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EXPERIMENTALISM, PART 3

One of the highlights of 2013 for Equus Press has been the publication of George Bataille’s Louis XXX (trans. Stuart Kendall), a neat little book that holds a multitude, the black&white sparseness of its cover artwork enfolding colourful riches. These riches are not only Bataille’s own, i.e. stored within The Little One and The Tomb of Louis XXX, the two hybrid texts from 1942 and 1947, respectively, that the volume brings together in a first-time-ever English translation. Partly they’re to be found in translator Stewart Kendall’s “Preface” and “Postface – Larvatus Prodeo,” which seek to address questions surrounding these two texts which “stand apart in an oeuvre that stands apart,” in particular, questions to do with “the source of the laceration that binds them together under one name” (LXXX, 7-8).

The multitude of The Little One and The Tomb of Louis XXX is one including both poetry and prose, fiction and fact/autobiography, philosophical analyses and theological meditations sometimes even venturing beyond the medium of text and language into painting and photography. Their hybridity, writes Kendall, is that of “complex textual assemblages […] that commingle forms and genres to produce their effects” (LXXX, 86). Particularly hybrid is the latter of the two texts, The Tomb of Louis XXX, which begins with poems, then on to an impossibly brief “Oratorio,” then a section entitled “The Book” (consisting of a poem and a photograph), and a “Meditation” that is aphoristic and autobiographical, speculative and reflective by turns, and that again includes a photograph (the famous torture photograph of the Leng Tch’e), speculation upon which constitutes one of the high points of the entire book. In it, (auto-)eroticism becomes commingled with the “pain of others”:

When I first began to meditate, I habitually entered a state of torpor, wherein I suddenly felt myself become an erect penis. The intensity of my conviction rendered it difficult to deny. The previous day I had had the same kind of violent feeling, the feeling that I was a tree and, without being able to oppose the idea, in the darkness, my arms extended themselves as branches. The idea of being — my body, my head — a large hardening penis was so crazy that I felt like laughing. The comical idea even came to me that so hard an erection — the entire body tensed as a hard tail — had no other point than orgasm! Besides, it was impossible to laugh at such a moment: like the torture victim I have a picture of, my eyes were, I think, turned around in their orbits, my head turned around, lips open. In that unexpected state, the memory of this photograph came to my mind without provoking the habitual depression: a rush of horror, of light, brought me from the depths to the heights. Nothing exceeds the feeling inspired in me by torture more. (LXXX, 67)

Kendall is correct in pointing out that the work’s message is as much what these parts convey in themselves as a juxtaposition of two and more of them:

The brevity of the work bespeaks the intensification of its strategies, which stand in stark relief. The genres have been reduced to their elemental forms; the whole assembled as a prismatic constellation of competing, mutually reflective discourses and discursive gestures. What is communicated is as much between the discourses as within them. (LXXX, 89)

The idea of discursive and formal assemblage is one of the cornerstones of Bataille’s entire oeuvre and thought – emblematic of Bataille’s overall approach is a quote from his late 1953 “Post-Scriptum”:

If one had to grant me a place in the history of thought, I believe it would be that of having discerned the effects, in our human life, of the ‘disappearance of the discursive real,’ and of having drawn a senseless light from the description of these effects: this light is blinding, perhaps, but it announces the opacity of the night; it announces the night alone. (Qtd. in LXXX, 91)

By “the disappearance of the discursive real” Bataille here invokes the collapse of discursive referentiality, after which no discourse, genre, or type of speech can be considered as providing a stable means of reference to a generally subscribed-to understanding of reality. What Kendall terms assemblage has been termed—in Jacques Derrida’s seminal essay on Bataille in Writing and Difference—a type of “continuum” and described as “the privileged experience of a sovereign operation transgressing the limit of discursive difference.” Derrida:

Pushing itself toward the non-basis negativity and od expenditure, the experience of the continuum is also the experience of absolute difference, of a difference which would no longer be the one that Hegel had conceived more profoundly than anyone else: the difference in the service of presence, at work for (the) history (of meaning).” (W&D, 263)

So long as language is recognised as a language game, then Bataille’s interest lies less in the game’s pieces (the words) or the rules (grammar) than in the effects produced by the game upon its player. What are the effects of our playing this game, or, as Bataille asks in Inner Experience, “What happens to us when, disintoxicated, we learn what we are?” His answer is (as in the Louis XXX quote above), we experience suffering: “Lost among babblers in the night in which we can only hate the appearance of light that comes from babbling. The self-acknowledged suffering of the disintoxicated is the subject of this book” (Qtd. in LXXX, 93).

Bataille lays bare the structures of the discursive real—thereby unmasking and unmaking them—by engaging in a type of writing that can be termed discursively translocal: writing that occurs across disciplines, in different forms, and by way of textual assemblage that gives rise to complex mechanisms. As Bataille writes in The Little One, “to write is to research chance” (LXXX, 47), to set the elements and structures of language free in the play of chance. That freedom, for Bataille, is inherently tied with working upon and through language, is brought home in another quote adduced by Kendall, from his Absence of Myth: “I cannot consider someone free if they do not have the desire to sever the bonds of language within themselves” (LXXX, 94). It is not to achieve some utopian “beyond” or “outside” of language—for Bataille is all too aware that language is innate to the human condition, to consciousness, memory, or reasoning—but to at least occasionally break its bonds/rules, to commit a “transgression” within it. This manoeuvre is described by Derrida in “From General to Restricted Economy” as “instituting a relation in the form of nonrelation”:

To relate the major form of writing to the sovereign operation is to institute a relation in the form of a nonrelation, to inscribe rupture in the text, to place the chain of discursive knowledge in relation to an unknowledge which is not a moment of knowledge: an absolute unknolwedge from whose nonbasis is launched chance, or the wagers of meaning, history, and the horizons of absolute knowledge. […] Sovereignty transgresses the entirety of the history of meaning and the entirety of the meaning of history, and the project of knowledge which has always obscurely welded these two together. Unknowledge is, then, supra-historical, but only because it takes its responsibilities from the completion of history and from the closure of absolute knowledge, having first taken them seriously and having betrayed them by exceeding them or by simulating them in play. (W&D, 268-9)

Bataille, thus, is a valued precursor to the idea of translocal writing furthered by this publishing enterprise and defined in the previous posting as “one created outside of its native emplacement and concerned with dwelling, identity, and place as experiences of writing” – what renders Bataille singular is how he transposes these topics onto the levels of the language, the discourse(s), the (multi-)media, or the heroic iconoclasm of his fiction. With Equus Press, there has been more of it, over the course of 2012 and 2013, and there will be more – in 2014 and beyond!

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About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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"Modernity today is not in the hands of the poets, but in the hands of the cops" // Louis Aragon
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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
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