Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Bataille, Balthasar, and sexual violence

Georges Bataille is a French philosopher and novelist who thinks that we need to go so deeply into mystical experience (he prefers 'inner experience', which doesn't have such theological connotations) that we go beyond any dogmatic ideas about God existing or being trinitarian or good or whatever. He rejects the idea that self-denial or chastity are routes to this inner experience: instead, we get there by plumbing the depths of anguish, by going to extremes of laughter, eroticism, sacrifice and poetry.

He says this:
Access to the extreme limit has as a condition the hatred not of poetry but of poetic femininity (the absence of decision; the poet is woman; invention, words rape him).
Hans Urs von Balthasar was a Swiss theologian and priest who also thought we should go deeply into mystical experience, though he was much more of a good Catholic, who believed in the Trinity, in Jesus, that God was good and so on. He thinks that the Church is exemplified by the figure of Mary, who gives us a model of 'active reception' which we should all imitate in our relationships to God.

He has Christ say this to the Church:
I dared to enter the body of my Church, the body which you are ... my Spirit has overpowered my unruly and recalcitrant flesh ... (Never has woman made more desperate resistance!) ... our blood-wedding, the red wedding of the Lamb - is, already, here and now, the white bridal bed of divine love.
As Tina Beattie points out, this basically compares the love between Christ and the Church to an act of rape.

So, both Bataille and Balthasar present women as essentially rapeable. Bataille thinks this is a reason to reject femininity; Balthasar thinks it's a reason to imitate it. Which is worse?

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