Bataille's Tacky Touch

Bataille's Tacky Touch Author(s): Martin Crowley Source: MLN, Vol. 119, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 2004), pp. 766-780 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/07/2014 16:36 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. . The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to MLN. This content downloaded from on Wed, 9 Jul 2014 16:36:38 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


Bataille's Tacky Touch

Transcript of Bataille's Tacky Touch

Page 1: Bataille's Tacky Touch

Bataille's Tacky TouchAuthor(s): Martin CrowleySource: MLN, Vol. 119, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 2004), pp. 766-780Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: .

Accessed: 09/07/2014 16:36

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].


The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toMLN.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 9 Jul 2014 16:36:38 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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Bataille's Tacky Touch

Martin Crowley

Un livre, il te semble, est chose inerte. C'est possible.

(Bataille 3:15)

Increasingly, we seem to want to be touched. And we seem to want this touching to be done, in part, by writing. Perhaps the boom genre in Western literary prose of the last decade has been one whose

prominence is assured by its claim to testimonial fidelity: stories of illness or abuse, of caring for loved ones, of endurance against extraordinary odds; or, alternatively, reports from a variety of frontlines, be these geopolitical or psychosexual. In what Martin Amis calls "the

age of mass loquacity" (6), such texts-by Dave Pelzer, Blake Morrison, or Annie Sprinkle, for example-seem to deliver on the coy promise of their more playfully literary relatives, proposing a referential touch rendered almost heretical by the literary theory of the last half-

century.1 This touch is also being theorized-by Jean-Luc Nancy, for ex-

ample. Both aesthetically and experientially, as Derrida has shown, Nancy returns repeatedly to the figure of a suspended, syncopated contact interrupted even as it takes place; the strange, indeterminate referential touch opened by this figure gives rise to what Derrida terms Nancy's "realisme absolu, irredentiste et post-deconstructif" (Le Toucher 60). This article seeks to explore the literary theory and

practice of Georges Bataille in relation to this contemporary context of reading and theory. For, despite his influence on this recent

'I would like to thank Jane Hiddleston and Ian James for their help during the preparation of this paper.

MLN 119 (2004): 766-780 ? 2004 by TheJohns Hopkins University Press

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theoretical context-not least on Derrida and Nancy-Bataille's work constantly thematizes communication as actual, effective contact: a notion before which many of those writing under his influence remain, with good reason, decidedly uneasy. And yet, with reference to our current preoccupation with writing which touches on the real, Bataille's insistence on the possibility of this contact might allow an

approach which our more measured contemporaries cannot quite manage. Specifically, in order to arrive at some sense of what this

approach might be, I will here discuss: Bataille's account of the residual subjectivity at stake in communication, and the model of contact this residuality proposes; the question of authorship raised by this model, with particular reference to Histoire de l'ceil; and, by way of further reference to Nancy, the model of reading we might belatedly derive from Bataille's practice.

My aim here, then, will be to develop the insight offered by Patrick ffrench, to the effect that "Bataille's appeal, now, may be partly to do with this 'return of the real"' (25)-this obsession with referential contact, with the partial collapse of the distance of mediation. Indeed, Bataille's appeal is precisely, as Andrew Hussey has argued, that we should, as his readers, ourselves really be exposed to the overwhelming force of the real experiences his texts really document; alternatively, as Leslie Hill reminds us, the pathos of much of his

writing results from the inevitable jamming of this appeal in its necessary discursive mediation. Bataille's writing seeks to touch us. That this touch is always mediated, never certain, always perhaps only a readerly fantasy, cannot rule out the opposite possibility: that it

perhaps takes place. And this touch, uncertain but insistent, is, I will claim, among Bataille's major offerings to contemporary critical


