“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I, the substitute 2

“All planned out human sacrifice ceremonies betray the God to which they are consecrated: they subordinate him to the primacy of human goals, dissolve his power, and this deception of him is seamlessly transposed into that which the unbelieving priest performs on the believing congregation. Cunning arises in the cult. Odysseus himself functions as both the victim and the priest. Through calculation of his own obedience he effects a negation of the power to which the obedience is pledged. So he redeems his fallen live. But in no way do deceit, cunning and rationality stand in simple opposition to the archaic element of sacrifice. It is only that through Odysseus, the moment of the deception in sacrifice, the most inner ground perhaps for the pseudocharacter of myth, is lifted into consciousness. It must be a primeval experience that the communication with the gods through sacrifice is not real. The sacrifice of the substitute, glorified by new fashioned irrationalists, isn’t to be separated from the divination of the sacrificed, the deceit of the priestly rationalisation of murder through the apotheosis of the chosen. Something of such a deceit, which still lifts the picked person to the bearer of divine substance, can be traced from then in the I, that has itself to thank for the sacrifice of the moment to the future. Its substantiality is an appearance like the immortality of the slaughtered. It isn’t surprising that Odysseus seemed a divinity to many.” – Adorno and Horkheimer, The Dialectic of the Enlightenment (my translation)

Calasso makes a sweeping thematic statement in The Ruin of Karsch, a book that was written in the shadow of the horrors of the seventies:

“History is summed up in the fact that for a long time men killed other beings and dedicated them to an invisible power, but after a certain point they killed without dedicating the victims to anyone. Did they forget? Did they consider that act of homage futile? Did they condemn it as repugnant? All these reasons had some sort of bearing on the matter. Afterwards, nothing remained but pure killing... (135)


Calasso is writing to tease out the infinite subtleties in the system of war which, in his view, is the real name of modernity. The economic system, whether managed by the private sphere or commanded by the state, exists in the void left by a mechanical and blind system of human sacrifice that no longer has any belief in any invisible power that could explain the compulsive bloodletting. Although this seems to be miles away from the rise of the happiness culture, the two develop in tandem, one with the other.

The substitute in the sacrifice, as Adorno and Horkheimer point out, is both a trick of human rationality, played on the invisible power, and the first step in the long undermining of the need for sacrifice.

Now, it might seem, at first glance, that nothing could be as repugnant to a society organized around the image of the limited good as sacrifice. Sacrifice would seem to violate the assumption that resources are so distributed that the acquisition of them is a zero-sum game. What I have, you don’t have. And this is the genius of sacrifice, its tie to power and wealth and essentially predatory and contingent qualities. As we pointed out in a number of posts, wealth as treasure is wealth as accident – wealth as a thing that comes purely from the exterior, a sign and symbol of it. And that exteriority marks treasure as a part of power, which is that into which all exteriority is merged. If Adorno and Horkheimer are right, then the logic of sacrifice is shaped by these social assumptions. Sacrifice is the symbol of predation, and the predatory portion that goes back to the predator. The predator’s claim is, essential, to ownership of everything, and that claim is the basis of the invisible order of things. The portion sacrificed is the substitute for that all, against the impossible realization of the predatory power’s claim – which would be the end of the world. Death is of course the predator’s triumph, and it is this which the sacrifice wards off for a little while.

Bataille’s idea is that sacrifice defines the sacred and the accursed. The social correlate, here, is treasure and waste. Between the two there is a strong bond. The substitution of waste for treasure, or the magic that makes waste into treasure, or the secret power of waste – these are all deep fairy tale motifs. The substitution of treasure for waste, on the other hand, this was the great Christian paradox of God’s sacrifice of his son. It is such a mad gesture that the first become last in its aftermath, and the world is turned upside down. Theologians, of course, spend centuries turning the world back upright, but the idea of treasure substituted for waste still emits a powerful revolutionary frequency below the official discourse.

