THE POLITICS OF REVELATION: UNVEILING NEGATIVITY IN THE WORK OF LEE EDELMAN AND GEORGES BATAILLE.
As much as "apocalyptic" may feel right to many, it is precisely the feeling of Tightness, the feeling of being right, the feeling of being in the right that apocalyptic discourse provides that worries me. Mindful that apocalyptic discourse--whether deployed by those on the Right or the Left--is designed to convince its audience that there is a crisis, that the audience is the target of potentially catastrophic violence, and that there is a Manichaean struggle for the future justifying the audience's delight in the imminent destruction of its foes, I worry about how comfortably contemporary political discourse is spoken in an apocalyptic idiom. (2) I want to consider this dimension of apocalyptic thinking by engaging some of the apocalyptic features of the work of American queer theorist Lee Edelman and French social theorist Georges Bataille. Edelman and Bataille, in very different--albeit overlapping and related--terms, challenge the dualistic vision that informs much apocalyptic thinking with an insistence on an unacknowledged, even unwelcome, monism. They emphasize structural limitations to change rather than the promise of radical transformation. But, consistent with many apocalyptic texts, they contend that the most meaningful response to the violence that defines the present order--as well as any hope of "escaping" from the worst and most devastating consequences of that violence--depends on a proper understanding of and alignment with fundamental reality, with what is "really" going on. Bataille and Edelman, then, articulate a politics of revelation--an unobscured vision of the forces of cataclysmic disruption and destruction without end or remainder. Only when we recognize that our attempts to resist this cataclysmic energy, only when we understand that our efforts to preserve ourselves, our communities, and those we love and for whom we feel responsible, are, in fact, part of the destructive machinery that we purportedly oppose, will we truly be seeing aright. Lest there be any misunderstanding, the politics of revelation--the revolution in ethical thinking to be found in Edelman and Bataille, quite unlike the politics of redemption built on a promise of a life after (catastrophic) realignment found in apocalyptic texts--is an impossible politics. It cannot be lived; it is not a guide to action; it is not programmatic. It is instead a diagnosis of our situation and our efforts to improve it. The problem to be solved, the situation to be transformed, after all, is the state of being human. The politics of revelation are both tragic and imperative because the failure to grapple in a deep way with the constraint on our political efforts fuels the catastrophes we seek to allay. (3)
In many ways, it is absurd to introduce Edelman and Bataille into a conversation about apocalyptic thinking, imaginaries, and texts. (4) Taking John J. Collins' definition as a representative guide, the apocalyptic genre is comprised of narrative literature "in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world." (5) Although Bataille wrote novels and Edelman frequently turns to them to develop his theoretical insights, none of the texts I consider in this essay are narratives. (6) Neither Edelman nor Bataille imagine a divine or transcendent reality separate from the material world. (7) Neither comments in any explicit way on sacred--let alone apocalyptic--texts, even though Edelman's No Future is Uttered with biblical allusions. (8) Bataille is explicitly and emphatically atheistic, even though he shows a profound interest in the sacred, God, and the ethical and political possibilities of Christian mystical traditions and Hindu meditative practices. (9) Edelman does not name his specific relation to religious belief or practice, but he frequently identifies Christianity as an enemy of the queer. (10)
One pronounced feature of both Edelman and Bataille's work also prominent in apocalyptic texts relates to questions of revealing--of unveiling or uncovering--hidden mysteries. (11) It is striking the number of times that Edelman names the work of queerness as the labor of exposing: "the force of queerness...can expose the constancy...of jouissance in the social order," (12) "queerness exposes the obliquity of our relation to what we experience in and as social reality," (13) "queerness exposes sexuality's inevitable coloration by the drive," (14) queerness exposes reality's "mere seeming" by exposing the seams that hold its threads together, (15) the queer "threatens a shutdown of life's vital machinery by exposing it as machinery." (16) Most significantly, Edelman explains that queers "must veil what they expose, becoming, as figures for it [the constitutive violence of the social order], the means of its apparent subjection to meaning." (17)
In Theory of Religion and the first volume of The Accursed Share, two works of social analysis written during and in the wake of World War II, Bataille focuses on clear consciousness and lucidity. (18) In Accursed Share, especially, Bataille strives to reveal something about "the production and use of wealth," to acquaint the reader with "pattern[s] and laws" with which, "as a rule," most are unfamiliar. (19) He argues that our thinking about labor, energy, and the availability of material wealth is informed by the perspective of restrictive economy--that is, is there enough for me to attain my goals and meet the needs of my community?--rather than general economy--that is, how does energy move in the universe, and how does it get expended?
