Waking up I associate the horror of rats with the memory of my father correcting me… this has the effect of reminding me that my father being young would have wanted to do something atrocious to me with pleasure.
………– Georges Bataille, The Dream
Parody and wit are central to Bataille’s vision of the world: “It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.”1 This sense that nothing is what it seems, that appearances are deceptive, that the world is – as Vladimir Nabokov once observed: “Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” A world lost in the game of time, bound within an endless labyrinth of signs: a floating sea of inference and parodic display where vision and language are tied together in a false totality, connected and connecting word to word in an endless stream of linguistic copulas to Ariadne’s thread moving further and further into the darkness of a receding abyss. Yet, it was against this false semblance of Idealism that Bataille would lop the head of reason in favor of an interior journey into the labyrinths of the physical body itself, down into the sacred precincts of cruelty, sex, and violence. A voyage into the Solar Anus where love and life are conjugated with “continuous circular movement,” and the “surface of the earth is the image of a continuous metamorphosis”. (Bataille, p. 7)
We learn that a friend of Bataille’s upon reading his essay “The Solar Anus” would be horrified to the point that he’d seek a “psychoanalytical cure” for Bataille. Allan Stoekl, who would translate the essay in Visions of Excess writes that the intellectual violence characteristic of this text was in many ways “the animating force behind Bataille’s heterodox ‘theory'” of base matter:
Bataille by 1927 (in “The Solar Anus”) was already developing an approach to what he would call later … heterogeneous matter- matter so repulsive that it resisted not only the idealism of Christians, Hegelians, and Surrealists, but even the conceptual edifice – building of traditional materialists. ( xi) 2
Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons essay (pdf) covers in detail much of the history of this so I don’t see the point rehashing what she covers so excellently in her (mis)reading of Bataille. As Nick Land would say of Bataille’s thematic: “The common theme of these writings [Solar Anus, Rotten Sun, The Pineal Eye] is the submission of vision to a solar trajectory that escapes it, dashing representational discourse upon a darkness that is inextricable from its own historical aspiration” (p. 30)3 Or as Boldt-Irons will claim it is Bataille’s mission to dismantle and destroy all those strategies that seek the “re-contextualization” of Cartesian, Hegelian, Romantic and Surrealist attempts at total identification while at the same time subjecting the aforementioned strategies, and any discourse for that matter, to a global and endless parody in which the transcendence of any position is impossible. (STCL, Volume 25, No.2 (Summer, 2001), p. 372) One could say that language begins to chop off its own acephalic head in a parody without end. Reason begins to journey back into the cave or labyrinth of darkness where matter seems to shine like a golden child.
That Andre Breton and Georges Bataille would not see eye to eye on things is an understatement. Breton in The Second Manifesto (pdf) would criticize Bataille harshly:
M. Bataille, who is currently waging an absurd campaign against what he terms “the sordid quests for every integrity,” seems less willing to forgive than any other of our alleged shortcomings. M. Bataille interests me only insofar as he imagines that he is comparing the harsh discipline of the mind to which we intend purely and simply to subject literally everything-and we see no problem in making Hegel primarily responsible for it to a discipline which does not even manage to seem more cowardly, for it tends to be that of the nonmind (and it is there, in fact, that Hegel awaits it). M. Bataille professes to wish only to consider in the world that which is vilest, most discouraging, and most corrupted, and he invites man, so as to avoid making himself useful for anything specific, “to run absurdly with him-his eyes suddenly become dim and filled with unavowable tears-toward some haunted provincial houses, seamier than flies, more depraved, ranker than barber shops.” (pp. 182 – 183)
Breton’s moralism and idealist anathemas would lead him to excommunicate several Surrealists who were all reluctant to commit to historical materialism: Baron, Desnos, Boiffard, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Prévert and André Masson. Bataille despised the demagoguery of Breton who seemed more the Pope of a private religion, a dictator who demanded total and complete submission to his authority from his disciples. Desnos and others thrown out by Breton moved to the periodical Documents, edited by Georges Bataille, whose base materialism produced a hybrid Surrealism exposing the base instincts of humans.
