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That Obscure Parallel to the Dialectic: Tangled Lines Between Bataille and Kojève

Boris Belay

Online publication date: 26 April 2010

To cite this Article Belay, Boris(1997) 'That Obscure Parallel to the Dialectic: Tangled Lines Between Bataille and Kojève', Parallax, 3: 2, 55 — 69 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13534645.1997.9522374 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13534645.1997.9522374


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That Obscure Parallel to the Dialectic:

Tangled Lines Between Bataille and Kojève

Boris Belay

Hegel may have concluded that the form of thought was a circular one, some other figures nonetheless insist in provoking, and even demanding reflection. Despite and increasingly against Hegel, we should like to follow and respond to a parallel. Here is the first meeting point of lines which run together further than the eye can see:

Bataille: One cannot say that Hegel failed to recognize the 'moment' of sacrifice: this 'moment' is included, at work in the whole movement

of the Phenomenology [

contained the whole movement of death, the final experience - that proper to the sage - described in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit was first initial and universal - he did not know how right he was, how exactly he had described the movement of Negativity. 1


But not having realized that sacrifice in itself

Derrida: Is it possible, as Bataille claims, to understand the movement of transgression under the Hegelian concept ofAufhebung, which as we have seen stands for the victory of the slave and the constitution of sense? Here we have to interpret Bataille against Bataille, or rather one strata of his writing against another. By contesting what in this note [from I'Erotisme] seems so evident, we might sharpen the figure of the displacement to which the whole Hegelian discourse has been subjected. In which Bataille is even less Hegelian tiian he believes. 2

Hegel did not know how right he was; Bataille is less of a Hegelian than he believes. These two lines might run in opposite directions, they are still enough of a mirror of one another to make us diink about them together, to make us reflect, then, on and from this figure of the parallel, of the reflecting mirror. And to make us wonder what it is that they themselves reflect, whether between or beyond them, there isn't something else here, unspoken, a third spectral image, the line of a shadow figure, tying them as much as it divides them. And of course, there is: more dian one in fact. But in die profusion of these phantom images, one stands out as more clearly missing between die two, more absent, as it were: precisely the one which has been deemed the eminence grise of the French philosophical scene between Bataille and Derrida - tiiis short description is enough to make him discernible through the shadows: it is Kojève, bien sur.

parallax 4 (february 1997): 55-70

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If in Inner Experience Bataille can say about Hegel: "[n]obody has deepened die possibilities of intelligence as much as him (no doctrine can be compared to his: it is the peak of positive intelligence)." 3 It is because of what he says about Kojève around the same time:

[fj ro m 33 (I think) t o 39, 1 attende d th e cours e whic h Alexandr e Kojève devoted to the explanation of the Phenomenology of Spirit (brilliant explanation, on a par with the book: how many times did Queneau and I leave the litde room astounded-astounded, stupefied). 4

Thi s praise for the Commentator 5 is reflected again in the bibliography of Theory of Religion:

[the Introduction to the Reading of Hegel\ is an explanation of


Phenomenology of Spirit. The ideas which I have expounded here are contained in it in substance. There would remain to make clear the connections between the Hegelian analysis and diis 'dieory of religion':

the differences between one and the other representation seem easy enough to overcome. 6

But if Bataille is less of a Hegelian than he believes, it is again because of that middle line in our opening parallel, which, it turns out also stands between the end points of each of the two beginning lines: complexified structure of the phantom image, whereby Kojève appears through Bataille and Derrida's reflecdons, but also in the lines between Hegel and Bataille and between Bataille and Derrida. For Bataille, Hegel did not know how right he was (how Bataillean he was), an d for Derrida, Bataille did not know how litde of a Hegelian he was (how right he was), because of the semi-hidden intervention of the commentary. Kojève stands tall for Bataille in relation to Hegel, but he also stands in between Bataille and Hegel, and he would stand in the way if his presence were full, if his activity were not one of translucence:

diat of the commentary whose essence is a disappearance in its (self-)revealing. Already in Theory of Religion, Bataille had sensed some of that:

Having had to acknowledge the work of Alexandre Kojève, I must insist on one point: whatever opinion one might have about the exactitude of his interpretation of Hegel (and I would care to give any possible critiques on this point only a limited value), diis Introduction, relatively accessible, is not only the primary instrument of self- consciousness, but the only means to approach the various aspects of human life - particularly the political aspects - otherwise than a child approaches the acts of adults. No-one could pretend to culture today without having assimilated its lessons.'

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Here again, Bataille is not parsimonious with his praise, but one must not be misled about its object: it is clearly Kojève's book, and not Hegel's 'positive intelligence', that is the necessary step for anybody's culture, for self-consciousness, for intellectual maturity. Despite Bataille's refusal to question the exactitude of the Introduction as a commentary on Hegel, he has marked the divide between the two. And in fact, as is often the case with Bataille, one should pay close attention to the way diis refusal is worded - for it is clearly just that: Bataille does not want to question the accuracy of die commentary, he does not want to enter into this kind of questioning, in die end he just does not care to do so: 'and I would care to give any possible critiques on diis point only a limited value'. Whatever the critiques may be on die question of literality, Bataille essentially wishes to pass over them. The important point is Kojève's book, its primary place in the intelligence of humanity. And thus, we can also trust that he weighed his praise too: Bataille is a man of words, but words as acdon - they each have a weight, an effect, and diat is why a book such as Kojève's can have such an importance. It too passes over the fancies of literal exactitude for the direct effects of truth, and who deals with die effects of trudi has to confront direcdy die power of rhetoric. If Bataille appreciates the book it is because Kojève appreciates diis fact, and this in turn explains much of what behind the written words - between die lines - des die two figures together.

If die connection between Bataille and Hegel is Kojève, the connection between Bataille and Kojève deserves attention diat goes beyond die evidence of die printed page, of literal precision and philosophical argumentation. Much of what is happening between die two men happens behind die scenes, in semi-obscurity which is precisely die point: die connecting line is diere, where it is difficult to discern what actually happens, where the exact word may not be found. And it is diere diat one may come to see that Derrida's line is wrong, but tiierefore right.

[Does this in turn mean it is irrelevant? But of course, it wouldn't be: even then, exacdy dien. For die logic at stake begins exacdy where die tension between diese terms is given the space to resonate, where diese opposites are given their value by dieir very communication.]

Wrong because Bataille does not care to use even such a central Hegelian notion as die Aujhebung with the necessary precision that would make die question of his Hegelianism stick. This can be illustrated witii a passage in which Bataille, asked about his influences, summarizes his early encounters widi Hegel in a telling way. This short history tells much of the complications underlying die relationship:

Th e first {of two articles o n Hegel}, written in collaboration with Queneau, is very old (1931), and it predates my true encounter with the work of Hegel, starting in 1933, when I followed the course by Alexandre Kojève (until 1939). These lectures, partly published under die tide: Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, had for me die greatest

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importance. The second article is devoted to the Hegelian philosophy

of Kojève. [

In a way Hegel's thought is the contrary of mine, but I

only find myself in it dialectically if I can say so, in a Hegelian way. 8


Again, we find here the main elements: no real Hegel before Kojève ("my true

encounter with the work

extensively, it turns out, at least in the context of the French philosophical scene in the twenties and early thirties. 9 But, as is clearly marked, it is then a matter of "Kojève's Hegelian philosophy', not of Hegel himself anymore. Even though - further turn - Bataille claims to be a Hegelian. This is where Derrida's question about his Hegelianism applies, but only to be confronted with the twisted logic of Bataille's own genealogy: Hegelian he is, despite the contrary positions he and Hegel hold, precisely because of his use of the Hegelian notion of Aufhebung. Yet Bataille knew better than to think one could extract the mechanism of the dialectic from its actual forms (and Derrida is more than right to show how demanding Bataille's confrontation with Hegel was, giving all its weight to the famous phrase from Guilty: "Often Hegel

seems to me obviously true [['evidence],

Bataille knowingly uses an un-Hegelian move to apply a Hegelian concept to his un- Hegelian position to render it Hegelian. Thus, if Derrida is right to claim that Bataillean transgression is not equivalent to the Hegelian Aufhebung, he is also wrong in his claim that "Bataille is even less Hegelian than he believes". This, because it is difficult to determine how much he believes himself to be Hegelian: that murky area of shadows beneath what is said evidendy holds a secrecy which Derrida can hardly pretend to possess securely (and it is not a matter of psychology against textuality,

either, as die secret is in the textual figure of Bataille, or rather 'Bataille', and 'Hegel', 'Kojève', 'Derrida', etc. - but Derrida knows this - and thus, Bataille might turn out

to be more of a Derridean than Derrida seems to think

Hegelian than he claims - in this Derrida is right - insofar as this Bataillean dialectic between die Hegelian and the un-Hegelian is the furthest from die Hegelian spirit, which would prefer to stick with only the Hegelian element. But if we are here back on die terrain of will, it is the Bataillean spirit diat ends up being die right one - diat spirit which claims that it is Hegelian and thereby, precisely, proves itself to be Bataillean.


even if he has written on Hegel, and read him relatively

but such obvious truth is hard to bear.'" 0 ). So,


But clearly Bataille is less

Does die complexity of die turns along the interwoven path between Hegel and Bataille's lines render die question of Bataille's Hegelianism irrelevant? What we have just said about Derrida's claim could imply so, but diat it is right and wrong shows exactly the contrary - a Bataillean contrary which Derrida in die end accounts for quite well:

Thus Bataille can only use the empty form of die Aufhebung, in an analogical manner, in order to designate - it had never been done before - die transgressive relationship which ties die world of sense to die world of non-sense. This displacement is paradigmatic: an intra-philosophical

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concept - the speculative concept par excellence - is forced in a writing to designate a movement which properly constitutes the excess of any possible philosopheme."

