Communication With the Virtual Other

[NOTE: I wrote this on the 30th of August, 2021. I am only posting this in light of a conversation I’m having with a professor]

Amy Hollywood argues that Bataille has orientalist ideology within his view of the photo of the person undergoing lingchi. Hollywood takes issue with the fact that “[i]n describing his meditative practice, Bataille discusses only the victim, The photographs themselves are no reprinted in the text; their provenance is never discussed; nor does Bataille give any attention to the historical and political context in which they were made”.[1] Hollywood holds that Bataille, in doing this, avoids the “crucial question concerning who is communicating through these images”.[2] She brings up the idea that the material conditions in which the photographs were produced, the photographer, etc. are not considered. For Hollywood, Bataille argues that he communicates only with the man in the photograph. And because of this, Hollywood holds that Bataille, through “[h]is use of the image of a Chinese man,” actually “participates in an orientalizing gaze that renders further suspect the simultaneous claim to absolute historicity and the elision of the historical”.[3] But she furthers that Bataille is further stuck in orientalism because “Westerners use the image of the Oriental to represent the real, the Oriental serves as a fetish through which loss … is both recognized and disavowed”.[4] Now, obviously Bataille doesn’t disavow loss, but even then, for Hollywood, “Even in claiming to avow his own loss through mediation on the image of the torture victim, taken as emblematic of human laceration and finitude, Bataille maintains a distance — the chance that separates his experience from that of the other — that serves potentially as the continued basis for disavowal of this same loss”.[5] Let’s address each of her arguments.

Firstly, there is no orientalizing gaze in Bataille because the photograph has no history. What I mean by this is that those moments of inner experience do not have a history because non-knowledge is outside history, and history is knowledge (here we are talking about the Hegelian conception of history).

Secondly, moments of eroticism “represent” the real in Bataille, as do other things. Thus, there is no fetish of the Oriental in Bataille. And loss is not disavowed either. There is no distance between Bataille and the Chinese man whom lingchi was being practiced upon. The photograph did not communicate anything to Bataille. There is no photograph. There is the virtual other. What I mean by this is that the other, when it is the virtual other, is not “actually” there like the actual other is. But nonetheless, the virtual other still has real effects upon the self which it is other to. Bataille said, “The young and seductive Chinese man of whom I have spoken … he communicated his pain to me or perhaps the excessive nature of his pain, and it was precisely that which I was seeking, not so as to take pleasure in it, but in order to ruin in me that which is opposed to ruin”.[6] Bataille is also the virtual other when we read his works. Bataille communicates with us, but not through his books. He himself communicates with us. There is no longer a trench-like abyss between us. There is no book between us. We enter into continuity in our sweet communal annihilation. He says, “I write for one, who, entering into my book, would fall as into a hole, who would never again get out”.[7]

References

[1]: Amy Hollywood, Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 202), 89.

[2]: Ibid.

[3]: Ibid., 90.

[4]: Ibid.

[5]: Ibid.

[6]: Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Boldt (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988), 120.

[7]: Ibid., 116.

Bibliography

Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience. Translated by Leslie Anne Boldt. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988.

Hollywood, Amy. Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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