9 de julio de 2018

The Principle Of Loss: A Reactionary’s Introduction To Georges Bataille

The Principle Of Loss: A Reactionary’s Introduction To Georges Bataille


Among the mounds of intellectuals produced by the Left, some more substantial than others, only a handful are of any use for the development of reactionary thought. Borrowing from the intellectual pantheon of the Left yields eerie, yet potent political hybrids. Fascism quickly comes to mind as an absorption of syndicalism into the historical far-right. There are other reasons for the reactionary thinker to be interested in the work of left-wing intellectuals, apart from the creation of rare strains of Nietzschean political movements. It is often necessary to free the reactionary mind from its lethargy, its suffocating echo chamber, by subjecting it to the seemingly strange arguments of leftist thinkers. Yet once in a while, in the course of this intellectual exercise, within the covers of dusty books authored by forgotten, no-name radicals, one may encounter real gems such as Georges Bataille.

For a thinker who deeply influenced French theorists of the likes of Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida, Bataille’s background and intellectual production is incredibly out-of-place, both in his lifetime and within the body of work of the Left. Trained as an archivist and having attended the seminary in his youth, Bataille’s university thesis was the reproduction of a medieval poem, L’Ordre de la chevalerie (The order of chivalry). His obsession with the immaterial would be the cause of his obscurity. Jean-Paul Sartre condemned his “mysticism”. His enemies within the Left accused him of Surfascisme (Overfascism). His background, ideas, and unapologetic Nietzscheanism render Bataille wholly toxic to the Left. For an intellectual family which leaves less and less space for nuance, the Left has little use of Bataille.

Bataille’s work is extensive, spanning forty years of literary output. To summarize the work of a lifetime is nigh impossible, much less in an article; however, his essay titled La Notion de Dépense (The Notion of Expenditure) is sufficiently prolific and potentially highly useful to the reactionary thought that it may serve as an introduction to the thought of Bataille.
On the Notion of Expenditure

Bataille begins his essay with a direct attack on the philosophical underpinning of capitalism: utility. Utilitarians concerned with maximizing pleasure (and only the temperate kind as any violent pleasure under the principle utility is considered pathological) must necessarily reduce utility to “the production and conservation of goods and the production and conservation of human lives.”

This is the logos operandi of those whom Edmund Burke decried as “sophisters, economists, and calculators.” Capitalism is spectacularly well suited for this purpose, as it has produced unprecedented levels of material wealth and a demographic boom of planetary proportions in the course of two brief centuries. This is where the economy of the material ends and where Bataille dives into the economy of the immaterial.

Human existence cannot be merely explained by production and conservation. There are far more elusive pursuits and practices in place in all human societies. These practices may be elevated, or truly crass and depraved but they nevertheless diverge from the naive principles of utility. Bataille introduces here an important principle governing this divergence: the principle of loss. The principle of loss, which accounts for the wide range of useless things we produce or do such as wars, cults, monuments, theatre and non-reproductive sex, stipulates that the more extreme the loss, the more it has meaning.

One of the examples that Bataille uses to illustrate this principle more clearly is that of gambling during which the collective frenzy produced by betting sports such as horse racing is proportional to how much the participants stand to lose. Games of chance are economically insensible, and yet they find their purpose in the scale of the loss.

In another example, Bataille explores poetry. This example is particularly interesting not because of what Bataille states explicitly, but because of what he implies. He writes a short peculiar fragment:
It [poetry] may be considered to be synonymous with expenditure: it means, in the most precise fashion, creation by the means of loss. Its meaning is closest to that of sacrifice.

This may all be very well cryptic if not for the precise definition that Bataille gives of sacrifice earlier in the essay: “the production of sacred things.”

Thus, the implication is that the purity of poetry is the purity of the sacral, but by extension, all useless expenditure is one way or another a human attempt at creating the divine. All loss is worship. This notion is very familiar with the reactionary mind, scoffing at the state of his world: if cut off from religion and God, the singular man will worship athletes and celebrities.

In the example of poetry, Bataille goes even further. He states that those worthy enough to be considered poets must sacrifice their lives for the production of poetry. This is where the sacrifice ceases to be symbolic in so far that it begins to occupy the material world by occupying the poet. The implication is that poetry is no longer just the production of the poet, but it rules over the true poet by possessing him like a demon. And again by extension, all forms of loss are the manifestations of the domination of the immaterial over the material.

Expenditure and Reaction

Although all of this may seem quite abstract there are some far-reaching conclusions that may be drawn from Bataille’s principle of loss on the subject of being in a state of reaction, both at an individual level and at the level of our civilizational project. To accomplish this, it is preferable to move away from the speculative exercise we’ve been engaged in so far and discuss concrete examples where the principle of loss operates.