As Christopher M. Gemerchak will discover Bataille’s fondness for Nietzsche’s aphoristic and fragmental style, aligned with the “automatic writing” of the surrealists were paths toward a vision of the instant divorced from utilitarian and totalitarian moralism that bound language to some ulterior goal and future.4 As Bataille would say: “If the present is always unavailable to thinking, because thought and language have no interest in the present – and at every moment substitute a vision of the future,” then automatic writing – which he sees as the foundation of surrealism – has its “principle… to have done with goals.” (Gemerchak, p. 149)
Acéphale: An Invitation to a beheading
I am the Jesuve, the filthy parody of the torrid and blinding sun.
…..– Bataille, The Solar Anus
Derived from the Greek ἀκέφαλος (akephalos, literally “headless”), Acéphale is the name of a public review created by Georges Bataille (which numbered five issues, from 1936 to 1939) and a secret society formed by Bataille and others who had sworn to keep silent. Of course we know that the image above was the cover of the journal Acéphale illustrated by André Masson with a drawing openly inspired by the famous one by Leonardo da Vinci of Vitruvian Man, who embodies classical reason. Masson’s figure, however, is headless, his groin covered by a skull, and holds in his right hand a burning heart, while in his left he wields a dagger.
In Rodolphe Gasché’s Georges Bataille: Phenomenology and Phantasmatology we come across Schelling’s research on the Sabians and their blind god, Acephalous:
In fact, Sabianism in itself is still unmythological and unhistorical, since no individual element forms a sequence or a step forward for it. This, however, does not prevent it from being, at least for us, the first member and element of a future progression, that is, of a future mythology, which in general is already acknowledged in advance. (PM, II, 199)6
As Gasché expounding on Schelling will say the first principle of supra-history, therefore, must have represented the truly headless and acephalous. Schelling, however, perceives in this fragmentation and tearing apart of the real principle, which represents itself in half-human and half-animal bodies, its death throes, “the final convulsions of this deisidaimonia, this principle of fear” (PM, II, 369) of the unmythological prehistory as a result of the violent unmanning through the self-asserting spiritual principle. (Gasché, p. 70) Schelling will describe it:
This death of the real principle had to be violent, the result of a struggle, not gentle and quiet, but, as I say, explicitly, cum ictu et actu bound, so that consciousness expressly posits also the spiritual god as that which was not possible without the death struggle of the real god. (PM, II, 269) (Gasché, p. 71)
The unmanning of the father and of the devouring and engulfing acephalous gods is always carried out by the sons of these fathers— Chronos and Zeus. But it follows from what we have seen so far that the unmanning, the downfall of the exclusive and upright-standing gods— an act that introduces the transition into actual mythology— is the overturning of the castrating principle itself. The gods unmanned by Chronos or Zeus are the devouring acephalous gods (threatening their children), whose very headlessness— similar to the head of the Medusa, but in an inverse fashion— represents the threat of castration. (Gasché, p. 71)
This sense of castration would bring me back to Bataille’s Dream where his father spreads “his obscene hands over me with a bitter and blind smile” (Bataille, p. 4). Is this not the blind god of the Sabians, the powerful god whose head must be chopped off, the dark acephalous god that Bataille must slay in order to overturn the castrating principle of fascism and authority? Listen in on Bataille:
Waking up I associate the horror of rats with the memory of my father correcting me with a blow in the form of a bloody toad into which a vulture (my father) sinks his beak. My buttocks are bare and my stomach is bloody. Very blinding memory like the sun seen through the lids of closed eyes, in red. My father himself, I imagine that, since he is blind, he also sees the sun in blinding red. (Bataille, p. 4)
In his essay Base Materialism and Gnosticism Bataille would side with the darker folds of a material and base force and violent agitation, moving toward an image of thought that could overturn the Idealist systems that held civilization in its grips. He would find it in those Gnostics who once worshipped an “ass-headed god (the ass being the most hideously comic animal, and at the same time the most humanly virile) seems to me capable of taking on even today a crucial value: the severed ass’s head of the acephalic personification of the sun undoubtedly represents, even if imperfectly, one of materialism’s most virulent manifestations” (Bataille, p. 46). It would be here that he’d discover in Gnosticism the concept of matter as an “active principle having its own autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simple the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action)” (Bataille, p. 47). This notion of the daemonic forces of darkness, of the release of creative action into our world through the powers of an active principle at work in matter was seen by him in a “radically optimistic” light.
