Bataille’s notion that science is homogenizing and is an instrument of the tendency to the homogeneous pole in society is not only an epistemological claim, but an existential one. The scientific character of socialism may be used by the revolutionary, but the revolutionary derives – as a figure - from a whole other and previous lineage, and comes into contact with socialism in much the chance way that a sewing machine and an umbrella meet on an ironing board. For Bataille, the researcher in heterogeneity who is conscious of the necessity of not repeating the exclusionary gesture that would distort the value system implicit in the heterogeneous must, then, become a participant-observer. (Actually, the necessity for this isn't logical - here, Bataille is cheating a bit. He wants that necessity to be embraced, which is the activist component of Bataille's work at this time). The respect for scientific norms shouldn’t become, unconsciously, the need to conform to scientific institutions. This, in a sense, is the motivation behind the numerous different forms of writing Bataille tried – all of them dealt, in one way or another, with becoming-useless. In Bataille's life, the lure of becoming sacred himself led him in sometimes... odd directions. In 1933, it was leading him to consider whether a form of left fascism might not be possible. That possibility was, actually, pretty popular among French intellectuals in the thirties - although Bataille soon rejected it as untenable.
To return to the theory: taking usefulness to be defined by a sort of fort-da within the homogeneous sector of the social, a never absolutely founded value that absolutely founds all other values, Bataille sees the useless in terms of two poles - sovereignty and abjection, both of which gain their mean from the fundamentally sacred character of the excluded portion. His sense of the sacred continues a theme in Durkheim: “Durkheim faced the impossibility of providing it with a scientific definition: he settled for characterizing the sacred world negatively as being absolutely heterogenous compared to the profane. It is nevertheless possible to admit that the sacred is known positively…” It’s positive side is given to us in mana and the taboo. That is, in a useless energy, an energy that can’t enter into the equivalences of exchange, and a number of prohibitions that shape profane activity without being explicable within the profane sphere.
Beyond the properly sacred things that constitute the common realm of religion or magic, the heterogeneous world includes everything resulting from unproductive expenditure (sacred things themselves form part of this whole). This consists of everything rejected by homogeneous society as waste or as superior transcendent value. Inlcuded are the waste products of the human body and certain analogous matter (trash, vermin, etc.); the parts of the body; persons, words or acts having a suggestive erotic value; the various unconscious processes such as dreams or neuroses; the numerous elements or social forms that homogeneous society is powerless to assimilate: mobs, the warrior, aristocratic and impoverished classes, different types of violent individuals or at least those who refuse the rule (madmen, leaders, poets etc.)
This perhaps too broad and ad hoc view of the heterogeneous has proved to be amazingly suggestive, even if Bataille is often not acknowledged in various intellectual genealogies, since he goes to far. He always goes too far. For example, Orlando Patterson’s work on slavery as social death shares assumptions about exclusion and the sacred that are hinted at in various of Bataille’s passages about the offensiveness of poverty, the disgust invoked by poverty, the discourse that always seems to gravitate to sub or under – as, in the eighties, it gravitated to talk about the underclass. In the Marxist tradition, it is lumpen: “the lowest strata of society can equally be described as heterogeneous, those who generally provoke repulsion and in no case can be assimilated by the whole of mankind. In India, these impoverished classes are considered untouchable, meanting that they are characterized by the prohibition of contact analogous to that applied to sacred things.” In advanced civilizations “The nauseating forms of dejection provoke a feeling of disgust so unbearable that it is improper to express or even to make allusion to it. By all indications, in the psychological order of disfiguration, the material poverty of man has excessive consequences.”
LI will not one other important aspect of the relation of heterogeneity to the homogeneous dominant forces before we end this post, which is mainly quoting. In the next post, there will be a bit more applyin’:
The reality of heterogeneous elements is not of the same order as that of homogeneous elements. Homogeneous reality presents itself with the abstract and neutral aspect of strictly defined and identified objects (basically, it is the specific reality of solid objects). Heterogeneous reality is that of a force or shock. It presents itself as a charge, as a value, passing from one object to another in a more or less abstract fashion, almost as if the change were taking place not in the world of objects but only in the judgements of the subjects. The preceding aspect nevertheless does not signify that the observed facts are to be considered as subjective: thus, the action of the objects of erotic activity is manifestly rooted in their objective nature. Nonetheless, in a disconcerting way, the subject does have the capacity to displace the exciting value of one element onto an analogous or neighboring one. In heterogeneous reality, the symbols charged with affective value thus have the same importance as the fundamental elements, and the part can have the same value as the whole.
Bataille’s comments here might seem a bit obscure, but he is dealing with that odd fold in Western culture in which objects became something different from subjects, and the objectification of the subject became one of the taboos defining the realm of ethics. That escape from the object, or delapidation of the object, has a great importance for Bataille in his later work Here, we’ll just note in passing that the heterogeneous world, by endowing objects with mysterious charges and energies corresponding to systems that collapse in the face of rational reconstruction, is a world of fetishism unleashed, in which the “part can have the same value as the whole.” I am not sure whether Simmel influenced Bataille, but in Simmel’s model of modernity, there is a return to this reversal of the relation of whole to the part – the mediate becoming as valuable as the immediate, changing the direct relationships upon which social power is based into an unmoored system of variable power, tethered more and more to the very symbol of mediation, money. Ah, but LI is feeling an onset of jawcracker-ness – jargon, honey, will rot your tongue.
PS - IT has an essay up about WR.