sacrifice bataille

8/14/2019 Sacrifice Bataille 1/15 Sacrifice Author(s): Georges Bataille and Annette Michelson Source: October, Vol. 36, Georges Bataille: Writings on Laughter, Sacrifice, Nietzsche, Un- Knowing (Spring, 1986), pp. 61-74 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/11/2013 06:54 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].  . The MIT Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to October. This content downloaded from on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 06:54:06 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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Page 1: Sacrifice Bataille

8/14/2019 Sacrifice Bataille 1/15

SacrificeAuthor(s): Georges Bataille and Annette MichelsonSource: October, Vol. 36, Georges Bataille: Writings on Laughter, Sacrifice, Nietzsche, Un-Knowing (Spring, 1986), pp. 61-74Published by: The MIT Press

Stable URL: .

Accessed: 05/11/2013 06:54

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

 .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of 

content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms

of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].


The MIT Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to October.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 5 Nov 2013 06:54:06 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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To thosewhohave followedme thus far owe a full xplanation. I offer ninhuman image ofman, and I know that the air about me grows rrespirable.In sayingthatthebloodyfantasies f sacrifice ad meaning,I have ustified urMolochs at their darkest.Although myvoice does blend withthose ofuntoldchoirsthroughout ime, thas, I am certain,a hostilering.No one, ofcourse,is

goingto claim that wish to startnew cyclesofholocaust; I am onlysupplyingthemeaningof ancient customs. The crueltiesof thepast filledneeds which wecan satisfyn ways other than those ofsavages. I do, however, say that ife sworth he


self,nd that the

gifteads to mortal

anguish.I am ofthat

number who pledge men to somethingother than a constant ncrease ofpro-duction, and who provokemen to sacred horror.And thisdemand, in conflictwith common sense, must be justifiedby somethingmore than vague notionsabout the stars.

And yet can reverse hepositions Althoughpossiblywanting ncommonsense, I can, in turn,when called to account, question "thequiet, reasonableman." If I am mad, I am, nevertheless,through my choice of direction, n

agreementwiththose who once did offeracrifice.Were I alone, I shouldbe thefirst o offer xplanation. But the fathers f "thequiet man" did offer acrifice.And I have

justremarked of these massacres of men and beasts-

which didtakeplace - thatthey re theenigmahe mustsolve, ifhe has the willto survive,ifhe wishestoremain as he is: a quiet, reasonable man How was it thatevery-where menfoundthemselves,withno priormutualagreement, naccord on anenigmaticact,they ll felt he need or theobligation oputlivingbeings rituallyto death?

"The quiet man," beforereplying,has onlyto hear me out. He must feeltheweightofthisenigma- as strongly s I do. He mustrecognize,withme,thathe has a linkwithdeath, tragicterror, nd sacred ecstasy;he mustadmitthat forwant of an answer,men have remained ignorantofwhat heyre.

We must not lingerover answers already received. The ancientsthoughtthat the divine world's good will could be acquired by paymentor presents;it was from hem that the Christians derived this view. SirJames Frazer, an

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Oxforddon, developed the idea of those who saw in the immolations way of

obtainingabundant harvests.* The French sociologists aw that the sacrificialritesformed social link and founded communal unity mong men. These ex-planations accounted forthe effects fsacrifice; heydo not tell us whatforcedmen to killtheirown kindin religiousceremonies. The latter, tmust be said,preciselysituate the enigma, which is thekeyto all human existence.

All othersubsidiary explanationwhich reduces thewhyofthingsto con-

tingencymust be ignored.The questionof sacrificemust be stated as the ltimate

question. orrelatively, ny attempt o answer the ltimateuestion ustobviouslyresolve, as well, the enigma of sacrifice. Discourse on being, metaphysics, s

meaninglessif t ignores ife'snecessarygame with death.

