The Organ with No Body (Part 4.0)
“The hermit turns his back on the world and refuses to have anything to do with it. But one can do more than this: one can try to recreate the world, to build another in its place, one in which the most intolerable features are eliminated and replaced by others that accord with one’s desires. As a rule, anyone who takes this path to happiness, in a spirit of desperate rebellion, will achieve nothing. Reality is too strong for him. He will become a madman and will find nobody to help him realize his delusion.” (Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents,pg. 23)
Re-contextualizing Art and Evil
The virtual world is Evil, unreasonable and tends towards sickness . By this, the virtual world can rightly be related to literature or art, and in fact, it’s in its make-up to go beyond literature, art and evil by dissolving the limits that produce all three. For something to stand as literature, Bataille says it must admit itself as guilty (Bataille, Literature and Evil,pg. VIII); that ‘literature is communication. Communication requires loyalty. A rigorous morality results from complicity in the knowledge of Evil, which is the basis of intense communication’ (Bataille, Literature and Evil,pg. VII). This acute morality which derives from a deep and felt knowledge of Evil, Bataille calls hyper-morality. To convey a literary sensation therefore, there must be a dream of Evil, but a dream where by understanding its implications, it is repented. At the end of his essay on Wuthering Heights,he describes this feeling conveyed by literature:
‘The world of Wuthering Heights is the world of a hostile sovereignty. It is also the world of expiation. Once the expiation has been accepted, the true smile of life appears. ’ (Bataille, Literature and Evil,pg. 30)
This exactly mirrors the effect of the final line of the book, where Lockwood stands reflecting over the graves of the Linton’s and the hated Heathcliff:
‘I lingered round them under that benign sky, watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’ (Bronte, Wuthering Heights)
In Heathcliff’s death, his sins are atoned, and the world gets on without retribution, benignly.
Significantly too for our feelings in a virtualized age, he makes the following note regarding his own era:
‘In the years after the Great War there was a feeling which was about to overflow. Literature was stifling within its limitations and seemed pregnant with revolution.’ (Bataille, Literature and Evil,pg. VII)
Today’s Literature, music, TV and cinema are perhaps the products of this tension, having each long overflowed. The tension between Evil and the hyper-morality of literature is increasingly unnecessary in the de-realized world of endless fiction and there is a tendency to simulate evil and expiation rather than meaningfully involve oneself with them. The reality of Evil has in effect, been effaced. For there to be sanctions imposed on Evil, there must be a reality with stakes to impose them. Virtuality further diminishes the necessary tension between civility and Evil by reducing the stakes and risks in certain pleasures; it therefore alters the sensual efficacy and utility of art itself. Evil, as a passion, becomes a viable area of production/entertainment and a certain compulsion of literature is destroyed.
Reality, Reason and the Digital Ocean
For Freud, the foundations of human meaning and the civilised citizen are based on the way the ego negotiates its relationship between unmitigated pleasure (the Pleasure Principle) and reality. He describes this relationship thus:
‘…it is simply the programme of the pleasure principle that determines the purpose of life. This principle governs the functioning of our mental apparatus from the start; there can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its programme is at odds with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm. It is quite incapable of being realized; all the institutions of the universe are opposed to it; one is inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ has no part in the plan of creation.” (Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, pg. 16)
The ego then is produced by this relationship between reality and the Pleasure Principle, this force of the real being ‘The Reality Principle’; the means by which we maximize and limit our pleasure to find harmony amidst the arbitrary resistance and violence of the world.
Bataille’s system is similar insofar as rationality and restraint are necessary to the successful maintenance of civilisation, and yet for Bataille, the destruction of these limits too are necessary to human individuals as it is impulse which originally moved us. Excess, for Bataille, going beyond the limits of civilisation, destroying the self and over-spilling the boundaries of reason, leads us to a subjective sense of oneness with all things.
Andre Breton: “Everything leads us to believe that there is a certain point in the mind where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable are no longer perceived in contradiction to one another.” (Bataille, Literature and Evil,pg. 28)
Bataille adds Good and Evil, pain and joy.
It is this feeling that is achieved through eroticism; it is a hyper-moral interaction with this sensation that transmits our experience of ‘beauty’ and it is the controlled enforcement and violation of these limits that produces mystical feeling and religious ritual.
Concerning his book, The Future of an Illusion,a friend of Freud’s wrote to him praising his analysis of religion’s origins, however suggested that Freud had missed out an important aspect of what goes into making up religious feeling – the oceanic feeling. (Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents,pg. 1-2)
Though Freud claimed to have never experienced this ‘oceanic feeling’, he explained it with regard to the ego’s development from childhood – that the developing consciousness goes through a stage where it begins to recognise that some things are separate to itself whilst other things are a part of itself. The child finds that moving its body gives it immediate sensations, whereas to get the attention of the mother it must cry out before she will come (Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents,pg. 4-5).
“In this way then the ego detaches itself from the external world. Or, to put it more correctly, the ego is originally all-inclusive, but later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present sense of self is thus only a shrunken residue of a far more comprehensive, indeed all-embracing feeling, which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world around it.” (Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents,pg. 5-6)
For Freud then, the oceanic feeling (or for Bataille, the loss of self in a oneness with everything) is no more than a residual aspect of the ego’s gradual understanding of itself as a separate entity – essentially, it is the effect of ‘reality’ on consciousness as consciousness is forced to learn – through pleasure and pain – what is part of it and what is not; what it is capable of and what it is not. It is precisely, however, the effect of electricity and the effect of virtuality to undermine this ‘reality principle’ and hence the rational separation between the self and objects and indeed the compulsion towards rational behaviour over impulsive behaviour. To take a familiar example of the virtualisation of the self, McLuhan describes the way ads identify us with consumer goods and the way we, in turn, use products to represent ourselves:
‘The continuous pressure is to create ads more and more in the image of audience motives and desires. The product matters less as the audience participation increases … The need is to make the ad include the audience experience. The product and the public response become a single complex pattern.’ (McLuhan, Understanding Media,pg. 305)
The electric age has altered our relationship with reality to the extent that it becomes desirable to lose our separateness in a totalising identification with objects. The virtual world extends this into the intersection of nervous systems and bodiless consciousness. Moreover, in the virtual environment you begin to diminish the force of constraint on excessive, self-dissipating behaviours. This is the aesthetic nature of the virtual world – one identifies not with one’s own body, but with an avatar character through which the user feels no pain; one’s own imagination becomes integral to the world you inhabit, the items therein being the extensions of yourself and interactive desires. Moreover, the landscape is that of impulse and excess – the pleasure principle unbridled – with no real consequences for the body and social life at home, but allowing for the limitless deployment of every ‘dangerous’ tendency. The pain associated with the individual as separate from all things is magnified and thus we encounter a philosophical emphasis in the postmodern age on ‘otherness’. As it appears more possible to live in continuity with all things, it becomes increasingly painful to be an isolated and discontinuous being, at least isolated at the level of consciousness. It is the body itself, alone in its room or in physical company, that we abandon in its isolation and awkward materiality.
- Such concepts: ‘Evil’ and ‘sickness’, you will recognize, resound already outmoded.
- “It is easy to see that the underlying principle of the real world is not really reason, but reason which has come to terms with that arbitrary element born of the violence and puerile instincts of the past.” (Bataille Literature and Evil,pg. 20) – the digital world is a world made entirely outside the formative effects of The Reality Principle; as such, it is the natural universe of exploratory unreason