Why discuss Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud together? The pair are commonly associated in common projects, and yet they barely knew each other in passing. There is something in common between their iconoclasm, their objects of study, but most significantly there is deep bond in the performative elements of their writings. In an era defined by the mass spectacle, there is frankly very little theorization of what that meant from a radical perspective, of how this spectacle operates, and how it can be used for purposes of radical transformation. Fascists had a crude instrumentalist understanding of the ways that it could use the spectacles that it created to its own ends, but there were no corresponding theories on the mass mobilizations and street actions of the left. In avoiding the standard formations of the Communist Party and its Popular Front, for the terrain of the theater, literature, and the secret society, Bataille and Artaud were able to examine these questions, and conceptualize other formulation other than the ones that failed so significantly in the face of organized fascism.
Their formulations contrast dramatically against the formulations of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas saw the Fascist focus on the body as a negative consequence of the abandonment of the philosophy of the enlightenment. Paul Gilroy gives a fairly good summary of this. As opposed to the doctrines of Christianity and liberalism, whose doctrines “told them that their sense of embodiment and corporeal constraint was a stage to be passed through en route to a higher and more valuable sense of freedom associated with the ideas of the soul and the spirit. In contrast to these traditions, Levinas warned, Hitlerism finds and founds a new definition of freedom from an acceptance of being constrained by the body. The soul or spirit does not disappear, but its essence is redefined by the fact that it is chained to the body: “Man’s essence no longer lies in freedom, but in bondage. To be truly oneself…means becoming aware of the ineluctable original chain that is unique to our bodies, and above all accepting this chaining.””
Whereas for Artaud and Bataille, this focus on the materiality of the body remains a positive trait, one that can push through the crisis of the times into a new society. Fascism acted as an ersatz solution to a deep crisis in the philosophical systems that Levinas is interested in defending. As opposed to Levinas and Mauss, who returned to a form of liberal humanism in order to oppose fascism, Bataille and Artaud recognize that fascism cannot be opposed through the systems that had produced the conditions for fascism to rise. Artaud in the beginning of his book makes a link between the crises on the streets that would lead to fascism, and the epistemological crisis of liberal thought. “If confusion is the sign of the times, I see at the root of this confusion a rupture between things and words, between things and the ideas and signs that are their representation.” Bataille in particular opposes the body with a head that characterizes fascism, with a headless body, a body that rejects the logic of Cartesianism completely.
Towards this reconceptualization of a materialist concept of society and its relationship to the body, the question of imperialism becomes crucial. If Lenin and Bukharin recognition the essential relationship between colonialism and the structure that global capital took in the era, Artaud and Bataille pushed that analysis into what was referred to the realm of the superstructure at the time, art, culture, intellectual formations, and most significantly, the libidinal economy of the society. It ties in the critical tools that ethnography provide in understanding alternative structures, both societal and metaphysical. It also provides for an excellent case study of what the dominant structures of reason have led to and produced. Both launch an assault on instrumentalist reason that is linked intimately with a ruthless critique of colonialism, in its effects and its logic.
Bataille and Artaud try to effect this critique and transformation through their concepts of ‘transgression’ and ‘cruelty’ respectively. We can find this attempt at transformation contained as much in the stage directions of their writing, in their modes of performance, as much as the content, per se. These concepts puncture through the realm of the politics of secular time and space, and move to a realm of the sacred. Bataille and Artaud link their attraction to the crowd, to the secret society, to the cult, rather than to the revolutionary vanguard party, or any kind of party. Just as significantly, we find the possibilities for transformation linked to the colonized, which have been posed as the primitive within the logic of colonialism. This pushes their thought towards a critique of colonialism, and the logic of instrumental reason of which is built through. We can find this development posed against a very different notion of the sacred contained within the fascist parties across Europe. Schematically we can pose this difference as an opposition of the sacred of the heterogeneous as opposed to the sacred that serves the interests of the homogenous story.
This essay wants to explore those attempts to push against the structures of the society that stood in front of Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud. Although it continually refers to the political, it is an attempt to accept the terms in which the authors see their intervention into the society of the 1930’s, and an attempt to explicate those concepts on their own terms. An emphasis will be placed on the relationship of their conceptual frameworks, and colonialism, both in the ways that colonialism enables their work, and the way that their work acts as a critique of that very colonialism. In a sense, this work is linked to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work, Provincializing Europe, in its attempt to show the dependency of European thought to colonialism, and the knowledge production involved in that project. This will begin with looking at Antonin Artaud’s set of lectures, The Theatre and Its Double. It will then turn to the work of Georges Bataille, following his work through his involvement in the projects of Documents, The College of Sociology, and Acephale. Within this we will look at the way that their work is intertwined conceptually, and in the end examine the way that both of their work points to the impossible, which in the end is both the realm of transgression and of cruelty.
Although it pains us to do so, perhaps the best way to approach Artaud’s work is to work through it schematically. In doing that the first question it would seem is what is it that is within theater’s capacity? A second question is what is it specifically about Western Metaphysics that imprisons those capacities to the point of extinction, of obsolesce? A third question can be asked, what is found in the theater of the ‘orient’ and the Balinese theater in specific that can act as regenerative factor for the theater? This isn’t a simple question, and it will be at this point that we will need to deal explicitly with the issues of anti-colonialism within Artaud’s text. Once that is complete, we will find ourselves at our final question, what is the theater that Artaud proposes, the Theater of Cruelty?
