Georges Bataille as a Thinker of Statehood: A Relational and Materialist Approach

Pullano, Teresa. (2017) Georges Bataille as a Thinker of Statehood: A Relational and Materialist Approach. In: Georges Bataille and Contemporary Thought. London, pp. 95-116.

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Turning to Georges Bataille’s thought to understand contemporary transformations of statehood is not an obvious gesture. It may even seem incongruous to resort to this French avant-garde theorist, literary critic, mystic and philosopher to talk about something so institutionalized as statehood. In fact, Bataille as a theorist of politics is still a problematic figure for academic literature: is there a political thought in Bataille and, if so, is this something we can use without ending up flirting with fascism? In 1996, Carolyn Dean wrote that we need to take some distance from Bataille’s ambivalence due to a ‘desire for accountability’. 1 Habermas, discussing the meaning of modernity and postmodernity, classifies Georges Bataille within the line of the young conservatives, together with Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Bataille, Habermas argues, opposes instrumental reason and the spontaneous powers of imagination, thus transforming will to power or sovereignty into a principle only accessible through evocation. 2 In consequence, this line of thinking exaggerates the autonomy of the artistic sphere over and above morality and science, thus deviating from modernity for exalting (at the expense of the others) one of the spheres into which the Enlightenment has partitioned social and spiritual life. As Wolin remarks, Habermas in this text posits some affinities between French theory and German conservative theorists during the Weimar Republic, such as Carl Schmitt. 3 Critiques of the idea of reason, of liberalism, individualism and constitutionalism pave the way for a weakening of democracy and for the risks of fascism. Nevertheless, if the German critics of reason of the 1920s were in favour of an authoritarian state, for authors such as Bataille and Foucault, as well as Derrida, any adhesion to the concept of state is extremely problematic. Despite these differences, Wolin endorses the parallel established by Habermas between the French and the German line of conservative critiques of modernity: ‘One of the intellectual traits that ties Bataille most closely to the German young conservatives is his “affect against the universal”.’ 4 Bataille is here once again reduced to a Manichean opposition between reason and unreason, calculation and life. In this chapter, not only do we argue against associating Bataille’s political theory with fascism, but, more importantly, we point to a line in his thinking that is an ‘undercover’ trace within modernity itself and that could be useful when conceptualizing today’s forms of statehood restructuring and of state-effects. We argue here that Bataille’s political theory is closer to the one of his master Alexandre Kojève than to romantic irrationalist positions, and that the two both share a hyper-modern and hyper-rationalist vision.
Faculties and Departments:02 Faculty of Law
08 Cross-disciplinary Subjects > Europainstitut > Europainstitut > European Global Studies (Pullano)
UniBasel Contributors:Pullano, Teresa
Item Type:Book Section, refereed
Book Section Subtype:Further Contribution in a Book
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Book item
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Last Modified:04 Sep 2018 15:38
Deposited On:24 Aug 2017 14:12

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