Video: William Pawlett on Bataille and Baudrillard

William Pawlett introduces his Theory, Culture & Society article ‘The Sacred, Heterology and Transparency: Between Bataille and Baudrillard

This article re-examines Bataille’s increasingly influential notion of the sacred, with particular emphasis on the left or impure aspects of the sacred and their relationship to social structure or topology. Bataille’s understanding of the ‘sacred nucleus’ of society is examined in detail, particularly his suggestion that society endures only as the hardening of the conduits of sacred and profane around a radically heterogeneous, impure or ‘filthy’ central nucleus. For Bataille the sacred as heterogeneous is necessarily excluded from profane, homogeneous working life, and is internally divided between left and right, or pure and impure aspects. The article then examines the theme of profanation in Bataille’s writing, and the emergence of what he calls ‘post-sacred’ society. Finally, the article turns to Baudrillard’s relationship to Bataille’s work, and, beyond their common indebtedness to Mauss, the author examines the thematic relationship between Bataille’s heterological sacred and Baudrillard’s notions of symbolic exchange, evil and transparency. Baudrillard’s work presents a version of heterology more adapted to the contemporary era of rampant consumerism and virtual technologies, but, as the author argues, it actually departs rather little from Bataille’s position. However, for Baudrillard, profanation generates conditions of hyper-positivity and transparency which reintroduce evil, repulsion and disorder into the social system.