To understand the potential that Artaud sees within the theater, we should relate it to his thoughts on culture in general. Artaud opens the book with the comment,
“What is important, it seems to me, is not so much to defend a culture whose existence has never kept a man from going hungry, as to extract, from what is called culture, ideas whose compelling force is identical with that of hunger.
We need to live first of all; to believe in what makes us live and that something makes us live—to believe that whatever is produced from the mysterious depths of ourselves need not forever haunt us as an exclusively digestive concern.
I mean that if it is important for us to eat at all, it is even more important for us not to waste in the sole concern for eating our simple power of being hungry”
Artaud places primacy in the realm of force, which he links to hunger. Culture is unable to fulfill the great need of hunger, and has never been able to fill this need. At the same time, Artaud insists on a conception of a society that can’t merely stop at the mere needs of the consumption of food. Evidently there is something of significance, something that is parallel to the force of the need for sustenance. This drive is linked to the need “to believe in what makes us live and that something makes us live—to believe that whatever is produced from the mysterious depths of ourselves need not forever haunt us as an exclusively digestive concern.” This force is later linked with the concept of cruelty, of necessity.
This primal force that Artaud wants to tap can be found within the theatre. The plague becomes the metaphor, par excellence for the theatre. Both are linked to the forces of contagion and disintegration. Artaud in fact argues that the theater is in fact born in the useless expenditure that occurs in the destruction of the plague. It is born at the moment that “the dregs of the population, immunized by their frenzied greed, enter the open houses and pillage riches they know will serve no profit or purpose.” But most significantly, Artaud links the theatre to revelation.
“If the essential theater is like the plague, it is not because it is contagious, but because like the plague it is the revelation, the bringing forth, the exteriorization of a depth of latent cruelty by means of which all the perverse possibilities of the mind, whether of an individual or a people, are localized.
Like the plague the theater is the time of evil, the triumph of dark powers that are nourished by a power even more profound until extinction.”
The theater is an act of revelation, “the bringing forth, the exteriorization of a depth of latent cruelty.” What is revealed, what is unearthed in these acts of disintegration can be called a sort of law. Just as importantly is the recognition and understanding of that law. Artaud’s conception of cruelty can be said to be a sort of bringing into the realm of consciousness, what was unconscious. Or as he puts it, “Cruelty is above all lucid, a kind of rigid control and submission to necessity. There is no cruelty without consciousness and without the application of consciousness. It is consciousness that gives to the exercise of every act of life its blood-red color, its cruel, since it is understood that life is always someone’s death.”
So we have a sense that cruelty is related to consciousness, or more specifically, cruelty requires consciousness, but what does cruelty indicate consciousness of? Perhaps somewhat cynically we should link Artaud’s concept of consciousness with the stoic story of the dog and the cart. “A dog is tied to a cart is dragged along; if it does not want to follow, it will still be compelled to do so.” The difference between the dog that is free and the dog that is not free is that the dog, which is free, recognizes the necessity of following the cart. There is something of this logic within Artaud’s thought. The theater reveals what the Stoics would call fate, as a form of necessity that could perhaps be called natural law. The theater gives a way of creating a space where this law is revealed and allows for the spectators and the actors to recognize their place and capacities within this order.
The possibilities of the theater still lay latent within its structures, but at the same time they are increasingly abandoned for a theater that is controlled by the logic of western metaphysics, by instrumental reason, by the modern division of labor. The chief culprit of this is the function of the author who subordinates the theater to subdivision of literature. “Dialogue—a thing written and spoken—does not belong specifically to the stage, it belongs to books, as is proved by the fact that in all handbooks of literary history a place is reserved for the theater as a subordinate branch of the history of the spoken language.” The author is a target for much of Artaud’s abuse, the figure of Man as creator replacing god within the Cartesian structure.
The theater that is produced in turn becomes the theater of the psychological drama, the theater that examines contemporary social problems. It becomes the theater of Man, the creation of dualistic structures that Artaud is trying to destroy. Artaud frames this polemically. “In any case, and I hastened to say it at once, a theater which subordinates the mise en scene and production, i.e., everything in itself that is that is specifically theatrical, to the text, is a theatre of idiots, madmen, inverts, grammarians, grocers, antipoets and positivists, i.e., Occidentals.” The theater exits the realm of the sacred and becomes another part of profane life.
In order to return to the original intent of the theater, there must be a profound transformation in what that theater will be. This will require a direct reversal of the priorities of the theater. “Everything in this active poetic mode of envisaging expression on the stage leads us to abandon the modern humanistic and psychological meaning of the theater, in order to recover the religious and mystic preference of which our theater has completely lost the sense.”
The implications of this are by no means modest, as Jacques Derrida recognizes in his article “La parole soufflé.” Derrida begins his article by examining some of the work written on Artaud, and points out its inadequacy, and the inadequacy of his own interpretations of Artaud’s work. He argues that this occurs because of a whole set of metaphysical assumptions in relation to the mind and body that Artaud is attempting to break down and destroy. “In pursuit of a manifestation would not be which would not be an expression but a pure creation of life, which would not fall far from the body then to decline into a sign or a work, an object, Artaud attempted to destroy a history, the history of the dualist metaphysics… Beating his flesh in order to reawaken it at the eve prior to the deportation, Artaud attempted to forbid that his speech be spirited away [soufflé] from his body.”
