Sunday, February 04, 2007

ToR Part 2: Animality

Bataille's Theory of Religion basically covers a series of themes in turn, so I'll divide up my presentation according to theme. The first is immanance and animality.

So, animality. This is the word for a state of pure immanence; no distinctions, no contrasts. It is the state of animals; they have no subject/object distinction. Because of this lack of distinction, animals are not capable of submission, domination, desire, recognition and hence not self consciousness. When two animals fight, one is killed and eaten. Neither the eater nor the eaten is recognized in this; there is no qualitative difference. Neither animal is a subject. Neither do animals exist in time; nothing is given in time for them. They only have duration; there is only the present. This will obviously be an important point in the book’s conclusion.

An apt metaphor for this state might be a single note continuously humming; no past notes, no future notes, no alternate notes to contrast with so that the constant note can find some kind of individual identity. Another apt metaphor, one you might have come across when you read the book, is “water in water.”

Now, the next development is the creation of the profane world, of the stirrings of consciousness and discontinuity. Remember, in the imminent animal world, there is total continuity; not contrast. A droning hum.

What initially disturbs this flow is the positing of the object. The developed tool is what is initially recognized as discontinuous. Unlike the eaten and eater, the tool is subordinate to the one who uses it.

Now, the end of the tool and the tool’s use are different things. The tool’s use is its “in order to” – the endless chain of references; if the tool’s use is confused with its end, this results in the idea of an end which itself could not serve another purpose. This “true end” would either reintroduce continuous being, or, if this true end was itself a distinct entity, this entity would have to be found in utility, and then would not be a true end anymore.

The tool’s end is for itself; this is why it breaks the flow. It is alien to the subject, even as the subject subordinates it. The tool is posited as a separate entity with its own way of being.

Because the object is external to the subject, the knowledge the subject has of the object is external. We have knowledge the objects characteristics, and can reproduce it; this reduces our distance from the object; these objects become what is nearest and most familiar to us, despite the irreducible difference.

So this object, known clearly from without, creates an entire world of objects and things; this also opens up the possibility of a type of being which cannot be known clearly from without. Here we have animals, plants, other humans, and the subject. We needed the alternate vantage point of the external world of externally known things in order to see ourselves as subjects.

Now, by putting onto the plane of things those beings that cannot be clearly and externally known - beings like the subject - is never complete. All of these beings, we perceive as both continuous with ourselves, and as objects - as appearance in consciousness, and as objects.

Language defines the category of subject/object; with language, the subject can be considered objectively, like something known from the outside, like a thing. But this kind of objectivity, that separates subject from object, remains inevitably confused. The object that is the tool is perceived as having an affinity with the subject The object can be perceived as something that acts and thinks; the world is an animated place. My pen falls not because of a mechanistic rule, but because of an action on the part of an object.

No comments: