For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Violence and Heterogeneity: A Response to Habermas'“Between Eroticism and General Economics: Georges Bataille”"

by Igrek, A Z (2004)


This article begins with a response to Habermas’ critique of Bataille. Habermas argues that the realm of heterogeneity/transgression is only opened up in moments of shock which overwhelm the subject. The rational categories of thought which maintain a useful relationship with the outside (i.e., with anything construed as unfamiliar) are fragmented in the excess and horror of Bataille’s communication. Hence it is impossible to bring together under one theoretical umbrella the antitheses of subjectivity and its excluded other: by definition the other ought to be marginalized in its very objectification by the subject, normativity, rationality, etc. My response is that the two opposed terms/ antitheses are indeed opposed, but they are not therefore abstract opposites. That is to say, the subject is always already an equivocation of terms, a kind of sacrilege which cannot be assimilated to an ideal completion. The law is itself a transgression.

Key Passage

Thirdly, the transformative action of work is a maintained tension that is unable to realize itself in its own results. Drawing from Hegel and Marx, Bataille agrees that work is the foundation of human self-awareness.It is true that work is motivated by fear, as well as class struggle, but it is likewise the dialectical means for achieving mastery and freedom. It is in and through work that humanity separates itself, in part at least, from the immediate drives and impulses of animalism: “Work was, above all else, the foundation for knowledge and reason. The making of tools and weapons was the point of departure for that early faculty of reason which humanized the animal we once were.” Reason is therefore grounded in a practical activity. But this activity is a rupture, a contracted movement of life that is motivated by future results. Indeed, for some, it is the exteriorization of self, or the alienation of the worker, which determines absolute freedom. For Bataille, however, the projection of self into a future time is not only concrete and practical, but also unreal and imaginary. The individual that is sustained by work, or by the results of work, is transformed as a being that strives to attain the impossible. (p.418)


Bataille, Violence, Heterogeneity, Habermas, General Economics, Eroticism


On Bataille

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