It would seem that the creation of Artaud’s theater is dependent on a radical transformation of society itself, the underpinnings of “the history of the dualist metaphysics.” One is never quite sure what that would entail; after all, Artaud is not a social critic. He points towards the direction of the solutions, towards “the gods that sleep in museums.” The religious and theatrical possibilities are contained within the societies that the occident conquered, laying dormant within the museums where they have been isolate and classified. There is a sense in Artaud’s writings that the act of colonialism has taken in something that it can only with stand by these acts of isolation. Just as significantly, the museums he is discussing are built on theft. Artaud recognizes that these powers have been stolen and rendered impotent by the occident. There is a clear linkage of this theft with the theft of genuine speech, that Artaud links with the name God. Perhaps another word for theft could be colonization. Artaud links his voice with the colonized and the only way to create a form of speech that cannot be stolen must be found on that path.
That path lead to the Balinese Theater, which he attended in 1931 and was one of the crucial inspirations of the Theater of Cruelty. Stephen Barker points out, “For Artaud, the Balinese theater contained all the elements which he had included in the Alfred Jarry Theater as a strategy of resistance to the predominantly textual and psychological European theater.” The Balinese Theater pointed Artaud towards furthering his goals within the theater. Artaud argues that, “Up to now only the Balinese Theater seemed to have kept a trace of this lost spirit.” Artaud wanted to tap into this lost spirit in order to accomplish his goal of attacking the society built upon the metaphysical conceits of the author, of Man, of God. This spirit that he finds within the Balinese can be summarized as a theater of complete spectacle and simultaneously a theater of extraordinary control and cruelty.
Artaud draws out the potential of such a theater in the following terms.
“The spectacle of the Balinese theater, which draws upon dance, song, pantomine—and a little of the theater as we understand it in the Occident—restores the theater, by means of ceremonies of indubitable age and well-tried efficacity, to its original destiny which it presents as a combination of all these elements fused together in a perspective of hallucination and fear.”
This spectacle of “dance, song, and pantomime” is the best example of cruelty for Artaud. The theater operates with absolutely no spontaneity, which Artaud’s conception of the theater refused. As one of his letters pointed out. “My plays have nothing to do with Copeau’s improvisations. However thoroughly they are immersed in the concrete and external, however rooted in free nature and not in the narrow chambers of the brain, they are not, for all that, left to the caprice of the wild and thoughtless inspiration of the actor, especially the modern actor…”
The “ceremonies of indubitable age and well-tried efficacy” allow Artaud a way out of the double bind of the theater controlled by an author, and a theater based on the logic of the free individual will of the actor. To put it another way, Artaud wants to refuse both the transcendental sovereignty of Hobbes in a single head, and its liberal alternative. The tradition of the Balinese Theater gives Artaud an example of a structure that refuses both of those alternatives, for a language of the body, a hieroglyphic language of cruelty.
The question of imperialism must be now discussed head on. We have already found in Derrida’s work an explicit explication of the implications of Artaud’s work in terms of western metaphysics, but Derrida lets another aspect of Artaud’s critique slip by, the question of imperialism and colonialism. Artaud’s critique of western metaphysical conceits, is at the same time a critique of imperialist logic. Its critique of western dualism is based on the results that can be seen within the colonized regions. This condemnation of both colonial domination, and whiteness can be found very early within Artaud’s work.
“Hence our confirmed lack of culture is astonished by certain grandiose anomalies; for example, on an island without any contact with modern civilization, the mere passage of a ship carrying only healthy passengers may provoke the sudden outbreak of diseases unknown on that island but a speciality of nations like our own: shingles, influenza, grippe, rheumatism, sinusitis, polyneuritis, etc.
Modern civilization as presented as something that is virulent, dangerous within this passage. This description acts as a powerful metaphor of the destruction that the occident as wreaked. There is also an implication has a psychical dimension. Its destruction doesn’t even have to occur consciously, or by physical contact. It is instead a sort of infectious aura. In taking away the conscious element, Artaud is invested in assaulting the foundations of a certain type of Eurocentrism. Occidental society doesn’t even get the role of a sort of sovereign evil; instead its destruction earns a sort of contempt from Artaud. The sense of that can be seen in the following paragraph.
Similarly, if we think Negroes smell bad, we are ignorant of the fact that anywhere but in Europe it is we whites who “smell bad.” And I would even say that we give off an odor as white as the gathering of pus in an infected wound.
As an iron can be heated until it turns white, so it can be said that everything excessive is white; for Asiatics white has become the mark of extreme decomposition.”
This passage is playing off the racist assumptions of European thought that can be found in significant enlightenment figures such as Immanuel Kant. He takes that myth and reverses it by pointing out that “anywhere but in Europe it is we whites who “smell bad.” European racist hubris is a mistaken and parochial affair. The rest of the world understands this, according to Artaud. The whiteness that is so treasured by European society is linked to both disease, decomposition, and the color of iron put to excessive heat.
Eurocentric thought is opposed by those it has colonized. Artaud constantly points to non-European thought to point to an alternative. This can also be linked to the travels that Artaud undertook around this time, particularly to Mexico. Artaud looked to the indigenous cultures there for inspiration and created a great deal of controversy within the intellectual circles of the society through his denunciations of Marxism and his pro-Indian stance. “Most of Artaud’s pronouncements in Mexico City were inflammatory appeals for Mexican youth to abandon Marxism, and to embody a revolutionary movement that would turn back in time to before the Spanish Conquest. It would be a revolution of magic and anatomical metamorphosis.”
This appeal to create “an anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist revolutionary culture” can already be found within the pages of The Theater and Its Double. The theater for Artaud is not something that one sits back and contemplates; it is not a situation “of having people sit on a certain number of straight-backed or over-stuffed chairs placed in a row and tell each other stories.” In the Second Manifesto for the Theater of Cruelty, Artaud presents a proposal for enacting this vision of revolutionary transformation on the stage.