This is the real importance, the real necessity of Bataille's confrontation with Hegel:

in a relevance beyond right and wrong, beyond the relevance of such determinations.

What of Kojève, then? What of his position in the midst of this tangled web of dialectical and anti-dialectical turns? What of his role as commentator, shadow double supposed to cast light and straighten convolutions? What becomes of this (Hegelian?) opposition between clarity and obscurity - and what does Bataille make of it?

If there were such a close connection - indeed, friendship - between Bataille and Kojève (and it lasted until Bataille's death), it is because of an essential similarity of position in the antidiesis between light and dark, and this, despite the obvious differences in their intellectual careers. Indeed, being a professor, a commentator, and a public administrator were never options Bataille considered, except as examples to define himself against. But if Kojève was all three at subsequent moments of his life, that does not tell the whole story, and leaves obscured diat on which die friendship was based. Going from professor, philosopher and commentator to administrator does not mean, in Bataille's eyes, diat Kojève turned out like Hegel - as we will see, there is a reserve in Kojève's appropriation of Hegel which prevents die completion of the mimesis which die professional biography seems to imply. Never would Bataille say of Kojève what he wrote of the Philosopher:

Hegel, during his life, achieved salvation, killed satisfaction, mutilated

himself. All that was left of him was a broomstick, a modern man. [

no doubt he touched on the extreme, knew supplication: his memory leads him back to die abyss he approached, in order to nullify it'. Th e system is the nullification.'-


Kojève was never the broomstick, die empty instrument of knowledge which seems to be even more in die commentator's role, because of a reserve on his part, an area of secrecy in his interpretation which, while preventing him from achieving the recognition of his professorial peers, ' 3 is precisely what kept him closer to the Hegelian abyss summoned back by Bataille (the return of Hegel's repressed memory!). Kojève's secretive teaching of the secretive (what better place to hide the secret than in the circularity of knowledge coming to know itself, in another figure, parallel to that circle, precisely?) made him little of a professor, but neither did he mean to be more. He had received the degree necessary to teach only mondis before beginning die Hegel seminar, and that position itself was only achieved through the active intervention of Koyré, his friend, near relative (Kojève had married Koyré's ex-step-

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sister), and mentor in things academically French, who had begun the seminar series on Hegel's philosophy of religion. And having finished his Reading of Hegel six years later, he was not to teach again. His whole professorial output, then, this single commentary of a single book, 14 was even to be edited by somebody else: Queneau, the assiduous student and otherwise post-surrealist author of humorous novels and, of course, friend of Bataille. That this tenuous relationship to the professional aspects of professorship played its role in the connection between Bataille and Kojève is tellingly illustrated in the sketch diat leads to one of Bataille's laudatory descriptions of the Seminar already quoted - it is worth citing in extenso:

In my life, I have received only once a letter addressed - by error - to Professor Doktor Georges Bataille: die result of studies on ancient Indian coins

Also, I remember that there was a dme when I was called without humor a scholar. The field was Romanesque philology.

I forgot everydiing.

As far as philosophy, I went until the age of thirty without having followed one course, Not even in high school (it was wartime, I learned the bare necessities, quickly, from a textbook bound in green cloth). Later, Chestov advised me to read Plato.

From 33 (I think) to 39,1 attended die course which Alexandre Kojève devoted to the explanation of the Phenomenology of Spirit (brilliant explanation, on a par with the book: how many dmes did Queneau and I leave the little room astounded - astounded, stupefied). Around the same urne, dirough numerous readings, I kept abreast of movements in die sciences.

But Kojève's lectures broke

me, ground me, killed me

ten dmes. 15

Not a professor, not a scholar (he forgot everything!), not a philosopher - such is Bataille's connection to Kojève: in a knowledge that breaks, grinds, kills you, a trudi whose power is derived from its refusal to announce itself with ddes (the oh-so German/Hegelian Professor Doktor, for instance), preferring rather the cover of the commentary to deal underhandedly widi objects that resist posidve knowledge. ' 6 Whatever Kojève's official tides (and Bataille was a librarian, after all), the two men share in an attraction for a knowledge which defies categorizations, whose resistance to clarity (scholarly or otherwise) astounds the mind, stupefies the will-to-know. This common fascination opens onto all the themes about which the two see eye to eye:

diere, where the visibility falters and the eye, losing itsfunction, becomes no more and no less than the metaphorical object of die most unsighdy, obscure desires - of pleasure

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and the death drive, both, indeterminacy." Thus, the shared sense of tragedy: in Bataille's Kojèvian reading of Hegel against Hegel, the Phenomenology becomes the Romansbildungof knowledge coming to see what it cannot see, and that this will remain hidden from it as the circle closes on itself. And this tragic fate of knowledge derives from what Hegel had clearly seen before nullifying it: die power of Negativity as an essential moment of the real becoming rational. This sense of the tragic, this Negativity, are hallmarks of Kojève's reading of Hegel, defining characters of his commentary that also define his ties to Bataille: in these, as in the other Kojèvian themes, Bataille will follow him so far as to go beyond him.

