Was Georges Bataille (1897-1962) a hero of transgression? There is quite a persistent tendency in the last decades to describe Bataille’s work and his life as one of the key examples of the strive for a certain relentless liberation and excess typical of 20th century culture and politics. One finds this tendency especially in the more superficial, often intuitive reception of his writings, in philosophy, literature, music, art, and the theory of literature and art. Surely, Bataille’s thinking is radically experimental, and in this sense also vulnerable. But it has little to do with a plea for transgression.
If any label applies to this difficult and ambiguous author, then it would not be that of a thinker of free excess, but that of a thinker of the limit: that is, of the impossibility of free, limitless transgression. This comes to the fore in his complex but mostly polemic relation with surrealism and its ideals in the 1920’s, in his critical analyses of fascism in the 1930’s, in his long studies of the aporetic experience in his so-called ‘atheological works’ of the 1940’s, and explicitly in his theory of eroticism in the 1950’s.
Laurens ten Kate will offer an introduction into Bataille starting from this focus on the limit as a key notion in his thought. He will demonstrate – and visualize – how Bataille’s complex rapport to Christianity determines this ‘liminal philosophy’ to a large extent.
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Laurens ten Kate (1958) holds degrees in theology and philosophy. He is currently an associate professor in the philosophy of religion and in theology at the University for Humanistics, Utrecht, the Netherlands. In 2001 he published Flight of the Gods: Philosophical Perspectives on Negative Theology (in collab. with Ilse N. Bulhof, eds.), and in 2012, in collab. With Jean-Luc Nancy and others, Re-treating Religion: Deconstructing Christianity with Jean-Luc Nancy. At present he is preparing a book on ‘Instances of 20th-Century Atheology’. His dissertation on Bataille’s modern theory of the ‘sacred’ (1994) was presented to the Catholic Theological University, Utrecht, where he taught philosophy of culture for several years. He publishes in the fields of socio-political philosophy (e.g. the ‘paradoxes’ of solidarity), of ethics (e.g. on Foucault’s later works) and mostly of the philosophy of religion (e.g. the relation between modernity and religion; the deconstruction of monotheism; the work of Schleiermacher and Barth; Sloterdijk’s theory of spheres). He edited and co-edited Dutch volumes on Bataille, and on Blanchot (Het wakende woord. Literatuur, ethiek en politiek bij Maurice Blanchot, Nijmegen: SUN 1997; in collab. with Annelies Schulte Nordholt and Frank Vande Veire, eds.). Until recently, he was post-doc reseascher at the Theological University of Kampen, theNetherlands, and a visiting research fellow at the Heyendaal Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Sciences, Religion and Culture (University of Nijmegen). He wrote and edited a new Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Dutch; 2007). He is also a publisher of philosophy books at the academic publishing house Boom,Amsterdam.