Bataille describes the archontes as the acephalous ones, the fallen and absolutely “outlawed and evil forces.” As absolutely low matter, they are “external and foreign” to the traditional opposition of spirit and matter (of heaven and earth, father and mother), on the one hand, because they do not represent matter defined by reason and Spirit, and on the other, because they are not to be understood as “superior principles.” In fact, matter constituted in this way refuses every “borrowed authority.” This is manifest from the acephalous figurations of Gnostic archontes, “in which it is possible to see the image of this base matter.” Therefore, this matter can no longer function as a principle or as an imperial idea. Bataille submits: “Having had recourse to archontes, it does not appear that one has deeply desired the submission of things that belong to a higher authority, to an authority the archontes stun with an eternal bestiality.” As the absolutely low, the archontes are not able “in any case to ape a given authority.” (Gasché, pp. 217)
Bataille describes the absolutely fallen matter refusing every authority in the following way: “In practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action).” Insofar as matter is the condition of possibility of the classic dualism of heaven and earth, Spirit and servile matter, even the earth as it functions in the traditional opposition appears as a creation of the archontes. Bataille notes that “the creation of the earth, where our repugnant and derisory agitation takes place, [must be attributed] to a horrible and perfectly illegitimate principle.” Therefore, the earth should not be seen as the product of heaven, as it is in the profoundly monistic Hellenic-Judeo-Christian tradition, “whose dominant tendency saw matter and evil as degradations of superior principles.” The archontes represent as matter a thoroughly illegitimate principle that does not (or cannot) claim to be an arche. This origin, which is older than the origin known by Judeo-Christian philosophy, is crossed out provided that it is a split origin differing from itself. This origin is through and through dualistic. This dualism, as Bataille writes, is “not emasculated,” which means that it is a dualism in which the poles are not organized hierarchically in such a way that one of them would suppress the other. As a crossed-out origin plowed through by opposing forces, through its own creative activity it can give life only to dualistic constructs, such as the hierarchical opposition of heaven and earth, master and slave, father and son. Its own creations are hierarchically structured, since as the principle of evil, as absolute evil, it needs the even deeper collapse of that which, as the elevated and powerful, is brought down by the activity of the low. The father’s murder finds its acephalous figuration in the empire of the archontes, that is, in the absolutely low matter. (Gasché, pp. 218)
The sacrifice of authority that the son represents as an acephalous figure also implies the renunciation of the ruse of reason. His act cannot but appear to be nonsensical in comparison with that of the crafty father, who accepts his death, and functions as the presupposition of the parousia of meaning. The act of the son who kills his father without any remorse is repetition in its deathly form. Against the ruse of the father who employs repetition specifically for the purposes of mastery, the son repeats the fatal repetition and drives the purposeful repetition to its abysmal borders. (Gasché, pp. 236-237).
Defiance, mastery, will to power are attributes of human reason first developed in the symbolic manipulation of excrement and perpetuated in the symbolic manipulation of symbolic substitutes for excrement.6 In the end one discovers the sun in the darkness of matter, the dark energy of life in the pit of hell. Bataille would understand that sex and circulation: the eternal metamorphosis of an active agent or principle in matter was the true anti-arche to time’s measure and exit plan: a principle working against Time’s dark forward motion of entropy and death, and the one principle that leads to the “transformation of these movements that the alchemists sought as the philosopher’s stone.” (Bataille, p. 6)
I’m something like three years old my legs naked on my father’s knees and my penis bloody like the sun. This for playing with a hoop. My father slaps me and I see the sun.
– Bataille, Dream
- Georges Bataille. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 (Univ. Minnesota Press, 1985)
- Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons. Bataille’s “The Solar Anus” or the Parody of Parodies. Studies in 20th Century Literature:http://newprairiepress.org/sttcl/vol25/iss2/3
- Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (Routledge, 1992)
- Christopher M. Gemerchak. The Sunday of the Negative (State Univ. of NY, 2003)
- Gasché, Rodolphe (2012-10-24). Georges Bataille: Phenomenology and Phantasmatology (Cultural Memory in the Present) (p. 59). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Brown, Norman O. (2012-04-15). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (p. 192). Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.