The Anus is the Night – Etienne Turpin
My buttocks are bare and my stomach is bloody.
Very blinding memory like the sun seen through the lids of closed eyes, in red.
– G. Bataille
Among twentieth-century French philosophy’s physical or bodily analogies to thought, one of the most provocative analogies appears in the writings of Georges Bataille and Gilles Deleuze: for both of these thinkers, anal sex – or, perhaps more correctly, ‘miraculous’ sexual manipulations of the anus – provides an analogy for philosophical thinking. It is the work of this brief essay to consider the role of the anus, its capacity for miracles, and its qualities of production within the philosophical imaginary and its attendant social milieu. As the area of the body most readily associated with impurity, filth, and disgust, by way of its associative relation to and instrumental delivery of excrement, it is surprising to find the image of the anus as the site of both philosophical production and cosmological reverie.
Deleuze makes the case for an anal image of philosophy in his the letter to the gay activist Michel Cressole, with whom he had contributed a text to the 1973 special issue of the journal Recherches, entitled: “Three Billion Perverts: Grand Encyclopedia of Homosexualities.” In a rather cutting defense of his apprenticeship within the history of philosophy, Deleuze scolds Cressole as follows:
The history of philosophy plays a patently repressive role in philosophy, it’s philosophy’s own version of the Oedipus complex: ‘You can’t seriously consider saying what you yourself think until you’ve read this and that, and that on this, and this on that.’ Many members of my generation never broke free of this; others did, by inventing their own particular methods and new rules, a new approach. I myself “did” history of philosophy for a long time, read books on this or that author. But I compensated in various ways […] I suppose the main way I coped with it at the time was to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.
Following this statement regarding the productive and compensatory role of his anal image of thought, Deleuze goes on to add a decidedly more Spinozist corrective: “Individuals find a name for themselves, rather, only through the harshest exercise in depersonalization, by opening themselves up to the multiplicities running everywhere within them, to intensities running through them […] it’s depersonalization through love rather than subjection” (Negotiations, 7). The anal image of thought is here reconnected to an opening up, a distention, a dilation that can only occur among relations of forces. As Deleuze makes clear, it is the shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that make the act of philosophy, like the act of anal sex, enjoyable. Given the impossibility of reproductive results (to extend and maintain the biological analogy), the productive joy of the anus, like the productive joy of philosophical engagement, does not have as a goal “re-” production, but instead a mutual contamination and depersonalization of forces and bodies in a frenzied entanglement. To conclude this analogy, we might suggest that the philosophical text is thus more akin to that hot, frothy mixture of cum, lubricant, and fecal matter that leaks from the anus following anal sex, which Dan Savage has defined, in a sentimental homage to the former Republican presidential candidate, as santorum.
While Deleuze’s philosophy can be understood as a productive, affirmative project in the tradition of Spinoza and Nietzsche, and while his oeuvre of santorum teems with affirmation, there is, surprisingly, one thinker too reviled for even Deleuze to thoroughly penetrate: Georges Bataille. While somewhat sparse, his remarks on Bataille betray the image of Deleuze as a perpetual anal affirmation machine. Before we consider Deleuze’s critical remarks on Bataille, however, we should first recall his own anal image of thought. In “The Solar Anus,” written in 1927 and published in 1931 by Editions de la Galerie Simon, in Paris, with illustrations by Andre Masson, Bataille provides a premonitory text relating the energy of the sun, the sexual movements and excitements of the cosmos and of terrestrial life, and the anus of an eighteen-year-old girl. Operating at the intersection between his sexually explicit literary works – think here especially of Madame Edwarda, whose eponymous hero demonstrates that her labia are the copula of God: “Madame Edwarda’s old rag and ruin leered at me, hairy and pink, just as full of life as some loathsome squid. […] “You can see for yourself,” she said, “I am GOD.” – and his later development of a theory of a general economy of expenditure in La part maudite, “The Solar Anus” provides a rich but conceptually underdeveloped reading of the cosmic and terrestrial with regard to their potency, fertility, and fundamental antagonism. Bataille writes,
Disasters, revolutions, and volcanoes do not make love with the stars. The erotic revolutionary and volcanic deflagrations antagonize the heavens. As in the case of violent love, they take place beyond fecundity. In opposition to celestial fertility there are terrestrial disasters, the image of terrestrial love without condition, erection without escape and without rule, scandal, and terror. […] The Sun exclusively loves the Night and directs its luminous violence, its ignoble shaft, toward the earth, but it finds itself incapable of reaching the gaze or the night, even though the nocturnal terrestrial expanses head continuously toward the indecency of the solar ray. (Visions of Excess, 8)
Then, just as the text reaches its most speculative cosmic crescendo, Bataille reintroduces the object (of desire) of his philosophical reflection: “The solar annulus is the intact anus of her body at eighteen years old to which nothing sufficiently blinding can be compared except the sun, even though the anus is the night” (Visions of Excess, 9). What to make of this anal copula of blinding nocturnal potential? If, for Deleuze, the anus is the non-“re”-productive site of philosophical apprenticeship, how can we characterize Bataille’s expressly “intact” anus as an image of thought?
