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1. who on hell is bataille-- what does bataille argue and how are those arguments used in debate?

2. what lit can i read from bataille?

3. advice for running bataille k's?

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Bataille says a lot of things, but there are two main ways I've seen it run in debate.

First, is the stuff about productivity. Most people will read the Featherstone evidence that says something along the lines of "the will to productivity leads to environmental destruction, biopolitics, and militarization", along with a link argument that says that the 1AC is an investment in productivity or attempting to maximize utility. The alternative, at least from what I've seen, is a form of sacrificial, unproductive expenditure, such as reading poetry in the round because it is a break away from productivity. This is, of course, a simplification of the argument, however.

Second, there's the death stuff, which I am substantially less familiar with, so I won't try to explain it.

Further, there's a card floating around about being vs becoming, also a thing I do not understand, but that is fairly less common.


If you want some insight as to what these arguments look like evidence-wise, a search on the wiki from last year (or the China topic, even) for "Bataille" or "productivity".

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This will be a long post. Sorry if it's kind of messy-it's hard to organize Bataille's ideas.


Bataille thinks that the world is chaotic and incomplete, so trying to address any part of the world using an isolated and static approach, such as a plan, inevitably fails, because the world is constantly in a state of flux, or is constantly changing. In these moments where attempts at knowledge fail, authentic communication not chained to static interpretations or isolationistm can take place, so the alt can often try to create a moment like this. If isolationist campaigns continue, they will always be tortured by the utter chaos of the universe, which does not care about rationality or completion (those who consider themselves sane will be tortured by the universe for that very ascription to sanity). If we assume these things, then we can theorize human consciousness as either

1-an attempt for meaning and isolated identification, a quest which is never finished and only tortures the seeker, or

2-a self-defeating process that eventually spirals into madness and chaos, opening up a new space.

Bataille thinks that, once consciousness collapses in on itself and becomes mad, the entire paradigm of existence is radically altered inasmuch as traditional value systems are turned upside down, and it is possible to escape from rationalist consumer society (sometimes called a restricted economy) and towards mad indifference and completion (sometimes called a general economy). Within a general economy, excess is always primary, and trying to push it back only causes bad things because it tries to conform the madness and excess into a rational restricted economy. Bataille thinks that one of the ways to escape from restricted economies is to transgress their norms through revolutions in the affairs of everyday life, which can take the form of rule-breaking, "sins" committing taboo acts, or anything else that a system doesn't think can exist within it. 

Bataille wants to transgress isolated values to access sensory bliss and feelings, to experience the extremes of life instead of bland consumer capitalism. One way to escape from these bland systems is through odious utterances, the "unspeakable" things or actions that will cause sensory extremes of things like emotion and open the possibility of freedom. These odious utterances disrupt each step in the hierarchies of normalcy (norms of society are set up in a sort of hierarchy where each step seems small enough to be reasonable, at least compared to steps next to it, a cycle which quickly escalates). These norms impose taboos restricting deviance, so that the possibility for difference (and "freedom") becomes more and more limited, and systems start to become homogenized as everything deemed unacceptable is "banished" from society, leading to a deprivation of access to life which makes value impossible. Society offers a fantasy of security (think things like military "protection", social security, or other support systems), but this security is also a security of the self, as society's codes for what is acceptable help people imagine who and what they are and what they know that they know. However, once we transgress society, we lose security for unsafe bliss and freedom, escaping society's fear-systems. 

Bataille wasn't an academic, but a librarian, and never wrote for fame or fortune, but to transgress writing, ruining words and showing that complete communication is impossible. The effectiveness of this strategy is shocking the public is apparent by the fact that the French ministry of culture literally banned his last book "Tears of Eros," because it was considered an "outrage to morality" for its content. Bataille thought that this strategy could open up access to the difference of non knowledge, an absence of traditional meaning-making which opposed many other areas of philosophy trying to impose static identities on the world. He thought that this act of transgressive writing could disrupt the values of the time through creative destruction, literally abusing the meaning of language in disgusting ways. He didn't think that this transgression could create a new world, because imagining possibilities like this is just a quest for attainment and wholeness that is doomed because it relies on isolated understandings of the world, but he did think that it could allow some level of escape from society. Attainment quests are particularly bad in that they establish goals, which lock us to specific forms of meaning. When you say "I want to be a doctor" you have articulated a goal, and have presupposed that you exist in the present, and there is a possible you in the future who has achieved that goal and is now a doctor. This physical projection into the future only imagines one way that the future could go, which ultimately changes how we react in the present because everything we do works towards that particular future goal. This future with goals makes the present hostile towards anything that seems to threaten your goals. For example, if someone wanted you to go graffiti something with them, possibly an act of transgression, your future-oriented present self will say no, preventing escape, because it thinks that doing that could disrupt the future doctor-self that doesn't even exist yet. When you're always basing the present on a possible future, you fail to live and become hostile, lacking enjoyment. This idea plays out on a global scale as well. We know that the world is threatening, and we try to displace that threat away from ourself onto some other part of the world so that someone else has to deal with it. What this means is that seeing images of other people suffering (dealing with the threat) makes us feel happy and safe because it tells us that the threat is somewhere else and we don't have to deal with it, that the world is dangerous, but not to us. This creates a psychological necessity to continue eliminating threats once one has supposedly been eliminated, to continue feeling safe and scapegoating violence onto the other. One instance of this is the elimination of the other, justified through "safety" which continues on indefinitely because there must always be a new other, as the world is always chaotic and violent and the universe ultimately doesn't care. 

Bataille had a very hard childhood, with his father going mad and his mother becoming suicidally depressed. His childhood was characterized by solitude and abandonment, causing him to theorize that humans are not thrown into the world or introduced to it, but utterly abandoned into it, and that is is chaotic and evil. This abandonment is incredibly painful, and is of isolation and insufficiency. However, even though abandonment is immense suffering, being with other people also has limits, a sort of contradiction in Bataille's scholarship. However, this contradictory scholarship only reinforces absolute madness, as it brings opposites into proximity. 

Bataille thinks that laughter is one way to transgress taboos, interrupting community and society and showing utter indifference. Bataille's laughter isn't just snickering at a joke, but an insane and overwhelming laugh, think of the laugh of the joker. Laughter overwhelms us, and ruptures normalcy, allowing actual life, which is usually prohibited by taboos. 

Bataille was heavily influenced by Nietzsche's ideas, and thinks that God was not destroyed, but that many different gods were reinstated in ideas like rationality. The proliferation of these new gods makes us beg for security at the cost of freedom, as we want to impose security and contained knowing on things that can't be controlled. 

The world is parodic, and everything that seems complete is simply a disguise for something else. Everything only coheres itself through references to other things, going back to the idea that isolationism is bad. Parody is a mockery of the original which can't be identified and lacks authority. When we focus on our object of mockery, we can reveal that it's built on unstable foundations and doesn't really have any authority. In parodicly demonstrating the absurdity of the world, we can refuse the threats that the system creates by disempowering and mocking them. 

There are two types of expenditure, productive expenditure and unproductive expenditure. Productive expenditure exists to maintain the homogenous needs of a society based on rationalism and consumption, but unproductive expenditure is useless waste of precious resources. Bataille theories unproductive expenditure largely through ideas like potlatch, extravagant but meaningless celebrations where precious objects were discarded and destroyed. Productive expenditure made the world something that puts people on different tracks so that they can best contribute, but it doesn't have to be like this, as people were sometimes and can bad valued for their chaotic individuality and ability to waste. Useful to unproductive expenditure is ritual and gift giving which escalates in extravagance to force more and more waste while also building communities, as this waste is collective. For example, if you give someone a gift, they're expected to give a better counter-gift, and this cycle causes communities to be bound together by their expenditure on each other. Debate can be used as a site of potlatch and useless expenditure, as we can disrupt it, refusing to gift the aff the ballot because they would productive it towards things like skills and education. The judge could instead potlatch us the ballot, disrupting the ballot and sacrificing the aff towards meaninglessness. Sacrifice wastes honor and prestige, removing the object of sacrifice from our everyday to the point that we can no longer comprehend it. In the loss of the thing, new values are able to exist that transgress taboos. The sacrificial subject affirms the death of the self, abandoning traditional self-consciousness for new ways of existing through laceration, the wounds upon the fabric of being. In the process of laceration, everything causes wounds, but the last wound is what kills, and existence is a constant process of being lacerated by the universe as we are forced to confront our own limits. When things go wrong, we get lacerated and are forced to become something else.

Bataille is also very interested in the concept of Acephale, and lead a cult called Acephale. Acephalic means headless, and the acephale is the image of the headless being, death's head on its body, a labyrinth on its stomach, starts on its breasts, a knife in one hand, and a flaming heart in the other, the universe characterized by risk instead of security and responsibility. Bataille's acephale society is a counter-group that is very secretive, allowing for a break that lets values be rearticulated without consciously describing those values or ascribing meaning onto them. The Acephale was founded on the individuality of each member, and it refused boredom for freedom and life, refusing processes of homogenization.

Communication only occurs when you are willing to risk losing a part of yourself to the other, and is often surface-level and meaningless. True community forms when you experience something that you can't articulate with someone else. In this moment that traditional communication breaks, real inarticulable community is made possible. Disrupting the day-to-day communicative operations of debate can forced debate to reconcile why it matter at all and can allow a new community.

When most people think of Bataille, they think his concept of the accursed share. Life is super abundant with cosmic energy, more of it than is necessary to survive, and the energy that can't be consumed must be wasted, either gloriously or catastrophically. A lot of problems are caused by society squandering wealth wrong by reinvesting excess back into itself when it can't fit anymore excess. If we don't waste some of the accursed share, everything is going to collapse eventually. The accursed share also incorporates the ideas of general and restricted economy, the different ways that society can deal with the excess, or accursed share. 


If you want to read Bataille, you need a very deep understanding of his theorizing, and you should read some primary source Bataille in addition to some modern reinterpretations of his work. It's very confusing at first, but you'll get it eventually. Good luck!

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One thing to add, Alan Stoekl's introduction to Bataille's Visions of Excess is remarkably thorough and clears up most common misunderstandings and objections that are raised in debates about Bataille.

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