Real Presence

Indisputably, Bataillean communication implies-as perhaps its sig- nature characteristic-the slippage of the self. But in order to grasp the nature of the contact promised in this communication, we need to understand what happens to the self who enters, so to speak, upon this slippery slope. The upset subject is torn: driven to maintain itself intact, but also to commune with another, exceeding the bounds of their individuality. "Ce monde divise par les cloisons de l'individu est

agite sans treve du souci de maintenir ces cloisons au souci contraire de communiquer. chacun de nous doit se livrer sans cesse a la perte de


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soi-partielle, totale-qu'est la communication avec autrui" (7: 267- 68). In the section of La Part maudite devoted to "La Souverainete," Bataille thus develops the image of a kind of "sticky" subjectivity, passed on in a form of communication modelled as contagion, "par un contact sensible de l'emotion" (8: 287-88; see Noys 74). This

"subjectivite contagieuse" (8: 288) participates in communication as contact through a shared puncture: "Pour que la 'communication' soit possible, il faut trouver un defaut-comme dans la cuirasse-une 'faille.' Une dechirure en soi-meme, une dechirure en autrui" (6: 297).

As Connor puts it, therefore, scattered around this puncture, "something of the subject . . . 'remains"' (101). In the section of

L'Exp4rience intirieure entitled "Le Supplice," Bataille is greatly exer- cised by the spiral in which the subject who has gained access to the

puncture that is inner experience nevertheless recovers, and can accommodate this "impossible" experience both conceptually and

existentially-before the despair provoked by this apparent assimila- tion itself provides a second opening onto sovereign communication, and so on. The two moments of this spiral are thus a return to the self who remains-"Des que j'en reviens 1a cesse la communication, la

perte de moi-meme,j'ai cess6 de m'abandonner,je reste la, mais avec un savoir nouveau"-and the renewed abandon of this self in the

anguish that gives onto communication: "Mais quand la communica- tion elle-meme, en un moment ou elle etait disparue, inaccessible, m'apparait comme un non-sens, j'atteins le comble de l'angoisse, dans un elan desespere, je m'abandonne et la communication de nouveau m'est donn6e, le ravissement et lajoie" (5: 68). Caught in this spiral, then, "Le sujet dans l'experience en d6pit de tout demeure" (5: 76); striving after the contradictions of this residuality, Bataille sets out the necessity of a kind of contestation permanente, in which the self which seeks its own loss in communication opens itself out, forming a puncture edged about with possible others, alongside the remnants of the self it also still is (5: 76).

Thus, as Connor emphasizes, Bataille's remaining subject is the

opening not just to communication as fantasy of immolation, but to communication with others (101-2). Bataille's communication is therefore both idiosyncratic (as the leakage of the self through the

emptiness of quasi-ecstasy) and fairly conventional (as contact with others, not least discursively). And it is, crucially, the residuality of the

subject of this communication that makes this combination possible:


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the self opened beyond itself, but still, minimally, in place. The conventional structure of discursive communication which still holds- just-in this model leads to criticism of Bataille for maintaining the "philosophically hallowed subject" (Connor 101): to "the question of whether, despite its attempt to overcome the subject-object relation- ship, [Bataille's] work does not remain hostage to it and to a metaphysics of the subject" (Hill 53). But this opposition between the

putative overcoming of metaphysics and the complicity resulting from the failure of this project arguably neglects the proto- deconstructive double jeu Bataille seeks to maintain here. Bataille knows that the attempt simply to exceed the subject-object relation is bound to fail-and this because the subject remains: "Car je dure: tout echappe sije n'ai pu m'aneantir, ce quej'ai entrevue est ramene au plan des objets connus de moi" (5: 133). But this remaining subject is not simply the domineering self-identity of a metaphysical abstraction: it is also vulnerable, opened beyond itself not as overcom-

ing but as the residue of its impossible dream, "tournant a l'oubli entier de soi;-ne se satisfaisant de rien, allant toujours plus loin a l'impossible" (5: 133). For there to be communication, Bataille needs the subject to remain in place. But his model of communication determines this residual presence as not quite fully recuperable within the subject-object relation: but, rather, as the subject's irreduc- ible failure.

This hopeless state can also, moreover, be brought about by the encounter with a particular artifact, of which the most notorious

example offered by Bataille (and reproduced by Surya) is that series of images of torture known as the "Supplice des cent morceaux." Describing his use of one of these "images bouleversantes" (5: 139), Bataille presents it as producing a kind of yogic transcendence: "A

partir de cette violence ... je fus si renverse que j'acc6dai a l'extase" (10: 627; see also Connor 4, and Noys 25-26). "Ce cliche eut un r6le decisif dans ma vie" (10: 627): as an object which introduces the syncope of Bataillean ecstasy, and so opens the subject onto over- whelming communication. And this model also holds for Bataille's understanding of literature-at least, of that kind of literature which is more than a trivial pastime. This much is evident from the "Avant- propos" to Le Bleu du ciel, in which only those texts are celebrated which have the power to reveal to their reader "la verite multiple de la vie" (3: 381). The reader is thus drawn into the drama, affected by these texts, "lus parfois dans les transes" (3: 381). But their power of


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revelation is not accidental, nor is it mere formal facility: it is the result of their authors' experience of an "6preuve suffocante, impos- sible," by which the texts remain marked as worth our while. "Comment nous attarder a des livres auxquels, sensiblement, l'auteur n'a pas ete contraint?" (3: 381).

With this "sensiblement," we are back with the "contact sensible de l'6motion" through which subjectivity takes place as sovereign com- munication (8: 288): and Bataille's model of literature involves a real author, who has really undergone certain experiences, writing in such a way that the import of these experiences is really communicated to a real reader. (Does that grate? Does it really? Well, there you are, then-and here I am.) These emphases need qualification, of course: the experiences in question are of the nature of inner experience, namely the rending of the self; the author who communicates their effect to the reader is therefore no longer a figure of mastery, but communicates his ungraspable, unrepresentable dispersal. (See Connor 59, and Noys 11.) This qualification fails, however, to consider the residuality of Bataille's model. The author has indeed been rent by his experiences: but, as we have seen, the self who is communicating these experiences is the remaining self, inevitably drawing them into discursive recuperation, precisely in order to transmit their puncture. That Bataille's self is residual means that it is neither simply self-present nor simply evacuated: it is the insufficiency which, partly, evacuates this self-presence. Thus, it is true that Bataille's author has nothing to do with the comfort of biography. But neither does he inhabit the modernist hygiene of the blank. He

speaks, exhausted, from the edge; and this voice, if this really is literature, and not just belles lettres, touches us.

No, Really

All of which simply begs the question, however. For, as we know, the nature of writing interminably prevents the establishment of any such contact. The possibility of fraud built into any act of communication, what Derrida has shown (in "Signature evenement contexte") to be the structural possibility of counterfeit, makes Bataille's aim hopeless. And Bataille is anything but naive on this score. We could hardly imagine otherwise of a writer who adopts such a proliferation of pseudonyms, with the result that, as Hill argues, "Bataille's fictions do not belong, so to speak, to the exchange economy of the author's name, but bear their own private stamp or signature in the form of a


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unique authorial pseudonym" (72). Marked by what Hill appropri- ately terms a "risible implausibility," these pseudonyms function as a mask behind which there is only "a void, a resistance to naming" (94).

Perhaps we should interrupt this train of thought, though. This

argument both highlights the severe problematization of authorial identity produced by Bataille's pseudonyms and underscores the impossibility, described well by Noys and by Connor, of locating his work as the legibile transcription of a coherent, individual life (Noys 5-6; Connor 59-60). It does not necessarily map how Bataille

proceeds in this area. In fact, a full response to the drama played out in the signature "Bataille" (along with all those pseudonyms) may entail the need to think not only the impossibility of biographical legibility, but also the indelibility of some kind of authorial presence. Of communication, as Bataille understands it.