In La part maudite, Bataille goes on to develop his argument against scarcity, which contends that, from the point of view of a general economy, the key problem on the tellurian surface is not the conservation of energy, but its expenditure [depenser]. Bataille offers the following reversal of the political economy of scarcity:
I will begin with a basic fact: The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically. (The Accursed Share, 15)
The “curse” of the accursed share is disturbingly simple: the earth is bombarded with so much energy from the sun that it simply cannot spend it all without disaster. Over the course of millions of years of solar bombardment, the creatures enslaved to this “celestial fertility” by way of photosynthetic-reliant metabolic systems are forced to become increasingly burdensome forms of life. By the end of the Ediacaran period, we find the emergence of animals with bones, teeth, and claws, and eventually even more flamboyant expenditures like tigers and peacocks, and later still, tall buildings. Or, as Bataille suggests in his short text “Architecture,” for the surrealist Critical Dictionary: “Man would seem to represent merely an intermediate stage within the morphological development between monkey and building.” With this morphology of expenditure in mind, let us now return to the anal image of thought.
What the theory of expenditure calls into question in its most precise philosophical reading is the division between useful and wasteful (flamboyant) practices; this is because in order for any theory of use value to be coherent, it must first restrict the economy, or field of operations, within which it is operating. The restriction of this field of energy exchange is a moral action inasmuch as it sets up the conditions for any action in the field to be read as either productive or wasteful. For Bataille, the general economy permits us to evaluate the terms of restriction as a means to call into question the cultural values and forms of social organization they engender. Because of this, the “anus of her body at eighteen years old” must be intact: as a potential for pure loss, pure expenditure of energy without reserve and without reproduction, Bataille is transfixed by the analogy of glorious or catastrophic expenditure in relation to the energy of the sun and the potential for escaping this curse as much as the curse of the intact anus.
Even from a quick fuck, one can get a sense of potential relations: however cursory our reading of the anal image of thought, we might now speculate, recklessly, fantastically, or otherwise, about Deleuze’s own hatred of Bataille who, despite their shared image of the anus as a site of analogical philosophical production, is repeatedly derided in Deleuze’s work. For Deleuze, the anus is occupied for an unexpected but productive, pleasurable activity: making monsters from the back retains the purposive and projective dimension of philosophy. We must admit it: a perverse patrilineality still retains the paternus that is the history of philosophy, just as Madame Edwarda’s distended labia is God. Bataille, for his part, seizes “her body at eighteen years” and gives himself to the “intact anus.” It begins to open, slowly at first, and then, increasingly distended, he draws it outside itself where it is prolapsed into an excessive surface of energy, circulation, contraction, and dilation, deprived of recognition as much as it is deprived of instrumental productivity in the frenzy of anal activity that cannot be properly termed productive or wasteful except under the imposed, external moral regime of value that restricts the general economy. Bataille’s image of the anus is thus an image of philosophy as an activity of loss, expenditure beyond meaningful recuperation, and acephalic annihilation. As an affront to the Deleuzian project of affirmation and becoming, thinking is, for Bataille, as E.M. Cioran has suggested, always “thinking against oneself,” where touching what was presumed to be intact initiates an unbecoming of the whole through a poromechanics of impurity, injury, and defilement:
There is no work that does not return against its author: the poem crushes the poet, the system the philosopher, the event the man of action. Some form of self-destruction, responding to his vocation and accomplishing it, is at work in the core of history; only he saves himself who sacrifices gifts and talents in order that, disengaged from his quality as a man, he is able to strut into being. If I aspire to a metaphysical career there is no price at which I am able to protect my identity, however minute are the residues that remain, it is necessary that I liquidate them […] One always perishes by the self that one assumes: to bear a name is to claim an exact mode of collapse. (The Temptation to Exist, 33-34).
To bear the name ‘philosophy,’ the activity of self-annihilation engages its desire for extension while admitting: “I want to have my throat slashed while violating the girl to whom I will have been able to say: you are the night” (Visions of Excess, 9).
Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess. (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1985).
Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share. (New York: Zone Books, 1989).
Bataille, Georges. My Mother; Madame Edwarda; and, the Dead Man. (London: Marion Boyars, 1989).
Bataille, Georges, Robert Lebel, Isabelle Waldberg, et. al. Encyclopedia Acephalica: Comprising the Critical Dictionary and Related Texts. (London: Atlas Press, 1995).
Cioran, E.M. The Temptation to Exist. (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1998).
Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations. (New York: Columbia UP, 1995).
Image: Detail from Decomposing Territory by Meredith Miller, 2012; image courtesy of the artist.
Etienne Turpin edits Scapegoat: Architecture | Landscape | Political Economy and teaches architecture, design research, and philosophy. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Deep Time, Design, Science and Philosophy, (forthcoming from MAP Books Publishers), and his research and writing is collected online at www.ANEXACT.org.
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