Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion

Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion

Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion

Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion


Despite Georges Bataille's acknowledged influence on major poststructuralist thinkers-including Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, Lacan, Baudrillard, and Barthes-and his prominence in literary, cultural, and social theory, rarely has he been taken up by scholars of religion, even as issues of the sacred were central to his thinking. Bringing together established scholars and emerging voices, Negative Ecstasies engages Bataille from the perspective of religious studies and theology, forging links with feminist and queer theory, economics, secularism, psychoanalysis, fat studies, and ethics. As these essays demonstrate, Bataille's work bears significance to contemporary questions in the academy and vital issues in the world. We continue to ignore him at our peril.



Only negative experience is worthy of our attention.

Georges Bataille

A Ferociously Religious Biography

Negative Ecstasies. The title of this volume is excessive, pleonastic—for according to Georges Bataille (1897–1962), all genuine ecstasy is necessarily, and violently, negative. Bataille characterizes ecstasy as a laceration of the ego, a rupture that for a time dissolves the self-contained character of the individual as she exists in her everyday life. It is in the varieties of ecstatic experience—erotic fulminations, poetic effervescence, wrenching laughter, wracking sobs, and other excessive moments—that the self as defined and conditioned by the structures and strictures, the prohibitions and taboos, of profane, workaday life, is lost. Bataille’s writings are dramatic evidence of his relentless pursuit of the self-dissolving negative experience of ecstasy. They repeatedly reveal the sacrificial violence, the profound negativity, that haunts the always excessive moments that he deemed sacred. The essays collected here treat, in sundry ways, the category of the sacred as conceived by Bataille. They pay heed to Bataille’s own focus on the “negative” heart of religion. And they take seriously Bataille as a profoundly religious thinker—a figure possessed by religion in both his writings and his life.

To be sure, Bataille’s life, like his writings, evidenced the work of the negative. Though Bataille remains best known to most American readers as the author of a classic of pornographic fiction, Story of the Eye, throughout . . .

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