by Georges Bataille
You must know to begin with that every thing that shows a face to the world also has one that's hidden. There is nobility in your face: it has truth in its eyes, which you use to seize the world. But your hairy parts--those beneath your dress--are no less true than your mouth. Secretly do these parts open onto the world's filth. Without them, without the shame that is always linked to their use, the truth ruled over by your eyes would be stingy at best.
Your eyes open out upon the stars and your hairy places open up to... This immense ball upon which you live as if crouched and beaten down bristles itself up here and there in the night in the form of mountain ranges. High atop its snow-covered peaks is the starred emptiness hung. But from one peak to another hangs always some gaping abyss in which now and then a falling rock is heard to echo. The clear bottom of these gaping holes is called the austral sky, whose [sharp rumbling] responds to the darkness of the boreal night. In the same way, some day, will the stench of humanity be for you the herald of [the most stunning of joys].
Now, in everything recognizable by you, must your madness be able to perceive the reverse. It is time that at the very bottom of your being you reverse the world's sad, insipid image. I want you already lost in those depths in which, from horror to horror, you'll work your way slowly to the truth. A fetid spring drips from your body's softest crease, a tiny but invincible river. In fright you push yourself away. You distance yourself from your own filth. Hah! Were you only, for an instant, to follow this your desperate wake--FOR AN INSTANT--your unbridled nudity would open to the sweetest fruits of the flesh.
Don't look for peace or rest. This world out of which you came, this world that you are, will give itself to nothing but your vices. Without a deep perversion at the very core of you, you would resemble no one so much as the amateur climber sleeping off his fatigue fifty meters from the summit--you'd be nothing but a dull weight.
What you must know secondly, then, is that no kick is worth being sought if it is not in itself the seeking of kicks itself. The pursuits to which you have been led by your youth and beauty are not much different from those denounced by priests. What else would the life of a voluptuary be were it not open to any way the wind blows, open, in short, to the void of desire? In a manner more true than the steadfast monk, any old bitch drunk with pleasure proves the vanity of all pleasure. Or rather: the warmth she feels in getting her little taste of horror is nothing if it is not the means to desiring greater and greater horror.
Not that you shouldn't be wise in your research. The vanity, the uselessness of pleasure is at the very heart of things. But--and here is the catch--one will never attain to the full rigor of this fact if one knows it to be true from the very beginning. And so: the realm of first appearances is the sweet softness to which you must abandon yourself.
I ought to explain to you now that the difficulty raised by this second point ought not to discourage you. It is truly the tight little common sense or rather the bald and blind moral self-righteousness of your ancestors that caused them to flee everything that seemed "useless" or unprofitable. We can now see clearly the kind of lives to which their practicality led. All is vanity, all a snare, God himself is nothing but the exasperation of a void if we only begin to engage ourselves upon the paths of desire. But desire--desire itself remains in us even as it were in defiance to a world that ceaselessly hides away those objects it seeks. Desire harbors in us like laughter. We make a harsh mockery of the world in stripping off our clothes. And what is this mockery if it is not the giving over of ourselves to the desire for greater and greater desire?
This is the unintelligible destiny to which we've been handed over by our very refusal to accept destiny (or at least by the unacceptable character of destiny). We can do nothing but throw ourselves into the pursuit of those signs associated with the void, at the same time desire's own upkeep. We subsist only at the crest of things, pulling ourselves up atop an endless succession of wrecks. The least giving way would lead us into the insipidity of mere pleasure: in short, ennui. We breathe free only at the furthest bornes of a world where bodies open up and out--where the nakedness desired is an obscene nakedness.
In other words our only possibility is THE IMPOSSIBLE. You are under the sway of desire, which spreads apart your legs and exhibits your dirty parts. [The moment desire died--and along with it all possibility of pleasure--you'd cease to feel the interdiction against this your position.]
No longer seeking pleasure, and renouncing all attempts to see in such an obvious trap either a cure for or escape from our sufferings, you would no longer be left empty-handed by desire. To do otherwise would be to succumb to a dull, moralizing prudence. Little more would remain of you than an empty form, withdrawn from the game. To the extent that you are annoyed by even the idea of mere PLEASURE, to this extent will you abandon yourself to the flame that is DESIRE. No longer can you ignore what sort of cruelty is necessary for you: without making a decision of unjustified audacity, you wouldn't be able to withstand the bitter taste in the mouths of those others who end up the jaded victims of their thirst. Your wisdom will tell you to stop short. But only a thrust of health, of madness, can maintain in you the dark flame of desire that in every way burns beyond the weak and furtive flickering of orgies.
In this labyrinth that comes with the game, where error is inevitable and must ever be renewed, nothing less will do than the navet of a child. Of course no good reason can be found for you to be nave, any more than one can be found for you to be happy. Yet you must have the audacity to persevere. The extensive effort demanded of you by the circumstances is obviously draining, but you haven't the leisure to feel drained. Were you now to fall under the sway of sadness, you'd be little but a dropped card, a wasted chance. A singular gaiety, neither feigned nor false, the gaiety of an angel is needed under pleasure's anguish.
