“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.” In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy: from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice. Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.
It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.
Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest. The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.
The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular.
Bataille also explores the sacred – or what is perceived to be divine – the separation of body as worldly, flawed, and the spiritual unknowable attainable only once death occurs. Sacrifice and destruction allow us to see the process of the ultimate end of us, the transformation into the divine is both a physical and symbolic process, both in a community and as an outward manifestation of war and capitalism.
For such a short book this packs a lot into its few pages. Bataille get his points across succinctly. Rather than the modern context of religion this is more of an investigation into the building blocks of humanity’s awareness of self, and the struggle for a place in the order of things.