Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred

Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred

Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred

Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred

Synopsis

Saints of the Impossible provides an in-depth comparison of Bataille's and Weil's thought, showing how an exploration of their relationship reveals new facets of the achievements of two of the 20th century's leading intellectual figures.

Excerpt

Introduction
THE SACRED, TRANSGRESSION,
AND THE POLITICS OF DESPAIR

The saint turns away in fright from the voluptuous man. She does not
realize the unity of his unavowable passions and her own.

— Bataille, L'Érotisme

IN A PIVOTAL SCENE of Georges Bataille's 1935 novel Le Bleu du ciel, the narrator, Henri Troppmann, physically and mentally exhausted by orgies of alcohol, sex, and tearful self-pity, finds himself an unwilling participant in a discussion of the political responsibility of intellectuals. The conversation takes place in the Paris apartment of Louise Lazare, a young revolutionary activist to whom Troppmann feels mysteriously drawn despite her physical ugliness. Wandering in a state of despair and suffering from a massive hangover, Troppmann has called on Lazare on an impulse. He finds her in the company of her stepfather, Antoine Melou, a professor of philosophy. Oblivious to Troppmann's half-delirious condition, Melou begins to hold forth on the subject of politics and the crisis of workers' movements across Europe. He ruminates aloud on the “agonizing dilemma” before which intellectuals find themselves placed by the “collapse of socialist hopes.” Gesticulating theatrically, the professor asks: “Should we bury ourselves in silence? Or should we give our support to the last resistance of the workers, committing ourselves to an implacable and sterile death?” (BOC III, 422).

Troppmann's response is to ask for directions to the toilet, where he “takes a long piss” and, hoping to relieve the pressure of nausea, tries unsuccessfully to make himself vomit by sticking his fingers down his throat. Emerging from the bathroom, Troppmann wants to make a rapid escape. But before he does so, he turns to Melou and Lazare and asks a question:

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