Violence and Involvement: The Electric Dionysus – (Part 2)

Bataille: The Electric Dionysus

Georges Bataille was perhaps one of the first to feel the weight of this problem – the chaffing effect of mechanical reason on the instantaneous electric man. In his book on eroticism, he tells us man is a separate and ‘discontinuous’ being and that ‘between one being and another, there is a gulf’ (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.12). Irrespective of this fundamental separation of beings however, for Bataille, there is a yearning to come together, become part of an eternal whole, a yearning for what he calls ‘continuity’ of being. He writes:

’We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear. Along with our tormenting desire that this evanescent thing should last, there stands our obsession with a primal continuity linking us with everything that is.” (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.15).

For Bataille, this continuity, this peak of being and this ‘supreme moment’ is what all humanity aspires towards (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.274). The loss of self, the loss of individuality and the achievement of momentary continuity, sought in religious mysticism, physical or emotional love, beauty and death itself. Related to this continuity and the destruction of the discontinuous, isolated self is the urge towards violence and excess:

“Man has built up the rational world by his own efforts, but there remains within him an undercurrent of violence. Nature herself is violent and however reasonable we may grow we may be mastered anew by a violence no longer that of nature, but that of a rational being who tries to obey but succumbs to stirrings within himself that he cannot bring to heel.” (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.40)

The world of work and reason, the world of civilised life and the separateness of self, the taboos by which this world of work and civility protect themselves and productivity from excess, are all underlain by and related to this impulse towards violence and the continuity of excess. It is by transgressing the taboo that one is able to enter this world of continuity, that one can escape one’s self and one’s reason and that one may rejoin a subjective experience of totality in the blinding white-heat of self-annihilating eroticism. He describes this impulse towards excess:

“There is in nature and there subsists in man a movement which always exceeds the bounds, that can never be anything but partially reduced to order. We are generally unable to grasp it. Indeed it is by definition that which can never be grasped but we are conscious of being in its power: the universe that bears us along answers no purpose that reason defines, and if we try to make it answer to God, all we are doing is associating irrationally the infinite excess in the presence of which our reason exists with reason itself.” (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.40)

Though under this thesis, reason only exists in the presence of arbitrary nature and the infinity of excess (‘excess’ by definition being the transgression of reason); though reason, language and the taboo were invented by man as a subsidiary of work, to protect work from unproductive excess and natural violence, it remains interesting to view this thesis from the perspective of emergent electric man. Throughout Eroticism, Bataille makes the point over and over that this problem, the problem of eroticism, cannot be considered objectively (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.149, 273). Moreover, he tells us even that such a study of ‘inner experience’ could not be meaningfully undertaken had sexuality not been previously studied from an objective standpoint (Bataille,Eroticism,p.35). It is therefore the rigours of objectivity and rationality that have led to the analysis of inner-experience as if inner-experience and impulse were suffering from a kind of neglect or from the tyranny of an external, objectifying logic. In discourse then, Bataille marks the appearance of the inner-experience of impulse, erotic activity and violence as if it were a meaningful component of man worthy of research and academic treatment. Knowledge, whose charms were abstract and external, has been connected with the personal, inner and aesthetic experience. Bataille also emphasizes the painful nature of inner-experience’s appearance:

“For the man who cannot escape his own nature, the man whose life is open to exuberance, eroticism is the greatest personal problem of all. At the same time, it is a universal problem in a way that no other problem is” (Bataille, Eroticism,pg. 273).

The man suffers in exile from instantaneity, impulse and the excessive continuity of all things.

The conclusion of Bataille’s book is also worth considering from this perspective. In the conclusion, he discusses the fragmenting aspects of language as he tries to characterise totality and continuity. Of his thesis and of taking hold of ideas as complete ideas, he says:

“So language scatters the totality of all that touches us most closely even while it arranges it in order. Through language, we can never grasp what matters to us for it eludes us in the form of interdependent propositions, and no central whole to which each of these can be referred ever appears” (Bataille, Eroticism,pg.274).

What is found in these remarks are the aches and pains of the electric man – the emphasis of mystical, violent, erotic, impulsive and totalising reality over a fragmented, object oriented and rational reality. It precisely echoes McLuhan’s observation that “the visual” (or literate/mechanical) “desacrelizes the universe and produces the non religious man of modern societies” and his prophecy that electric man will be retribalised (McLuhan, Understanding Mediapg.210).

Bataille then demonstrates the emergence of an electric man in several major ways:

  1. He highlights the discontinuous being’s obsession with becoming continuous, either with other beings or with the whole universe itself. This reveals an interest in proximity, loss of objective, civilised individuality, a movement towards some instantaneous, impulsive unity. See Russell Brand for a similar incarnation of the electric phenomenon.
  2. He reveals the endless, amplified suffering of the man in exile from exuberance and excess, that there is a pull towards impulse and ‘mystical’ inner-experience so strong that he would dedicate a lifetime to writing about and researching it. The novelty here is the appearance of inner-experience in a rationalised scholarly universe, or rather, the violence and seeming necessity with which inner-experience has appeared.
  3. There is a running of concepts, objects, experiences and ideas in Bataille’s work so that they merge, mingle and express each other. The eye in Story of the Eye is at once the blazing sun, the urine spot on a bed sheet, the eggs Simone likes to crack with her ass or the dead bull’s glands – all these forms and images find unity through their globular shape and their obscenity. The obsession with urine in the book is similarly the extension of Bataille’s having seen his blind, syphilitic father trying to urinate into a small container as a child. The obsession with the globular eye too is associated with the rotation of his father’s blind eyes as he attempted to urinate (Bataille, Story of the Eye,pg.72). Images, concepts and experiences have lost their distinctiveness from one another and are found within each other.

Reason then is waning as Ballard suggests and, in the age of electric man, impulse becomes the dominant force of action. Bataille represents this shift both in his anguish and in his discourse – the rational world must give way to the impulsive world and the separateness of things must become the totality of things. Knowledge now becomes erotic, revolutionary, no longer an abstract fact, it is the personal expression of one’s own identity and expression of being. Knowledge is no longer to be ‘looked at’ (as it would be in a visual, mechanical culture) but is bound up in the nervous system itself, electricity, as McLuhan would have it, being the extension of “our central nervous system as a planetary vesture” (McLuhan, Understanding Mediapg.201).

Part One
Part Three

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