion. The specific mechanism of this organization (or at least one to be overcome in its constitution) is described by the Land quote abovehow a society manages difference, how it allows its anomalies to exist while capturing them in particular times or places, is both a key mechanism of state power and a potential valve for the ingress of societys outside. Caution should be exercised hereas with mysticism, Bataille shows the degree to which an unmediated, constant dwelling in sacrificial time would be absolute social disaster, even at the level of being able to survive. Some sort of separation is necessary (and inevitableour lives are not one long epiphany). This separation might be institutionally diagrammed through Paolo Virnos description in Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation of historico-natural institutions of the common, in particular that of the Katechon, or the continual pushing-away of the apocalypse described by Paul. Such institutions as Virno describes them complement Bataille they are historico-natural, acknowledging the porousness of a given association to its natural outside, and also leave room for continual modulation of the social system with respect to that outside. Bataille complements Virno through poetic description this is what these institutions might feel likeand through historical analysis of the

ways such institutions are both historico-naturaltheir interaction with the earth and historically actualized, discussing mechanisms similar to Virnos in terms of actual economics and social systems. Bataille also (for me at least) has the advantage that he makes linguistic actualizations of such institutions a subset of a more bodily politicsit is not a matter of a politics adequate to language, as Virno says, but of both a politics and a language more open to the world. What this might look like as a social ethics is described by Allan Stoekl in his Batailles Peak: Energy, Religion, Postsustainability. Stoekl articulates a rethinking of what it means to be happy in political terms, through the valorization of expenditure (which he contrasts to waste)replacing the abstracted waste of our depletion of fossil fuels or our dumping of chemical byproducts with delight in the expenditure of our bodily energy to produce power and sustenance, continually putting forth this energy without reserve in the interest of pushing the socius along a path of continual future expenditure (xx). This adds a global element to the point about Virno and a yardstick for measuring a given institution. All of these observations merit expansion upon, but there is not space to do so here; they must remain suggestions, openings for future research. But something is still off, a lingering disquiet. In a way, this entire paper has been a farcical attempt to domesticate Bataille, to make a good socialist out of a thinker alien to such determinations, to blunt the abrasion of his writing[, shearing] uselessly across [our] inarticulacy so that he sits well with others, even engages in conversation (Land 1992 xii). In a way, to succeed in writingabout Bataille is already something wretched, because it is only in the twisted interstitial spaces of failure that contact, infection and[] communication can take place. (xii) Batailles value, then, consists in the gap between what we aim at and its failures, the degree

to which it misses the mark, and in the productivity that results from this missing. This gives us a final charge: in Paolo Virnos terms, from Grammar of the Multitude, of the dialectic between dread and refuge, Bataille teaches us to dwell in the space between the two, cataloguing the bodily and social sensations, and contagions, produced by this dwelling in the space of common trust because of, rather than in denial of, our animal, all-too-human, inherently ambivalent nature as a species. To learn to dwell in the darkness for a while, becoming used to the fear it provokes, and to be able to turn to the body next to us and share warmth and support without expecting a return, a spiraling cycle of generosity. Batailles central contribution, in the end, is giving us a thoroughly visceral sense of this disquieting darkness, one which both incessantly exceeds the bounds of our comfortable politics and bodily comportment and, generously, gives too a sense of the common openness to one another, and to the world, that comes from learning to be comfortable even as we are not.

Works Cited Bataille, Georges, 1897-1962. The Accursed Share : An Essay on General Economy. New York: New York : Zone Books, 1991. ---. Death and Sensuality. New York: New York, Walker, 1962. ---. Inner Experience. Albany N.Y.: Albany [N.Y.]: State University of New York Press, 1988. Brockriede, Wayne. "Arguers as Lovers." Philosophy & Rhetoric 5.1 (1972): 1-11. ---. "Arguers as Lovers." Philosophy & Rhetoric 5.1 (1972): 1-11. Casarino, Cesare. Surplus Common. in In Praise of the Common : A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. Minneapolis: Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Casarino, Cesare. Time Matters. in In Praise of the Common : A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. Minneapolis: Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Deleuze, Gilles. Expressionism in Philosophy : Spinoza. New York : Cambridge, Mass.: New York : Zone Books ; Cambridge, Mass. : Distributed by MIT Press, 1990. Land, Nick, 1962-. The Thirst for Annihilation : Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism : An Essay in Atheistic Religion. London ; New York: London ; New York : Routledge, 1992. LAND, NICK. "Meat (Or how to Kill Oedipus in Cyberspace)." Body & Society 1.3-4 (1995): 191-204. Negri, Antonio, 1933-. The Savage Anomaly : The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics. Minneapolis: Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1991. ---. Time for Revolution. New York ; London: New York ; London : Continuum, 2003. Spinoza, Benedictus de, 1632-1677. Ethics. New York: New York : Oxford University Press, 2000. Stoekl, Allan. Bataille's Peak : Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability. Minneapolis: Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Virno, Paolo, 1952-. A Grammar of the Multitude : For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life. Los Angeles : Cambridge, Mass.: Los Angeles : Semiotext(e) ; Cambridge, Mass. : Distributed by the MIT Press, 2004.

---. Multitude between Innovation and Negation. Los Angeles, CA : Cambridge, Mass.: Los Angeles, CA : Semiotext(e) ; Cambridge, Mass. : Distributed by The MIT Press, 2008.