Central to Bataille's general economy perspective is his meditation on "solar energy" as "the source of life's exuberant development. The origin and essence of our wealth are given in the radiation of the sun, which dispenses energy--wealth--without any return." (20) The economic activity of human beings appropriates a share of this wealth in the growth of plants and animals. (21) Growth, of course, is one of the ways in which energy is expended, but growth has its limits: Eventually weeds overtake a certain terrain; eventually the calf becomes a bull. (22) The movement of energy eventually--inevitably--impels expenditure, exudation, and consumption.
The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically. (23)
The problem from the perspective of general economy is not how to acquire sufficient energy, but rather how to expend abundant energy. The significance of the problem of expenditure and its meaning for human society "is still veiled." (24) Our failure to adopt a general perspective on the economy--our failure to see the universe accurately--causes us to divert and dam the movement of energy that comprises the universe due to our anxiety concerning scarcity. (25)
Incomprehension does not change the final outcome in the slightest....Our ignorance only has this incontestable effect: It causes us to undergo what we could bring about in our own way, if we understood. It deprives us of the choice of an exudation that might suit us. Above all, it consigns [humans] and their works to catastrophic destructions. (26)
To avoid and prevent violence, according to Bataille, we must understand how energy moves. "The exposition of general economy implies intervention in public affairs, certainly; but first of all and more profoundly, what it aims at is consciousness." (27) Bataille's intervention requires a healing of our vision.
When we have trained ourselves to consider "the economy...in general" we realize that "energy is always in excess; the question is always posed in terms of extravagance." (28)
Bataille is not foolish enough to think that this general perspective, which highlights extravagance, defines the situation of each individual living organism at each discrete moment. He acknowledges the uneven distribution of wealth; in fact, he asserts that the perspective of general economy can help us think about problems like poverty and famine. (29) After all, if the fundamental problem with respect to wealth is not conserving it, using it efficiently, or making it turn a profit, but rather figuring out how to consume it, then it makes sense to squander wealth lavishly to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the vulnerable. If, after using the resources I need to sustain growth, I continue to hoard wealth, clenching it tightly, it will, in some manner, still be consumed. Consumption may come in the form of riots, or revolution, or rot, or distribution upon death, but expenditure will happen. (30) Anxiety about not having enough, which stems "from a personal, particular point of view...[where] the problems are posed in the first instance by a deficiency of resources," "does not alter the global movement of energy in the least: The latter cannot accumulate limitlessly in the productive forces; eventually, like a river into the sea, it is bound to escape us and be lost to us." (31)
The movement of energy on the surface of the globe, which the perspective of general economy helps us understand, can be "translated into the effervescence of life." (32) As Bataille explains: "The ebullition I consider, which animates the globe, is also my ebullition. Thus, the object of my research cannot be distinguished from the subject at its boiling point." (33) Edelman, in his psychoanalytic idiom, names this effervescence and ebullition as the drive. The drive--"more exactly, the death drive"--is a "constancy of pressure..., [an] inarticulable surplus...," a compulsive, insistent force that "dismantles the subject from within" and "oppose[s]...every form of social viability." (34) The drive's negative pulsion must always be figured in some set of bodies, persons, or identities; it must be figured so that it can be named; it must be named--defined, given meaning--so that it can be excluded, censored, resisted, and restrained. Edelman's name for that which figures the drive that opposes and threatens the subject and the social is queerness. Queerness is sometimes figured by queers--that is, lesbians or gays--but it can just as easily be figured by immigrants or terrorists, by white supremacists or Christian fundamentalists. (35) This figure's content changes over time--struggles for racial justice or religious tolerance show that certain queers can scrub off the stain, but the history of racial and religious intolerance also shows that queerness is a "structural position"--there is always some body, some community, some people that represents that which the self and the social must target and tame to guarantee security, coherence, and existence. (36) Some other/ness is required; the bounds of democratic inclusion are not perpetually elastic.
