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George Bataille and the philosophy of vampirism

An article by Adrian Gargett

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche The Gay Science, 125)

The function of myth is to express dramatically the ideology under which a society lives: not only to animate its conscience, the values it recognises and the ideals it pursues from generation to generation, but above all to express its very being and structure, the elements, the connections, the balances, the tensions which constitute it; to justify and reinforce the rules and traditional practices without which everything within a society would disintegrate. Some myths are drawn from authentic events and actions in a more or less stylized fashion, embellished and established as examples to imitate; others are literary fictions incarnating vital concepts of the ideology in certain personages and translating this concept into the connections between various figures.

The Vampire legend operates mythically, that is, as a series of narratives that serve to explain why the world is the way it is. In this sense Myths also exist to provide solutions for eternal questions; – the creation of the world, the relationship between men and women and beasts, the notion of the other. The myth provides solutions to these problems by positing an initial pair of binary oppositions such as life and death, nature and culture. This initially irreconcilable opposition is mediated by the introduction of a third term, which in some way partially inherits the nature of each opposed term. The third term, however, invokes its own opposed term, but this new binary opposition is not as completely intractable as the first. The process repeats, each new opposition being a little closer together than the previous one, until a set of oppositions that can provide some kind of cultural modus vivendi is reached. The vampire legend clearly illustrates this process.

As with other mythologies the Vampire legend conveys its message through metaphor, symbolism, repetitions of narratives, and variations upon themes; through over determination and juxtaposition rather than logical exposition. The core of the Vampire motif is the encounter with the other, that elusive – if not illusive – figure who has come to pervade the pages of literary-criticism, anthropology and psychoanalysis. This spectrum of horrors around the Vampire legend convincingly replicates perversions or a distortion of the three functions or social categories – sovereignty/force/fecundity – which underlie the whole corpus of Indo-European mythology. One of the purposes of Indo-European mythology is to work out, in narrative form, the proper relationship among three “functions” of society: sovereignty, which is concerned with the regulation of the universe both in terms of magic/religion and law/justice; force, concerned with the regulation of aggression; and fecundity, concerned with the regulation of fertility, prosperity, and the production of material goods. Sovereignty is represented by the magic-king and the judge–priest, force by the warrior and fecundity by women and farmers or craftsmen. Their respective spheres of action are the court, the battlefield, and the material world. In this context it is possible to discern that the sources of mystery that structure narrative of Vampire mythology can be described as perversions or mutations of the three functions: truth gone bad, knowledge/science gone bad, and bodies gone bad.

George Bataille died in 1962. A man, who lived through one of the most turbulent and violent periods of modernity, his death precluded a rigorous encounter with the massive and rapid transformations of capitalism and global society that began in the post-war period. The revolutionary tones of his writing now appear as fleeting memories of the past, assured and optimistic about the possibilities of radical change. The revolution seems a long way off, far beyond any horizon of possibility. But Bataille’s “paradoxical philosophy”, as he called it, never appears completely enamoured with or immersed in the parameters of any single position or system.

There is a consistent tone to Bataille’s writing, darkness, and the “collapse of being into night”. (Oeuvres Completes IV 23) Not only are nocturnal scenes abnormally prevalent but their effect is compounded by the interwoven themes of the unavowable, the unholy, and oblivion. Base sexuality, sickness, religion and intoxication entwine about each other in their texts. His is a world of the nihilistic love and death pervaded throughout by a hideous allure. It is no coincidence that Bataille’s writing is a perpetual, tortured erotic stammering, whose aesthetic momentum flows from the fact that, as expressed by Bataille, “beauty alone…renders tolerable the need for disorder, violence, and indignity that is the root of love”. (Oeuvres Completes III 13) Bataille’s writing strains to evoke such experiences, pushing language to its very limits, seeking the impossible in its refusal to be contained within discourses predicated on sense and positivity. Violent reflections are encountered in a writing in which the “unnaturalness” of nature is disclosed as painful and horrifying.

According to George Bataille the sun is “the most abstract object, since it is impossible to look at it fixedly”. (Oeuvres Completes II 14). Bataille argues humans “distinguish two suns”: an elevated poetic and severe sun that is never looked at, and a horror inducing violent sun. Perception becomes displaced from the eye to the whole body; this vampirical eye/body must remain forever in darkness, with access to neither of Bataille’s “two suns”.

