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If we are truly united…

Georges Bataille

“If we are truly united, if we are a real community,” Caillois assured us, “nothing will be able to resist us.” Caillois does not know that we are already a real community but, speaking on the spur of the moment, he expressed a belief which experience shows us is unfounded.

Since the community already exists for us, we can see the different sorts of resistance it will have to deal with.

In the first instance, there is no doubt that every action we have accomplished, in the sense that each one has connected us, at the same time separates us from other people, and it is inconceivable that it could be any other way. It is even possible to say that Caillois in particular is drifting away from us to the same degree that we are coming together. In this way he is led to think that we are moving away from our goal by isolating ourselves, whereas in fact our opportunity to exist is asserting itself.

It would be pointless to associate any sense of unease with this consideration of the fatal isolation into which we have entered, or the dividing wall that now surrounds us. However, nothing could better represent our “duty to be” than this wall. Thus constrained, we are forced to overcome the internal challenges we encounter. It is necessary to isolate oneself in order “TO BE”.

What meaning might the words TO BE take on for US? With what Minotaur shall we be living now, having got so far inside the labyrinth? What bull must me kill now that we have put on again the matador’s “suit of lights”? Doubtless it is out there, and will appear only slowly, in the course of time, shrouded in the inevitable darkness. But the patience required to counter avidity may in no way imply that we are postponing our actions, and the movement towards what is possible today is as strong as it has to be.

The first obvious fact becomes apparent within the labyrinth in which we find ourselves is that everything occurs here in the most contrary fashion. For example, the contemplation of death leads to violent joy. However, I would especially like to talk about personal depression because I do not feel it can still be viewed in the way it is outside, where destiny is an individual experience. Personal depression unquestionably admits the meaninglessness of everything that impinges on an individual’s existence, and consequently admits the meaninglessness of everything we might attempt as a ground. But at the same time, what we are trying to do would have no meaning if depression did not exist. Even if I had fairly clear understanding of what might result from such a situation, I would still wait before talking about it because I do not believe there is any other problem quite as laden with anguish as this one. Today I merely want to make a connection between this extreme anguish and the greatest possible irony. Not that I think that irony is the antidote to anguish and must be its cure; indeed, can anguish not persist and suffocate all existence within the limits of a very cruel irony? And why should everything necessarily be liberated? But when we connect an extreme joy to the terrible contemplation of death, when we connect irony to anguish, we accomplish a liberation that is greater than any other. We deliver religious existence to the naïve and outlandish violence of action. We shatter the gangue of Christian piety.

– Rome, 17 July 1937

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