One of the harsh ordeals reserved for those who stop at nothing doubtless concerns the necessity that prods them to express an unspeakable horror. But at the same time this horror inspires only laughter in them, and they have even sought it out only so as to laugh, or better yet: so as to revel in its dark sting. What's more, you shouldn't be astonished if they appear to be succumbing to calamity precisely at the moment they reach their goal. Such is generally the ambiguity of things human. The certainty of horror leads all the more quickly to joy if this joy is purified of all reservations. In me everything dissolves in a piercing and voluptuous rage for life that only despair can express. This definitive powerlessness to grab hold, this inexorable necessity to put walls around nothing, could anything withstand it but a child's ingenuousness?
What I hope from you exceeds wise resolution as does despair or the void. From the excess of lucidity you must seize childishness, which forgets it (caprice, which annihilates). The secret of life is without a doubt the guileless destruction of everything that would destroy in us the taste for living. It is childhood defeating without words all the obstacles opposed to desire; it is the frantic and unrestrained pace of the game; it is the secret of all childhood hideouts, the hiding places where as a little girl it came about that you lifted up your dress...
If your heart is pounding, think upon a child's most obscene moments.
With a child, different moments are separated--
Dirtiness without a childish shame, games without a child's joy, ingenuousness without the thoughtless reflex by which it is characterized in children--all of these are but comedies staged by adulthood's reductive seriousness. Health, on the other hand, maintains childhood's burning flame. The worst impotence coincides with the domination of seriousness.
Naked breasts and the obscenity of your sex have the power to bring about that which as a little girl, able to do nothing, you could only dream.
Battered by frozen despair, by the majestic horrors of life! At exasperation's end. Today I find myself at the edge of the abyss. At the limit of disaster and an intolerable happiness. At the very peak of a vertiginous height I sing a HALLELUIAH: the purest, most dolorous you could hear.
Calamity's solitude is a halo, a veil of tears with which you will be able to cover your dog's nakedness.
Listen to me. I speak softly in your ear. But don't misunderstand my soft tone. Go out into the anguished night, naked, go to the place where the path turns.
Press your fingers into your moist folds. It will be sweet to smell upon you the viscous, bitter scent of pleasure: the damp, stale odor of flesh made happy. Voluptuousness contracts the lips burning to open out onto anguish. The wind upon the small of your back makes you feel more than naked as you quake and quiver with the cartilaginous snap of your spine--that snapping which makes the whites of your eyes roll up to fill the voids between your eyelids.
In a lonely forest far from your abandoned clothing will you hunch down carefully like a she-wolf.
Lightning with its fierce stench and pounding rain are the companions of anguish and obscenity.
Get up, and flee: childish, abandoned, howling in frightened laughter.
Excessive voluptuousness, kindling the heart in its flames--devastating, it obliges one to hardness. Desire's furnace provides the heart with an infinite audacity.
Coming until you can come no more, revelling yourself to death, you swerve your life around and away from the boundaries set up by the faint of heart.
The passions do not favor weakness. Asceticism is a soft repose compared to the feverish roads down which you are led by the flesh.
Imagine now the horizons that will open up with this calamity. For you there will be no conceivable refuge. What awaits you? Hunger, cold, cruelties, captivity, a death without aid... Imagine the sufferings, despair, destitution. Do you think you'll escape your undoing? Before you is only the accursed desert. Hear the cries to which no one will ever respond. Don't forget: from now on you are the bitch battered by the wolves' fury. This bed of misery is your country: your only true country.
Serpent-haired furies are in every way pleasure's companions. They will accompany you by the hand--pouring more alcohol down your gullet every three steps of the way!
The calm of a convent, asceticism, peace of heart--all these propose themselves to those unlucky ones who are haunted by the need for escape and shelter. But for you no escape is possible. Alcohol and desire abandon you to the ravages of winter.
[The convent would take one out of the game, but one day did the nun burn to spread her legs.]
In a sense the cultivation of pleasure is a tepid and cowardly thing. Pleasure seeks out its appeasement. Desire on the other hand is eager never to be dormant.
The phantom of desire is necessarily two-faced. That which presents itself as desirable is masked. Sooner or later the mask falls, unmasking anguish, death, the annihilation of the perishable being. In truth, you aspire to night, but you must follow a detour and love figures capable of being loved. The possession of pleasure heralded by such desirable possession of figures is quickly reduced to the disarming possession of death. But then death cannot be possessed: it dispossesses. That is why the space of voluptuousness is the space of deception. Deception is the basis and final truth of life. Without an exhausting deception--at the very moment your heart is weakest--you could never know that the burning desire to come is the dispossession of death.
... Desire and love get mixed up. Love is the desire for an object [measuring up to the totality of desire].
