A Meditation on Transgression


A Meditation on Transgression

Foucault, Bataille and the Retrieval of the Limit

To define transgression we must think of a threshold, or rather, a movement towards the threshold, towards the limit, where there is no longer interpretation. We must think of the self being pushed to its own limits, where it uncovers new limits, in an infinite procedure, that instead of liberating the self from its confines, imposes new limits that must be again transgressed. Each limit is revealed through transgression, which is a process that seeks to overcome interpretation. It is this idea of transgression that reveals how interpretation keeps the limits of the self tied to itself, the subject, and ties the subject down to the formal structures of language. Interpretation, by its very nature, is a process involving language to its highest means. But with what Nietzsche calls the “death of God,” the supreme object of the hermeneutical project is lost, which results in an infinite possibility for meaning. Meaning is no longer bound by its movement towards a final outcome, i.e. God. What is left, then is a hermeneutical space, that self must overcome, lest result in a sort of hermeneutical schizophrenia, that which each interpretive moment uncovers new symbols, new limits, that it must strive to understand. And with each new understanding, an abyss is opened and a new fall takes place. But transgression offers the hope that the sacred can be recovered in the shadow of a dead god. This hope is made possible by the exposure that beyond the limits of the self is the Limit as it exists without God. This paper will explore the idea of transgression through the work of Michel Foucault and his reading of Georges Bataille. And I will try to develop a foundational metaphor for this experience, specifically with the work of Gilles Deleuze and his ruminations on schizophrenia. What will be uncovered, though, is the topic’s own limits, and the hope that these limits can be transgressed.

Examining the story of Genesis we find an apt metaphor for the precursor to this study. Before the eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, the supreme object of attention existed in perfect harmony with the subject. Self did not interpret to uncover meaning. It used language to create, and eventually to destroy. But there was no hermeneutical space, because that space was filled by God’s immanent presence. It was only with the eating of the fruit that the object was no longer in intimate union with the subject. In a sense, God died the moment Adam threw away the core. And as what was left of the fruit decomposed into the ground, God’s relationship with the subject decomposed as well. Language now took on a new function; to find God, and to fill the void left behind by his passing. As George Steiner explains: “There was, presumably, no need of books or art in Eden.” 1 God was so present, meaning was so much a part of every particle of ground, an “urgency” 2 for meaning was not needed. It is this urgency for meaning that is created with the death of God. And this urgency has paved the way for dogma and law, that tries to fill the gap between self and the lost object. But this gap cannot be filled authentically, since the object that would fill it no longer exists. The answer then is to move beyond interpretation, where the subject/ object distinction is no longer relevant or needed. Meaning would exist in experience, in immanence, as subject without object, and this meaning is fluid and dynamic, no longer needing or desiring a supreme object of attention. But without an objective ground of meaning towards which the hermeneutic process can strive, the resulting danger is what Foucault calls “a movement of interpretation which approached the infinity of its center, and which collapsed, calcinated.” 3

This infinity of interpretations, is for Foucault, the only way to avoid dogmatism in language. Interpretation, by its very nature, is violence, for it must stretch and break the boundaries of each meaning uncovered. To cease interpreting is to “believe in the absolute existence of signs.” 4 But this belief is not grounded in anything other than being’s need to root itself in the hope for an supreme object. The Cherubim in the Garden, holding aloft his flaming sword was to prevent a return to a final interpretation. And so interpretation in this sense is intimately tied to madness. Because there is no absolute sign, the process of interpretation creates an infinite realm of meaning, which like madness, is continually circling itself, devouring itself. The experience of the schizophrenic is a valuable example, for it is in this state that through the interpretation of signs, another sign is revealed. And so, accordingly, the self must risk madness if it is to stretch itself towards the boundaries where there is no longer interpretation. But as we saw above, Foucault claims that to stop interpreting is to accept an absolute meaning, which is to step back into the Garden, like children, tip-toe, finger to nose, in a whisper of rebellion. But the Garden is not a place of meaning, and as we will see, is utterly devoid of meaning. But it is a paradox, for in this place of total emptiness, where is there is no longer a sign to interpret, being is revealed to being in its totality. The boundary is the limit that must be transgressed, but it only through transgression that the Limit, the sacred without God, is exposed.

According to Foucault, madness, understood as an interpretive mode of being, can be traced back to the Renaissance, and what Foucault calls the “decay of Gothic Symbolism.” 5 Early religious symbolism provided a homogenous spiritual world-view, in which each part was perfectly connected to the whole. Each religious symbol, be it the Crucifix or the flying buttresses in a cathedral, all pointed back to the singular religious ideal. And while there may have been argument on the specific content of these symbols, it intrinsic meaning was known and shared by the community. But once the source of this meaning is removed, the image is bloated with hermeneutic space. Take for example the flying buttresses, that without a singular spiritual object to point toward, take on dizzying and frightening qualities. This is not to suggest that one was not overwhelmed by the majesty of the architecture when God seemed to be present, but the feeling of awe was grounded in the meaning behind the buttress, and so this sense of awe, while offering a sense of weightlessness, did not carry the observer completely away. But the importance of Gothic symbolism is its intense and often grotesque way of revealing itself. The images of the Crucified Christ are blatant and severe, and without the Christian message, the potentiality for horror and madness is let loose. Meaning becomes hidden in shadows, rather than stepping forward into the light of the sun. Foucault points out that this type of madness is not due to lack of meaning, but on the contrary, an abundance of meaning:

Things themselves become so burdened with attributes, signs, allusions that they finally lose their own form. Meaning is no longer read in an immediate perception, the figure no longer speaks for itself; between the knowledge which animates and the form into which it is transposed, a gap widens. 6

Take, for example, the twisted form of Jesus as he is taken from the cross in Rogier Van Der Weyden’s painting, Descent From The Cross. Surrounded by strangely indifferent faces, the figure of Jesus becomes transformed into a image of divine indifference as well; a god that no longer speaks, but is silenced by the void now existing in being. Where once the identity of this fallen, forsaken creature was understood as part of a divine plan, that plan is shredded, and the blueprint of the universe is smeared beyond recognition. Below Mary’s arm, sits a skull, which in its own space creates a emptiness that speaks of death with no purpose. The skulls on the mount of Golgotha no longer have voices, but their silence is not without function. It is a silence that opens the mouth of the abyss, into which meaning has become shattered and dismembered. Any meaning now extracted from the painting must spiral down this cavern, grasping with delirium for any cleft that might breaks its fall. But the walls are shear, and the possibility for descent into hermeneutical madness is exposed. The artists of this time reflected this disaster in their work, which is most explicitly seen in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. His world was the world in which, according to Henri Focillon, the

stable universe, with its clear-cut edges, where everything has an air of being fixed for all eternity, totters and breaks, and its remnants hang fluttering in the air. The laws of humanism in God and the subtle architecture of the cosmos are shattered by a new force, by a demon of the Anticosmos. 7

This Anticosmos is the inversion of language. The referent, which once held the hand of the word and walked in the Garden with the Man, is unfolded and what it truly is, is revealed. The death of God did not kill the deity, but exposed the word as empty. This is what is most terrifying, and what can be seen in the decay of the gothic structure. What was once holy, becomes profane, and things that carried no immediate meaning begin to take on the eerie resemblance of life and divinity. But it is a divinity inverted:

The limits of the several realms of nature are transgressed; inanimate things take on life and the forms of life, objects fashioned by the hand of man assume man’s image, his face, his limbs, his restlessness and appetites. The divine order is assailed by a kind of frantic revolt, which is none the less inspired by a pious thought. 8

As the divine begins its collapse, the artist takes note, and begins a strange sort of idolatry, trying to uncover the sacred through an interpretation of objects that changes their very nature. There is a new Genesis 9, one which the artist must remake the world in his or her image, which is an image in which the divine has retreated. 10 What can be left but the profane?

Schizophrenia becomes our metaphor. For Gilles Deleuze, schizophrenia is the phenomena in which the world loses its surface. There is nothing but depth. But it is the body itself that reflects this state: “Everything is body and corporeal.” 11 Because it has no surface, the body “carries along and snaps up everything into this gaping depth which represents a fundamental involution.” 12 The word “involution” is a loaded one and must be unfolded, which is, in fact, what involution does. It unfolds itself to take everything in. It penetrates and is penetrated. For Deleuze, this is the schizophrenic body. This is the self as text, in which “there is no surface, the inside and outside, the container and the contained, no longer have a precise limit; they plunge into a universal depth or turn in the circle of a present which gets more contracted as it is filled.” 13 What does it mean for the self to be text that is a tangle of words, a tangle of insect thoughts like a pile of ants outside the hole to their hill? The insects are in a process of involution. One cannot distinguish one ant from the other, as they are one body, and yet a million different bodies, each changing and collapsing in a sea of red and black shiny waves.

Deleuze suggests that for the schizophrenic, the world “loses its meaning.” 14 This loss of meaning happens as a result of the following. Words become solid objects that directly affect the body. According to Deleuze, each word that the Schizophrenic encounters appears in capital letters. It is filled with itself, and it becomes a solid object. The solidity of the word is felt by the body as existing both outside and inside the body. But it suddenly loses sense the moment it comes into being. This is the paradox. As soon as the word becomes manifest, it becomes empty. And this manifestation happens in terms of the body. The word itself cannot be separated from the body, (much in the same way a word cannot be separated from a text), but once it is “pinned-down” to the body it loses its meaning: “But the moment the pinned-down word loses its sense, it bursts into pieces; it is decomposed into syllables, letters, and above all into consonants which act directly on the body, penetrating and bruising it.” 15 The word is destroyed because it no longer can convey anything: “Not only is no longer any sense, but there is no longer any grammar or syntax, either – nor, at the limit, are there any articulated syllabic, literal, or phonetic elements.” 16

This limit that Deleuze mentions is the limit of language as it reaches its straining point. The word, unable to be separated from the text (which is its wish, for there really is no longer anything to keep it there, no longer any referent to which it must make itself manifest, prove itself 17) is plunged deeper into the text, is melded to the text. But it cannot break through to the other side either, because there is nothing it is moving away from. This is the limit, that the schizophrenic must break through, where language must be let go. The word cannot rest gently on the body of the schizophrenic (text). To rest means to repose, to have found completion, to have resigned. But more than resignation, it would be a surrendering, a submission to the higher object, to the absolute referent. To rest on the body, the word would then assimilate itself and Mean Something. But instead it must break apart, and dissolve into the body, like sugar into water. As Deleuze explains:

The word no longer expresses an attribute of the state of affairs; its fragments merge with unbearable sonorous qualities, invade the body where they form a mixture and a new state of affairs, as if they themselves were a noisy, poisonous food and canned excrement. 18

And although the particles have disintegrated there is a still a lingering taste of something sweet, something that could have been, the god that every word hopes for. The word still swims inside the body, inside the text, teasing, and burrowing itself deeper, until it silently vibrates with an urgency to keep the cycle going. As Deleuze suggests, the schizophrenic keeps the word from completely disintegrating. It holds it in stasis. It does not force meaning, but forces it to stay at the crossroads, between pure meaning and utter dissolution.

Using the above metaphor as a foundational image, we might now try to imagine the self, walking the flatlands, words rising over the horizon like small birds, gaining form and weight as they fly closer to the subject. Each bird holds a promise of meaning, but like the sand at the feet of the wanderer, slip through the fingers. The birds cry and mock their way overhead, past the self to the hazing sun behind, leaving only strange trails of vapors. The self seeks to catch each bird, and tries to claim something in the void. But there is only more depth, and with each bird that slips away, another takes its place in the eternal struggle to find meaning. Mark Taylor calls this “serpentine wandering,” 19 and believes it to be a movement without purpose, without telos. But Taylor does not believe that hermeneutical madness must be the only consequence of this wandering. What he holds possible is “profitless play,” in which “the levity of comedy replaces the gravity of tragedy.” 20 As we saw, with the schizophrenic, there is no longer surface; it is given way to a terrible absolute depth, that can never be filled or transcended. Words only swim and infect, but never rest, never resolve themselves to either the reality of the nothingness, the finality of meaning, or to a dogma of language. But Taylor believes that one can stay on the surface, as long as play becomes the object of the wanderer:

In the absence of transcendence, interiority and depth give way to a labyrinthian play of surfaces. When nostalgia is gone and waiting is over, one can delight in the superficiality of appearances. 21

In this way, the text, in which the word has enmeshed itself, hiding, “waiting,” can renew its own surface without giving into Foucault’s warning of dogma. The surface does not have to hold the weight of anything any longer. Its depth still lurks below, but like a stone skipping over the calm skin of a lake, the words may play along the surface of the text, in a celebration of eternal wandering. This is our first taste of transgression, for language finds itself at its own limit, where the depth seeks to rip open the surface. The text no longer seeks interpretation, because there is no depth to uncover; there is only surface. To skate along thinning ice, one must in some ways deny the presence of the cold waters underneath. And so the text transgresses its own being, for by the very nature of it being text, it strives to dive below its surface. This is where the word wants to go. Because meaning is no longer found on the surface, it seeks to break through that surface, hoping to find another layer of skin that it can rest on. This is the eternal digging, the eternal excavation that the death of God imposes. 22 By staying on the surface, even though every thing it is tells it to go down, it skates across the surface of the text in an act of transgression, that saves the word from deteriorating completely into madness, into the schizophrenic body.

The schizophrenic body must assimilate the word so that it may have identity through the word. The body can only have identity through a supreme object, in the same way the word must have a referent to give it identity. But with the death of God, with the supreme referent taken away, what holds the body together, what holds the text together and what holds the self together? So the three are the same or are bound by the same plight: Schizophrenic Body=Text=Self. The self must perform the same actions as the schizophrenic body and the text; to make the word one with itself, to incarnate the word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 23 Before the death of God, the word was in its place, the symbol had its meaning, the signifier its signified. The decay had no yet begun. Before the death of God, the word was incarnate, but now the self must seek incarnation through interpretation, so as to keep the word in stasis until the return, until the End.

For Foucault, sexuality is the starting point for an understanding of transgression. According to Foucault, we see that the paradox of sexuality is that it no longer has the ability to be profane. Profanation must have something to desecrate, but sexuality is now an inward profanation, which “marks the limit within us, and designates us as a limit.” 24 Foucault uses the word “fissure” to describe something like a moat, that surrounds the self and shows what its limit is. We are held within the moat, and the moat designates the boundaries of the self. The division must take place within the context of the self for the world is “emptied of objects, beings, and spaces to desecrate.” 25 What sexuality offers is a “profanation without object” 26 that does not profane outside itself, outside the self, but rather is a movement inward. Profanation implies there is something to profane, pointing directly to the sacred. But a profanation that no longer needs the sacred to be profane acts directly on itself. For Foucault, what is transgression if it is not: “Profanation which no longer recognizes any positive meaning in the sacred – is this not more or less what we may call transgression?” 27 Transgression is not rebellion. It does not seek to break down boundaries or tear away limits. In fact, the limits are a necessary and reciprocal element. Transgression and limits could not exist without one another. When a limit is transgressed, there is only the uncovering of a new limit. Transgression does not want to surpass the limit, but “forces the limit to face the fact of its imminent disappearance, to find itself in what it excludes… to experience its positive truth in its downward fall?” 28 This, for Foucault is a movement of violence, not because it destroys, but because it reveals, “like a flash of lightening in the night,” 29 which does not shine from the outside, but is inside. Transgression is its own limit, denies its own limit, and reveals its own limit. But what is this limit? Is the limit in the self, or in the word?

Before the death of God, the Limit was possible. All things rushed towards the finality, the result of their being. In the infinite space of the nothingness, there still existed the hope of a Limit, the hope that language would reach its limit, and end interpretation. But the death of God denied self “the limit of the Limitless… in which nothing may again announce the exteriority of being, and consequently to an experience which is interior and sovereign.” 30 There no longer is a external reality towards which body-text-self may reach. This is why the schizophrenic body brings the word into itself. The experience with the word has to be interior: there is no exterior. This is also why transgression is act cast upon itself. There is nothing to desecrate, nothing to oppose. But there is another paradox. With the death of God, the infinity of interpretation, the limitlessness of body-text-self, is transfigured into absolute limit. The infinity of interpretations is its own limit. Its infinity is a limit because it is bound by the search for the absolute referent. This is why, for Foucault (and Bataille), God must stay dead. The only way to overcome the limit that the infinity of interpretations creates is to overcome the absence of God, which is

to kill God to liberate life from this existence that limits it, but also to bring it back to those limits that are annulled by this limitless existence – as a sacrifice; to kill God to return him to this nothingness he is and to manifest his existence at the center of a light that blazes like a presence – for the ecstasy; to kill God in order to lose language in a deafening night… and this is communication. 31

