On Georges Bataille’s “Response to Jean-Paul Sartre”

Evan Jack
4 min readOct 2, 2021



Sartre makes many critiques, but very few of these actually critique Bataille. These are what we are to go over in this essay.

Sartre’s first actual critique of Bataille is the argument that Bataille has nonknowledge as the beyond of knowledge and therefore nonknowledge is transcendent. The issue with this is that the transcendence of transcendence is necessarily immanent because, as Land and Kennedy have even recognized, this is the immanent usage of transcendence. But even if this is not true, though I would argue it is, one still recognizes that one is not transcending anything because knowledge is predicated on NOTHING (nonknowledge). Once one goes beyond themselves into the abyss of nonknowledge, transcendence hasn’t occurred because we are still on the immanent plane of the body and its immanent materiality as we are still going beyond ourselves by way of and therefore with the other. One also can note that nothing is transcended because the subject, being predicated on nothing, is never there. It is only somewhere when it refuses to die. But death is truth, Land agrees here. The self is a (literary) fiction? Existing in excess of something, as Being is in excess of being (this is a non-relation), is not transcending it because there are no privileged scales. In other words, this is only perceived as transcendence from the transcendent perspective because one can only try to know the NOTHING that is nonknowledge.

Next Sartre tries to argue that even if one doesn’t think that they think, they are still thinking nonetheless. The issue I find with this is that it is predicated off a misinterpretation of Blanchot. Blanchot never says that one is thinking that they do not think but that when the wound is opened up, thought can’t think itself. Now, Sartre would be right if we stopped here, but we do not. The issue is that the thought which can’t think itself is not there. Thinking is lost because consciousness is without instrument. In the night, the thinking subject disappears in the darkness, or rather it is consumed by the darkness, by the night.

Sartre then argues that the nothing of Bataille is the unknown which has an essence which is to elude the knowing subject. The issue is that the nothing of Bataille is not nothing, it is NOTHING, and Bataille does not have the unknown as NOTHING but the unknowable as NOTHING, and one cannot even know if we know the unknowable or if we don’t, but it doesn’t elude us because the unknowable is nowhere.

Lastly, Sartre argues that Bataille has made the Night a universal object because the subject and object dissolve into the night and all things are lost into the night. He then argues that the Night for Bataille is also Bataille’s nothing and therefore nothing becomes everything for Bataille. Of course Sartre’s first mistake is thinking of NOTHING as within the binary of presence and absence. NOTHING is present-in-its-absence. NOTHING is nowhere. NOTHING is. NOTHING is present. NOTHING is nowhere. NOTHING is absent. NOTHING is in its non-position (nowhere). NOTHING is present in its absence. But Sartre’s assertion is not only wrong for this reason. Sartre is also trying to turn sponge-space, to use Land’s term, into space proper. The sponge-space of the NIGHT that Sartre sees as everywhere, that is infesting all space, is not space. Sponge-space is the destruction of space, it is its annihilation, it is the NOTHING of nothing. The Night is outside the world of things, it does not blanket the world of things because that would make the Night a thing as it relates to things, but the Night is not a thing because it is beyond the mode of being that the thing assume and the Night therefore has no relation to things and this lack of relation is not a relation either.

Bataille then rejects the charge of having a black pantheism as his system because he does not stop.

Bataille critiques Sartre for trying to view the inner experience from the outside, that is Bataille critiques Sartre for trying to understand the inner experience as something. For Bataille, Sartre can only experience what Bataille is trying to talk about, he can never speak about it because the inner experience is that violent silence which puts all things into disequilibrium, into flux.

Bataille then argues that all critiques of him are already responded to because “from well-done criticism, I could only draw, as is the case now, a new means of anguish, setting out from intoxication. I don’t stop myself in the precipitation of my flight, comical in so many ways: Sartre permitting me to begin again . . . It’s endless”.[1]

Bataille then sort of lines out an epistemology. He notes that “we know nothing of a newborn other than through observations from the outside”.[2] In other words, we know nothing of an object other than through our observations of the object from the outside. Is Bataille therefore an empiricist who thinks that one can only derive knowledge from experience and never intuition. Well, he says that “[o]nly arbitrarily can we reduce knowledge to what we draw from an intuition of a subject. Only a newborn can do that”.[3] Thus, the child who has no knowledge of anything is able to draw intuitions, but those who have a developed mind can only do that arbitrarily. So, we can never know if our subjective intuitions are correct, but what is known is known through experience.


Bataille, Georges. On Nietzsche. Translated by Stuart Kendall. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2015.


[1]: Georges Bataille, On Nietzsche, trans. Stuart Kendall (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2015), 177.

[2]: Ibid., 179.

[3]: Ibid.



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

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