This necessity results from two impossibilities, each of which displays a very Bataillean irreducibility. First, while the complications attaching to Bataille's proliferation of pseudonyms are undeniable, they are entirely unable to rule out the naive possibility that these are, after all, merely pseudonyms, adopted by the biographical subject Georges Bataille for many of the texts he published while still alive. This is not particularly interesting for the critic, admittedly; but the

greater intellectual attractions of complication cannot remove its

haunting platitude. Secondly, the possibility of authorial presence can, in similar fashion, never quite be eliminated. While the struc- tural possibility of fraud means that such presence can never be assured, nor can this possibility rule out the possibility of actual contact. This contact is always, of course, shot through with the worry that it might be merely a fantastic fiction; but this does not mean that it cannot take place. The question is, rather: how should it be configured?

For this stand-off between the possibility and the impossibility of contact only arises if we accept as absolute an opposition between, on the one hand, authorial presence as determining origin, and, on the other, the effacement of authorial presence by the displacing effects of writing. Bataille, however, wants to think communication, includ- ing his own writing, on other terms. As we saw above, the self caught up in the intensity of communication is, for Bataille, residual: neither simply absent nor simply present. This self cannot appropriate this inner experience by inscribing it within an autobiographical narrative or project; in this sense, the self is not the subject of this inassimilable experience. Yet some sort of self remains, as the shattered but ineradicable locus of this excessive experience. "La 'communication,"'


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writes Bataille, "n'a lieu qu'entre deux etres mis en jeu--dchires, suspendus, l'un et l'autre penches au-dessus de leur neant" (6: 45). Despite Bataille's characteristically dramatic metaphors, it is clear

enough that some sort of self is hanging on, just. In a manuscript version of these pages, given as a paper in 1944, Bataille writes: "L'etre de l'autre et le mien propre glissant ensemble en un meme neant coincident" (6: 384): I am slipping (a favorite image, of course), amidst nothingness, opened beyond myself-and yet still Bataille speaks of my "own" "being" as caught up in this experience. Not as its subject or ground (as the image of suspension makes

plain-this is not quite metaphysics, not quite ontology); at stake in it, "mis en jeu." And so not lost, either. The self engaged in Bataillean communication-the self of Bataille, as author, ruined subject of an

"epreuve suffocante"-is displaced to the edges of the failure opened within it, which it does not contain, but around which it lingers. Like Bataille's pseudonyms, "a laughable, sacrificial remnant of an iden-

tity" (Hill 94).

Auch Bataille

As far as Bataille's authorial identity is concerned, a principal focus for these debates is the notorious second part of Histoire de l'cil,

teasingly entitled "Coincidences." In this section, a first-person narra- tor (textually indistinguishable from the pseudonymous "Lord Auch" who signs the work as a whole) purports to reveal traumatic autobio-

graphical experiences, mostly relating to his mother and father, in order to explain the idiosyncratic imaginary universe of the obscene narrative which has just ended. Critically, this text has met broadly with two responses: the explanatory, and the parodic.

Readings of "Coincidences" as the psychological explanation of the

preceding "Recit" are offered by Susan Sontag and Andrea Dworkin (in the interests of otherwise radically different responses to the text). Sontag accepts the explanatory validity of this second section, but seeks to maintain the artistic value of the work as a whole as irreducible to this explanation: "Histoire de l'oail does not become case

history rather than art because, as Bataille reveals in the extraordi- nary autobiographical essay appended to the narrative, the book's obsessions are indeed his own" (47). Explicitly opposing this eleva- tion of literary pornography into art, Dworkin too discusses Bataille's "personal essay on his own life, in which he describes some probable origins of the symbols in Story of the Eye" (175). According to Dworkin,


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"The sense of the author's personal anguish also gives the work credibility among intellectuals," since it "allows other intellectuals to see Bataille and themselves in his characters as it suits them" (175- 76). But Dworkin is seriously mistaken. All the effort of "intellectuals" (not least Sontag) in response to Bataille's text has in fact been the

opposite of what she describes: not to identify with Bataille and his characters, but rather to read the text as significant precisely in its irreducibility to such contact. And more recent readings of "Coinci- dences" have intensified this trend: where Sontag maintains Histoire de l'ceil as artistically important because its meditations on extreme

experience transcend its autobiographical explanation, recent critics have maintained its value by reading this very explanation as pre- eminently self-conscious, as in fact parodic.