As important as Edelman's insistence that the drive's insistence requires that something be insistently ferreted out as the insistent threat to the social order's viability is his contention--often un(der)remarked by commentators and critics--that the drive's insistence and the insistence that the drive be constrained are the same pulsive force. Queerness does not just expose where and how one can access jouissance; it exposes "the constancy, the inescapability, of such access to jouissance in the social order" by revealing that the social order accesses jouissance by "abjecting" and vilifying "the queer." (37) The same violently disruptive and chaotic force that threatens the social order justifies the forceful threats against it.
As Edelman explains in his reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is reviled by the community for failing to affirm its values. This denunciation of Scrooge, however, provid[es] the occasion for communal access to the negativity of a jouissance for which, as its embodiment, [Scrooge] must, in the first place, be projectively reviled. If...'it takes a village to raise a child', then, we might add, it takes, albeit perversely, a villain too: a Scrooge, a [queer], on whom to project the force of the death drive...which can never be acknowledged as the engine driving the reproduction of the social itself. (38)
Scrooge is, of course, ultimately welcomed into the community, but only after a transformation that has him abandon that which justified his vilification, thus remaking him in the image of the community's values. That which justified the rejection of Scrooge is still rejected, that which defines the communal order is left undisturbed. The vulnerability of Tiny Tim excuses this purge. (39)
For Edelman, politics is the name for a fantasy that disavows the "primal, constitutive, and negative act" that makes politics, and fantasy, and meaning possible. Politics--in both apocalyptic and reformist formations--imagines that the exclusions and oppressions and injustices that define the current moment can be overcome, but such a vision necessarily imagines that the forces, the energies, the pulsions that fuel and foster the undesirable features of the current moment have been negated in a future moment. Politics, then, requires as much negative energy as that which it seeks to transform, remedy or overcome. It is not that there are not genuine threats to our existence; it is not that violence does not actually harm people; it is not that some of our enmities are not justified; it is not that the distinction between "the thirty-thousand-year Reich or...an ever-expanding horizon of democratic inclusivity...makes no difference, but rather that both, as political programs, are programmed to reify difference," to figure and name it, to exclude and erase it, "and thus to secure, in the form of the future, the order of the same." (40) Or, if retaining sameness seems to run counter to apocalyptic visions, we can easily insert a desire to secure the well-being and survival of a faithful remnant, a remnant that suffers now but that will rise to glory on the wings of a victorious champion. Apocalyptic thinking, as a form of political thinking (and, perhaps, as Bataille and Edelman strain to show, all political thinking is apocalyptic thinking), is invested in what happens next, in what is to come, in the ways that the present reality will unfold and unfurl into a future that guarantees the vanquishing of evil and the victory of the good. (41) (One need only think of the dazzling beauty and breathtaking grandeur of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth in the canonical Christian Apocalypse.) Edelman's queerness, on the other hand, refuses to propose any notion of the good, but offers in its place "something [he wants] to call 'better,' though it promises, in more than one sense of the phrase, absolutely nothing." (12)
Just as Edelman in No Future examines the ways in which the future's promise to end alienation actually produces alienation in other forms and registers, in Theory of Religion, Bataille articulates the way in which labor, as a form of goal-oriented behavior, both makes us human (reason is a form of goal-oriented labor; abstract concepts, like pick-axes, are tools that allow us to transform the world) and alienates us.
