Bataille lovers of the world, untie

Heon Seo hseo
Wed Mar 8 23:43:34 EST 2000

This is my belated response to Anne McKnight's thankful illumination on
Bataille and pinku films.  I don't know what happened, but your posting on
February 26 was mysteriously blank until I tried unloading it again from my
server to another computer, which is why I couldn't respond sooner.  Any
way, thank you for the love and joy of the library of the primitive.  I was
certainly interested in the experiences where sexuality and violence come
together, aesthetic moments that respond to what Bataille called
"demoralization."  To be able to say clearly what directors/works I have in
my map, I still need to do loads of homework and catch up with Shibusawa,
Wakamatsu, and other names brought up.  To at least flush out my starting
points, however, I shall perhaps outline my reading of Oshima's films,
which I think resonates, almost too closely, Bataille's notion of
transgression in the rich dynamic of sexuality, violence (or rather pain),
and history.

In Ai No Corrida, for instance, Oshima builds layers of oppositions and
ambiguity that lead to the rupture of exhaustion and consumptive excess in
the form of failure.  The seemingly rigid master-slave dialectic
(Kichi-Sada) as the narrative setup transforms into fragile impressions of
futility and excess.  The movement situates sexuality outside history and
language, as the dialectic of production fails to be constructive and
historical, no longer functioning as a logical resolution of the
opposition.  This breakout from the Hegelian house of logic in essence
follows a torch that Bataille ignited, in both form and content.  (In this
sense, is Bataille not "modern"?)

Transgression, in both Bataille and Oshima, is an act that places the
subject outside history and outside language, a dynamic process of crossing
and re-crossing.  However obvious, this mapping seems to evoke (and
explain) inexhaustible aesthetic possibilities.  To simplify, it expresses
what Bataille saw as the Death of God.  In his concept, the Death of God is
not so much a clearly defined historical event but rather a dynamic process
whose efficacy is outlined by the effects and possibilities reproduced by
the absence.  The Death of God as a concept (which perhaps ties together
Bataille's "tradition"-based backdrop and pinku directors' modern
context??) then helps understand the depth of "demoralization" that is
profoundly omnipresent in both Bataille and Oshima.  (Although Oshima often
turns towards morality for dramatic effects, he is clearly one of the most
resourceful tour guides to the profundity of desolation and deprivation.)

The dimension of history is omnipresent throughout Ai No Corrida, while at
the same time its absence is so carefully condensed in the reserved
cinematic "language."  The impossible dynamic is most beautifully expressed
in the haunting moment of the army marching scene, to pitch for my favorite
scene.  The scene attempts to re-situate the socially deviant and drifting
subject in the public space that it rejected.  As Rosemary Jarman
illuminates in Eros in Hell (which Ted Mills kindly brought up on February
26), the army marching is excessively historical after all, as it hints the
failed coup that happened only a few months before the Sada scandal, as
well as Mishima's military action (which Oshima may have very well had in
mind in staging the imagery).  At the same time, with visual and cinematic
simplicity, Oshima evokes the immensity of the absolute absence and its
devastating effect through Kichi's face, his walk, camera direction, and
lighting.  more importantly, the physically drained, spiritually deprived
man is also the all-knowing subject, whose insight perhaps reaches the
depth of his own powerlessness and fate in the face of the absolute
absence.  At the small margin of non-stop orgasmic waves, we learn that
pain is the very source of self-knowledge as if there can be no other way,
as Bataille himself asserted.  To get closer to the point of my interest,
this duality of pain and knowledge is essentially melancholic, as Kichi
feels "being witness to the meaninglessness of Being, of revealing the
absurdity of bonds and beings," according to Kristeva's definition of
melancholia.  (This scene perhaps echoes Bataille's simple revelation that
"the universe is a deception" in L'Abece or the "monstrous sadness" of the
gouged, staring eye inside Simone's body in Story of the Eye.)  In the
elastic response to nothingness fluctuates the impossible knowledge.  The
scene thus chrystalizes the essence of agony, or the "unutterable
loneliness of existence," to borrow Mishima's illumination of pain.

This perhaps amounts to saying that within the blissful library of excess
and eroticism, Bataille and Sade stand side by side as champions of their
own leagues, fishing for the depth of absence with different poles of
self-knowledge: Sade's was violence, Bataille's pain?  (Sade was a sadist
alright, Masoch a masochist, but what was Bataille? Was he not
simultaneously both and neither?)