For Kojève, the human moment is die moment of Negativity: it is the opposition to the natural, immediate moment, anthropogenesis happening when out of this opposition arises human culture. For Bataille, diis negativity is the essence witiiout essence of humanity, to die point that the moment of nature is essentially lost, and culture becomes that essential loss: values - artistic, etilica], political - find their only (lack of) ground in the abyss to easily patched over by the nam e 'Negativity'. In both cases, Hegel's immense contribution has been to open positive knowledge to its beyond, even as the negative moment of the dialectic was put to work in die service of die positive. In the ties between Bataille and Kojève, Derrida has seized on die right figure when he recalls die slavish character of Hegel's use of Negativity as diat which does die work of transition between the unformed (immediate) diesis and die sophisticated (mediated) synthesis, for the character of the slave is also, of course, crucial. In Kojève's reading, die master-slave dialectic is precisely die andiropogenetic passage: desire becomes human - in fact, becomes man - as it seizes onto itself, comes to know itself in coming to desire desire: another as odier who will recognize my sameness for me , tins essential negation of my immediacy. But between Bataille and Kojève, the circle of desire is eidier too short or too long: if I desire recognition all die way to my deadi, there is not enough self left to recognize, and if I keep my desire too close to itself (and save my skin: die animal envelope diat will receive the satisfaction), I close myself up into itself: become die tool of satisfaction. Yet die subject of diat satisfaction, 'who' seeks it through diat tool, remains ambiguous: eidier natural drives (they are not 'mine', as there is no 'me'), or andiropogenetic drives, where I become the tool of another whose satisfaction is now mediated. Either an animal, or a slave: diis is the unsatisfying result of the struggle for recognition, leading to the consequence that only die slave can - eventually, mediately - rise above animaliry, since the mediation of slavery in die circuit of the master's satisfaction is not enough to alienate him from diat closed circle, and he remains a human animal whose desires are his whole world. In this respect, Kojève emphasizes that it is death diat separates the master from the slave, but not in any simple way: true, die master triumphed because the slave shied away from death, but this is none of die master's doing (and doing [tun] is Negativity, is human): he would have struggled until deadi to achieve his desire, in other words, his desire ruled over him to his (still animal)

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death (which he did not fear, ie., understand humanly), such that it is only the slave's fearful recognition that made him a Master. Paradoxically, then, it is in die slave's recoiling from death that humanit y is born , an d so, Being-towards-death is andiropogenetic only insofar as it means a fear of death, a grasp of something beyond human life, an alienation from (self-)certainty, an ultimate stop to human desires. This is the slave, who labors to overcome his desires because he knows diere is something that can overcome them (him), labors then, on himself, and dius makes himself as he alienates himself by internalizing a fear of somediing he has not known, he cannot know. 18 (This is die secret power of death.) Bataille only radicalizes this role of anguish when he recognizes the slave as the instrument of culture because he ushers in die era of perversion: death drive beyond die pleasure principle, unsadsfacrion as the law of desire, struggle/erotism as die extreme of recognition/love. But diis displacement of die original/animal object cathexis is precisely the movement of humanity, tragic position where the labor of love is the work of mourning, as man realizes his terrifying animal finitude exactly insofar as he puts an end to his animality. The inspiration is clearly in Kojève:

The slave realizes and perfects his humanity by working in die service of the master. But his servile or slavish Work only has an andiropogenedc value insofar as it is born out of Anguish in front of death and is followed by the consciousness of die essential finitude of die one who serves by working. 19

The slave is not an animal because he works, he works because he is afraid of death, he is afraid of deadi because he knows he can die, he knows he can die because he is human, and he is human because he is not an animal. The Kojèvian circle of humanity is dius closed, and widi it, die circle of self-certainty: anguish, struggle, deadi are all put to work in the service of man's self-consciousness, and dius, more grandly, of die real coming to know itself as rational. The circle is closed, die human world is created, and we (humanity/universality/God) can see diat it is good: widi die rise of discursive diought and die self-consciousness of the slave, circularity finally rests only on itself, as even deadi has been put to work: to rest.

Man is die only being in die world who knows tiiat he must die, one can say diat he is conscious of his deadi: the truly human existence is an existing consciousness of deadi, or a death conscious of itself. Since die perfection of man is the plenitude of self-consciousness, and since Man is essentially finite in his very being, it is in conscious acceptance of finitude that huma n existence culminates. And it is the full (discursive) comprehension of the meaning of deadi which constitutes this Hegelian Wisdom, which ends History by giving Man Satisfaction. 20

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But there remains to be seen who, of Hegel or death, is the broomstick of the other. We already know Bataille's answer: Hegel "achieved salvation, killed satisfaction";

the tireless pursuer of

not go to the end of his role, shied away from the direct confrontation with the Statue of the Commander. Of course, one knows the Statute will appear, and knowledge is part and parcel of the drama, but this knowledge does not make the drama in and of itself because it is knowledge of that which will happen diat makes the tragedy, and thus the hero has to confront his fate to the end. But Hegel does not care for tragedy here (it has its proper place in the system, where it rests and does its job too), nor is he opera material: Bataille pictures him at work, professing, then at home, playing cards, resting.

truths (he must have them all), the philosophical DonJuan, 2 ' did

Hegel's desire is resolved in a knowledge which is absolute, which is the suppression of the - relative - subject that knows. One does not exist anymore in these condidons, history, first of all, is thought to be finished, and similarly, the life of the individual subject must be. If one thinks about it, never has anything been conceived that was more dead:

multiple life was the great game and the great error which the completion of this death required. Toward the end of his life, Hegel did not worry about the problem anymore: he repeated his lectures and played cards. 22

But if Bataille agrees (with Kojève) that in a sense the Negativity stops there, at the end of History and in the closure of self-consciousness, tiiere nevertheless remains for him an area of shadows, the ungraspable presence of a Negativity running parallel to the Negativity which Hegel had enslaved (having recoiled from its abyssal effectivity), something barely discernible through a blind spot in the System. With diis blind spot, the metaphor of the eye returns, playing much the same phantasmatic role of transition - communication, for Bataille - between two positively irreconcilable spheres, while, more generally but underhandedly, announcing the main lines of Bataille's very (impossible) project:

There is, in the understanding, a blind spot recalling the structure of

the eye. In the understanding as in the eye, it is difficult to detect. But whereas the blind spot in the eye is of no consequence, the nature of the understanding is such that the blind spot has more sense for it

To the extent that man itself is considered

in the understanding, I mean: an exploration of the possibility of being, the spot captures the attention: it is not a matter of the spot being lost in knowledge anymore, but of knowledge lost in it. In this way, existence closes the circle, but it can only do so by including the night from which it emerges only to return back to it. 23

than understanding itself. [


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Vision, as the sense of the eye, functions through the point of its blindness: the condition of its possibility. While much die same is true of the understanding, the organ of sense, die consequences are much deeper: it is sense itself mat is abyssally questioned as it turns itself onto its own basis and asks the question of the sense of sense. This summary of the Bataillean question, a secretive manifesto for those who can read it, is nothing if not a radical reformulation of die humanizing power of Negativity, as die power to question oneself, to ask what I is - in die end. Again, Bataille begins with the Hegelian Negativity, and ends with it, for die Negativity at stake is nothing - nodiing more than Negativity itself, die rest, after the end of the story, of the negation of die negation. Predictably useless, the Mgativite sans emploi that remains, if it is experienced as die Seducer confronts his end, does not rest, does not allow for rest - not at the brink of deadi. This is made as clear as it can be in a confrontation with Kojève, cast in the role of the intercessor:

I admit (as a believable supposition) that history has already ended (except for the denouement). Still, I see things differendy than you do In any event, my experience, lived with much care, has led me to diink tiiat I had nodiing more 'to do'. (I wasn't ready to accept it, and, as you know, only resigned myself to it after having tried my best.)

If action (die 'doing') is - as Hegel says - negativity, die question remains whedier die negativity widi 'nodiing left to do' disappears or subsists as 'negativity without use' [Négahvité sans emploi\ : personally, I can only follow one path, being myself precisely this 'negativity widiout use' (I couldn't define myself in a more precise fashion). I agree that Hegel may have foreseen this possibility: at least he did not situate it as die endoi the processes he described. I imagine that my life - or, better yet, its abortion, the open wound diat is my life - in and of itself constitutes die refutation of Hegel's closed system.

[ ]

I add diis last consideration: for phenomenology to have a sense,

Hegel also had to be recognized as its author (which probably only takes place in a serious fashion in your work), and it is evident diat Hegel, because he did not assume all die way his role as man of 'recognized negativity', did not risk anything: dius he still belonged, in some sense, to the Tierreich.-*

Thus, if Bataille, aborted, facing die deathly negativity that rules over him and signifies die essential finitude of his usefulness (to die system), sees himself (becomes conscious of himself) as the gaping wound diat disproves Hegel, as die reverse stigmata on diis Modern Christ, he does not preclude diat further prophets may appear after the complete revelation of Truth. Indeed, Kojève is here portrayed as one such step beyond die Master: slavish commentator that recognizes more than die master text when it recognizes the Master as Master - and nothing more. Bataille, himself the

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further step that disproves the believing Thomases (including Aquinas, through his Summa Alheologica) when he bares himself as wound, recognizes that the work of the Slave does not end with the work for the Master, that the commentary adds another parallel figure to the original one, and that this rest - what is left over after the completion of the whole circle - disturbs the rest of the whole. Mastery (of the (Hegelian) moment) is displaced by sovereignty (of the (Nietzschean) instant) when the sleep of the Master becomes uneasy because of troubling dreams, phantom images, recurring nightmares that linger on in the light of reason only long enough to prove unseizeable by it. In the end, there remains something, besides playing cards: the sovereign choice that comes after the end, when it has no more possible utility than itself as itself: sovereignty as the simulacrum of Mastery.

Clearly, it is Kojève's Introduction - whatever the critiques may be about his reading of Hegel - that is the 'primary instrument of self-consciousness', the mature step beyond the childish (animal, Tierreickisch) conceptions of humanity. Bataille's 'true encounter with the work of Hegel' then only takes place when he goes beyond it. With Kojève, he discovered the importance of systematically coming to terms with systematicity, while in terms of philosophical themes, the influence remained more limited. Indeed, the Reading stresses man as essential Negativity, the necessity of a 'struggle for pure prestige', the formative moment of the consciousness of death, and the determining role of the slave, all hallmark Bataillean themes, but those had already been explicit in articles published before Kojève's seminar began, most importandy in "The notion of spending" in La Critique Sociale ofJanuary 1933. Bataille cleariy found strong echoes of his major ideas in the lectures, developed in a different and no doubt more philosophical setting, and thereby was able to appreciate the role Hegel could come to play with respect to his work. But this role remains a negative one, in parallel to the opposition of the slave to the Master. Acting as catalysts, Kojèvian notions such as the anthropogenetic rise out of animality or the End of History, only seem to have precipitated a reinforcement of Bataille's position, and arguable even the 'négativité sans empio? however bound to the Hegelian discourse, was just another avatar of the multiple formulations of the 'insufficiency of the classical principle of utility'. Consequendy, by 1938, returning in the framework of the Collège de Sociologie to the earlier influence of Freud and Mauss, Bataille still acknowledges the importance of Kojève's Hegel, but the enthusiasm of the discovery has given way to a now strangely flat critical position:

Hegelian phenomenology represents the mind as essentially homogeneous. But the more recent results on which I rely agree in their establishing a formal heterogeneity between the different regions of the mind. It seems to me that the marked heterogeneity established between the sacred and the profane by French sociology and between


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the conscious and the unconscious by psychoanalysis, remains wholly foreign to Hegel.

Thus, there would be no use for us in repeating or interpreting the Phenomenology of Spirit, as Kojève, in fact, does in a masterful way at the [Ecole des] Hautes Etudes. Negativity, among other objects of the Hegelian account, no doubt remains a representation that is rich, violent, and imbued with a great descriptive value, but the negativity of which I wish to speak is of a wholly different nature. 25

On the surface, the opposition is now very clearly marked: the negativity in question is of 'a wholly different nature' than Hegel's Negativity. This is not so surprising in this context though: even if the Collège proposes an active, even virulent sociology, it still remains a mostly pedagogical organ, or at the very least, z public one. So, here we return to a scene that is much more appropriate to Derrida's claim about Bataille's Hegelianism, but this only happens at the expense of Kojève, relegated again to the shadows of the commentary, the intermediary between the statement and its dépassement. In this (open, public) scene, responding to a Hegel that remains Kojève's, Bataille nevertheless passes over the commentator's role, leaving in obscurity that which has 'no use'. But of course, by now, after so many turns and returns of this tangled logic, we know better than to tiiink that Bataille is ever done dealing with the useless and the obscure. If the scene and its logic are given to be so public, it is at the very point were Bataille sinks more deeply into the secret elsewhere. [Where? - elsewhere: the secret is always there.] And even as he passes over and goes beyond the commentary in his response to Hegel (precisely as he passes over the question of the exactitude of the commentary), Kojève is maintained in an unspoken but very Bataillean dialectic: it is necessary and useful to respond to Hegel, but it is all the more necessary to go beyond that utility and recover the essentially human element of communication and friendship. The hidden role of commentator obscures but does not foreclose the possibility of a relationship that cuts across systematic determinations, and behind the veil of shadows, Bataille shares more with Kojève than an explicit thematization reveals.

The story does not end then, not with Bataille's response to Hegel. For, if Bataille has reversed the positions of the author, the commentator and the reader, giving a positive-transgressive account of each step away from the original, Kojève's position as the medium of this relation is more murkily complex than foreseen. Indeed, Kojève goes beyond the words of the Master in several self-conscious ways (beginning with the fact that his whole interpretation is explicitly premised on the revelation of what Hegel himself kept secret, for instance, that Napoleon marked the End of History), and considers "the question of whether Hegel actually says what I claim he says is a childish one". 26 So the commentator explicitly goes beyond the Master, but he may

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well go beyond his audience too - Bataille included - as the obscurity diat surrounds his Reading spreads in one direction as much as the other. And so, it might well be that the middle step gets the last word in the end - or at least one that goes as far beyond positive knowledge as any other, in that undecidable shadow of Negativity, in the never fully revealed secrecy beneath circularly explicit and self-conscious knowledge.

Even the revelations he makes when confronted direcdy cannot dispel these shadows:

I taught a course in philosophical andiropology using Hegelian texts,

but saying what I considered to be the truth, and dropping what seemed to be, in Hegel, an error. Thus, for example, by giving up on Hegelian monism, I knowingly strayed from this great philosopher. Moreover, my lectures were essentially a work of propaganda, meant to be striking.

This is why I consciously stressed the role of die master-slave dialectic

One small remark, though. The terms 'sentiment of self and

[ ]

'self-consciousness' are diose of Hegel, who says explicidy that, unlike man, the animal never moves beyond die 'sentiment of self. The term 'struggle for pure prestige' indeed is not Hegel's, but I believe

diat this is only a matter of terminology, as all I say applies perfecdy to what Hegel calls die 'struggle for recognition'. As for my theory of the desire for desire, it is not to be found in Hegel either, and I am not sure that he saw the matter very well. I introduced die notion because

I meant to do, radier than a commentary on the Phenomenology, an

interpretation of it; in odier words, I tried to find die buried premises of the Hegelian doctrine, and to construct it by logical deduction from these premises. The 'desire for desire' seems to me one such fundamental premise. 27

The last word then, for Kojève, in a "Preface to the work of Georges Bataille" diat is as much an introduction as a conclusion:

In any event, die pages diat follow have their place beyond the Hegelian circular discourse.

There remains to be seen whedier diey contain a discourse (which

would, in diis case, amount to a refutation), or whedier it is a verbal form of contemplative Silence mat is to be found in diem. Yet, if there is only one possible way to say die Truth, diere are innumerable ways

to leave it unspoken. 28

And, the figure of the parallel still insisting in the intimacy of die unspoken, Kojève reaffirms the obscure possibility of a secret connection with Bataille: "I am more and more inclined to think that the only possible attitude with regard to that of the 'Hegelians' is the 'silent' attitude which is yours." 29

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Georges BatailJe, "Hegel, death and sacrifice",

in CEuvres Compiila, voi XII(Paris:

Gallimard, 1970-

1988): 338-339 (hereafter, all references to Bataille's

work will be given in th e CEuvres Completes pagination, as a Roman numeral for the volume followed by an Arabic numbe r for the page; throughout, all translations from French are my own). -Jacques Derrida, "From restricted to general economy: a Hegelianism widiout reserve", in L'Are "Georges BataiJJe", 32 (1967): 43.

3 Georges Bataille, Inner Experience^: 128.

' Georges Bataille, notes to On Metzsche, VI: 416. The laudatory terms are difficult to translate:

(explication "

combien de fois Qucneau et moi sortimes suffoqués de la petite salle - suffoqués, cloués)."

4 When 'the peak of positive intelligence' was Aristotle, he was 'the Philosopher' according to scholastic shorthand, and Averroes, 'the Commentator' - great figure in the shadows of the

former. It is very much the same place that Kojève holds in our Hegelian context, clearly deserving the distinction of the silent capital.

s Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion, VII: 358.

; Ibid., Bataille, Theory of Religion, VII: 358.

8 Bataille from an unpublished draft for a letter from 1956, responding to a query by the editor of

a German book on contemporary literature (op.

cit., Bataille, VII: 615). Th e two articles mentioned and sent with the response, are "Critique of the foundations of the Hegelian dialectic", and "Hegel, death, and sacrifice", the article on which much of Derrida's argument is based.

9 On that topic, the most direcdy telling source is

Queneau's article: "Premieres confrontations avec Hegel", published in the memorial issue of Critique devoted to Bataille (195-196 (August/September 1963)). Besides the article from 1932, "Critique of the foundations of the Hegelian dialectic", we know from the list of Bataille's borrowings at the Bibliothèque Nationale that he had some acquaintance, as eariy as 1924, with Hegel's works,

including the Philosophy of Spirit, the Logic, and the Lectures on the History of Philosophy (cf. op.cit., Bataille,

XII: 549-621).

followed some of the ones his predecessor, .Alexandre Koyré, had taught in 1932-33 on 'Hegel's religious philosophy'.

geniale, à la mesure du livre:

.And before Kojève's lectures, he had

10 George Bataille, Guilty, V: 351.

" Op. cit., Derrida, "From restricted to general economy", 44.

'- Op. cit., Bataille, Inner Experience, V: 56.

" And how many have since made their careers by

showing where Kojève missed the literal Hegelian mark? However necessary a readjustment of the reception of Hegel in France after Kojève's revelatory lectures may have been, it is probably too great an honor for the Commentator that somediing like an academic specialty congealed around disproving his Reading. " Th e point here has to do with Kojève's production while a professor: the list of his publications during this most intellectually productive period of his life seems to imply his professorship was entirely devoted to the (oral) composition of the Reading- much as Hegel looked at his own lectures as the actual exposition of the System, to be collected and published as his Opus. Between 1933 and 1939, besides various reviews for Koyré's Recherches Philosophiques, Kojève only published three articles: one on Bavink's philosophy of science, a summary of his diesis on Soloviev's religious philosophy (both in 1934), and the commentary on the master-slave dialectic (1939), later published as an introduction to the Introduction to the Reading of Hegel.

