In summary [Bataille] argues as follows. We need to detach ourselves from our animal existence; work makes us what we are. Anything that interferes with productive labour risks returning us to that state and therefore cannot be permitted. It is ‘taboo’. However, while work liberates us from one form of subordination, it subjects us to another form. We become caught up in an endless labour of production. And so we need, from time to time, to free ourselves from the means of our liberation. Hence the need for the transgression of taboo. This transgression is both a return to an animal existence, where labour is unknown, and an assertion of sovereignty over communal life, where labour is mandatory. We become conscious of ourselves as subjects through work; our consciousness of ourselves as subjects impels us to resist our subordination to work. Subjectivity is discovered in work, but expresses itself against work. Transgression thus represents a desire both for the sovereignty of subjectivity and the extinction of subjectivity – a desire to return to the world from which, through the discovery of subjectivity, man has become separated. It is an assertion of dominion combined with a kind of chthonic nostalgia. It is a moment of both elevation and debasement, and so it is accompanied by the experience of a certain anguish. One is furthest from one’s origins precisely in that brief, voluntary reversion to them. Transgression is never, of course, an actual return. On the contrary: transgressions, together with taboos, make communal life what it is.
Transgressions – The Offences of Art //
Anthony Julius // bls. 22