For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Bataille against Heidegger: Language and the Escape from the World"

by Ryder, Andrew (2011)


In 1984, Jürgen Habermas spoke of a “common project” between Bataille and Heidegger (1998: 168). Each desires to overcome modernity, to discard rationalism, and to outstrip subjectivism (Habermas, 1998: 169). Habermas admits two distinctions: One is stylistic, and the other is that Bataille’s objection to rationalization is ethical, whereas Heidegger’s is ontological (ibid.). He considers both of these gaps to be epiphenomenal. The difference of style is of greater import than Habermas realizes. More than this, Bataille’s ethical objection is substantive as well as stylistic; in Heidegger, he sees acquiescence to the hierarchical distinctions of a reified world. The distance of style and an ethic of affect between Bataille and Heidegger separate the former from the political errors of the latter. I will strive to pry apart the equivalence established by Habermas, partly through a measured comparison of both these thinkers to Emmanuel Levinas.

Key Passage

While Bataille’s moi is also separate from Being, he would repudiate the essential role of revealing beings through language and Being. Even this duty, from his perspective, remains subordination. His language does not illuminate beings. The “taste of garlic” that Bataille evokes in the apprehension of death is not revealed in his language. It is instead presented as enigmatic, untruthful, and dirty. Bataille’s language is a being that isobscured by death. It is material. Heidegger criticizes Marxism for a metaphysical commitment tomaterialism, which posits all beings as “the material of labor” (1993: 243). The tendency to see all objects as congealed labor-time leads Marxism to complicity with technical thinking. Marxism remains as much a threat toman and Being as capitalism. Bataille might share distaste at measuring things according to labor. However, Heidegger’s revulsion is also directed at a material definition of things. Materialism, for Heidegger, must carrywith it the desire to seek out an essence distinct from existence, and for this reason be metaphysical. Bataille, in contrast, finds matter to be something else entirely than an adjunct to labor or to metaphysics. (p.81)


Bataille, Heidegger, Marx, Modernity, Hierarchy, Levinas


On Heidegger, On Bataille

Links to Reference



How to contribute.