Bataillean Ventures Into Epistemology #2: A Bataillean Interpretation of Rationalism



Many schools of theoretics utilize rationalism as their epistemology. This use is not just regulated to the philosophical. We can see, for example, that the Austrian school of economics utilizes an ‘extreme rationalism’ as Hans-Hermann Hoppe dubs it in his essay In Defense of Extreme Rationalism. Rationalism is sometimes accompanied by some form of ‘apriorism’. The goal of this essay is to look at rationalism from a Bataillean perspective to further and better our current understanding of Georges Bataille in relation to epistemology.

I. Reason: A Contradictory Movement or Inner Experience?

Reason takes on different meanings for Georges Bataille. Reason is at once profane, and also his method to debase all things, including reason itself. This is not a contradiction even though it may seem like one. If we understand inner experience as the project to escape project then we could see the use of reason to escape reason as nothing more than following the ‘method of inner experience’.

Bataille in this way escapes Breton and Sartre’s critiques against him for using reason, as what provokes laughter more than using reason to sacrifice itself? HAHAHAHA! Laughter takes us out of our discontinuous existence and into continuity.

II. The Restricted Economy of Reason

Reason constitutes a restricted economy because it makes us do cold calculation, judge things by their utility, etc. and in the case that reason isn’t being used to debase itself (as Bataille does), it is always servile as it is a part of project.

Epistemology itself constitutes a restricted economy (this is probably for a future essay in this series of essays on Bataille in relation to epistemology). But rationalism constitutes its own restricted economy not just because of the reasons in the paragraph above but also because rationalism categories knowledge, especially when accompanied by an “apriorism”. It labels and homogenizes. Extreme rationalists proclaim that issues like the problem of induction mean no truth claims cannot be based upon a posteriori knowledge but rather only based a priori knowledge (usually in its synthetic form (especially for the Austrian school and their methodology of praxeology (see: Murray N. Rothbard’s Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics) who has at its basis the synthetic a priori claim that “men act” which the claim to be an axiom; though there has been some talk of making this a priori claim analytic (see: Alexander Linsbichler’s Austrian economics without extreme apriorism: constructing the fundamental axiom of praxeology as analytic))). Bataille obviously dispenses with knowledge all together in the end, so I don’t even know why I’m writing these essays on specific epistemologies. I guess it is just a useless practice.

III. A Rebuttal to Goux’s Critique of Bataille

Capitalism in its more Austrian (not as in the country but the economics school) conceptions is teleological and market actors are rational. Jean-Joseph Goux, in his essay General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism, says that capitalism no longer follows a telos of reason but rather is based upon contingency and risk. I argue otherwise. It is a part of the very logic of capitalism to reinvest profit into the means of production, for example. So, at the very least, at a macro-level, capitalism still follows utility and reason. But what about on a micro-level? Is Goux right that the subject no longer is stuck within telos and utility? No. This idea of Goux’s is so absurd to be quite honest. Bataille’s will-to-chance is not just taking a chance, no no no. Anyone who claims this to be true is less than a reductionist in their reading of Bataille, if they even read him. Bataille’s will-to-chance is the subject’s dissolution in that it leaves the world of teleology which is the world of project. In other words, the will-to-chance entails the end of means to end action as well as thinking in that you let yourself go, you surrender yourself to the movements of the sun, you expend yourself. To better phrase the latter sentence, the will-to-chance is the loss of control (of situations) and thus it entails the end of exerting your subjectivity upon the object, and it is in this very movement that communication occurs between the subject and object as the subject is no longer dominating the object — within communication, the subject and object form a communion (hence communication). This also means that when one lets go and surrenders themselves to chance they are going to the point of non-knowledge.

Now let’s line out three hypotheticals to better understand our rebuttal to Goux. There is first, the subject which is rational and has a telos of utility. This obviously goes against what Goux is proposing. Then you have what I believe to be very common within present-day capitalism: the subject that takes a risk/chance BUT it is informed. For example, investing in the stock market with an investment advisor. This obviously goes against Goux’s argument as the subject is operating off of (discursive) knowledge which obviously precludes going to the point of non-knowledge as well as the will-to-chance as the subject is exerting itself. Lastly, we have the subject, who operates off of nothing, just randomly buys things according to… according to what? If it isn’t teleological should it not be beyond the stage of action? And this is the problem for Goux: unproductive consumption isn’t possible under capitalism. That subject would be operating off of desire, as that is what the subject is if it is at all. Either A.) we have the subject which “exists” and is coded by homogeneous society or B.) we have the subject which no longer “exists” as it has lost itself and entered into continuity.

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