LI’s notion, then, is that the substitute has different meanings in the two regimes sketched out by Calasso’s sweeping gesture – the regime in which sacrifice has a meaning, and the regime in which sacrifice turns into futile superstition. Thus, the moment that the substitute is no longer a marker in the intricate transactions by which pure exteriority is appeased with its share, it is, in a sense, freed. First as a character, then as a personality, first as an autonomous subject, then as a sociological object. In the atmosphere of liberty, the substitute seems to disappear entirely – for what is liberty but the absolute uniqueness of the individual? But in that ephemeral moment, the stress of the purposelessness of the unique individual on the system forces the return of the substitute as the subject –its transit through the tropic of liberty returns it to the system freed, more practically, from the mark of the sacred, and ready to get to work. The lack of that substitute within disturbs what Tolstoy calls the animal personality, and there has to be a substitute for the missing substitute – there must be, for instance, self-interest – or there looms the menace of social rejection, various deaths in the madhouse. These are the stakes of transgression, and why, for Bataille, it bears the impress of that unbearable moment when the substitute, in the triumph of rationality over all exteriority, all invisible powers, disappears.

3 comments:

northanger said...

AQ 393 = I RULE THROUGH WEALTH = ACQUISITION IN ACTION = ANORGANIC MULTIPLICY (AQ-356 ANORGANIC SEMIOTICS) = AVALANCHE MODE ANALYSIS = CLOAK OF INVISIBILITY = COLLECTED INFORMATION (AQ-55 NIE) = INORGANIC BAILOUT PLAN = LOVECRAFT AND THE WEIRD = THIS IS THE JOSEKI HERE = WIEDERHOLUNGSZWANG (AQ-353 CYCLE OF REPETITION).

AQ 684 = DESIRE TO RETURN TO AN INORGANIC STATE = ANTI-TERRORISM DEVELOPMENT PROCESS = ARTICULATION IS UNDER-CONCEPTUALIZED = AVATAR OF 'THE FALLING GOD(S)' IS CONJURED UP = BASED DIRECTLY ON COLLECTED INFORMATION (AQ-353 ESTIMATIVE LANGUAGE) = CHARLES I, KING OF ENGLAND, FROM THREE ANGLES = CONCEPTUAL STEPPING STONE ON THE PATH (AQ-271 THE HARD PROBLEM) = CONSPICUOUS FORCE AND VERMINIZATION = DATA THAT MAY CONTRADICT THAT POSITION (AQ-263 CHERRY-PICKING) = DIFFERENT REACTIONS TO THE SAME PROBLEM = FLAWED AND POSTERIOR NOTION OF OBJECTS (AQ-320 PROCESS PHYSICS) = GRAVITY-GRADIENT STABILIZED ATTITUDE = LOTTERY-WINNING KURZWEIL SCENARIO (I hope that the lottery-winning Kurzweil scenario materializes, but I am still not comfortable watching our government accumulate obligations to future entitlement recipients at the current rate. As of now, however, the data on average productivity growth over the past decade is reasonably consistent with the hypothesis that the economy is winning the Great Race) = PROVIDES HINTS FOR EXPERIMENTATION (AQ-221 ATP RHIZOME; AQ-454 EMPIRICAL GEOPHILOSOPHY) = SO IT GOES / FOR EVERY BEAST THERE IS A BAIT = SURPRISED? YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHING YET! = TACKLE AGE-OLD PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS (AQ-553 AUTOCATALYTIC INTELLIGENESIS) = THAT SODA CAN JUST GETS KICKED UP THE ROAD = THE FIRST EXISTENTIAL COUNTRY SONG = THE NIC THEN MEETS TO CRITIQUE THE DRAFT = THE PITY OF WAR, THE PITY WAR DISTILLED (AQ-518 A SEMI-EXIT STRATEGY WON'T DO) = THE VERY NOTION OF ETERNAL RECURRENCE = WHAT IS OUTSTANDING ABOUT THIS EVENT = WOULD IMPLY MORE RIGOR THAN WE INTEND (AQ-353 ESTIMATIVE LANGUAGE).

roger said...

I was going to praise the for every beast there is a bait line, till I saw it was mine. I do love my own poetry!

Hey, I apologize about the end of this post. Somehow, I left in two paragraphs that were part of another draft. I took em out, so it makes sense, now. Sorry, sorry sorry

northanger said...

AQ 348 = RULE OF THE WEALTHY = ALPHA TECHNOSAPIENS = SACRIFICE TO GAIN STH = THE KING OF THE GROVE.