A senseless love has no sense unless it lead to a love yet more senseless.
Love has this requirement: either its object escapes you or you escape it. If it does not flee you, in fright must you flee love.
Lovers find each other on condition that they tear each other apart. Both one and the other must have a thirst for suffering. For them must desire desire the impossible. If not, desire would go dormant, it would die.
Cease all misrecognition of WHO YOU ARE. How can you expect to be humiliated while at the same time held to accosting others with a face that is not your own?
You always could go along with propriety, then revel in the esteem of the humiliated. It would be easy to value those sides of you by which you could work towards a falsification without bounds. It would matter little to know whether you were lying or not. You'd meet the dull servitude of the many with your own servitude, walling up your existence against the passions. In these circumstances, you'd be known as Mme N... And I'd hear much talk of your qualities...
You must choose between two paths: either you are commended as one of their own, one of that herd of a humanity founding themselves upon their horror of man; or you open yourself to desires exceeding the received limits.
Were you to follow the first path, you'd soon be worn down in fatigue...
But really, how could you forget the power you hold, that power to cast within you your being itself into play? Consider that excess of blood that boils in you here beneath the grey sky. Can you any longer keep it in dim disguise beneath your dress? Would you suffocate any longer that cry of rage and excessive voluptuousness--that cry that others have reduced to the dull niceties set forth by their cowardly propriety? Drunken with shame would you be any less FASCINATING than night's own nakedness?
Only the intolerable joy of allowing your dress to slide away can begin to measure up to the immensity...where you know you are lost. Immensity, like you, has no dress, and your nakedness, that loses itself in immensity, has the simplicity of the dead. Herein does your nakedness expose you IMMENSELY: you shudder, you are torn up with shame, immensely does your obscenity cast you into the game.
(Silent, naked, is it not the intimacy of the universe to which you are opened by your intolerable vertigo? And is it not a slipshod, unfinished universe yawning there between your legs? A question without response. But you yourself, opened without your dress to the infinite laughter of the stars, could you now imagine that the distant void is any heavier than that unavowable intimacy disguising itself in you?)
Splayed out, your head hung back, eyes burning adrift in the milky eddies of the night sky. Abandon to those stars...your body's sweetest flow!
Breathe in the sulphurous odor--a burning, naked breast--of the Milky Way: the smooth purity of your haunches and back sends your thoughts tumbling through endless space.
Conjunctions of those naked caterpillars we call our sex, baldnesses and pinkish lairs, whispering tumults, fish-dead eyes: these long whoops of laughing rage are the moments that correspond in you to the depthless fissure of the sky...
What is the importance of this text for me? At the time I translated it--now many years ago--I was more an admirer of Bataille than I am today. Nonetheless, there is something essential in this text, something I would relate to Walter Benjamin's Kabbalism in its negative theological aspects. But Bataille's writing is something otherwise as well. Bataille was writing what he called "atheology." He had earlier completed and published *L'Experience interieure*, his "Somme atheologique," this designation being the charged negative of St. Thomas' title *Summa theologica*.
If there is a swan song of the modern West's "atheological" vision, it is this text, or such texts as these from Bataille. The atheological vision finds its swan song here rather than in, say, the texts of a writer like Samuel Beckett. (Or rather: those latter texts are perhaps the *geriatric* side of the modern West's nihilism: a side that concerns me hardly at all.)
I do not mean with these remarks, however, that Bataille's *Halleluiah* had only a kind of historical importance for me. That is not my point. That was not true at the time of my translating this text, nor is it true now. I feel, in fact, very close to Bataille, and this closeness is not merely a matter of history. For as his is a love burning in the aggravated void left by an absent God, mine is a love burning in the disjunction between a God all too present and a fallen world deaf to His presence, a fallen world whose very inertia has cast it off from love and joy and thrown it into a black and electric despair. The necessity of my love puts it somehow close to Bataille's love, though it's perhaps true that this closeness isn't as essential as our distance from each other. Or is it?
What separates me from Bataille is certainly crucial. What to me could be more crucial? Bataille's despair, his insistent despair, though it may be seen as being more manly than Christian faith, is in fact the result of a deafness--an insistent deafness that is a refusal near to madness. Bataille's refusal may perhaps be understood as similar to Ivan's refusal in the Grand Inquisitor chapters of Dostoyevsky's great novel. They are perhaps refusals of a similar order. It is ultimately the refusal to sing *Halleluiah* (Hebrew: "Praise be to Yahweh!"), a refusal in Ivan Karamazov's case based on the suffering of children, and perhaps in Bataille's case as well.
Yet Bataille has here entitled his text *Halleluiah*. What are we to make of that? Obviously it isn't merely irony that led him to such a title. It is at the very least provocation, and probably it is more even than this. Bataille's is a writing that deals with the most serious things, that deals with them in the register of what he called "atheology," but that deals with them even so.
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