“From the historical point of view, The Conquest of Mexico poses the question of colonization. It revives in a brutal and implacable way the ever active fatuousness of Europe. It permits her idea of her superiority to be deflated. It contrasts Christianity with much older religions. It corrects the false conceptions the Occident has somehow formed concerning paganism and certain natural religions, and it underlines with burning emotion the splendor and forever immediate poetry of the old metaphysical sources on which these religions are built.”
In creating an example for the theater of cruelty, Artaud poses an essential opposition for its creation between the “ever active fatuousness of Europe” and its Christianity and the much older societies that it has conquered. It seeks to correct “the false conceptions the Occident has somehow formed concerning paganism and certain religions.” The same revolutionary fervor found in Artaud’s pronouncements, can be found here as well. The “correction” Artaud seeks is abandonment of the logic of colonialism, and an embrace of the radical potential he saw in the indigenous cultures of Mexico.
The play is to center around Cortez’s conquest of Mexico, only Artaud rewrites history and presents the conflict between the Spaniards, whose ships are presented as “tiny” and “battered” and an ultimately triumphant Mexico. The play opens with “a tableau of Mexico in anticipation, with its cities, its countrysides, its Mayan ruins” and Cortez’s ships in the distance. Montezuma walks alone to meet Cortez’s men, and the scene explodes. “At every level of the country, revolt. At every level of Montezuma’s consciousness, revolt…. Montezuma cuts the living space, rips it open like the sex of a woman in order to cause the invisible to spring forth.” Montezuma’s actions bring forth the forces of cruelty, the invisible through an act of the theatrical that is linked to the dark powers of sexuality and violence.
The last scene begins with the abdication of Montezuma, as an act of self-sacrifice to defeat Cortez and his men. The decapitation contained within Montezuma’s act brings about the decapitation of the Spaniards. Cortex is multiplied to indicate the lack of a leader. This also brings the end of their self-assurance. “In some places, Indians massacre Spaniards; while in front of a statue whose head is revolving in time to music, Cortez, arms dangling, seems to dream. Treasons go unpunished, shapes swarm about, never exceeding a certain height in the air. This unrest and the threat of a revolt on the part of the conquered will be expressed in ten thousand ways.” The play ends with the funeral of Montezuma and the complete destruction of the Spanish.
The theater of cruelty ultimately can be linked with a sort of return of the repressed. The repressed points to not just psychological factors, but also the people that have been repressed within the current society. Because if cruelty and Artaud’s concept of a theater tied to it indicates a return to, and recognition of a sort of law, it is also an incendiary action. A transformation of the theater is linked to a transformation of the society at large. Artaud recognizes this very early in The Theater and Its Double, “Like the plague the theater is a time of evil, the triumph of dark powers that are nourished by a power even more profound until extinction.” The theater releases, exteriorizes, the forces that have foreclosed by instrumental reason. The performance brings out and produces the forces that can transform society; cruelty ultimately depends upon a force of transgression.
This question of the “dark powers” that animate the theater of cruelty bring us to our pivot point. The questions around cruelty that animate Artaud’s work have a deep linkage with many of Bataille’s concepts. This can be pushed farther. Artaud’s notion of cruelty as a transformative one is dependent on transgression. Artaud, as we noted before, isn’t a social critic, but much of Georges Bataille’s work falls into this realm, particularly the work that I am interested in focusing on. Looking at the work of Bataille will allow us to push the theater of cruelty into the streets and into a transformation of the society as a whole, a project that Artaud recognized as necessary even if he couldn’t theorize it. The key to this is Bataille’s theorization of transgression. Michel Foucault noted that, “transgression for Bataille” is “the pure, most naked, experience of the outside.” He links this concept of the transgressive to a number of thinkers, most notably Fredric Nietzsche’s concept of force. We can see that Bataille sees transgression as linked to the very constitution of human consciousness.
The crowning achievement of this tendency is anthropocentrism. The weakening of the terrestrial globe’s material energy has enabled the constitution of the autonomous human existences which are so many misconceptions of the universe’s movement. These existences may be compared to those of the feudal lord, who gains independence insofar as the central power ceases to have energetic action. But man’s avidity, taken as a whole, is much greater than that of the local sovereign himself. The latter contents himself with preventing the king’s agents from mixing in his affairs, while the human being loses awareness of the reality of his world—as the parasite is unaware of the pain or joy of those from whom it draws subsistence. Furthermore, in closing off ever more tightly the world about him so as to represent the sole principle of existence, he tends to substitute his constitutive avidity for the sky’s obvious prodigality; he thus gradually effaces the image of a heavenly reality free of inherent meaning or demand, replacing it with a personification (of an anthropomorphic kind) of the immutable idea of the Good.
Bataille links human consciousness with the anthropocentric, and the long painful journey of the ape pulling itself on to its feet in order to cope with the absence of the forest. This act can be both seen as an act of transgression in itself, and the production for the entire logic of transgression. In pulling out of the immanent logic of the universe, and working to place the world in bondage, man pushes the profound force of the universe into a position of the outside, and transforms its energies into a transgressive force itself. It’s transgression be seen to be linked to the dependence that man has on this universe, and the fact that this is suppressed as “the human being loses awareness of the reality of his world.” This force of the outside is represented in the form of the sacred. Bataille refers to the first form of the sacred within this passage, the “personification (of an anthropomorphic kind) of the immutable idea of the Good.” But there is also the sacred of the heterogeneous, the sacred of the forbidden, the taboo. It is this side of the sacred which is most charged for Bataille.