Such readings proceed from a recognition of the indivisible textuality of Histoire de l'eil, refusing to differentiate between its two

parts, following Suleiman's observation that "there is at least as much

justification for reading part 2 as part of the fiction as there is for

reading it as straight autobiography" (333 n.34; see also Hill 29). This

textuality opens a playful space within which the explanatory can be

spoofed. Hence, for example, for Noys, in "Coincidences," "Bataille

parodies the idea of direct causal connections between his early life

experiences and his work" (11). And this parody may adopt the methods of precisely that reductive explanation it ridicules: with

specific reference to psychoanalytic explanations of the text, Hegarty writes that "'Coincidences' renders psychoanalysis risible through its literalness" (190 n.34). But, beyond the textual reading, the platitude of the parodic allows some doubt to remain. There is, as Suleiman

rightly says, an equivalence between the claims of autobiography and those of fiction. But this means that the latter do not stably frame the former, any more than the former dissolve the latter. Indeed, for

parody to be produced, this relation necessarily marks fiction with the trivia of autobiography. And for the parody to be successful, the confusion has to be convincing-this mark has at least to risk

indelibility. (Are Sontag and Dworkin simply naive? Did they just get it wrong, fail to read, as Suleiman suggests, with some justification, of Dworkin's approach to the text as a whole? Or are their readings, in which this indelibility is maintained, among the possibilities demanded

by the impossible text, both true and false?) Neither absent nor

present, Bataille would on this reading be caught between autobiog- raphy and fiction, snagged on the snares of his own excessive communication.


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For ffrench, "Coincidences" thus "complicates the framing of the text and situates its subject in a strange position as if on the limit between 'fiction' and the real" (157). Consequently, with reference to the status-real or imaginary-of the "je" who here addresses us, Surya asks, "N'est-il pas plus souvent l'un et l'autre, un savantjeu des deux, a chaque foisjetes comme les des sur la table, selon un rapport qui echappe en meme temps qu'il oblige d'en poser la question?" (128). Mis en jeu, Bataille's self communicating. "N'est-il pas plus souvent l'un et l'autre": the residuality of this self dictates that we refuse to subsume either of its poles (absence-presence; fiction-

autobiography) into the other-which means, though, that this is not

just literary play, which would operate just such a resolution in the direction of the fictional. Bataille is really there; and he is nowhere. It is Bataille; and it is "Lord Auch." As the German resonances of this name suggest, it is auch-also-Bataille.

What, then, if the literalism of "Coincidences" were not just parodic? What if it were, also, literal? I have argued that this

hypothesis can simply not be dismissed: unverifiable, it is also indelible. It is also advanced by Bataille. In Le Petit, Bataille tells us:

"quelques personnes ont doute, lisant les 'Coincidences': n'avaient- elles pas le caract&re fictif du recit? Comme la 'preface', les 'Coincidences' sont d'une exactitude litterale" (3: 60). This again merely begs the question, of course: this is not Bataille but another

pseudonym, "Louis Trente" telling us the truth about "Lord Auch." Yet the explanation offered here for the derivation of the pseudonym "Lord Auch" (that, by means of combined contraction and transla- tion, it represents "Dieu se soulageant", "Lord aux chiottes" (3: 59)) is generally accepted, even by critics, such as Hill, who dispute the

autobiographical veracity of "Coincidences" (see Hill 32). But if the voice offering this etymology is to be granted extra-textual trustwor- thiness, then, by the same token, the claim for the "exactitude litt6rale" of "Coincidences" must also be accepted. Which means that if "Auch" is indeed "aux chiottes," then it is-also-Bataille.