The problemof the ritualkillingof ive beingsmustbe related to that oftheir tructure.The time has come to getto the bottom ofthings,withoutfearofdifficultyrdiscouragement. deliberately doptas mypointofdeparture he

conceptions formedby "French sociology." French sociology,which stressesthe importanceofthestudyand interpretationfsacrifice, elatesthat work totheconceptionof the"social being."This conception s generally tartling, utit is readily acceptable once we agree that thisbeing is composite.A clan, a

city, stateare likepersons,beingsinpossessionofa singleconsciousness.Theidea of a "collectiveconsciousness" runs counter to the principlesofa unified

psychologicalentity.But those

principlesre not


ness is surely mere fieldofconcentration, he ill-defined ieldof a concentra-tionwhich s nevercomplete,neverclosed; it smerely gathering freflectionsin life'smultiplemirrors.

Or, moreprecisely till, tappears as a multiple ction,each reflectionen-eratedwhen thisreflection,hisgame ofmirrors,passes from ne pointto an-other,from one man to another,or from one sensitive cell to another. Thepointofarrest n thisgame can never be grasped; there s constantmovement,activity, assage. Being, in man's definition nd as instantiated yhim,is neverpresent n the fashionofa pebble in theriver,but rather s the flow fwaterorthatofelectric urrent. ftheredoes existsome


presence,it s that

ofeddies, ofcircuitswhich tend toward stability nd closure.An innerchange of state is easily graspedwhen I communicate with an-

other- when I talk or laugh, or lose myselfwithin ome turbulentgroup.Andanyman embracingthewoman he loves knows t. This change is caused bythepassage ofa live current rom ne to theother,but inmost cases thesepassagesoccur withoutforming table circuits,such as a clan, city,or state. Now, wecan speak ofexistenceonlywhensubsistenceovertime s assured, as inthecase

* This bias does not wholly deprive The GoldenBoughof all significance.This book, in itsdemonstrationof the richness,amplitude, and universality f sacrifice,has the merit of linkingthem to the rhythm f the seasons.

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Aztec acrifice.odex Magliabecchi.

~i~~~'~i~v~~ ~I B

ji-i ~s




- -u-us s:~-~ --~

~ %ar~~~:~Yi

R~4_~:j~x~ a-:i-~ a

~ ?::-~:

~" '1:ji

w -~~~~:~::::~~~~:~~"


IB~,,,,;_ -~~~s


;,?;~,;=: ~?r~ ?" ~- x::';::::;

a -j

-~~~"~ ~?c n~~-~s"'g~, --?a~~

:::;:~~: d ~_i:~l__~ - :: : _~

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Sacrifice 65

ment,represents o manyelements which can be isolated once and for all: an

electron, wave, can, on the otherhand, be isolated,but within giventimenotonce and for ll, but once only,for hisgivenperiodoftime,and no other.On this side thereignofseparation,of solation,develops and on theother, he

reignofcommunion,offusion, n which elements are notseparatedexcept n a

fleeting ppearance. Man's path to fundamental ruth s setbya law similartothat whichregulatesprobabilityn thepositionofelectrons.The imprisonmentin isolationcompleted byman'srigorousreflectionas when he declares, Ithink,therefoream, therebyrelatingtheI to thought s to itselementaryparticle) isnot the law ofall nature,but onlyof a limitedaspect ofthat nature.


It appears that within the corpuscular realm the aspect of communionprevails over the weakly established isolation of corpuscles. In the world ofsolids and of stable organic unities withinwhich human thoughthas taken

shape, thecontrarys entirely hecase; activities re, forthemostpart,trace-able to clearlydistinct ausal centers persons and/orforces).But just as in aworld of imitless ommunication heseparationof elements s alreadymarked,so thisworld,compartmentalizedby individuals, is unceasinglydrivenby theconcernwithmaintainingthosecompartments nd by a contrary oncernwithcommunication;each ofus mustconstantly urrender o that oss ofself,partialor total,which is communicationwithothers.A first ppositionbetweentwo

worlds a worldof ight nd electricforce, worldofmen and solids) is compli-cated by the second oppositionwhich each of us carries withinhim. But foruswithin world of men and solids, theopposition s not abstract,we live it; it isthe combat ofour lifeand our death, prodigality nd greed,theconquest and

gift fthe self.*Each of us is as ifsunkenin narrow solation. Nothingcountsforus but

ourselves. What we sense as comingfrom he exterior s oftenreduced to thefortunate r unfortunatempressionreceived. Death is the sole radical limitof