The sacred of the heterogeneous, the sacred of the left as it is sometimes referred to, points in the direction of the former immanence of the world. It points to a continuous world based on expenditure and consumption, the world of animals eating each other that was discussed earlier. It is a world that man simultaneously is completely dependent on, and one that he is completely alienated from. The structure of the sacred directs the ways in which it can be connected with, through forms of sacrifice, etc, and ways that must be forbidden through taboos against the products of the body such as menstruation.
There is an intimate connection of this conceptualization of the world with that of Hegel’s through its recognition of a world of consciousness dependent upon alienation. But there also lies a significant difference contained within Bataille’s concept of transgression. Hegel’s concept of consciousness is based on death, or more specifically the recognition of one’s death. But for Bataille death is the unknowable that points to the world that was abandoned. The figure of death becomes crucial to Bataille’s more performative works in the Acephale period. “I can only perceive a succession of cruel splendors whose very movement requires that I die: this death is only the exploding consumption of all that was, the joy of existence of all that comes into the world….” Instead of death pointing to consciousness, and the present order, it points to its dependence on the world of immanence, and the embrace of that world even as it will inevitably consume him. It not only points to the dependence of the homogenous world on the heterogeneous world of consumption and waste, but it points to the collapse of that world into the heterogeneous.
This collapse takes on decisive social dimensions within Bataille’s work in the 1930’s. Bataille sees the homogenous world in fatal crisis. The question was in what direction would it transform. I want to trace out the trajectory that this force-like concept of transgressive takes in relation to the rise of fascism, both in the ways that Bataille uses it to explain this rise, and the ways that he sees in it, a way to combat it. This will move us from the concept of the Popular Front of Combat into the sacred society of acephyle and the college of sociology. This transition will open up the possibility to discuss this concept in relation to colonialism.
The best place to begin this conversation is within Bataille’s article “The Psychological Structure of Fascism.” This piece has an interesting lineage, one that would not necessarily want to claim it as its own, Maussian sociology, and the concept of the sacred. Marcel Mauss was interested in continuing and expanding the work of his uncle, Emile Durkheim, in looking at the ways that sacred celebrations and feasts are the essential element for the production of a community. Both their interests could be seen as linked to a social democratic project devoted to the redistribution of wealth. Mauss, however, backed away from this project for a more liberal humanist conceptualization of the subject as he saw fascism take his project in a direction he neither expected nor desired.
On the contrary, Bataille continued on this trajectory, trying to understand the phenomenon of fascism through the mechanisms of sacred sociology started by Durkheim and Mauss. He opens with a contrast between the homogenous and heterogeneous parts of society. “Homogeneity signifies here the commensurability of elements and the awareness of this commensurability: human relations are sustained by a reduction to fixed rules based on the consciousness of the possible identity of delineable persons and situations; in principle, all violence is excluded from this course of existence…. Production is the basis of a social homogeneity.” It is the utilitarian society, a society without waste, without excess, perhaps without affect.
Homogenous society can broadly be linked with the society of instrumental reason. “In the contemporary period, social homogeneity is linked to the bourgeois class by essential ties: thus the Marxist conception is justified whenever the State is shown to be at the service of a threatened homogeneity.” It is a world in which identities are solid and assured, or as Bataille puts it “the possible identity of delineable persons and situations.” It ends structure that is based on the principle of “existence for itself” and instead sets up a system of value based on the amount the individual can produce for accumulation, producing alienation.
Opposed to that structure is the world of the heterogeneous, the “elements that are impossible to assimilate.” That being granted, the difficulty is this realm has been exclusively defined in its negative relationship to the homogenous structures of society, or those elements that are repressed from the structure of homogenous society, both psychically and physically. Bataille links this difficulty with the psychoanalytical concept of repression. “If this conception is granted, given what we know about repression, it is much easier to understand that the incursions occasionally made into the heterogeneous realm have not been sufficiently coordinated to yield even the simple revelation of its positive and clearly separate existence.”
Bataille seeks to examine the world of the heterogeneous, the world of the transgressive within its positive features, its own structures. The heterogeneous is linked with the sacred and in particular taboo, but the sacred doesn’t exhaust the possibilities of the heterogeneous. He links it with “the waste products of the human body and certain analogous matter (trash, vermin, etc); parts of the body; persons, words, or acts having a suggestive erotic value; the various unconscious processes such as dreams or neuroses; the numerous elements or social forms that homogenous society is powerless to assimilate: mobs, the warrior, aristocratic and impoverished classes, different types of violent individuals or at least those who refuse the rule (madmen, leaders, poets, etc.)”
He in fact argues that fascism in fact fulfills these needs. Fascist action is clearly tied to the violent expenditure of the mob, tied to a leader. But Bataille wants to quarantine to an extent from the rest of his conceptualization of the heterogeneous. Fascism operates on the level of the heterogeneous, but in a manner far different than its usual operations. The fascist heterogeneous operates with a head, with a leader. “Heterogeneous fascist action belongs to the entire set of higher forms. It makes an appeal to sentiments traditionally defined as exalted and noble and tends to constitute authority as an unconditional principle, situated above any utilitarian judgement.” Fascism acts a threat to liberal society, but the form that threat takes doesn’t point to the headless society that Bataille desire, instead it points to a glorious golden age, and a reconceptualization of the homogeneous. He points to the fact that fascism produces a fusion of both worlds in the service of homogenous, the bourgeois.
