Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion, Postsustainability (review)


A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education asked: How can the humanities prove their worth in today’s cultural economy? In his column in the New York Times, Stanley Fish addressed the question with the old fashioned argument that they don’t have to: the domain of the humanities is functionally useless, the sphere of what Kant long ago called disinterested pleasure. Allan Stoekl’s new book proposes another answer, one utterly opposed to Fish’s, that attempts to reclaim for serious contemplation the writings of Georges Bataille, a thinker who has too often been confined to the library. Stoekl offers a reading of Bataille’s work addressed to what is perhaps the most pressing political and social issue of our time: the relationship between expenditure and community in contemporary culture. How, in short, is our use of energy related to our ability to create and experience community? And how must our culture change in order to foster a satisfying relationship between energy consumption, individual freedom, and communal life in the future? Toward this end, Stoekl explores several related strands of Bataille’s thought on energy, religion, ethics, and community in light of contemporary culture.

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