Any way, there is no evidence that the opposition between historicity and
transgression is resolved in Oshima's.  Rather, it remains open, and its
crevice is even wider at the end, as the dry, reporter-like male off-screen
narrator abruptly cuts in and explains what the narrative leaves out.  A
reminder that the narrative is a headliner, a scandal belonging to the
public after all, the voice marks the irreducible gap between (Sada's)
transgressive world and the social/historical space, a crevice we as the
audience are thrown into.  The "failure" of dialectical resolution is both
thematic and structural, which is precisely Oshima's genius.

The removal of the penis in the final scene also resonates Bataille's use
of language and desire inscribed in (or gouged out of) language, not so
much in the sense that Bataille's eye and the penis in Oshima's are both
removed from the body but rather in regard that they both escape, or let us
escape, language, even the bonds of psychoanalytic symbolism.  In Oshima's,
even the most literal phallic symbol of sexuality slips out of presumed
semantic functions as well as its very corporeal basis, like Bataille's
eye, and points to the transient impressions of consumption and futility, a
bliss.  The removed penis, never in fact visible once it leaves Kichi's
body, interrogates the boundary between language and the transgressive.
(Roland Barthes justly saves Bataille's text from the reductive, misleading
reading of the eye as the phallic symbol by asserting that symbolism is far
from Bataille's language.)  Like Bataille's eye, Kichi's (or rather Sada's)
penis defies reason and betrays the impulse to mediate objects and meaning.
It disappears into the void beyond public discourse, historical knowledge,
Kichi's corpse, and even Sada's own body.  With this ambivalent
disappearance, Oshima's cinematic space attains an irrevocable dimension,
consuming and consummating...

heon seo

> To: "KineJapan at"
>  <KineJapan at>
> Subject: Bataille lovers of the world, untie
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>  *I sent this earlier this week but I don't think it ever appeared.
> Apologies for possible double posting.
> I was glad to see Heon Seo's speculation on the relation between Georges
> Bataille's prose and pink directors.
>     I've wondered around the same thing, but have a hunch there is a
> whole set
> of mediating texts circulating around ideas about abjection, fascism,
> the
> sacred and profane which are equally indebted to tracking the relations
> between modes of sociology and affective relations (occasionally seen in
> pink
> films, ha ha) which Bataille explores in his essays about
> post-enlightenment
> philosophy, the Popular Front and revolution, and fascism in the pre-WW2
> years.   I imagine Shibusawa is an important figure here, not least
> because he
> was the decadent translator (you can tell cause he always wears
> sunglasses,
> even on an indoor chaise lounge) of the first such enlightenment writer
> that
> many people grooved on, Sade.
>     That said, I find myself hard pressed to imagine Wakamatsu Koji (and
> why
> not?) cozying up with a nice volume of either Sade or Bataille, the
> librarian
> of the 'primitive.'  At least this is the impression I get from his
> lowbrow
> "aw shucks" self-presentation in his autobio and in his taidans that
> I've
> seen, which I see also as a kind of kryptonite against the kinds of
> questions
> about the role of sex in the conditions of production both on and off
> the
> set.  Anyway.  However, it seems fascinating to me, particularly in
> terms of
> the *action* movie, to think about how action (cf Nietzsche, productive
> expenditure) ennobles the abject figure and turns him sovereign, as
> Bataille
> does, or Kitano, or any of a number of other thugs.  The idea of
> sacrifice, so
> present at the level of both narrative and character, in Wakamatsu's
> films,
> may play in here.  The connections between fraternity, revolution, and
> sacrifice as seen in these transgressive (???) directors, with their
> idea of
> sacrifice, seem highly interesting and most likely entertaining in the
> realm
> of gendered sacrifice.
>     Many 60s-70s directors, which I am hazarding are the object of your
> speculation, seem to me resolutely modern figures, though, in ways that
> Bataille is not.  I don't think he believes in 'invented traditions,'
> giving
> much more credence to the legacies of negativity provided for in
> double-edged
> ways (i.e. heterogeneity as something which can go down the road of
> fascism as
> well as  one of excess).
>     Anyway, now that you've brought this topic up, which makes me quite
> happy,
> what works/directors/themes were you thinking of?
> Sincerely,
> Anne McKnight
> Comp Lit, UC Berkeley

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