It is the passionate submission to fate/death that guides Bataille’s own readings.”Literature and Evil” the greatest work of atheological poetics, is a series of responses to writing which exhibits complicity between literary art and transgression. Bataille’s is insistent that the non-utilitarian writer is not interested in serving mankind or furthering the accumulation of goods, however refined, delicate, or spiritual these may be. Instead, such writers—Emily Bronte, Baudelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka, and Genet are Bataille’s examples in this text—are concerned with communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation. Literature is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rendering of a sacrificial wound, allowing a communication more basic than the pseudo-communication of instrumental discourse. The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself.

Death is the reality of the impossible, making fictions of us all, and it is only in fiction that we separate ourselves from it. Wandering in the “labyrinth” one finds that no-one is only distanced by a complication of terrain, and that passages leading out of the possible can never be walled-off. If reasons were needed why literature cannot be supplanted by philosophy this is one – even though it is unreason itself. “Black death you are my bread. I eat you in my heart, terror is my sweetness, madness is in my hand.” (Oeuvres Completes III 88)

Bataille’s obsession is with “the unity of death, or of the consciousness of death and eroticism”; which he also describes as the “essential and paradoxical accord” of “death and eroticism”, and “the intimate accord between life and its violent destruction”. (Oeuvres Completes X 585,587) – “I fall into the immensity, which falls into itself, it is blacker than my death” (Oeuvres Completes III 75)

The force of expenditure associated with evil remains integral to the modes of communication and “inner experience” developed in Bataille’s “somme atheologique”, a radical inversion of St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Somme theologique”, in which the summit of religious experience is interrogated and evaporated. The prefix “a”, which evacuates theology while retaining something of religious, poetic or mystical experience, denotes the headlessness of both the summit and the subject of inner experience, and marks the place of loss, the enormity of which tears a hole that opens up being to the communication that unites beings.

“communication, through death, with our beyond (essentially in sacrifice) – not with nothingness, still less with a supernatural being, but with an indefinite reality (which I sometimes call ‘the impossible’, that is: what can’t be grasped in any way, what we can’t reach without dissolving ourselves, what’s slavishly called God). If we need to we can define this reality (provisionally associating it with a finite element) at a higher (higher than the individual on the scale of composition of beings) social level as the sacred, God or created reality. Or else it can remain in an undefined state (in ordinary laughter, infinite laughter, or ecstasy in which the divine form melts like sugar in water).” (Oeuvres Completes V 388)

Inner experience, and the communication it involves, takes individuated being to “the extreme limit of the possible”. At this limit “everything gives way”. In communicating ecstasy, inner experience induces torment and anguish, revealing the “yawning gap” in which subject and object are dissolved. For Bataille, it is the identities of the perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror that blows identity apart, unleashes experience from the “prison” of anguish and establishes continuity with alterity: communication.

Against the abortive consolidation of Kantian industrialism associated with Hegel and teleology, Bataille counterpoises Nietzschian thought and the naked risk of chaos, war, eroticism, and surrender to the sacred. “There is no feeling that throws one into exuberance with greater force than that of nothingness. But experience is not at all annihilation; it is the surpassing of the shattered attitude, it is transgression” (OC X 72).

“Indeed, we philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel, when we hear the news that ‘the old god is dead,’ as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectations. At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an ‘open sea'”. (Friedrich Nietzsche GS #343)

The death of God is an opportunity, a chance. It is valid to ask what is meant by “noumenon”, but “chance” does not function in this way, since it is not a concept to be apprehended, but a direction in which to go. “To the one who grasps what chance is, how insipid the idea of God appears, and suspicious, and wing-clipping” (OC VI 116) Monotheism is the great gatekeeper, and where it ends the exploration of death begins. If there are places to which we are forbidden to go it is because they can in truth be reached, or because they can reach us. In the end Bataille’s writing is invasion and not expression, a trajectory of incineration; either strung up in the cobwebs of Paradise, or strung out into the shadow torrents of hell. It is a route out of creation. “Now a hard, an inexorable voyage commences – a quest into the greatest possible distance” (OC VI 29)

“The question of the mere ‘truth’ of Christianity – whether in regard of its origin, not to speak of Christian astronomy and natural science – is a matter of secondary importance as long as the question of the value of Christian morality is not considered.” ( Friedrich Nietzsche WP #251)

What if eternal recurrence were not a belief? (“The most extreme form of nihilism would be the view that every belief…is necessarily false because there simply is no true world” (WP #15).) Bataille suggests:

“The return immotivates the instant, freeing life from an end and in this ruining it straight away. The return is…the desert of one for whom each instant henceforth finds itself immotivated.” (OC VI 23)

Christianity – the exemplary moral “religion” – “substituted slow suicide” (WP #247) and representation (belief) for “shamanic” contact with zero-interruption, but with the re-emergence of nihilistic recurrence, caution, prudence, every kind of “concern for time to come” (VI 50/167) is restored to the senselessness of cosmic “noise”. With recurrence comes a “future, [which is] not the prolongation of myself across time, but the expiry of a being going furthur, passing attained limits” (VI 29) A religious crisis can no longer be deferred.

