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Friday, November 2 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
3.B. Chasm & Epistemology

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PANEL: Chasm & Epistemology

"Born Stinking out of the Thigh of Nietzsche:' The Connections and Communications of Georges Bataille and Aimé Césaire"
Tim Lewis
University of La Verne

André Breton's Prolegomena identifies Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, and Aimé Césaire as the three most exceptional Surrealist thinkers. Fascinatingly, while Césaire's explosive Discourse on Colonialism directs special attention to the colonialism of Caillois, there are many 'chattering intellectuals' who go unnamed in Césaire's 'dossier' of the 'enemies' of 'Progress.’ Taking Césaire's critique of the Western Academy seriously requires that those dead names (re)emerge. This paper theorizes that the otherwise nameless thinker 'born stinking out of the thigh of Nietzsche' and the final figure in the Breton's Surrealist trinity is fact Bataille. Following this theory, I take on a three-fold task: 1. Formally establish the relationship between Césaire and Bataille (as well as each's off-shoot movement from Breton's Surrealism) through the creation and examination of an extensive historical and literary archive; 2. Detail the justification of Césaire's critique of Bataille and the wider Nietzschean renaissance that Bataille catalyzed as well as Bataille's un-named presence in Discourse; and 3. Discuss the contemporary implications of the connection between Césaire and Bataille for Surrealist anti-colonial scholars, activists, artists, and movements.The goal of this paper is not render Bataille's theories of excess, love, and nonknowledge as always already ruined by colonial epistemologies, nor is it an attempt to save Bataille's bones from the 'poisoned' plot of Europe. Instead, this paper represents an attempt at a more opaque meditation on the specifically colonial (not simply primitivist) aspects of Bataille's Surrealism and the anti-colonial obligations for our own Surrealist endeavors.

"Breaking Off: Monnerot’s Networks and the Work of Fragmentation"
ohn Westbrook
Bucknell University

Jules Monnerot published important studies just after the war: La Poésie moderne et le sacré (1945), a study of surrealism hailed by Breton, Bataille and Blanchot; Les Faits sociaux ne sont pas des choses (1946), an anti-Durkheimian methodological treatise; and La Sociologie du communisme (1949), an analysis of the resacralization of politics in the 20th century. When asked about this extraordinary output, Monnerot replied: “En fait, je n'ai voulu écrire qu'un livre, et tout ce que j'ai écrit, ça a été des morceaux tombés de ce livre…” From the 1930s to the 1980s, Monnerot produced a series of “fragments” that he placed under the sign of the “problème interrompu” posed by Bataille’s College of Sociology: that of the sacred’s ability to forge community in contemporary society. Creating his absent work with these fragmented responses to an unanswerable question Monnerot embarks on trajectory from Martinican surrealist and Marxist in the 1930s to the extreme right in the 1970s. My purpose is not to reconstruct Monnerot’s absent Work from these fragments. Instead, I trace the work of fragmentation driving his intellectual commitments. For Monnerot, breaking off from communities (first from Surrealism and then the College) liberated the discursive and epistemological fragments with which he could provisionally mark the shifting contours of the sacred’s absence and repeat the interrupted question posed by the College. His relative absence from contemporary critical discourse—the interrupted question that is Monnerot—reflects his potential to fracture narratives of the interwar and postwar intellectual fields.

“This Place of Total Ambiguity: Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm"
Anna Watz
Linköping University

In an article in New Literary History (2010), Griselda Pollock suggests that the 1970s, when experimental art practice (and, I would add, literary practices) intersected with psychoanalytic/poststructuralist feminism, ought to be considered a distinctly feminist avant-garde moment – one which “resum[es] the broken thread of earlier avant-garde moments.” The key characteristic of this moment, for Pollock, is its political-aesthetic project of representing or theorising “the feminine” (or in Kristeva’s terminology, le féminin), which can be understood as “the haunting excess of a limiting phallocentrism.” Taking my cue from Pollock, I read Dorothea Tanning’s novel Chasm as part of such a feminist avant-garde, concerned with feminine difference or excess. Chronicling the passions, obsessions, and fetishistic desires of a handful of characters during a weekend visit to the Arizona desert, Chasm turns on the tension between curiosity and the secret. The titular chasm, suggestive of the seductive but deadly setting of the novel as well as the magical, interior childhood world of the protagonist Destina, encapsulates this tension. I will show that the chasm, in its unresolved contradictoriness, is aligned with “the feminine”: the ungraspable otherness within all speaking subjects. Drawing on Catriona McAra’s recent excavation of the overlapping layers of Tanning’s texts (from short story in 1949, via the novel-length Abyss in 1977, to the re-edited Chasm: A Weekend in 2004), I will read the addition of the Preface to the final 2004 version – a genealogy of the 7-year-old Destina, revealing a line of eponymous foremothers dating back to the 17th century – as Tanning’s meta-commentary on the novel’s preoccupation with feminine difference.

avatar for Timothy Lewis

Timothy Lewis

University of La Verne
I am in the second year of my Master of Arts program at the University of La Verne in La Verne, CA studying Social Justice in Higher Education Administration. I graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA (2017) where I was the Lead Student Editor for Critical Theory and... Read More →
avatar for Anna Watz

Anna Watz

Senior Lecturer, Linköping University

John Westbrook

Associate Professor of French, Bucknell University

Friday November 2, 2018 2:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Room B. Hildreth-Mirza Hall: Humanities Lab (lower level)