The positing of the object...is in the human use of tools....Insofar as tools are developed with their end in view, consciousness posits them as objects, as interruptions in the indistinct continuity. The developed tool is the nascent form of the non-I. The tool brings exteriority into a world where the subject has a part in the elements it distinguishes, where it has a part in the world and remains "like water in water."...The tool has no value in itself...but only in relation to an anticipated result. (42)
And, of course, when we work, we become tools; we become objects, mortgaged to a future. "During the time when he is cultivating, the farmer's purpose is not his own purpose....The farmer is not a [human]: [the farmer] is the plow of the one who eats the bread." (43)
Although work is essential to our survival--we must farm, or someone must farm, because we must eat; to our "progress"--we need tools and goal-oriented thinking to develop cures for disease or plans for peace; even to our being--who are "we," as humans, without tools, labor, and future-orientation?--labor, as an objectifying process, causes us to treat ourselves, others, and the world as things, which leads to any number of regrettable consequences.
Contrary to the profane world of productive labor, Bataille notes that there is a sacred world of consumptive expenditure. (44) Like Edelman's drive, figured and experienced as a threat to the self and the social order, Bataille's sacred "is violence, and it is destruction, because it is not compatible with the positing of the separate individual." (45) The effervescence and ebullition of excessive energy at the heart of The Accursed Share's account of general economy is named as the sacred, as sacrifice, as intimacy in Theory of Religion. (46) "The sacred is that prodigious effervescence of life that, for the sake of duration [of the future], the order of things [of work, of labor] holds in check....[T]his holding changes into a breaking loose, that is, into violence." (47) The sacred is alluring because it promises a different mode of being than that experienced in alienating labor; it is anxiety-provoking because it threatens the security we find in our productive efforts.
The violence of the sacred--the breaking down of our sense of self, our sense of isolation, that comes in moments of intimate connection--"responds to a movement of malaise." (48) Our dissatisfaction with the world of work's affective character gives way to another mode of being. Unfortunately, this "creat[es] a greater malaise." (48) Our anxiety about the future--about producing enough, about securing our wealth--triumphs. Restrictive economy is a very difficult set of blinders to shake. Sacrifice consumes wealth, but it consumes my wealth; it produces a sense of the sacred by confronting me with the spectacle of my own death, my own intimate relation to the world, by consuming that with which I identify profoundly. (49) Just as the social order can access jouissance by abjecting that which represents access to jouissance, the longing to consume can express itself in ersatz form: The internally directed violence of sacrifice can find expression in the externally directed violence of war, conquest, and empire-building. (50) But when war becomes a form of labor, with the goal of acquiring territory and vanquishing enemies, it ceases to offer an alternative to the profane world of work. When war is consumptive, it functions like sacrifice without generating the same level of anxiety. In this competition between different lands of "malaise," Bataille pessimistically concludes that "the primacy of consumption could not resist that of military force." (48) War-as-work is the more likely outcome because it is affectively more palatable.
Insofar as we oppose war--and other forms of violence--through the work of rational discourse, insofar as we oppose war, which is a form of work, by doubling down on our commitment to work--by doubling down on our commitment to keeping that which is irrational, unpredictable, chaotic, and destructive at bay so that we can preserve the world and its most worthy inhabitants--war, and its moral equivalents, will always be more likely than sacrifice. But war produces enemies to be vanquished. And while sacrifice also requires victims, war's enemies are never us. (51)
Bataille understands his attempted shift to the perspective of general economy, to the problem and promise of expenditure, as a "Copernican transformation...of ethics." (52) Similarly, Edelman claims that queerness' role in exposing the structural antagonism in the subject's formation and the social order's constitution is an ethical task; according to Edelman, queerness "attains its ethical value precisely insofar as it accedes to [the place of the social order's death drive], accepting its figural status as resistance to the viability of the social while insisting on the inextricability of such resistance from every social structure." (53)
Even though Edelman and Bataille render ethically problematic our investment in self, our longing for self-preservation, our commitment to self-protection, the critique of these self-centered desires give us critical principles to challenge those who would use violence as a tool. While a magnificent border wall would certainly be a massive expenditure of wealth, it also depends on--and fuels--an expenditure of violent rage against the invasive presence of a foreign queerness in our midst. (54) Practices aimed at keeping the nation secure function to make vulnerable populations' survival more precarious: compassion becomes callousness before our very eyes. (55) Similarly, the vilification of those who pursue--and those who support those who pursue, and those who stand by silently while others pursue--racist, misogynistic, and imperialistic policies and practices may be vital to protecting the vulnerable and relatively powerless, but it operates according to a logic that seeks to erase an unpalatable and dangerous population so that those who remain, those who deserve to survive, will be a pure community inhabiting a pristine communal order. Both imaginaries, after all, seek to make America great again.