In the final phase of Nietzsche’s writing the eternal recurrence is used as a weapon, “a hammer”, the transmission element between diagnosis and intervention, a vertiginous extrication of zero from the series of preservative values, cutting through “the ambiguous and cowardly compromise of a religion such as Christianity: more precisely, such as the church: which, instead of encouraging death and self-destruction, protects everything ill-constituted and sick and makes it propagate itself” (WP #247).

“There is nothing I want except chance”, (Oeuvres Completes VI 161) certainly not salvation or anything associated with God who “by definition is not in play”. (Oeuvres Completes VI 84) The will to chance no longer resents the irresponsibility of immanence and Nietzsche figures as the attestation that “(u) nlike God, man is not condemned to condemn”. (Oeuvres Completes VI 75) Devotion, prayer, hope, or faith are all violently corroded by the “will to chance”, which relapses towards immanence, and “immanence is impiety itself” (Oeuvres Completes VI 81) – Bataille protects nothing – “I love irreligion, the disrespect of putting in play”. (Oeuvres Completes VI 86)

The will to chance is the sacrifice of the will. Unlike any act, the will to chance resists the order of the possible. Even its resistance is involuntary – a fatality of evil in disorder. Between chance and the will is impossibility or unilateral difference, such that the succumbing of the will succumbs to chance.

In Nietzschean texts chance de-couples itself from the prison of probability, exploding in its luxuriant immensity. In Bataille’s system, Nietzsche’s writing is not a doctrine, but a convulsion of hazard, breaking open the cage of Kant’s “nihil negativum”. Bataille explores such a cosmic anti-logic, in which irresolvable improbability, irrational negation, and interminable compositional intricacy are interwoven. His break with Kantian humanism is characterized by a ruthless exactness, as it moves sure-footedly from one fissure of disintegration to another. “Continuum” is wrested definitively from humanist containment.

The narrative fragments assembled into “The Will to Power” develop a morbid thread. Either “existence as it is, without meaning or aim, yet recurring inevitably without any finale of nothingness”, or “the nothing (the “meaningless”), eternally (WP#55). The nihilism of recurrence is ambivalent between its (Christian) historical sense as the constrictive deceleration of zero and its cosmic (non-local) virtuality as a gateway onto death. Christendom is to be attacked because it was its “morality that protected life against despair and the leap into nothing” (WP#55).

Nietzsche read Christianity as the nadir of humanistic slave-morality, the most abject and impoverishing attempt to protect the existent human type from the ruthless impulses of an unconscious artistic process that passed through and beyond them. The mixture of continuity and discontinuity connecting Nietzsche’s atheism with Bataille’s is encapsulated in Nietzsche’s maxim, “man is something to be overcome.” Nietzsche’s atheology is relentless anti-humanism tic .

“That there exists a point of ‘continuum’ where the test of ‘torment’ is inevitable, is not merely incapable of being denied, this point, situated at the extreme, defines the human being. (the ‘continuum’)”.

(George Bataille Oeuvres Completes V 195)

By tapping into the deep flows of history Bataille ensures that intensity is no longer thought of as anticipated perception, but as the ecstasy of the death of God, delirial dissolution of the One. Bataille states “the true universality is the death of God”(I 473). He is insistent, throughout the entire sweep of his work, that the death of god, as announced in Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science”, is to be thought of as a religious event, indeed, as the positive end of religion (as zero). For Bataille – far more than Nietzsche – the atheology thus engendered is of a specifically Christian character, in that it is rooted in the “sense” of the crucifixion. Bataille insists that Nietzsche’s thought of the death of god is sacrificial, orgiastic, and festive. Christian belief must pass over not into a complacent scientific utilitarianism, but into the ecstasies of uninhibited wastage. The loss of God is the loss of self, the definitive shattering of the anthropic image, so that the perdurant ego of servile humanity is dissolved into the solar energy flow. Bataille is not remotely interested in being saved, he wants only to touch the extreme, writing that “I have wanted and found ecstasy” (V 264), an ecstasy that is the experienced loss of being. This is not a matter of dying, but surviving (momentarily) only through excess, as chance, without guarantees, and without inhibiting the dissipative tide:

“Being is given to us in an intolerable surpassing of being, no less intolerable than death. And because, in death, this is withdrawn from us at the same time it is given, we must search for it in the feeling of death, in those intolerable moments where it seems that we are dying, because the being in us is only there through excess, when the plenitude of horror and that of joy coincide” (George Bataille III 11-12)

To defy God, in a celebration of evil, is to threaten mankind with adventures that they have been determined to outlaw.

The violence, murders, and blasphemies of vampire fiction knit almost seamlessly onto Bataille’s obsession with the intolerable sacrificial wastage of the ‘divine’. Bataille would locate in these texts the excessive negation of the principle upon which life rests. “I search only for the terror of evil” (IV 219), writes Bataille, in his adherence to the violent refusal of integral being. “Evil is love” (III 37), ” the need to deny an order with which one is unable to live” (III 37)

“Violence responds to decay, which calls it forth; the nothingness of decomposition, relative to the enormous abandon of disorderly passions, is analogous to that aura of sacred terror that tragedy radiates” (George Bataille VIII 87)

Tragic fate is the necessity that the forbidden happen – prohibition is there to be violated. Bataille associated this subterranean insight with an “indifference to logic” at the base of social regulation. Such violation is not so much provoked by prohibition, as it is compelled by an inexorable process to which prohibition is a response. This thought is expressed within his writing in terms of the inevitability of evil and as the eruption of transgression.

The vampire comes from the other side of Zarathustrean descent/death, occupying the labyrinthine spaces of a “Nietzsche for the fallen”, and of what escapes from/due to the cultural convulsion Nietzsche reinforces. The vampire becomes totemic because of its damnation, but this damnation is a source of ineffable torture, the sufferings are enormous. Transgression, violence, eroticism turn on abjected forms of existence, animal, sexual and taboo, leaping into the unknown, with animality as its impetus. From such expenditure of natural energies, in its embrace of the rejected, profane world, transgression paradoxically accedes to the sphere of the sacred, negating nature, precisely through its adoration of the base corporeality of the flesh. Hence the erotic attraction of limits and taboos, the dreadful apprehension of death, producing what Bataille calls the “inner experience” which places us before a nauseating void:

“A void in the face of which our being is a plenum, threatened with losing its plenitude, both desiring and fearing to lose it. As if the consciousness of plenitude demanded a state of uncertainty, of suspension. As if being itself was this exploration of all possibility, always going to the extreme and always hazardous. And so, to such stubborn defiance of impossibility, to such full desire for emptiness, there is no end but the definitive emptiness of death.”

(George Bataille OC VIII)

We associate vampires with the supreme decadence of the fin de siecle. It was of course the appearance of Dracula in 1879 which set the tone for this, bit this image of 19th Century satanic opulence and urban chic continues throughout Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles” and in films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. In our imagination, fin de siecle Europe will always be the classic age of vampires. The same can be said to the defenders of bourgeois morality and Christian civilization of that age, particularly powerful parasites had risen to the highest levels of art, music, literature and philosophy, or so it appeared. The new artistic and intellectual trends of the 1890s were seen by many as symptoms of a fatal cultural anemia. But their vampires are now our heroes, their degenerates our geniuses.

A major aspect of the vampire legend is that of death, destruction and entropy. The vampire causes destruction in a number of ways; the sacrilegious destruction of purity, destruction by violence and destruction by entropy. The entropic destruction is shown in the environments that Vampires are commonly located and in the coded analogy of the Vampire with disease.

