11.23.2011

Experience


"Inner experience responds to the necessity in which I find myself — human existence with me — of challenging everything (of putting everything into question) without permissable rest." — Georges Bataille, Inner Experience

After all the years of writing and thinking about events, reading and studying and writing about 20th century philosophy and phenomenology, I finally have my first glimpse into the profound oddity of what we might call experience.   It was picking up Bataille's Inner Experience that set off this revelation — a revelation of confusion, not understanding. Which, in many ways, is the best kind of revelation: suddenly, I am aware of what I didn't know I didn't know. It's like a whole new world yawning before me whose laws and language and ways await me.

So I am going to try and use this virtual venue to articulate experience to see if I can make it any clearer to myself.

I can say that an experience is what happens to me.  But that's not right at all.  Say, for instance, that I am at a Cornelius concert.  The music, the lights, the crowd: that might be what's happening to me. And yet that says nothing about my experience.

My experience is what I live through in the act of watching the concert, a living through that is at once physical and affective: my ears, my whole body in fact, vibrates; my affective state ebbs and flows — excitement, wonder, delight, annoyance, anxiety, love; my heart rate speeds and slows with said flows and vibrations.

But of course my experience is not those things either, as if the experience could be parsed into component parts.  The experience is something else.  Can I say it's the way all those different elements conspire, work together like an engine that  produces....what?  Me?

Experience, alas, eludes and exceeds all categories.  It tears knowledge asunder without thinking twice. Experience is a surge, a plane of excitation that animates and inspires and destroys and creates, all at the same time.

Try and picture to yourself what your experience is right now. Not all the things happening around you; not all the things happening to you; but what you are experiencing this very moment.  Where do you see this taking place?  In your head? Your belly? Your nerves? What is it you see when you try to isolate experience from everything else?

Bataille talks about "inner experience" but this inside is not your soul or your self. "Inner," in this case, distinguishes experience from the outer events that surround you. This "inner experience" is mystical — which is why Bataille is interested in religious experiences, in ecstatic states.

Now, needless to say, experience is wound up with the world, bound up with the stuff of the earth — weather and pixels and friends and pornography and work and and and.  And the way each of us experiences is determined, more or less, by the complex algorithms that we are — our bodies and histories and knowledge all working in metabolic conjunction.

But the experience is not reducible to any of these things. Experience is not me in that experience breaks the ego, breaks the self: the self as experience is not a self at all but a perpetually unbound this. The thing I call my self may be constituted by experience and experience may be constituted, in part, by my self (experience is constituted by all sorts of things including plants, animals, planets, dreams, films). But my self and my experience are not the same thing at all.

Experience breaks, bleeds, exceeds the self. The psychedelic experience makes this all too clear: we speak with trees, converse with the cosmos, see and understand and live through a connection between and among all things that could not possibly allow for something as ludicrous, as localized, as a self.

I feel like I've been blinded by the endless distractions of ego and society and such: my mind swirls with thoughts of laundry and bills and sports and television and fellatio and so on and so forth. Which is to say, I am distracted from experience. Of course, in all of these things experience wields its beautiful and unwieldy head — a beautiful pass, the surge of the erotic, the tiny death of the orgasm: these give us a glimmer of the plane of experience.

What happens if we — if I, if you — make experience the focal point?  How would our lives change? Rather than trying to keep experience at bay, in its place, might we seek to amplify it? So rather than contentment or riches we sought the diverse kinds of ecstatic states? So rather than clinging to our egos and all that supports them, we sought out the destruction of our egos?

2 comments:

αλεθεια said...

I was fascinated by his book on eroticism. And I think it was that very book which inspired Foucault’s History of Sexuality. By explaining the very experience of eroticism, Bataille went on to say that sex is an experience by which one almost moves into the domain of nothingness, of death. Experience is the very moment when you step out of your self to step into something uncanny, something beyond the regular, maybe it is the domain of the super human. I loved his move in which he took the concept of eroticism, which was deemed as something animalistic since the time of Plato, and made it equivalent to a religious sacrifice. He claimed it to be a mystical experience in which you strip off your clothes,which is a symbol of your dignity, shame, respect and all the values that society has given you. You reveal your flesh, your fragility and move into the domain of nothingness.
But I think if we start living every moment in pure experience, it would be hard for us to control ourselves. We will almost fall into a chaos, and anarchy which may not be the best way to move forward.
This is what my professor argued with me while I was discussing my paper with him. Being a junior and having limited knowledge on the topic, I couldn’t argue back, but I think there can be a way to live peacefully without having our egotistical selves in the way.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Thanks, as always, for your thoughts.
I've just started revisiting Bataille — really, in many ways, it's for the first time. When I was younger, I found it adolescent. Now, that exactly what I love about it: he really wants to get at it, whatever it turns out to be.

I don't there is anything called pure experience, even if that's what I asked us to consider. And I don't think living for this experience yields chaos: experience is not id.

We have bodies; there is society, discourse, knowledge. But there is also this very strange thing called experience. I was just suggesting that that we consider what it would mean, what it would entail, to privilege experience. What politics would it yield? What structures of pleasure, what rituals of desire, what new thoughts would it produce?

Our egos with their petty neuroses fuck everything up, make us grumpy and cruel and reactive and ugly.

I don't think experience is peaceful but a politics of experience may be.