A Rebuttal to the Idea That Transgression Reaffirms That Which it Transgresses


A common critique of Georges Bataille is that the transgression of something actually reaffirms that thing which is transgressed. So, these critics of Bataille argue that when, for example, power relations are transgressed, they are actually reaffirmed and perpetuated.

To rebut this critique, I will turn to Steven Shaviro and his work Passion and Excess.

Firstly, it must be noted that “transgression is not, finally a negation; it is an affirmative movement that by its mobility and excess both generates and disintegrates social and individual “arrangements” of power”.[1] This is important because it needs to be recognized that Bataille is a thinker of affirmation (at least in Shaviro’s interpretation) not a thinker of negation. Secondly, let’s address the critique. For Bataille, “[t]ransgression and sacrifice” actually “do not confirm the solditity of the power relations, of this world or of any world”.[2] Transgression doesn’t maintain the existence of taboo because it doesn’t maintain the existence of the subject; “I rupture that Law and that hierarchy in the same movement by which I lose myself”.[3] Thirdly, one must question these critics of Bataille and ask them “what else could we do besides transgression?”. The critic obviously is stuck within the restricted economy of conventional thought. They think the only way to destroy power relations, taboo, etc. is by creating an opposing force. In the words of Shaviro, transgression is radically different than most methods of “contestation” because “[i]t contests power not by opposing another power to it (which would serve merely to reinstate the Law or the order of power) but by losing it, forgetting it”.[4]


Shaviro, Steven. Passion & Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Press, 1990.


[1]: Steven Shaviro, Passion & Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory (Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Press, 1990), 80.

[2]: Ibid., 81.

[3]: Ibid.

[4]: Ibid.


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Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille