David Aaron Mette (MFA '09) appointed as Editor of the Penn Art Review

The Penn Art Review is an extension of the Penn MFA Forum. Entries to the Penn Art Review will be posted on the MFA Forum and archived separately until the site develops several columns for each beat of this ever-changing and growing entity. David Aaron Mette, MFA '09, is serving as its first editor. Mette can be contacted at: theywerered at aol.com

About Mette: An excerpt from his paper "Sovereign Communication: Reading The Deconstruction of Discursive Language in Bataille" presented at an international conference on art and humanities this past January:

Transgression and servility in Bataille

Transgression is a theme in Bataille’s writings that has issued a great deal of controversy. According to the Hegel that Bataille received through the lectures of Alexander Kojève, man is self-conscious being that is founded upon the initial negation of animality. From the sociological thinking that Bataille received from Durkheim and Mauss, this self-consciousness is contemporaneous with man’s institution of prohibitions, the development of tools, and the production of language as discourse. According to Bataille, these phenomena, which form the realm of the profane, result in man’s alienation from an initial inner experience, or the experience of the divine. Things that pose a threat to the orderly, homogeneous and thus profane way of life are prohibited and constitute the sacred or divine, which is dependent upon a negation of the first negation, or rather a contestation of the rules that had initially separated man from animal. Bataille writes:
What is denied in profane life (through prohibitions and through work) is a dependent state of the animal, subject to death and to utterly blind needs. What is denied by means of divine life is still dependence, but this time it is the profane world whose lucid and voluntary servility is contested (Accursed Share Vol. II-III, 92-3).
According to this statement the sacred is not just a return to simple animality, but a willed gesture of insubordination that allows access to nature “transfigured by the curse” (93). It is this accursed share that founds the excessive movements of the festival. And what are revealed through the sacred are the limits of life and the continuum of being in relation to a general rather than a restricted economy.

According to Durkheim, the sacred/profane is a kind of ur-dualism from which others evolve. In Bataille’s text it is acknowledged as a fundamental social rhythm that elicits a dual solicitation: one toward order, production, and accumulation and the other toward disorder, destruction and expenditure. The argument most commonly leveled at Bataille for his transgressive strategies is that by defying a prohibition, the validity of the power of the prohibition is ultimately reaffirmed in its naming. Focusing on the sacred/profane dualism as it is structured in language, Foucault notes, to kill god, one has to summon his presence. In his essay “A Preface to Transgression,” he writes:
Profanation in a world which no longer recognizes any positive meaning in the sacred—is this not more or less what we may call transgression? In that zone which our culture affords for our gestures and speech, transgression prescribes not only the sole manner of discovering the sacred in its unmediated substance, but also a way of recomposing its empty form, its absence, through which it becomes all the more scintillating (Language, Counter-memory…, 30).
In this formulation, transgression is rendered as a violent contestation that is the very creation of the sacred established by the interdiction. As Mauss has noted, the interdiction exists to be violated. In all societies, there are interdictions related to sex and death; Bataille is not seeking to establish a world without rules, rather he shows the social reality of the rhythm that exists in the establishment of the limit that defines the sacred and the profane. It is this experience of the sacred through transgression which is a condition of possibility for sovereign moments of inner experience; significantly, for Bataille, transgression is spoken of in relation to a situation in which the king/god has been killed, which necessitates a more general discussion of transgression as an experience of limits. Foucault writes that the death of god “leads to an experience in which nothing may again announce the exteriority of being, and consequently to an experience which is interior and sovereign”(Language, Counter-Memory. . . 32). With the demise of god, man is subject to limitless chance and now is capable of confronting death without the hope of redemption. In Foucault’s view, the death of god reflects the decline of the Adamic view of language that is derived from the gospel of John, the idea that the word is God and that the word made flesh; in the sense that philosophy historically places god in the realm of the transcendent as the word that exceeds all words, the attempt to establish a language which considers the death of god constitutes a Nietzschean endeavor of the re-evaluation of values, and consequently the deconstruction of philosophical subjectivity. But Foucault de-emphasizes transgression as a subversive force:
Transgression does not seek to oppose one thing to another, nor does it achieve its purpose through mockery or by upsetting the solidity of foundations; it does not transform the other side of the mirror, beyond an invisible and uncrossable line, into a glittering expanse. Transgression is neither violence in a divided world (in an ethical world) nor a victory over limits (in a dialectical or revolutionary world); and exactly for this reason, its role is to measure the excessive distance that it opens at the heart of the limit and to trace the flashing line that causes the limit to arise. Transgression contains nothing negative, but affirms limited being—affirms the limitlessness into which it leaps as it opens this zone of existence for the first time (Language, Counter-memory. . . 35).
Transgression is a momentary transportation to a realm that imparts a kind of knowledge that can only be a moment of the unknown; it is a loss of ipséité, or the thing-ness of man, which ultimately provides the conditions needed for the possibility of ecstatic experience through sacred communion, or the disappearance of the real constituted by discourse and dialectics—a rhythm which makes and unmakes the world.

In the Hegelian dialectic of the master and the slave, the distinguishing feature of the master is that he has risked death while the slave has chosen to conserve his life. This model is subject to a displacement by Bataille in what Derrida points to as a distinction of sense between lordship and sovereignty. According to Bataille there is a fundamental glitch that prevents the master or lord from the authentic experience of sovereignty: although the master has risked death, the experience of being subject to chance causes an anxiety that he must overcome in order to maintain his superiority, so he is dependent upon the slave for the recognition of his value. Derrida writes, “when servility becomes lordship, it keeps within it the trace of its repressed origin . . . The truth of the master is in the slave; and the slave become a master remains a “repressed” slave”(Writing and Difference 255). The desire and consciousness of the master are not only dependent upon but also historically constituted by that of the slave. Thus, the conservation of the original term in its negation is exactly the paradox that accounts for how Bataille’s revision of the master and slave dialectic illustrates the inevitable servility of the master. Discursive thought has an inherent positivity that is always recuperated. In order to escape this circularity, Bataille posits sovereignty altogether exterior and heterogeneous to the dialectic. According to Derrida, it is no longer even within the realm of the phenomenal. Withdrawn from the limit of knowledge and meaning:
. . .sovereignty is no longer a figure in the continuous chain of phenomenology. Resembling a phenomenological figure, trait for trait, sovereignty is the absolute alteration of all of them . . . Far from being an abstract negativity, sovereignty (the absolute degree of putting at stake), rather, must make the seriousness of meaning appear as an abstraction inscribed in play (Writing and Diff 256).
In contradistinction to the Hegelian concept of abstract negativity, or loss of meaning as a result of a negativity that is still discursive, sovereignty, or the operation of freeing desire from the desire of the other amounts to the radical exclusion or suspension of meaning that can only be laughter in the face of the limitless limit that is death.
Aaron Metté is a performance, video, sound and installation artist from the south who currently lives in West Philadelphia. He has also completed graduate work in Comparative Literature. Metté will receive his MFA from Penn in May.

No comments: