Yesterday, I sat down in a coffee shop with my journal, thinking of Georges Bataille’s The Story of the Eye. Although the narrator mentions that he was afraid of sex in one of the opening sentences, the narrator jumps into themes, through sex, of violence, religion, and eroticism, like a disgusting and sexy existentialism. As if nothing in the world matters, the characters in the book are caught up in transgression. It’s like a coming-of-age fever dream, as if breaking all of the rules (especially those of sexual propriety!) brings them closer to the heart of life. Transgression is linked with ecstasy for Bataille, through engagement with piss and cum and blood. Shit inspired Bataille: he saw his dad “shit a great number of times,” he says, explaining himself in the epilogue, as if this, somehow, justified this entire book.
So I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about an angle I could use to critique Bataille. I needed inspiration. And so I sat reading Jean-Luc Nancy’s critique, but I also needed to go to the restroom. If it inspired Bataille, it might inspire me!
And so I got the code for the restroom, and walked inside. Someone sat in the stall, so I waited next to the urinal. And another man walked into the bathroom. He saw me wait for the stall, asked me a question, then walked outside, back to his seat. The man in the stall heard, and promptly flushed the toilet and ran out of the bathroom. The stall door stood open and crooked on its hinge. And next to the toilet were empty slots in the wall. No toilet paper! In front of the toilet was a small trash can filled with brown paper towels (I wondered how the man in the stall walked from the toilet to the paper towel dispenser). No toilet paper anywhere in this room, no little boxes to find more. The air started to thicken. Shit odor filled the room.
I walked out. The line for coffee ran out the door. And so I waited until the line was finished, so that I could ask one of the busy baristas to help out with the bathroom, but the line constantly replenished itself. The man behind me walked into the restroom and did not come back immediately. Shit. The line grew.
I waited an hour before checking the restroom again. I lost track of time, and am not a child and have control of my bowels. I worked on photos, and managed my computer’s storage. Mundane things. Until finally, noticing that the afternoon light shifted in the room, decided it might be time to get up again and check the bathroom.
I punched in 245 to the bathroom door. The door creaked open. The walls, through the thick atmosphere, seemed to pull inwards. The air was nearly solid now and I could not breathe. I looked into the stall and there were 4 full rolls of toilet paper. And the trash can was filled with more paper towels. The stench was awful. And my eyes watered. I gagged and almost threw up, wanting to cry. Why didn’t someone close off the trash can that clearly did not belong in the stall; where was the air freshener?? And here, I began to think of Bataille’s ecstasy—as if this experience, by breaking us out of our routines of habitual experience, by transgressing our everyday senses of the world and bringing me, particularly, trapped on the toilet, was able to bring me out of my own isolated discontinuous subjectivity into a transgressive and unified world. And I thought, “what the fuck is wrong with Bataille?” for this was only the experience of disgust with no ecstasy: there was no freedom in transgressing my nostrils!
Jean-Luc Nancy, correcting Bataille, reminds us that there is no abyss beyond transgression; there is no infinitude; there is no absolute Other; there is no obscure, fascinating, bottomless immanence; there is only a clear Nothing that is not an abyss. If transgression is meaningful at all; if, following Bataille, we are thrust into an experience of intimacy beyond subject/object positions, “like water in water,” then it is only because we have delimited that sort of experience. Its constitution is not of the limitless and impossible, but, in full consciousness, an affront to the nostrils and nothing more.