Rather than criticizing oppressors in an effort to comfort the oppressed, or seeking to separate the enlightened from the uninitiated, Bataille and Edelman offer a vision of the dynamics of the self and the social that plague us all. Unlike apocalyptic fantasies of being part of the group that endures and overcomes the horrors of the present or imminently upcoming moment, Edelman and Bataille unveil our longing to be spared, reveal our profound will to innocence, expose our desire to be on the side of the right, as part of the machinery of violence and cruelty. (56) They shine light on the constraints that define the human. Awareness of these constraints, lucidity about our situation, is not a remedy; we cannot transform these conditions--to change them would require reforming ourselves out of existence, and securing our existence is part of why we seek reform. The revelation offered by Edelman and Bataille may, however, help us not to exacerbate violence in our efforts to resist it. Ultimately, of course, we must find ways to foster the relinquishment of resistance per se. (57) For it is our shared terror regarding the movement of energy that funds our willingness to energetically destroy one another, our fear of the drive's chaotic pulsions that drives us ever more impulsively to ever greater chaos.
(1.) Bersani, Leo and Ulysse Dutoit, The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art and Modem Culture (New York: Schocken Books, 1985), 47, 51. See also Bersani, Leo, "The Other Freud," Humanities in Society 1 (1978), 43; Bersani, Leo and Ulysse Dutoit, "The Forms of Violence," October 8 (1979), 22; Bersani, Leo and Ulysse Dutoit, "Merde Alors," October 13 (1980), 28; Bersani, Leo, "Representation and Its Discontents," Ronton 1 (1981), 9.
(2.) For discussion of the persuasive power of apocalyptic rhetoric, see Collins, Adela Yarbro, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984); O'Leary, Stephen D., Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
(3.) For further developments of this perspective, see Brintnall, Kent L., "Psychoanalysis' Tragedy," Feminist Formations 29, no. 3 (2017), 156-62; Brintnall, Kent L., "Desire's Revelatory Conflagration," Theology & Sexuality 23, nos. 1-2 (2017), 48-66; Brintnall, Kent L., "Apophatic Politics," Scholor and Feminist Online 14, no. 2 (2017), sfonline.barnard.edu/queer-religion.
(4.) For a different take on the apocalyptic dimensions of Edelman's work, see Tonstad, Linn Marie, God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude (New York: Routledge, 2016), p. 254-86.
(5.) Collins, John J., The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998), p. 4-5.
(6.) Bataille's novel Blue of Noon, written in 1935, especially its final scene, could be read as a narrativization of the apocalyptic dimensions of his theoretical writings.
(7.) For a discussion of Bataille that emphasizes immanence, see Dubilet, Alex, The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence, Medieval to Modern (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018).
(8.) See Edelman, No Future, 15, 18, 19, 40-41, 54-55, 149.
(9.) See especially Bataille, Georges, Guilty, trans. Kendall, Stuart (Albany: SUNY Press, 2011 ); Bataille, Georges, Inner Experience, trans. Kendall, Stuart (Albany: SUNY Press, 2014 ). For discussion of Bataille's approach to mysticism and its relation to his politics, see Hollywood, Amy, Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002); Irwin, Alexander, Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
(10.) See, e.g., Edelman, No Future, 28-29, 89-90.
