Georges Bataille pays tribute to Socrates by making non-knowledge a guiding principle of inner experience. That is to say, an immediate existence stripped of authority and light of reason, an exercise of surpassing the possible rendered imponderable on its margins. This is the initial setting, which servile self-that-dies relies upon whilst imitating God’s itinerary to the end of the night straightforwardly into non-knowledge, vital coalescence of self-alienation and indifference. Chanting Nietzsche’s mantra “God is dead, we’ve killed him,” Bataille attributes to it the meaning of an epistemological act, which consists in breaking the discursive thought, walking beyond the fixed limits, and paradoxically bringing these limits back under the protection of saturated knowledge as long as a promising dream of salvation persists.
The most peculiar thing about sacrifice—which Bataille equates with madness—is that it turns out to be an irreversible proceeding to the point when the subject finally goes off the rails and finds her(him)self utterly intoxicated, so that no circular appeasing movement, similar to Christian salvation, takes hold of the sacred in its entirety. Genuine sacrifice is catharsis without reconciliation, contradiction without resolution, or bigotry without piety. In this vein, Bataille, for the most part, plays with Hegelian and Nietzschean themes, not to mention various religious practices oriented at succeeding extreme states and acquiring limitless existence. Inner experience isn’t quite mystical.
The footpath to unparalleled fulfillment thus implies the stance of being consumed by the utmost excesses cherished throughout the way. Bataille defines necessary features of witnessing and then experiencing the total inwardness that the truth I-know-nothing delegates: those are dramatization, a twofold process, and communication which hardly takes into account the presence of the closest Other. Broadly speaking, dramatization amounts to putting life on the stage, de-realizing it to the extent that I’m aware of my theatrical enterprise, embracing the world behind as a temporary retreat. Dramatization, thus understood, emerges from the capacity to imagine, to undermine external borders for a moment, and pull the rug out from under the discursive, knowledgeable edifice.
As Bataille sees it, elusive beyond comes to the fore in the drama along with authority, an imaginary director who plays the role of inner God-like figure forcing the script to be internalized. This process is twofold since the bottom of the dramatic position is made up of comedic elements provoking immense laughter. According to Bataille, the latter appears due to the difference in levels, the incommensurable connection between what has been grasped and what is about to be understood with regard to the interrogation of the possible, since there is nothing to say anymore, and universal scene gradually gives way to the obscene.
Henceforth, comedy takes responsibility to decide the further course of the subject that dwells in the world, purely parodic world. The domain of inner experience permits us to notice the restrictions, which dramatic project imposes upon the subject and indicate unsettling incongruity, insignificant dint in the system of knowledge that calls subjectivity into question. It’s an enemy of existence as such to think in terms of the project, and exercise an active involvement in daily existence, which pretends to be crammed with a superior design or plan prepared beforehand. Bataille provides the second meaning of dramatization: it signifies the imitation of non-discursive sensations—that which is not said, namely the silence, pulls the trigger of thought while flourishing at the first sign of one’s refusal to verbalize palpable experience.
In this context, thesis “non-knowledge communicates ecstasy” first and foremost expresses the crux matter of non-knowledge: it is given through communication in the sense that the private conception of the possible becomes distributed, and what appears to be divulged is ecstasy, inconsequential childish jubilation the laughter gives birth to in the failed drama. Bataille explicitly runs against an ascetic representation of the extremities: the major downside of asceticism lays in its unwillingness to admit the importance of being heard and recognized outside the self, because, by means of reducing expenses to quite formal incarcerated existence, hermits remain loyal only to themselves, not to the impossible they craved for from the outset. Annulment of desire doesn’t sit right with ungraspable Oneness, which, to become such, needs to possess more or less graspable traits presented in the secluded scenic continuum, in other words, to fall into knowledgeable categories.
Inner experience, therefore, develops in the abundance of life, the core of which is a non-productive expenditure, a disheveled joy that relies on wholehearted acceptance of sufferings and disillusionments, on eagerness to seize the weight of stupidity and derisory in the awe-inspiring seriousness that idols of the mind have at their disposal.
Photo — Malevich’s Black Square on display at Tate Modern in 2019 (2019; photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian).