Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Sacred of Violence, Intimacy, and Love

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Sacred of Violence, Intimacy, and Love

Article excerpt

Philippe Nemo: How does one begin thinking? Through the questions one poses to and of oneself, following original occurrences? Or through the thoughts and works with which one first enters into contact? Emmanuel Lévinas: It probably begins through traumatisms or gropings to which one does not even know how to give a verbal form: a separation, a violent scene, a sudden consciousness of the monotony of time.1

According to Jean-François Lyotard, knowledge in the postmodern era "reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable. Its principle is not the expert's homology, but the inventor's paralogy"2 Evaluating the limitations of a philosophy of identity in modern criticism in his 1 996 book Alterities, Thomas Docherty sums up this postmodern attitude to knowledge when he describes the point of philosophy as

not to look for a truth which can be legitimized or guaranteed through its conformity to an already agreed set of rules for thinking, but rather to push our thinking to the point where we are not prepared for its results, to the point of a kind of surprise or to the point where there is an irruption of that which could not already be accounted for in our prior forms and rules of thinking.3

Such an attitude resonates closely with Georges Bataille's own approach to philosophical inquiry, whose system he rejected in favor of what he termed "inner experience." As Julian Pefanis argued in Heterology and the Postmodern, Bataille's writing can be regarded as a means of tracing the evolution of some of the central concepts of French postmodernism and post-structuralism, in the counter-discourse he offered to dialectical thought.4 In response to Alexandre Kojève's influential lectures on Hegel, delivered at the Sorbonne ? the 1930s, Bataille had written: "I imagine that my life - or better yet, its aborting, the open wound that is my life - constitutes all by itself the refutation of Hegel's closed system." If Hegel is the father of modern philosophy, locating the core of modernity in the principle of subjectivity, then Bataille's entire intellectual career was devoted to refuting dialectics, to opening Hegelian movement up to the limits of non-knowledge, to pushing the limits of what constitutes the subject, and subjectivity, itself. In other words, Bataille sought a philosophy of alterity situated beyond the conventional dualisms of Western thought, having recognized that

the unending chain of things known is for knowledge but the completion of oneself. Satisfaction turns on the fact that a project for knowledge, which existed, has come to fruition, is accomplished, that nothing (at least nothing important) remains to be discovered. But this circular thought is dialectical. It brings with it the final contradiction (affecting the entire circle): circular, absolute knowledge is definitive non-knowledge. Even supposing that I were to attain it, I know that I would know nothing more than I know now.6

To know, writes Bataille in Inner Experience, means "to relate the known, to grasp that an unknown thing is the same as another thing known."7 Hegel's absolute knowledge, for Bataille, constitutes the reduction of all objects to a subject's knowledge of them. The knower is however irreducible to the knowledge it can have of itself, and thus remains unknowable, creating a blind spot in understanding that encapsulates what is essentially the subject's exposure to otherness. In his critique of Hegel's closed system of knowledge, Bataille opines that "there is in undemanding a blind spot: which is reminiscent of the structure of the eye. In understanding, as in the eye, one can only reveal it with difficulty. But whereas the blind spot of the eye is inconsequential, the nature of understanding demands that the blind spot within it be more meaningful than understanding itself."8 Bataille thus sought to expose the crisis of transcendental reasoning in modern philosophy, his dissatisfaction centered on the subject who claims to know. …

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