(11.) Apocalypse and apocalyptic come from a Greek word that means to reveal, to unveil, to uncover. See O'Leary, Arguing for the Apocalpyse, 63. For a discussion of veil imagery in Revelation, see Huber, Lynn R., Like o Bride Adorned: Reading Metaphor in fohn's Apocalypse (New York: T&T Clark, 2007), 1-44, 113-33.
(12.) Edelman, No Future, 5
(13.) Edelman, No Future, 6-7.
(14.) Edelman, No Future, 27.
(15.) Edelman, No Future, 35.
(16.) Edelman, No Future, 44.
(17.) Edelman, No Future, 107 (emphasis added).
(18.) Bataille, Georges, Theory of Religion, trans. Hurley, Robert (New York: Zone Books, 1989 ), 12-13, 101-04; Bataille, Georges, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, volume I: Consumption, trans. Hurley, Robert (New York: Zone Books, 1989 ), 25, 41.
(19.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 9, 20-21.
(20.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 28. In Bataille's Peak, Stoekl, Allan argues that we must reconsider Accursed Share in light of an awareness that energy is actually limited and disappearing. Although there is much to admire and consider seriously in Stoekl's work, his analysis is trapped in many ways in restrictive economy thinking.
(21.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 20-21, 32-38.
(22.) See Bataille, Accursed Share, 27-32.
(23.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 21.
(24.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 37.
(25.) On the centrality of anxiety to the political problems general economy seeks to solve, see Bataille, Accursed Share, 11, 13-14.
(26.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 23-24. See also Bataille, Theory of Religion, 103-04: "It is a matter of endlessly consuming--or destroying--the objects that are produced. This could just as well be done without the least consciousness. But it is insofar as clear consciousness prevails that the objects actually destroyed will not destroy humanity itself. The destruction of the subject as an individual is in fact implied in the destruction of the object as such, but war is not the inevitable form of the destruction: at any rate, it is not the conscious form."
(27.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 41.
(28.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 22-23.
(29.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 39-40.
(30.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 37. For Bataille's discussion of class struggle and revolution as forms of expenditure, see Bataille, Georges, "The Notion of Expenditure," in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, ed. and trans. Stoekl, Allan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985 ), p. 126-28; Goldhammer, Jesse, The Headless Republic: Sacrificial Violence in Modern French Thought (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), p. 166-68.
(31.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 23.
(32.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 20-21, 10.
(33.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 10.
(34.) Edelman, No Future, 9-10, 22, 131-32.
(35.) For a discussion of this figuration, using a Heideggerian framework, with respect to blackness, see Warren, Calvin L., Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).
(36.) Edelman, No Future, 24, 27, 107. Also, how bodies and subjects who are compelled to figure queerness must transform themselves to be seen in a new light matters to Edelman. Is the cost of a change in figural status the abandonment, erasure and eradication of all that earned one the appellation of queer in the first place? Is tolerance, dignity, and moral status ever extended to the queer or merely to the upstanding member of the community?
(37.) Edelman, No Future, 5. For a concise statement concerning "structural antagonism," see Edelman, Lee, "Ever After," in After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory, ed. Halley, Janet and Parker, Andrew (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 110-18.
(38.) Edelman, No Future, 45. For similar discussions in Bataille, on the necessity of an excluded other for the formation of the social order, see Bataille, Georges, "Attraction and Repulsion," in The College of Sociology (1937-39), ed. Hollier, Denis, trans. Wing, Betsy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 106-07, 116-20; Bataille, Georges, "The Psychological Structure of Fascism," in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, ed. Stoekl, Allan, trans. Lovitt, Carl R. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 140-44.
(39.) For a discussion of how this dynamic operates in pro-LGBT readings of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, see Brintnall, Kent L., "Who Weeps for the Sodomite?" in Sexual Disorientations: Queer Temporalities, Affects, Theologies, ed. Brintnall, Kent L., Joseph A. Marchal, and Stephen D. Moore (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018), p. 145-60.
(40.) Edelman, No Future, 151.
(41.) See O'Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse.
(42.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 27-28.
(43.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 41-42.
(44.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 48-52.
(45.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 51. Near the conclusion of No Future, Edelman engages Paul de Man's analysis of Walter Benjamin's reine Sprache. Following de Man's interpretation of this idea as a "pure" or "meaningless" language, Edelman still notes that it is often rendered as a "sacred" language. He links the reine Sprache to the inhumanity of queerness that unbinds the self. See Edelman, No Future, 152-53, 108. In a very roundabout way, then, No Future contemplates a connection between queerness and the sacred that is remarkably similar to Bataille's account.
(46.) "Sovereignty" is another idea that appears across both of these works, but for Bataille sovereignty is not a form of autonomous self-possession and self-assertion, but rather a complete giving over to the excessive energies of consumption and expenditure in a way that sunders the self. The ultimate expression of self-possession, then, for Bataille, is to pursue a goal with such commitment and intensity that the drive of that pursuit overwhelms the pursuer, thus undercutting the violent, instrumentalizing, objectifying character of the pursuit itself.
(47.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 52.
(48.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 61.
(49.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 59-61. For Bataille's assertion that violence directed toward the self is the purest form of sacrifice, see Bataille, Georges, "Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh," in Visions of Excess, Selected Writings, 1927-1939, ed. and trans. Stoekl, Allan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985 ), p. 61-72. Also relevant to this issue is Bataille's essay, "The Practice of Joy before Death," published on the eve of World War II and available in Visions of Excess: Selected Essays, 1927-1939, ed. and trans. Stoekl, Allan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985 ), p. 235-39.
(50.) Bataille, Theory of Religion, 57-59, 65-66; Bataille, Accursed Share, 54-55.
(51.) This seems relevant to resolving the question Collins leaves open at the end of Crisis and Catharsis regarding the political and ethical salience of Revelation's "transfer" of aggression from oppressed people to their divine champion. See Collins, Crisis and Catharsis, 156-61.
(52.) Bataille, Accursed Share, 25.
(53.) Edelman, No Future, 3. See also Edelman, No Future, 47-48, 109.
(54.) Moreover, following the moral lesson of the Marshall Plan, there might be other massive expenditures of wealth that would be just as likely to respond the human needs that motivate the movement of immigrants without fueling xenophobic fantasies. See Bataille, Accursed Share, 169-88.
(55.) See Edelman, No Future, 72, 90.
(56.) For another Edelman-inspired analysis of the problematic consequences of apocalypticism's "rightness," see Runions, Erin, The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), p. 241-53. Although Runions' practice of "attentive listening" promises something more positively transformative than my understanding of Edelman and Bataille allows, it merits careful attention as a meaningful intervention in the dynamics I describe in this essay.
(57.) In the final lines of his essay on fascism, its affective appeal, and the ways those same affective forces might foster genuine revolution, Bataille refers to an emancipatory, "deep subversion." Bataille, "Psychological Structure of Fascism," 159. In the final lines of No Future, after naming queerness' universality and noting futurism's inevitability, Edelman also mentions the perpetual, destructive pulsion of negativity's drive. Edelman, No Future, 153-54. Neither author, then, finds promise in resisting or vanquishing that which they emphatically critique, but rather in surrendering to the energy or movement or force that fuels resistance.
Kent L. Brintnall is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies and affiliate faculty in the Women's and Gender Studies program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author of Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-in-Pain as Redemptive Figure (Chicago, 2011), editor of Embodied Religion (MacMillan, 2016), and co-editor of Sexual Disorientations: Queer Affects, Temporalities, Theologies (Fordham, 2017), and Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Fordham, 2015).
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|Author:||Brintnall, Kent L.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2018|
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