To bring back the limit is to bring back the sacred without God. The schizophrenic becomes an almost extreme metaphor at this point. To exist without God, without the language of God 32 is to affirm existence in the void. The word is subsumed into the body so that it will make the body real. But the word seeks its referent, and so is obliterated in the body that tries to hold it inside. Transgression wants to move beyond this. The word must be let go before it enters the body, before it merges with the text completely, and begins its descent into the depth. To return to the sacred, there must be a limit. The key then, is to affirm the limit without God. And this is accomplished by transgression, which as we saw, is only what it is in context to the limit it seeks to transgress. This limit can only be known through transgression.

Foucault saw Kant as being the prime suspect in this case. Following Kant, the return to the subject was the first step in the movement beyond the death of God. Because all knowledge was conditioned by a priori factors, what we know of the world empirically was really what we knew transcendentally. What this meant is that the construction of the empirical world was willed though transcendental knowledge. The subject was responsible for the construction of the world. This is not solipsistic, for the world still exists without the subject, but anything we can know about it was made experiential by transcendental categories. What is most incredible is that this will is free, and freedom is what makes possible moral and political ideas real. 33 For Foucault, the implications of this were staggering: “If transcendental ideas might become practical through the exercise of the mysterious and, strictly speaking, unknowable power of free will, by what rule could Kant (or society) limit the scope of this power?” 34 But for Foucault, Kant stopped just short of embracing the full ramifications of his project. Following Kant, there are no limits that cannot be transcended by the will. And this is where Foucault wants to go; to “an interrogation of the self.” 35

This interrogation of the self, is an interrogation of the limit and a movement towards recapturing the self, without God. But this movement involves taking the self to the limit, which is where madness exists. The self becomes the schizophrenic body in which there exists the possibility “for finally liberating our language” 36 from the need to seek external definition. And this is the most precarious of places to be. To try and prevent the word from seeking its reference is to risk losing self: “One cannot conserve the self without also holding on to God.” 37 But as we saw, the hope of transgression is to discover the identity of the subject, which is the identification of the sacred, without God. And this can only happen through taking self to the limits of the body-text-self. The word demands interpretation, for it can only reveal its identity through a hermeneutical process. The limit of this demand is what transgression seeks to surpass, and in so doing, brings body-text-self to its own limits where there exists “madness, the dream, and erotic delirium.” 38 We must turn around our compound word, body-text-self, and form it into self-body-text. We moved from the schizophrenic body, to the text, and finally to self. But now we must imagine self as text, and as body, which is what contains the limits. The language of transgression is a language that seeks its own limits in a strange suicidal run. But there is not death, only the “place where language discovers its being at the crossing of its limits: the nondialectical form of philosophical language.” 39

Foucault saw the perfection of this in the work of Georges Bataille, and specifically his metaphor of the upturned eye. In Bataille’s novel, The Story of the Eye, the eye is compared with the testicle, specifically that of a bull, which after the bullfight is traditionally given to a woman. In the novel, the woman-child Simone inserts the testicle of the bull into her vagina at the same moment a matador is impaled by a bull, losing his right eye:

Thus two globes of equal size and consistency had suddenly been propelled in opposite directions at once. One, the white ball of the bull, had been thrust into the “pink and dark” cunt that Simone had bared in the crowd; the other, a human eye, spurted from Granero’s head with the same force as a bundle of innards from a belly. 40

Both the eye and the testicle, in a moment of transgression, are brought together at the moment of death, the death of the bull and that of the Granero the matador. The eye exists precisely at the limit, where the “darkness within… pours out into the world like a fountain which sees, that is, which lights up the world.” This is also what the testicle does, and for Bataille, an egg as well: “Its globe has the expansive quality of a marvelous seed – like an egg imploding towards the center of night and extreme light… It is the figure of being in the act of transgressing its own limit.” 41