The first glaring example is that of the political categories, liberalism, and conservatism, overshadowing all discourse in the West: it is received knowledge that there are two programs and two ways of being—each with their own ethos, values and ways of life. For the reactionary, who is outside of any of these categories, it is easy to see the deficiencies in each. The archetypal liberal is often a convenient target, with his buffoonish commitment to unlimited personal freedom, that is, his freedom to engage in all manner of sexual, social degeneracy, his fetishization of a hostile outside world, his ethics of weakness, his Starbucks capitalism. The conservative is not free of ridicule either, with his penchant for shock-therapy, his penny pinching approach to public finances (which goes out the window more often than not when he is in power), his merchant ethics, his willingness to bend over in front of a couple suits, his McMansion, his Wall Street capitalism.

In the popular imagination, these archetypes are polar opposites. For the reactionary, they are the same, insofar that they are paragons and guardians of utility and all that underlies their worldviews is the maximization of some sort of production and conservation. You may occasionally hear the liberal defend mass immigration out of humanitarian concerns, but you are sure to hear him laud how economically beneficial mass immigration is, how innovative the H-1B Indian techie in Silicon Valley is, how hard working the Mexican farmhand is. The openness of the liberal is the openness that maximizes utility, the openness of production and conservation. When confronted with the disintegration of the social fabric, the replacement of centuries-old communal webs, the liberal shrugs his shoulders and points to the utility maximization of economic exchange. To belong is to work and pay taxes—there is no place for myth, history, family, and honor.

Even the advocacy for public expenditure operates under this logic, that is, when the liberal calls for ever-increasing spending on education, he does not view education as a good in itself, something which polishes a man and raises him above his current state, but a commodity to be subsidized so that specialists of some sorts can be produced and fed into the machinery of capitalism, where the costs can be made back in increased tax revenue.

The conservative also grounds his actions in the maximization of utility, whether it is when he advocates for selling out national assets and infrastructure to private interests, or when he greenlights the bulldozing of our natural world. Production and conservation. Rinse, Repeat.
The bourgeois class, the ruling class, whether liberal or conservative, is cut from the same cloth and Bataille understood that the ruling class is unfit to rule. In his essay, he makes a prescription using the principle of loss on the right to rule: since the ruling classes have generally been the ones with the greatest wealth, they were historically the ones in charge of making the most significant expenditures on behalf of the whole of society. One may think back to the public games organized the Roman rulers or to the magnificent cathedrals of the middle ages. Bataille notes something singular about our ruling class, which is obsessed and governed by the principle of utility: its refusal to make that expenditure. That is, the current ruling class loses all legitimacy because it is unwilling to engage in all “production of sacred things”. This refusal of the moneyed classes is the most apparent in the aesthetic debauchery of its art and architecture and its naive materialism.

Let us look closely at how rulers of great civilizations engaged in great losses, enormous expenditures which would be unthinkable in our world. The Romans, as previously mentioned, famed for creating a precise machinery of state, understood, quite deeply, the importance of engaging in acts of massive loss. The Roman public games, the Ludi, are perhaps the most excellent example of how the principle of loss operated and gave the Roman rulers their right to reign. The ludi were primarily mass religious rituals in the honor of one deity or another and were organized by priests. Although funded out of the public treasury, the wealthiest and most powerful Romans sponsored these games out of their own purse and those with an eye out for public office had to engage in this massive expenditure.

The greater the loss during these games, the greater the sponsor and consequently the greater the favor of the gods. This is exactly Bataille’s principle of loss at work. The loss was necessary to “produce sacred things,” and this ability to create the sacred gave Roman rulers their “divine” right over the people. It is important to give an idea of the colossal scale of this expenditure: the ludi took up an incredible 135 days out of the year, during which no trade and work was allowed, exotic animals were brought from all over the Roman Empire to be released into the arena, coliseums were flooded and mock naval battles were organised. Octavian came to be Augustus through these games. 

During the funeral games he organized for the funeral of Julius Caesar, a comet passed above in the sky, confirming his divine nature. It is not surprising that when Augustus became emperor, he mandated that the organization of public games was a duty of the administration.

What does this mean for a reactionary civilizational project? Do we need to bring back gladiators? Perhaps not, but it is absolutely crucial that any reactionary project place total loss at its center. We are not “sophisters, economists, and calculators.” We are empire builders.
The Ludi lasted for a millennium. Let it be so for the new empire.

Closing Words

This minute sample should give a taste of the prodigal intelligence and depth of thought of Georges Bataille. Forgotten by the Left, his work can serve to sharpen the reactionary mind. A testament to curiosity, a potent rediscovery of his work by the Right can breathe a new life as Bataille’s lessons are close to the reactionary’s heart and to his battles: if one is fit to not only rule, but also to live truly as a human being, one has to center his being on the sacred, in the process, overcoming and transcending the mediocrity of his age.

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