This "also" gathers itself irresistibly around these debates. Hill, for

example, discussing the first-person narrator of Le Bleu du ciel, writes, "Troppmann here, of course, up to a point, is also Bataille" (77). And this may, as it were, be no coincidence: for this appendix-like model is itself given in "Coincidences." Discussing the character of Marcelle, Auch/Bataille writes that, as well as representing to some extent his mother, "Marcelle est aussi une jeune fille de quatorze ans qui se trouva en face de moi, pendant un quart d'heure, a Paris, au cafe des


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Deux Magots" (1: 77). The geographical reference claims to seal the declaration: Marcelle, also, touches the real.

This is in addition to the various small details which pepper the "L'CEil de Granero" section of Histoire de l'cil, "pour rattacher au sol terrestre, a un lieu geographique, a une date precise, ce que mon

imagination me represente malgre moi comme une simple vision de la deliquescence solaire" (1: 53; see also ffrench 147-48). The main

example here is of course the bullfighter Granero himself, whose

goring is described in the text. The author of "Coincidences" states that the "course de taureau" of 7 May 1922 in Madrid which concluded with the death of Granero ("personnage r6el") was one "a

laquelle j'ai r6ellement assiste" (1: 74): what sense does it make to hear this solely as the voice of Lord Auch, not least since Bataille was indeed in Madrid on this date (see 1: 644)? The point of this "reelle- ment" is precisely to insist that this voice is not merely pseudonymous; it is itself, to borrow ffrench's image, a point which snags the text, as communication, on a real irreducible to all fictionality. For ffrench, Granero's real death "is a point at which the real punctures the text like a bull's horn. The date of 7 May 1922-is that punctum of the real which tears a hole in the screen of fiction" (146). In Leiris's excessive

image, Bataille's text, touching the reader, touching on the real, would thus become the "tauromachie" of self-exposure.


At this point, I would like to begin to draw together some of the strands of this attempt to explore the modalities of residual presence in Bataillean communication. We have seen that Bataille envisages communication as the shared slippage of two selves, who are rent but still, somehow, in place; and that his own self is arguably at stake in this way in his own writing. With this in mind, I now propose to consider the model of reading that emerges from this exploration, and to assess its implications via a comparison with some of Nancy's reflections on touch.

In the first place, we should note that this model of communication leaves the critic with precious little to say. As Barthes already writes in Le Plaisir du texte (anticipating the punctum of La Chambre claire), responding to a text in terms of the quasi-pornographic effectivity of this punctual touch leaves me able only to exclaim, "C'est C;a!", "C'est cela pour moi!" (24). It effects, in fact, nothing substantive: an intermittent, unjustifiable contact with no content; what Derrida,


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discussing Nancy, terms "le quasi-contact, dans la proximite, de corps qui en vtrite ne se touchent pas" (Le Toucher 60 n.1 ). But it is through the channel thus opened up that the real sticks to the text: the real as, also, Granero, Bataille, Marcelle, and you and I, "the reader"-the real as the unlocatable touch of Bataillean communication. Hence, ffrench may well be right in his claim (which this essay has sought to

explore) that "Bataille's appeal, now, may be partly to do with this 'return of the real"' (25): with a critical sense that the refusal of contact on the grounds of its unjustifiability might represent an

exaggeration; that communication might, after all, be thinkable as contact, if only as the uncertain, intermittent contact of the touch.

This sense is, however, thoroughly disreputable. As I have indi- cated, it leaves the critic with little to say, and cannot itself be established as more than a possibility. (Although, as I have also

suggested, the same is also true of referential skepticism, which can never insulate itself fully from the possibility of contact.) There is a

naivety here; and it is one I would like to maintain. Partly as a

provocation to this skepticism; but partly because it is also, properly speaking, irreducible. For, with all due critical caution, we must also

acknowledge that to dismiss the naivety of contact is itself unjustifi- able: that counterfeit is a structural possibility does not make it inevitable. Bataille's communication is doubly tacky: sticking to us, it is also embarrassing, inadmissible.

