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Monday, 6 June 2016

Book Review, Georges Bataille, by Michael Richardson, Part 4.

In Michael Richardson's book, Georges Bataille, published by Routledge in 1994, I have already touched upon some of the concepts that Richardson draws from Bataille with regards to the sociological terms of how he viewed society's structure. As previously explained, Bataille used the words homogeneity and heterogeneity; which generally was used to express a difference between an organised society based upon inflexible law and cohesion (homogeneity), and a society that is based on cooperation heritage and customs and unique rituals or expressions (heterogeneity).

Bataille used these terms to critique a capitalist society. He explained that whilst there is usually a drive towards homogeneity, there is usually some opposite sort of resistance through the structuring of society which is heterogeneous. He points out that in capitalism the economic accumulation of individuals is homogenous and thus every individual eventually becomes categorised and reduced into their own unique social roles and thus stops them from cohesively forming together collectively in a heterogeneous way that encourages collaboration. Ultimately Bataille's view was that this tends to destroy a creative society and the enthusiasm for collaboration in creating new ways of production or even thinking is stifled. (Richardson, 1994, p35, 36)

Whilst I agree in principle to some of these thoughts, again I think it's important to think of the context of how society was forming whilst Bataille was writing these observations. One thing that is particularly important in the 21st-century and contextualising society against the technology that has developed over the last hundred years, is the emergence of the Internet and the strength and power of its heterogeneous communication to all levels of society, thus in many ways removing the social classifications and stigma between the classes that has been apparent for the last 2000 years and more.

If we now move on towards how Bataille thought about how society would benefit from science and technology, Richardson points out that he was ambivalent. He was suspicious about scientific methodology, however, he tried to think about things objectively with a form of scientific rigour. It also seems that he felt that science and knowledge were two separate things, and it has been said that he went on to become quite subversive of the scientific, or the accepted scholarly method. This rebelliousness was not about disagreeing with a methodological process, however. Again it is worth remembering that in the context of the time in which he worked, there was a lot of intellectual charlatans about, and it is perhaps his recognition of this that makes him appeal to the post-modernists!

Again against this backdrop of rebellion towards the Academy and the negation of the Dadaist, surrealism emerged by real establishing of what they saw to be the true human condition. In post-war Europe, circa 1946 Bataille wrote the article "the moral meaning of society" in which he writes about the general disenchantment of surrealism as it seemed to lack the rigour of the scientific method. This strengthened Bataille's quest to explore his own psyche and therefore work towards how to understand others in society by deeply engaging in an attempt to understand himself. However, he does this in what seems to be an almost random and unprocessed way which potentially opened his methods up to criticism, whereas others sought to do the same through a very structured and arguably "scientific" process.

The outcome of all of this, set against the backdrop of the two world wars brought about the emergence of philosophical commentators such as Foucault. It was Foucault who proclaimed "the death of man", and what he meant by that was that individuality or individualism was in severe crisis. In Foucault's terms, he suggested that "man would be raised, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea" (from the book The order of things: an archaeology of human sciences, 1973, New York: Vintage books, page 387).

In contrast to this, Bataille felt that whilst the individual or indeed individualism had reached a roadblock, something new needed to emerge that put forward societies ability to allow individualism to flourish and yet, not get so strong that something monstrous and terrible emerges, such as a repeat of the rise of Hitler or another despot. It is this grounding of the individual being part of a social collective nest that he went on to explore in much more detail. Organisation was essential as a background, and yet the ability for lots of fruitful individuality to emerge in what we now tend to call rhizomatic community is what I think Bataille had in mind.


  • Craig, E. (2002). Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Foucault (1973). The Order of things: an Archaeology of Human Sciences.  New York: Vintage books.
  • Richardson, M. (1994). Georges Bataille. London: Routledge.
  • Stoekl, A. (1986). Visions of Excess: (Selected Writings, 1927-1939 of Georges Bataille), (1986 Second Edition), Edited and Translated by Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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