The image that Bataille brings forth, the vision of the destructive force of a mob directly connected to the hypnotic gaze of the leader, has a direct correlation with the vision that Gustav LeBon brings forth in his critique The Crowd: A Study Of The Popular Mind. Le Bon puts forth his elitist interpretation of the capacities of the crowd in order to defend a certain republican project. For Le Bon, revolutionary disturbance can only be linked to the figure of the charismatic leader, within a hierarchical structure. This vision, which was so disturbing for Le Bon, became a blue print for fascist leaders, particularly Mussolini. Bataille, instead, refuses the choices between a homogenous republican structure, and the golden age of fascism. Instead, he looks to the possibilities contained within the proletarian crowd.
In contrast, the proletariat can be seen as a genuinely heterogeneous element, one that can enact the revolutionary expenditure that truly dismantle the system of utilitarian accumulation that dominates. This position, which can be found as early at the late twenties, moved Bataille into the position of involvement in politics in its formal formations. Bataille formed the organization with a number of surrealists including his former adversary Andre Breton. The organization was dedicated to form an anti-fascist movement that wasn’t under the domination of the Stalinist French Communist Party. It was also dedicated to understanding the underpinnings of the popularity of fascism, and to use them in opposition to them.
In a speech given for Countre-Attaque meeting, Georges Bataille concluded his speech with the final statement,
“As for us, we say that this presupposes a renewal of political forms, a renewal possible in the present circumstances, when it seems that all revolutionary forces are called upon to fuse in an incandescent crucible. We are assured that insurrection is impossible for our adversaries. We believe that of the two hostile forces that will engage in the struggle for power, the fascists and the people, the force that gets the upper hand will show itself most capable of dominating events and imposing an implacable power on its adversaries. What we demand is a coherent, disciplined organization, its entire will straining with enthusiasm toward popular power; this is the sense of responsibility that must devolve on those who tomorrow must be the masters, who must subordinate the system of production to human interests, who must impose silence, in their own country, and at the same time throughout the world, on the nationalists’ criminal and puerile passion.
. . . . .
After February 16.
500,000 workers, defied by little cockroaches, invaded the streets and caused an immense uproar.
Comrades, who has the right to lay down the law?
This ALL-POWERFUL multitude, this HUMAN OCEAN…
Only this ocean of men in revolt can save the world from the nightmare of impotence and carnage in which it sinks.
Bataille places the emphasis of his analysis on the force produced through the intersubjectivity of masses of bodies in motion. He is less interested in political platforms then in the capacities of the crowd, and the ways to organize it into an effective counter force. Here the transgressive force of the proletariat calls for the element of cruelty contained within. Revolutionary potential can only be produced through a “a coherent, disciplined organization, its entire will straining with enthusiasm toward popular power.” The difference between this vision and the Leninist vision is that the organization envisioned isn’t built on a relationship of a disciplined mass, and a head. Instead it is an organization based on the collective capacities of those bodies in motion, and through their knowledge.
But the involvement for Bataille in this explicitly political realm was extremely short lived; the organization Contre-Attaque lasted less than one year. He turned to alternative structures to try to accomplish his goals, The College of Sociology, and the secret society, Acephyle. Both looked to the reconstruction of a sacred society to battle the logic of fascism. The writing that Bataille produced during this period takes on a decisive shift, increasingly moving from the space of argument to a far more performative speech, and in its way, a far more immanent speech, in its efforts to produce transformation through its performativity. The logic for the shift can be found in his formation of the College of Sociology and the secret society Acephale.
In the introduction to the College of Sociology, the collective insists that it wants to break away from the tendency to focus exclusively on ‘primitive’ societies and to move into a discussion of the sacred structures of contemporary society, and they do this work looking at a number of important structures and concepts of modern society, but there still is an important role in looking at the primitive. Bataille doesn’t make the same imperialist logic that taints so much of the logic that taints other sympathetic with so called primitive societies. His argumentation doesn’t reverse the order of that logic, valorizing the colonized body over the colonizer's soul. If Artaud looks to the colonized and the primitive for a form of cruel purity for an inspiration in a radical project, Bataille’s interest is elsewhere. The subversive quality can be found in its heterogeneous nature. To put this brutally, the colonized are the shit of the process of colonization, the unwanted remains of an act of extraction that has exploded the size of homogenous society into extraordinary proportions.
Extraction takes the form of a brutal violence. “The economic history of modern times is dominated by the epic but disappointing effort of fierce men to plunder the riches of the Earth. The Earth has been disemboweled, but men have reaped from her womb above all metal and fire, with which they ceaselessly disembowel each other. The inner incandescence of the Earth not explodes in the craters of volcanoes; it also glows red and spits out death with its fumes in the metallurgy of all nations.” The society of extraction, of instrumental domination has produced from the disemboweling of the earth an analogous disembowelment of men. This battle for colonial domination had already produce one world war, and was about to produce another one. This next war would rise out of the reaction of the disenchantment of the colonizers.
This disenchantment comes as a result of the production of empire, of the recognition of the hollowness of its accomplishments. “The vast results of long centuries of struggle, of prodigious military conquest, have always led conquering peoples—whether in the West, or among the Egyptians or the Romans—to a failed and disappointing world, flattened by interminable crises. Through an extreme malaise and through a confusion in which everything appears vain and nearly disastrous, there grows the obsession with the recovery of the lost world.” This solution, which Bataille sees as a false one, once again points to the fascist solution. Both Hitler and Mussolini pointed to an earlier age, to ‘golden ages’ that they had constructed out of narratives of the past. This narrative creates the possibility of a truly meaningful conquest, a colonial empire that is bathed in glory rather than the ‘extreme malaise’ of the current day.