The derisory moments of Bataille's texts, such as the cringingly formulaic ending of Histoire de l'eil, with all its reductive exoticism ("Le quatrieme jour l'Anglais acheta un yacht a Gibraltar et nous

primes le large vers de nouvelles aventures avec un equipage de

negres" (1: 69)), are thus also their chance, opening a useless but ineradicable affective contact with the reader who, as "tout-venant anonyme" (3: 496) is free to interpret such figures as s/he pleases, but is by the same token powerless to undo this irreducible possibility. If, as Ian James writes in relation to Histoire de l'ceil, "The possible, that which can be thought, experienced, or represented, is always perhaps the most derisory, a 'd6chet"' (unpaginated ts), this does not just mark Bataille's valorization of the useless impossible over the practi- cal possible: it also marks the creep of this uselessness into the realm of the possible, which itself becomes a space of unjustifiable, and

profoundly empty, potential contact. Of tackiness, in short. Bataille offers us, then, as a possible move within our current

critical context, a model of communication as unjustifiable touch, a contact which might always not be taking place, but which can never


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be ruled out, a writing which, as Noys puts it, remains "open to

reading and yet also resistant to any reading that would try to create a distance from the intimacy it offers" (89). Like Simone and the narrator of Histoire de l'ceil, whose debauchery renders them "tres loin de ce que nous touchions" (1: 47), we are exposed-in our case to

reading, which, as ffrench puts it, "is not only or not all a seeing; it is also a hearing, and, in a certain sense, a touching" (175).

Only "in a certain sense," though: for what, exactly, would we be

touching, across this more or less metaphorical distance? Nancy hypothesizes that it might be necessary to understand reading as "ce

qui n'est pas le dechiffrement: mais le toucher et l'etre touch6, avoir a faire aux masses du corps": but his "avoir a faire a" is there, precisely, to beg the question, to preserve the interval within the contact-to allow writing as an "affaire de tact" only "a la condition que le tact ne se concentre pas, ne pr6tende pas ... au privilege d'une imm6diatete"

(Corpus 76). One possible answer: might we be touching, touched by, the touch-for example, as Leiris suggests, the stroke, "la main (le geste de tracer ou de peindre, la 'touche')" (Francis Bacon 37)? Leiris fills this stroke (the mark of the artist's hand) with affective and existential substance: but he does so with an excessive vocabulary which figures its epiphany as rupture, as exposure. As the inscription of the artist in the work, "la touche" is the "presence lancinante du meneur de jeu"; the image it signs "m'arrache en ce qu'elle a de

singulier en meme temps que de tout proche"; Bacon's work bears the marks of his presence "un peu comme une personne dont la chair garde les cicatrices d'un accident ou d'une agression" (14-16). Extending the operation of this figure to other media, Leiris thus

argues that "artiste et poete peuvent, a partir d'une r6alite neutre, faire toucher la totalit6 du reel" (45).

Nancy, on the other hand-alive to a century of ready-mades and serial production, from Duchamp to Damien Hirst, which make this touch a joke-wants a model of contact which is sufficiently attenu- ated to rule out this fantasy of immediacy: and so his account of "la touche" presents it as a diffuse access onto an originary dispersal, not

any kind of biographical presence, however shattering. "C'est l'acces a l'origine ecart6e, en son ecart meme, c'est la touche plurielle a

l'origine singuli&re" (Etre singulier pluriel 33). Rather than the inscrip- tion of the artist in the work, then, Nancy develops (with specific reference to Bataille) the model of "exscription," which as it were

pushes Leiris's contact-as-rupture until it loses all substantive content. For Nancy, reading Bataille entails "l'exasperation de chaque mo-


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Page 14: Bataille's Tacky Touch


ment de lecture dans la certitude que l'homme exista, qui ecrivit ce

qu'on lit, et l'6vidence confondante que le sens de son oeuvre et le sens de sa vie sont la meme nudit6, le meme d6nuement de sens qui les ecarte aussi bien l'un de l'autre-de tout ecart d'une 6(x)criture" (Une Pensee finie 63). Again, though, what matters in Bataillean communication is not interpretation but contact; and our "exaspera- tion" is, precisely, the mark of just this contact. The naked, absent Bataille is the Bataille who touches us. "Le cri de Bataille n'est pas masqu6 ni 6touffe: il se fait entendre comme le cri qu'on n'entend pas" (62).