15 Op . cit., Bataille, VI: 416. With respect to die issue of each character's relationship to professorship, it is worth mentioning here Derrida's response to Bataille's own attitude (in this case, toward Heidegger, "professor, very serious professor"): "I hope that my 'deconstruction' of Heidegger's academic and political experience is more effective than Bataille's, because I belong to the Academy, because I am not in the situation of the independent avant-garde which says; well, this


is a professor

No, I think one must work


widiin, up to a point. I am not seeking to

defend my profession against Bataille, whom I admire of course. But on this very point, he did "

not go far enough with Heidegger


conversations with Russian philosophers in Moscou AIler-Retour (Paris; ed. de l'Aube, 1995): 139-140).

16 When Bataille deems Hegel 'the peak of positive intelligence', he means it forcefully and precisely, but he does not mean diat the circle of knowledge was closed with die Phenomenology, radier, the circle may be closed - it had to be: 'the system is the nullification' - but knowledge remains open, abyssally.

" T o use these categories for example; but as

Barthes has shown, the metaphor of the eye in Bataille denies such classificatory schemes bv

gliding over and across them: the unconscious

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regains its rights - its rights beyond the Law - when displacement, Freud's original insight into that

which cannot be seen, over-rules the later schematizations, when Bataille tells the story of the eye that turns into a testicle, the orb of light

becoming the bestial

ball - amon g others (cf.

Roland Barthes, "La mètaphore de Tail", Crilioue

195-196 (August/September


18 As the article on Soloviev shows, diis relationship between work, the unknowable, humanity and

history was a persistent concern of Kojève's since his Heidelberg years (studying widi Jaspers). His analysis of Soloviev's religious thought centers on humanity's becoming universal and Godly through its historical work of overcoming the distance between the dual aspects of the Divine: absolute and changing. This connection with Kojève's later Hegelianism is explored in Michael Roth's Knowing and History (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988): ch. 4.

15 Alexandre Kojève, Introduction à la Lecture de Hegel (Paris: Gallimard, 1947): 571-572.

20 Ibid., Kojcve, Introduction, 571-2. "In Bataille's catalogue of eighteenth century libertines, DonJuan is as important as any of Sade's characters, and this because the Seducer and the Sadean libertine play similar but reversed roles:

whereas die systematic, encyclopedic enterprise of the Marquis drives him to a tragically impossible closure, Don Juan embodies the figure of tragedy from die beginning, which he then has to carry systematically to its end: the diree resounding No! in the very face of a death he defied knowing it was beyond him. Besides die references to the "Diary of the Seducer", Don Juan's importance in Bataille's texts of the diirties is clearly marked in, among others, the introductory text of Accphalc, "La conjuration sacrèe", where the opposition to Hegel is echoed again: "more than anything else, the overture to Don Giovanni des what I a m given of existence to a defiance that opens me to a rapture beyond the self. At this instant, I see this acephalic being, the intruder which two equally taken

obsessions are composing, becoming die 'Tombeau

de Don Juan'." (Op. cit., Bataille, I: 446. Here 'Tombeau' refers to a classical form of a musical or poetic composition written in homage to a deceased, as much as to die tomb itself.)

22 Georges Bataille, "De l'existentialisme au primat de l'évidence economie", XI: 282.

33 Op . cit., Inner Experience, V:

21 Letter to Kojève of December 6, 1937, published (except for the last paragraph) in op. cit., Guilt)/, V:

369-370, 564. 25 Conference of February 5, at die Collège de Sociologie, op. cit., Bataille, II: 323-324. It is worth noting in diis respect that Kojève did participate, if less than Bataille wished, in the Collège de Sociologie, giving a lecture on "Hegelian Notions" on December 4, 1937. It is in response to this presentation that two days later, Bataille wrote die letter on 'negativity without use'.

26 As Kojève puts it blundy in a marginal comment to an article attacking the literaiity of his reading (cf. Jea n Michel Besnier, La Poliàque de l'Impossible (Paris: La Découverte, 1988): 58).

2? Letter of October 7, 1948 to Tran Due Thao, who had reviewed the Introduction for Les Temps Modernes (cited in Dominique Auffret: Alexandre Kojève: La Philosophie, l'État, la Faide l'Histoire (Paris:

Grasset, 1990)). On e may wonder, in this flurry of secrecy, irony and rhetoric, whether die distinction Kojève makes here between interpretation and commentary is itself any more than "a matter of terminology", even when he explains it further elsewhere as die move from the thought to the text (interpretation) vs. that from the text to die diought (commentary) - a distinction probably hard to maintain for a trained dialectician (cf. op. cit., Rodi, Knowing and History, 118).


28 Alexandre Kojève, from an unused "Preface à l'oeuvre de Georges Bataille", L'Arca (May 1950), (Paris, 1971).

25 Utte r to Bataille ofJuly 19, 1959, cited in Michel Surya, Georges Bataille: la mori à l'ceuvre (Paris:

Gallimard, 1992): 233.

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