Bataille’s movement beyond conventional notions of good and evil is not simply a kind of transvaluation that leads to a surplus value, nor to a clear, purely self-affirming value derived from absolute forgetting. Rather, Bataille’s notion of value retains a fundamental ambivalence in which good and evil are inseparable, a value apprehended only in anguish. In “On Nietzsche” Bataille discusses the sublimity of the crucified Christ whose broken and tormented body occupies a place at the summit of morality. This summit is however “heterogeneous”. It does not disclose goodness, but an “excess”, an “exuberance of forces”, “measureless expenditures of energy” and “a violation of the integrity of individual beings” – “it is thus closer to evil than to good”. Evil bursts out from the headless summit of morality, a volcanic eruption of energies without limit: the access to an “acephalic universe” (VI 42-4)

The vampire motif always has something to do with parasitism. It developed (in the early C19th) in a society increasingly conscious of interdependency, while losing the firm sense of rigid social hierarchy that had concealed dependency – it was born of industrial capitalist democracy. The Vampire legend deals in the terror of reorganising, challenging or being challenged by dependency, and always registers this through the body: the dependencies of its need and drives, especially, but not exclusively, sexuality. Like all enduring popular cultural ideas, innumerable variations can be played upon the basic concept, its vivid iconography and compelling narrative patterns. Much of Folklore builds on the fear that the dead are not truly dead, a fear that may also conceal a hope.

Bataille explodes the humanistic concept of a fully integrated, rounded, self-consciously autonomous individual and the idea of a benevolent, ideal universe that is its mirror and support. Dehumanising and decentring excesses break out in a blind Dionysian surpassing of the theoretical Apollonian attitude. Bataille’s interest in the intimate connection between the sacred and profane, between waste and luxury, between filth, beauty and eroticism, the attraction of what he calls “Heterology”. Bataille’s writing opposes both idealism and materialism in the ontological and dialectical senses, disclosing another force beyond the dualities that sustain human systems of thought. He turns to the Gnostic conception of matter “as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not simply be the absence of light, but the monstrous “achontes” revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action)” (OC I 302) This is neither presence nor absence, but something monstrous in excess of opposition; neither good nor evil, but something truly, creatively evil of the kind manifested by Christ’s suffering and the evil at the core of communication. The matter which is active, dark and evil, formless and deforming all modes of systematic knowledge, constitutes the extreme limit which confounds idealism and materialism:

“base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations. But the psychological process brought to light by Gnosticism had the same impact: it was a question of disconcerting the human spirit and idealism before something base, to the extent that one recognised the helplessness of superior principles.” (Oeuvres Complete I 220)

Base matter introduces something other below the foundations and in excess of the idealizing imaginings of materialist knowledge. Not a “thing” in the sense of the object-world, base matter affects subjects with an alien, insubordinate and disconcerting force an exuberant, irrepressible expenditure of energy. “Base matter”, articulating the unknown point of dissipation for philosophical, material and psychological systems offers itself as an attempt to address “heterology” – the science of what is completely other.

Heterology addresses the violence and agitation of sacred and profane excesses, but not to integrate it usefully within a system: concerned with what is “resolutely placed outside the reach of scientific knowledge”, it stands opposed to the appropriations of science and philosophy. The aim is neither to limit nor assimilate the character of heterogeneous elements, not to return the other to system or stasis, but to follow the disequilibrating energies toward an expression of “the urges that today require world-wide society’s fiery and bloody Revolution”. (OC II 55)

In “Twilight of the Idols”, Nietzsche writes:

“To separate the world into the ‘true’ and the ‘apparent’, be it in the Christian fashion, or in that of Kant (a cunning Christian to the end) is only a suggestion of decadence – a symptom of declining life. That the artist treasures appearance above reality is no objection to this proposition. Because here, ‘appearance’ means reality once again, only selected, strengthened, corrected…”

With Bataille things are different. “Being is nowhere”(V 98). Which is to say, it has no privileged scale, no refuge, either in the atom or in the totality. From the perspective of ontology the compositions at each scale, existential or naturalism, are gnawed by insufficiency; both too friable and too partial to "be". Being would be other to death – either annihilated by it or left immaculate – “were there not scales”. If there were not scales, death would be so sublimely metaphysical.

“Were you to stop a short moment: the complex, the gentle, the violent movements of worlds will make of your death a splashing foam”, writes Bataille. We are all fictional suicides, some impatient, some less so, but all demonstrating by our meticulousness the taciturnity of death.. In effect, death is nothing in immanence, but due to the fact that it is nothing, no being is ever truly separated from it”. (George Bataille VII 308)

Bataille’s Nietzsche is not a locus of secular reason but of shamanic religion; a writer who escapes philosophical conceptuality in the direction of ulterior zones, and dispenses with the “thing in itself” because it is an item of intelligible representation with no consequence as a vector of becoming/travel. Shamanism defies the transcendence of death, opening the tracts of voyages of discovery never reported. Against the grain of shallow phenomenalism that characterises interpretations of Nietzsche, Bataille pursues the fissure of abysmal scepticism, which passes out of the Kantian “Noumenon” (or intelligible object) through the “thing in itself” (stripping away a layer of residual Platonism), and onwards in the direction of acategorical, epochal, or “base” matter that connects with the immense deathscapes of a universe without images.

