Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Military Discipline and Revolutionary Exaltation: The Dismantling of "L'illusion Lyrique" in Malraux's L'espoir and Bataille's le Bleu Du Ciel

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Military Discipline and Revolutionary Exaltation: The Dismantling of "L'illusion Lyrique" in Malraux's L'espoir and Bataille's le Bleu Du Ciel

Article excerpt

In 1933, Bataille contributed a review of Andre Malraux's novel La Condition humaine to the ultra left-wing journal La Critique sociale. (1) In this article, Bataille questions the place that revolution occupies in the larger and more general context of "human agitation." He asks, for example, whether the convulsive movements of revolt, social upheaval, and revolution should be situated outside of, or above, what is normally experienced as life in its quotidian expressions of tenderness, enthusiasm or even hate. In the name of what authority, for example, might one be justified in placing the fascination with pleasure, torture and possible death outside the limits of acceptable social practice--extreme states often linked to revolutionary upheaval outside the limits of acceptable social practice? Another way of situating the convulsion of revolutionary movements--an approach clearly endorsed by Bataille--is to place it squarely within the framework of any activity marked by agitation. From this perspective, the acts of torture and murder would arise from an excitability or arousal similar in nature to that intensifying the fury of the revolutionary impulse. This impulse, writes Bataille, is a means by which the proletariat--who had for a long time been deprived of the possibility of attributing any value to suffering and to life--is able to gain access to value itself, a value linked to states of excitation unsubordinated to any simple political means or end. This value, and the state of agitation to which it is linked, gives the proletariat both life and hope, for which even death in all its atrocity might be the payment required:

   [... ]la Revolution s'identifie dans une convulsion violente avec la valeur
   et avec le sens de ceux qui la vivent. Car la Revolution est en fait [...]
   non simple utilite ou moyen, mais valeur liee a des etats desinteresses
   d'excitation qui permettent de vivre, d'esperer et, au besoin, de mourir
   atrocement. (CH, 373)

Malraux's novel retains Bataille's interest precisely because it does not limit revolutionary activity to the various positive and productive political results to be gained from subversive activity. Rather, Malraux had the insight to allow the "negative orientation" of revolutionary activity to be conducted in an atmosphere of death. While Bataille admits that the revolutionary impulse cannot be limited to this negative orientation, in his view there is generally insufficient recognition of the "dominant if limited" role played by catastrophe and negation as forces of attraction in the midst of social unrest:

   Si l'on poursuivait plus avant l'investigation, il apparaitrait meme que
   catastrophe et negation ont une place dominante (mais limitee) dans
   l'ensemble de l'experience vecue au cours d'une revolution ... (CH, 374-5)

For Bataille, Malraux's La Condition humaine presents "un interet exceptionnel" not only because it recognizes the way in which revolutionary activity is profoundly linked to the more generalized states of excitability that engender acts of torture, pleasure and death, but because it confronts the revolutionary's attraction to negativity and catastrophe. These values are too often regarded as unfortunate by-products of an agenda that seeks, positively, to redress social injustice, rather than as a dark and desirable impetus at the very heart of the revolutionary impulse.

In what follows, I examine the extent to which Malraux subscribes to Bataille's view of social unrest as a force that both ignites and depends on negativity and catastrophe. I determine, as well, the extent to which the fascination with or attraction to death is at odds in Malraux's novel L'Espoir with the positive, constructive political agenda to which the revolutionary is committed. It is against the backdrop of Bataille's Le Bleu du ciel that I examine these issues in L'Espoir, for Bataille's novel, set in Barcelona during the civil war, also depicts the fascination with death and the convulsive agitation common to both revolutionary fervour and sexual agitation. …

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