* On principle,considerations based on scientific ata, farfromofferingny foundationforthe intellect,serve principallyto provide more space for ts nomadic mobility. f thoughtcom-pletes the circle, returning o the elements of itsorigins, ithas, at best, a chance ofmomentaryescape fromthe particularitieswhich distance it fromthe nakedness of its object. When wetamperwith"scientific ata," it goes withoutsayingthat thought,startingfrom a distortedele-ment, cannot, on itsown, recovernaked contact withthe object in its grip. It is only insofar asthought tselfdistorts ll objects that thisoperationnevertheless akes on fullmeaning. Thoughtcan certainlyrecovernakedness, but it is primarily he mere clothingwith whichwe cover ob-jects. Thought'sdevelopmentand recovery herefore resuppose thathaving clothed the object)itwillthenstrip t. Ifby luck, "scientific ata" does strip ff nd tear thefabricresponsiblefor hisobject's deceptive aspect, itcan thenbe used for nds which are notproperto it,but whichhavebeen long and steadilypursued: thedestruction f thatwhichseparatesman from n outerworldwhichis his truth, he thoughtof his object. Recourse to science, to itsdiscoveries,represents

meredetour withinthisenterprise. fone day thisdetour ceased to be negotiable- ifhuman sci-ence, ever unstable, were to withdrawthe possibilitiespresentedthroughoutthe course of itsvariations thiswould be of slight mportance.

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thisbasicsolitude; t s theonly erious enialof llusion, orf die,theworld

is no longer educible omy piritwhich eflectst.Everythingas givenmetounderstand hat alone mattered. ut deathwarnsme that his s a lie. For Icount or othing;t s theworld nlywhichmatters.matternsofar s I amintheworld,not s a strangernclosure ndself-isolation,utas a particle f n-ergy lendingnto he ight. hus I see that f amto ive, t s on thefollowingtragic ondition:hat, elinquishinghis ife fmine, givemyselfo thatwhichknowsnothing fme, to thatwhich s exterioromyself. t the sametime,though, feel he bsurdityf losswhich, onsideredrommyposition f n-evitable olitude, mounts othe annihilationfthe entire niverse.

Thus each man must onsider oth onfiningimselfnisolation nd es-

capingfrom hatprison.He sees,on one side,thatwhich s foundation,hatwithoutwhichnothingwouldexist, particularxistence,elfish nd empty.He sees,on the ther, worldwhose plendorsthat f ommunicatinglementsthatfusewith ach other ikethe flames fa hearth r the wavesof the sea.Deep within im urks steadfastwareness:outside s theprecipitationfblindmovement nd life's xcess. Between hese rreconcilableolesa manisnecessarilyorn, incehe cannotdecidefor ither irection. e can renounceneither is solated xistence or he xuberance f worldwhich aresnothingfor hat xistence nd is prepared o annihilate im.A dailydispute etweentiny nclosure ndfree pace goeson: firstf ll,between thers ndone's elf,betweengenerositynd greed.But to getfromnsideto outside,man mustcross hroughhatnarrow assagewhosename is anguish.

The sphere f solationscomparableo a prisonwhich rotectsrom ut-sidedanger venwhile tconfines. hisprison s notentirelylosed;a narrowconduithas beencontrived, idden n the wall. But theconduit s notreallya wayout; it is almost mpassable.The prisonerwho tries oenter s cruellywounded;outside, rmed sentinels re on watch and readyfor hekill; thestorm ages.The bottleneckonnectinghe nnerbeingwithfree pace is, ofcourse,rarely eath tself, utalways tsadumbration r its mage, tsbegin-

ning.That whichwill ater

ppears life's ecisive ictor


eninghorror othis solated eingwho, nthedepths fhis solation, elievedhimselfo be thenecessary ondition fall that s.