Bataille contrasts this with the possibility of a future world, a liberated world that he finds in the structure of Nietzsche. “The marvelous Nietzschean KINDERLAND is nothing less than the place where the challenges of every man’s VATERLAND takes on a meaning that is no longer impotent negation. It is only after Zarathustra that we can “ask our children’s forgiveness for having been the children of our fathers.”” The glory of the past is counterposed with a vision of the future that escapes from the past, and gives the capacity to escape from the past. The vision that is contained within this is a liberating vision of the future, one that brings about the “BIRTH OF FREE AND LIBERATING SACRED FIGURES AND MYTHS. RENEWING LIFE AND MAKING IT “THAT WHICH FROLICS IN THE FUTURE.” 
We find the vision for a new society, for a new conceptualization of the body dancing into the future, in opposition to the past, golden or otherwise. The question then becomes where does the primitive fit into this discussion. It is rather obvious that the notion of a lost world of the primitive is antithetical to Bataille’s conceptualization of an opposition to fascism. At the same time, there remains a commitment to the understanding that an understanding of this world opens up possibilities to a new world. Bataille notes this in his essay, “The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade.” “In other words, during a period in which the religious organization of a given country is developing, this organization represents the freest opening for excremental collective impulses (orgiastic impulses) established in opposition to political, juridical, and economic institutions.” This drives his examination of both potlatch structures and Aztec society, both pointing to structures of the sacred that allow for the “excremental collective impulses” to be expressed.
The logic that he explores has a strong parallel to Pierre Clastres’ Society Against the State. Clastres argues that primitive societies create structures that prevent accumulation into centralized structures. Against a Marxist developmentalist model, Clastres argues that permanent state structures are not in existence because of structures of resistance to them rather than because of its lack of possibility. Bataille notes something very similar within his essay, “The Notion of Expenditure.” “One notes that in primitive societies, where exploitation of man by man is fairly weak, the products of human activity not only flows in great quantities to rich men because of the protection or social leadership services these men supposedly provide, but also because of the spectacular collective expenditures for which they must pay.”
The point of looking to primitive societies can be seen to be twofold. The first is examination of primitive societies for their mechanisms for resisting systems of domination and accumulations. The collective impulses of radical religious expenditure resist both extreme form of exploitation, and the sense of malaise they place on the society by their existence. The second by in large follows an anthropological or ethnographic imperative drawing out structures that perhaps are universal from these societies, primarily the principal of expenditure. In both cases, they draw their data of the primitive primarily from the colonized, which through their position as the heterogeneous in the world structure, point in the direction of the continued existence and necessity of this world.
In addition to the theoretical structure that Bataille attempts to produce through the College of Sociology, Bataille also produce the secret society of Acephale. Through this vehicle, which is directed towards producing “the universal community.” We can see Bataille pushing against the limitations of a politics of anti-fascism, which he characterizes as, “the comedy which—under the pretence of democracy—opposes German Caesarism with Soviet Caesarism….” Acephale becomes the place where Bataille’s thought most closely resembles the work of Antonin Artaud.
Bataille’s writing becomes more performative. This can be clearly seen in the pieces written for the journal. Also the group tries to produce this transgressive effect through a number of acts including the theatrical depiction of a beheading of a king. It also draws Bataille in extraordinary directions such as the attempt to enact a ritual of human sacrifice in order to keep the groups tensions from destroying the group. All of this points to an attempt to connect the formation of a new society to new forms of the sacred that will allow for it to avoid falling into the traps that allowed for society to get to the point that it is in his day.
The possibilities of this can be found in his conceptualization of an opposition to fascism and Stalinism in his “Nietzschean Chronicle.” A concept that connects the possibility of a new community of a body without a head with the transgressive act of sacrifice.
The principle of this reversal can be expressed in simple terms CAESARIAN UNITY, ESTABLISHED BY A LEADER—A HEAD—IS OPPOSED BY THE HEADLESS COMMUNITY, BOUND TOGETHER BY THE OBSESSIVE IMAGE OF A TRAGEDY. Life demands that men gather together by a leader or by a tragedy. To look for a HEADLESS community is to look for tragedy: putting the leader to death is itself tragedy, it remains a requirement of tragedy. A truth that will change the appearance of human things starts here; THE EMOTIONAL ELEMENT THAT GIVES AN OBSESSIVE VALUE TO COMMUNAL LIFE IS DEATH.”
We find Bataille ending in the same place as Artaud in his enactment of The Conquest of Mexico. The production of a new society can only take place through an act of cruelty, of sacrifice. Against the fascist obsession with lifting the leader up, Bataille and Artaud point to the foundation of a new community based on the sacrificial death of the leader. This death, contained both in a representational and a literal form, allows for the foundation of a community without a head. It also points to the “emotional element” that gives the community its bonds of intersubjectivity. The immortality of the golden age is opposed by the recognition of the dependence on the immanent world. The community is founded in a sacrificial act that points that mutability of an individuals life within that process of becoming.
The terms of transgression and cruelty and the way that they are deployed by Bataille and Artaud respectively give rise to alternatives to the responses thus far give to the crisis produced through instrumental reason and imperialism. But neither project spread beyond a small audience within Parisian circles. The first element for this can be seen within the literal impossibility of their projects. But the literal explanation is insufficient. Its impossibility in some way should be linked to the limitations of the society at hand and to the formulations that Bataille and Artaud presented.