“The antithesis of the apparent world and the true world is reduced to the antithesis ‘world’ and ‘nothing'”.

(Friedrich Nietzsche The Will to Power #567)

Exploring acategorical matter navigates thought as chance and matter as turbulence beyond all regulation. It yields no propositions to judge, but only paths to explore. This is Nietzsche as a fanged poet at war with philosophy, a thinker who seeks to make life more problematic. Bataille locks onto a desire that resonates with the reality that confounds us, and not with a “rationality” that would extricate us from the labyrinth. Nietzsche complicates thought, exploiting knowledge in the interests of interrogations – and this is not in order to clarify and focus, but to subtilize and dissociate them. Complicating thought strengthens the impetus of an active or energetic confusion – against the tranquillising prescriptions of the “will to truth”.

It can seem at times as if Bataille owes almost everything to Christianity; his understanding of the evil at the heart of erotic love, the hysterical affectivity of his writing, along with its excremental obsession, its capricious conception of delight, its malignancy, the perpetual stench of the gutter. Yet out from the aberrant intensity and disorder of Bataille’s writing an impossible proposition is perpetually reiterated: that far from being the pinnacle of religion, God is the principle of its suppression. How infinitely trivial the crucifixion of Jesus appears beside the degrading torture of being God. Bataille remarks that “whilst I am God, I deny him to the depths of negation.”(V 152) – “nihilism…might be a divine way of thinking” (WP#15) Nietzsche anticipates. God can only redeem the universe from its servility by burning his creation into ash and annihilating himself. Such is the “God of blinding sun…this God of death that I sought” Bataille invokes the dark undertow of a self-butchering divinity: “God of despair, give me…your heart…which no longer tolerates that you exist”(V 59)

Bataille’s writings are “a hecatomb of words without gods or reason to be”(V 220), led back down through the crypts of the West by a furious impulse to dissociate theism and religion, and thus to return the sacred to its shamanic impiety, except that nothing can ever simply return, and Hell with never be an innocent underworld again. “Flames surround us/the abyss opens beneath our feet”(III 95) reports Bataille from the brink of the impossible, “an abyss that does not end in the satiate contemplation of an absence”(V 199) because its lip is the charred ruin of even the most sublimed subjectivity. “I have nothing to do in this world” he writes “if not to burn”. (IV 17) “I suffer from not burning…approaching so close to death that I respire it like the breath of a lover”(V 246).

“Poetry leads from the known to the unknown” writes Bataille (V 157) Poetry is fluent silence, the only venture of writing to touch upon the sacred, because “the unknown…is not distinguished from nothingness by anything that discourse can announce” (V 133) To write the edge of the impossible is a transgression against discursive order, and an incitement to the unspeakable: “poetry is immoral” (V 212) Communication – in the transgressive non-sense Bataille lends it – is both an utter risk and an unfathomable degradation, associated with repellent effect.

In contrast to the declarations of the orthodoxies, which come from on high, an infernal message is subterranean, a whisper from the nether-regions of discourse. Just as the underworld is not a hidden world – real or true – but is hidden by all worlds, so the message from hell is something other than an inverted scene, concept or belief. In their infernal manifestation words are passages, leading into and through lost mazes. Bataille’s writing actively contests systematic codes, composed ideas and meaning, and takes thought to the limits of comprehension.

Copyright © Adrian Gargett 2002

This article may not be archived or distributed further without the author’s express permission. Please read the license.

This electronic version of Vampire – George Bataille and the philosophy of vampirism is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.

Adrian Gargett works in Philosophy and Film/Cultural Theory. He obtained a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Warwick and has an MA in Art History from The Courtauld Institute.His main areas of interest are Continental Philosophy, specializing on the works of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in addition to film theory, the visual arts, popular culture and comparative literature.

Working as a writer and academic Gargett is a regular contributor to web-publications “disinformation” and “” – notable articles include; “The Matrix-What is Bullet Time?”/”Doppelganger-Exploded States of Consciousness in Fight Club”/”Violence as Performance-Technology and Death”. He is currently preparing a book on Virtual Reality – “Strange Days”.


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