Life ncommunication,ot n solation

Internally, hat m I? The activitynitinghemany lementsfwhichamcomposed, hecontinuousnner ommunicationfthese lements.Myor-ganic ife s one ofcontagionsfenergy,fmovement,rofheat. t cannot elocalized t a given oint; t sproduced yrapidpassagefromnepoint o an-otherorfrommultiple oints o others s numerous),ustas within network

of electricforces.As soon as I try o graspmysubstance, I senseonlya sliding.IfI now considermywholelife, see that t s not imited o this nner mo-

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Sacrifice 67

bility. ts traversing urrents lownot onlyinside but outside as well; it is also

open toforcesdirectedtoward t,comingfrom therbeings. I can viewthis ifeof mine as a relatively table vortex;thisvortexconstantly lashes withotherslike it,whichmodifytsmovement,as itmodifies hat ofothers.The exchangeofforce r lightbetweenmyself nd othersmattersno less (it ultimatelymatters

more) than the inner convulsionofexistence.Speech, movement,music, sym-bols, rites,gesture,and attitudes re so many paths forthiscontagionamongindividuals.An isolatedpersondoes not count his pointofview is not admissi-

ble) beside movementswhichbecome meaningfulfor themany. Personally,am as nothingcompared to the book I write; ifthe book communicates thatwhichconsumedme, I will have lived in order to write t. But thebook itself,f

restrictedo an isolateddomain, such as politics,science,or art, s a small mat-ter.Communicationcan bring ntoplay all of ife, nd in the faceofa possibil-ityofthatdimension, others,of a minorsort,pale.

If we consider, among othertypesof communication,those whichformrelationsbetweenno more than two individuals, and in particularthe love ofIsolde and Tristan, each ofthetwo loversis likelyto seem no more significantthan any others,when viewed outside thepassion whichbinds themtogether.It is their ove, not their dentities,fromwhichtheirverynames derive theirpower. This intercommunication f theirentirebeings would, nonetheless,carry ess meaningforus ifwe did notperceivethatthrough ttheir ntire ives

were thereby t stake, thattheywere consumed unto death. Communicationmatters ess insofar s it s limited,and even thatof Tristanand Isolde, convul-sivethough twas, appears narrow whencomparedtotheecstasyof thesolitaryindividual or to the passions whichunitewhole peoples.

Each of us, in the limitlessmovement of all worlds, is a mere point ofarrest,whichallows forrebound. Our isolation allows for rrest,but the arrestfindsmeaning onlyin the increased intensity fresumed movement.Separateexistence is merelythe condition of retardedbut explosive communication.Were thereonly unimpeded communication,were there no eddies hinderingand slowingthe swift urrents, hat

multipleretreat nto the selfwhich is our

consciousness would notbe possible. This relatively tableorderofthings,theseeminglyultimateconstruction f solation,is essential n theformation f thereflectiveonsciousness.Movement itself an be reflected nlyifthemirror srelatively ixed.Errorbeginswhen thisreflectingonsciousnesstakesseriouslythe small intervalof restgrantedby circumstance. This interval s merelyanintervalforrecharging.Consciousness itself as meaningonlywhencommuni-cated. The intensity fcommunication'smovementwhen recommenced s duenotonlyto theexplosiveform mposed by thetemporary bstacle ofisolation:arrestconfersupon communicationthe deep meaning of the anguished con-sciousness of a solitaryman. We find, n momentsof communicationwhichunite us withour own kind, a slow, conscious, and mortalanguish. They are

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most acute when communicationbrings all of existence into play, when to

them are linked the life of a people and thepresence of the universe.


