The Quest for Ecstatic Sovereignty: Georges Bataille’s Obsession with the Lingchi Photos

Culture and Dialogue 7 (2):213-236 (2019)
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Abstract

This essay considers the way Georges Bataille associates sovereignty with ecstasy through his peculiar emotive reactions to the photographic images of lingchi execution. Aside from the traditional views relating to political authority, I show how Bataille holds an idiosyncratic notion of sovereignty that is firmly connected with ecstasy, which is disclosed and best exemplified in his fascination with the lingchi photos with intolerable imagery of torture and cruelty. I argue that the reasons for Bataille to seek ecstatic experience is to overcome banality and servility derived from the instrumentalization of our culture, so as to allow sovereignty to come into being. Although cruelty is a persistent theme in Bataille’s writings, I point out that what makes the lingchi photos pivotal for him is that it is the mirror of somatic disintegration, extreme physical violence and cruelty that corresponds to the rupture of psychological integrity as the state of ecstatic loss of self in a metaphysical sense, reflecting thus the non-boundary of uncontained sovereign individual. Furthermore, in the experience of ecstatic self-loss, an empathic identity is built up between Bataille and the victim of the lingchi execution, which not only allows the conception of ecstatic sovereignty to be endowed with ethical implication but also makes it an alternative approach to the issue of intercultural communication.

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Chen Shi
Tianjin University

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