The focus that Bataille puts on the repeated enactment of transgression leads to the repeated failings of his communities. A mode of impossibility can be seen in the constant collapse of the organizations that Bataille began. These collapses didn’t occur out of laxness, or incompetence, rather they occurred because of Bataille’s transgressive goals within them. Bataille would sell his projects with more palatable means and goals, but pull the carpet from under his contributors and colleagues to reveal his true intentions. The example of Documents serves as the best example. He sold the project as a fairly respectable, if eclectic, ethnographic project. He kept that premise for a pair of issues, only to abandon it for his preoccupations around a conceptualization of a base materialism. Similar maneuvers lead to the failure of the structures of the College of Sociology and Acephale.
At the same time, Artaud produced a concept of a theater that could never be produced because it would require such resources to make it unfeasible and levels of technology that were probably not available at the time. Jacque Derrida points to the impossible within Artaud’s works, by pointing out the various infidelities to his concept of the theater. Artaud’s name is simultaneously checked within so many of theater’s formations of the avant-garde, and none can live up to the scrupulous gave of Artaud, including his own attempts at this theater.
The point then becomes why could these concepts only be formulated within the impossible. The impossible takes on significant theoretical significance for Bataille after the war, and that theorization has clear connections with Artaud’s concept of cruelty. But to move into that discussion would seem to miss the significance of what we have explored. The question of colonialism has an importance to both Artaud and Bataille’s formulations, and there is a clear sense that both have taken on a project that questions the foundations of colonialism and its legitimacy. But at the same time, they are dependent on it for their formulations. Artaud for the theatrical performances he can see and the travels he engages in. Bataille is dependent on ethnography and anthropology, both disciplines highly implicated within colonialism.
This puts a distinct limitation of the horizon of thought that they could produce in relation to the colonized. This element is most notable in Artaud. While the primitive, the indigenous act as the critique par excellence of the society he lived in; they function only within that system of critique. There is no space the movement of the colonized subject within this framework; a framework built on a conceptualization of the primitive as static. The same position of the colonized and the primitive and object can be found in Bataille’s work, despite the excellent work he does in avoiding associating the structures of primitive transgression with the immanence of nature. One is either in the dynamic, disenchanted occident or the orient associated with transgression, and the laws of cruelty.
Another way of putting this in to context would be to look at the current relationship of the radical left to the formerly colonized. Today’s left looks to the indigenous struggles in Chiapas for its inspiration against the current structures of integrated global capitalism. The same difficulties around Orientalizing that knowledge exist, as, all too often, those struggles are essentialized and decontexualized by the anti-globalization movement. It would be wrong to suggest that modes of thought haven’t developed and even progressed since the discussions of colonialism by Bataille and Artaud, but the same divide exists.
The question then becomes why look at this question, when there are so many flaws contained in these two authors analysis. The first response is that despite these flaws, Bataille and Artaud push the possibilities of their thought as far as possible. They refuse the easy reversals of binaries that are so often the refuge of those who are critics of colonialism and Eurocentrism. Furthermore, they point out the structures of the crisis that come from this structure of imperialism, and the possible structures that may push through to a new conceptualization of society.
Furthermore, the crisis of disenchantment and the reactionary call for the return to a lost time still hang in the air. The radical elements of the anti-globalization have been brought to a standstill by two competing visions of a return to a lost age. The collapse of a liberal society that Bataille among others predicted has not as of yet lead to a revolutionary transformation just an increase of cynicism and opportunism. For those looking to the future for a way out of the crisis, these two authors can’t solve that dilemma, but there is a possibility of seeing some of the structural dimensions of the crisis, and alternatives to think of in relation to that crisis.
 Paul Gilroy, Against Race (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 175-176
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 7
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 7
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 30.
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 102
 Genevieve Lloyd and Moira Gatens, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza Past and Present (London: Routledge, 1999), 44
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 37
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 41
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 46.
 Jacques Derrida, “La parole soufflee” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 175
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 11.
 Stephen Barber, Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs (London: faber and faber, 1993), 44-45.
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 146.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 109.
 At the same time, with this metaphor, Artaud has kept the structure in tact, where the Western Civilization is an all powerful agent against a delicate, if authentic Other.
 Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 9
 Ibid., 106
 Ibid., 126.
 Ibid., 129-130.
 Michel Foucault, “The Thought of the Outside”, 154.
 Georges Bataille, “Celestial Bodies”, 78
 For a greater discussion of this, see Michele H. Richman, Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the College de Sociology (Minneapolis, Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
 Georges Bataille, “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 139.
 Ibid., 139
 Georges Bataille, “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 142
 Georges Bataille, “Popular Front in the Street” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 168
 We find transgressive power of the crowd bringing us into the same terrain of Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty. There is a continual refusal of the common condemnation of the popular on the part of the avant garde. Instead the refusal of the public of contemporary theater is seen as a condemnation of the theater itself. The Theater and its Double makes the argument that the public is producing this truth on the streets. “However it is not upon the stage that the true is to be sought nowadays, but in the street; and if the crowd in the street is offered an occasion to show its human dignity, it will always do so.”
 Georges Bataille, “Propositions” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985)
 Georges Bataille, “Nietzschean Chronicle” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 203
 Ibid., 206.
 Georges Bataille, “The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985)
 Georges Bataille, “The Notion of Expenditure” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 123
 Georges Bataille, “Nietzschean Chronicle” in Ed. and Trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 209.
 Ibid., 210