The hermeneutical descent is also encompassed in this metaphor, for lying behind the eye “there exists another and, then, still others, each progressively more subtle until we arrive at an eye whose entire substance is nothing but the transparency of its vision.” 42 And so as there is interpretation of interpretation, what is finally revealed, as in the schizophrenic body, is the Limit. But Bataille, according to Foucault, seeks to transgress even this limit:

Sight, crossing the globular limit of the eye, constitutes the eye in its instantaneous being; sight carries it away in this luminous stream (an outpouring fountain, streaming tears [semen?] and, shortly, blood), hurls the eye outside of itself, conducts it to the limit where it bursts out in the immediately extinguished flash of its being. Only a small white ball, veined with blood, is left behind, only an exorbiated eye to which all sight is now denied. 43

In Bataille’s own words:

I stretched out in the grass, my skull on a large, flat rock and my eyes staring straight up at the milky way, that strange breach of astral sperm and heavenly urine across the cranial vault formed by the ring of constellations: that open crack at the summit of the sky, apparently made of ammoniacal vapors shining in the immensity,… a broken egg, a broken eye, or my own dazzled skull weighing down the rock, bouncing symmetrical images back to infinity. 44

Here, then, is the return to exteriority without actual transcendence, without leaving the self. The eye is the word, which now can be subsumed into the self-text-body, and is finally obliterated. The schizophrenic is not allowed this luxury. The word for the schizophrenic is driven into the depths, but not only will it not rest, it will not die. It is the same for hermeneutical schizophrenia, that must dig into the text-self in an infinite descent into madness that allows no reprise and no finality. Transgression offers the hope for this finality, for by pointing out the limit, it exposes the possibility for the return of the Limit, the return of the sacred, without God.

What we saw took place in the Gothic decay takes place within the schizophrenic body, and in the self in its process of interpretation. The death of God reveals the Anticosmos in all its glory, and it this that must be reconciled. This is what must be made holy, lest self become the schizophrenic body and decay into hermeneutical nothingness. For Bataille, this Anticosmos is called the impossible:

Think about it though. Nothing can escape you now. If God doesn’t exist, this moan, choked back in your solitude, is the extreme limit of the possible: in this sense there is no element of the universe that is not under its power! It is not subject to anything, it dominates everything and yet is formed out of an infinite awareness of impotence: out of a sense of the impossible to be exact! 45

The Anticosmos, the limitlessness of interpretation, is the power behind everything. The impotence Bataille speaks of can be understood as the impotence of language to reveal God. And this is what we cannot escape, but what can be transgressed. As the self becomes text becomes body, the language of sexuality is the place by which this transgression can take place. This is what goes wrong with the schizophrenic body, in that it brings language below the surface, and where Taylor, for example, wants us to stay. The body is the text which is the self, and it is the language of the body which must be transgressed. This is what Bataille attempts in his novels. When sexuality is spoken, when it is exposed through its limits it “no longer serves as a veil for the infinite; and in the thickness it acquired on that day [it is spoken] we now experience finitude and being.” 46 What Foucault means is that before the language of sexuality was spoken by the likes of Bataille, 47 language was still the struggling towards the infinite, towards interpretation to discover the infinite in the wake of the death of God. But as language is brought to the body, to the surface, to the limit, the sacred is uncovered. But it is uncovered not as transcendence as it was once understood, but in the finite. A new ontology is created, one in which being itself is sacred without striving outside itself. Any profanation now must be directed towards that being, as body, as text, and most importantly as self.

The body is the place where God is transcended. By imagining the body as text-self, a new language, that of the body, is revealed, which is the exposure of limits. And it is only through the exposure of limits that the Limit is again possible. According to Foucault, by bringing language to the body, to sexuality (which is the experience of the body in its fullest), moves language away from the dialectical prison where Kant left it. And the paradox is that the language of the body, the language of the surface, is actually the loss of language, insofar as language is defined by its dialectical certainty. One might imagine a pool of water as dialectical language, a thin clear liquid, which after one adds mud (the earth, the body) is “thickened.” It is through this thickness that language begins to lose its movement into exteriority, and becomes interiorized. But the loss of language is not the destruction that the schizophrenic seeks. Rather, it is the inversion of language, a language that cannot be spoken, but experienced:

Perhaps this “difficulty with words” that now hampers philosophy… should not be identified with the loss of language that the closure of dialectics seems to indicate. Rather, it follows from the actual penetration of philosophical experience in language and the discovery that the experience of the limit, and the manner in which philosophy must now understand it, is realized in language and in the movement where it says what cannot be said. 48

But more importantly, for Foucault, this “difficulty with words” is where being is realized, where the subject uncovers itself as subject without object. This is fully realized in the scene from the Story of the Eye, quoted above. For Foucault, the penetration of the eye into Simone’s vagina, is the returning of the eye (langauge=self-text-body seeking the sacred outside itself) “back to its night, the globe of the arena turned upwards and rotates; but it is the moment when being necessarily appears in its immediacy and where act which crosses the limit touches absence itself.” 49 This touching of the absence is the acceptance of the self without God, of the text allowing the words to stay on the surface, and of the body letting itself be surface, which is the new Limit.


1.George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 224.

2. ibid.

3. Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Freud, Marx,” trans. Alan D. Schrift in, Transforming The Hermeneutic Context, ed. Gayle Ormiston and Alan D. Schrift (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), p. 64.

4. ibid., p. 67.

5. Michel Foucault, Madness And Civilization, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), p. 18.

6. ibid.

7. Henri Focillon, The Art Of The West In The Middle Ages, Vol. Ii (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1963), p. 176.

8. ibid.

9. ibid., p. 177.

10. In Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, The Last Temptation Of Christ, the father of Jesus is no longer able to read meaning into the signs around him, because they do not carry the singular implication he was accustomed to. He is unable to speak, and lays on his cot, a pathetic figure, drooling and sweating, able finally to emit a single word, the Word: “A-do-na-i, Adonai. Nothing else only Adonai…” The name of God, once filled with clear and distinct meaning, is barely audible, and once spoken is only a group of syllables, without form or ground. This is the decay left by the death of God, a hermeneutical space that is without surface, without soul. But the self, like Joseph, must continue to speak the name in the hope of finding meaning. See Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation Of Christ, trans. P. A. Bien (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), p. 12.

11. Gilles Deleuze, The Logic Of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), p. 87.

12. ibid.

13. ibid.

14. ibid.

15. ibid.

16. ibid., p. 91.

17. And yet, as we saw in Kazantzakis, there is also the hope that there is a referent. Language, by its very nature, demands an object. Lamp, cat, love, all need to point to something, all need to cling to something, lest they shatter without it.

18. Deleuze, p. 88.

19. Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 15.

20. ibid.

21. ibid., p. 16.

22. Foucault explains for Nietzsche, the interpreter must descend and be “‘the good excavator of the underworld.'” And yet, for Nietzsche, the excavation reveals that there is really no depth at all. “As the world becomes more profound under our gaze, one notices that everything that exercised the profundity of man as only child’s play.” See Foucault, “Nietzsche, Freud, Marx,” p. 62.

23. John 1:1

24. Michel Foucault, “A Preface to Transgression,” in Language, Counter-memory, Practice, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 30. Hereafter APT

25. ibid.

26. ibid.

27. ibid.

28. ibid., p. 34.

29. ibid., p. 35.

30. ibid., p. 32.

31. ibid., (italics mine).

32. ibid., p. 30.

33. James Miller, The Passion Of Michel Foucault (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p.139.

34. ibid., 141.

35. ibid., p. 142.

36. APT, p. 39.

37. This from Deleuze’s reading of Klossowski, in The Logic Of Sense, p. 294.

38. Miller, p. 143.

39. APT., p. 48.

40. Georges Bataille, Story Of The Eye, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1967), p. 65.

41. APT, p. 45.

42. ibid.

43. APT, p. 45.

44. Bataille, p. 48.

45. Georges Bataille, The Impossible, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1991), pp. 78-79.

46. APT, p. 51.

47. Although this paper didn’t speak of de Sade, he has been here in spirit.

48. APT, p. 51

49. ibid., p. 52

Peter Bebergal is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. He is currently at work co-editing a reader on the intersection of religion and popular culture. Peter is also a collector of American detritus from the ’40s and ’50s.