Nancy's model of "exscription" is not quite that which I have been

seeking to develop here, however: his emphasis is firmly on the

impossibility of filling this exposure with the author as biographical subject, on maintaining the contact in question as exposure per se. This refusal of biographical substance demonstrates well how Nancy tends to emphasize the syncopated, interrupted rhythm of the touch, whereas, as I have argued, Bataille wants to infiltrate into this

interruption the effectivity of an actual, if residual and unverifiable, contact. In his essay "Le Vestige de l'art," in fact, Nancy explicitly distinguishes the residual (as the remnants of an idea or a form) from the Thomist figure of the vestigial (as the unidentifiable trace of a movement of disappearance), in order to privilege the latter as a model of contemporary aesthetics (Les Muses 146-59). Which, by recalling its infiltration of a fantastic actual contact, confirms the residuality of Bataillean communication: shading the edges of the

vestigial trace with a hint of identifiable tackiness. Where Nancy wants to think touch as mediate (and hence also suspended), Bataille wants to think mediation as touch; this is not quite a tidy chiasmus, however, but rather the jolting of a ruptured contact-the very point of Bataille's hopeless model, the tackiness which upsets Nancy's tact.

I have argued here that the touch Bataille wants to maintain as

aesthetically possible is ineradicable precisely as a possibility, and that this interferes (as noise to signal) with the more delicate model offered by Nancy, for example. In a context apparently obsessed by testimonial writing of all kinds, "reality" shows, and so on, this touch of interference may be worth maintaining precisely because it is unverifiable, unjustifiable, exorbitant-and thus the precise opposite of the mundanity of this aesthetic as commercial principle. But it is still contact, not just the delicacy of syncope-and thus it can, while

rupturing it, also critically comprehend this principle as more than

just an aberration. The ideology of immediacy exuded by such


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Page 15: Bataille's Tacky Touch


phenomena indeed demands critique, precisely because it is also a

fantasy of homogeneity, of assimilation, of reduction, against which

Nancy rightly warns. But it must also be diagnosed. And such

diagnosis, as with any ideology, imposes a kind of critical respect: not

only for the historical truth it declares a contrario (the anomie so obvious in our longing for contact as to be all but unspeakable), but also, perhaps, because it discloses something it might not after all be

possible to keep apart from the idea of communication. Something, moreover, whose unjustifiability also ruins the reductiveness of this

ideology. Contact, as Bataille thinks it, is the very opposite of the endless mirrorings of "reality TV": so far from the fantasized calm of mutual recognition, its "absolute realism" is both effective and empty, open as both vacancy and possibility. Irredentist, indeed.

Everywhere, we seem to want to be touched. This at least would be one sense of our recent preference for the testimonial over other

genres. But we risk letting this desire dream its satisfaction, by imagining this touch to be accomplished, the realization of a mean-

ingful relation. The structural possibility of fraud means that this is nonsense. But the desire has its truth: which is that its absolute denial is also an exaggeration. What both extremes share is a refusal of the risible pathos of the touch offered by communication as thought by Bataille: no substantive content, but an effectivity; the effect of intermittent, ruptured proximity, no matter how distant. This is an

frustratingly empty model, admittedly, which does no more than

open a channel and shade it about with putative contact; but, seriously, what more could we ask for? We have no option, nous autres lecteurs: we have to embrace the tackiness.

Queens' College, Cambridge


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