There is a major sort of communicationbywhicheverythings violentlycalled intoquestion. Only when death is at stakedoes life eem to reachthe ex-treme ncandescence oflight.Neverthelessthe strict nd ever-tense earchforsuchmoments eads to heaviness ofspirit. nsistence s likely o go contrary otheassuagingneed to lose one's self;whenmy ife s dominatedbyan obsessiveconcernwithecstasy, maywonder fthatecstasy,attainableonly through oss

ofself, s not theobjectofmywill to possess it as one possesses a powerwhichdeservesadmiration.When the need to communicatethrough oss of self s re-duced to thatofpossessingmore,then we realize thatnothing ublime can existin man without tsnecessarily voking aughter.Now, ofall the sortsof ntensecommunication,none is more common than the laughterwhich stirs us in

(each other's)company. In our laughter,our lives are quite constantly eleasedin a facileform f communication and thisdespitethepossibly solating ffectofour concernwith sublime formsof communication.

If I am to find n answer to theenigma ofsacrifice, must be deliberateand shrewd. But I knowand have neverfor n instantdoubtedthat an enigmaas dangerous as this one lies outsidethe scope ofacademic method;the sacredmysteriesmustbe approached withcraft,with a show ofboldness and trans-

gressivepower. The enigma's answer must be formulated n a level equal tothatof ts celebrants'performance. t is mywish that tbecome partofthe his-

toryofsacrifice,notof science. This generalwishmay accountformypropos-ingto solvetheenigma in laughter. n so saying, merely ntroduce secondenigma: whatpasses within hose who burst nto aughterupon seeinga fellowman take a fall?Can it be thattheirneighbor'smisfortunerings hem uch oy?

In thesecond enigma, I think, he termsof the first re shifted.The manwho unwittinglyalls s substituting or he victimwho is puttodeath, and the

shared oy oflaughter s that of sacred communication. While we have neverknown the Mexican's emotion nthepresenceofa man's death at thehands of a

priest,we have all laughed at the sightofa fellowman's fall. Even thoughwewere told,as children,that "there s nothing o laugh at,"we nonethelessburstinto laughter.We had nothingmore serious to say of the reasons forour joythan the Mexican had ofhis own satisfaction.The onlyelement ofclaritywasthe communicable spell experienced. We laughed as one- a full,remorseless

laughter--in which, together,we penetrated nto the secretplaces of things.The joy of aughterbecame one withthe oy of iving.The spellbinding parkofroaring aughtercame to mean, in a way that was crucial, a kind ofdawn, astrangepromiseofglory.We must take care always to articulate the radiancediscoveredin laughter;that intoxicationopens a window oflightwhich gives

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Sacrifice 69

onto a worldofflagrant oy. Actually,the brilliance of this world is such that

men swiftlyvert their yes. He whowishestokeephis attention ocuseduponthissliding, dizzyingpointneeds great strength.n learned treatises, aughteris considereda mechanism. Tired scholarsendlesslydismantle ts minutegearsystem,as if aughterwere really foreign o them; theyavoid the immediaterevelation ofthe nature ofthingsand oftheirown lives in theirown laughter.

The gatesof aughter re constantly peningwithin hespirit f theelderlyscholar as in that ofthe naive child. Even though aughterdoes growtired andworn (as man sours and, in bitterness,withdraws ntohimself),it brings,tothose who do laugh, a movement of communion so sudden that theystandabashed. This radiantspell of aughter n which we lose ourselves has no exact

location; it has no precisepointofdeparture,no definite irection,but when itoccurs, the separation of the withdrawn ndividual froma world of suddenflashingmovement nstantly eases. An individual's fall has onlyto reveal the

illusorynatureofstability, nd thewitnessesof that fallpass, withhim,fromworldinwhich all is stable to one ofslipsand slides. Barrierscollapse, and theconvulsivemoments of those laughing break free and reverberate n unison.Not onlydoes each man participate n the limitless treamingoftheuniversebuthis laughtermixes with thatofothers,so that a roomwill containnot sev-eral laughs, but a singlewave ofhilarity.The icysolitude of each laughingin-dividual is, as itwere, refined;all lives are watersflowing nto a torrent.

So strong,however,is thetransport f thiscommunity hatthemost hu-man among themcould not,ofhis ownwill, act in a mannermoreparadoxicalor profound.All are aware that their ondition s, in itsstrangest nd most ex-citingaspect, linked to the unfortunate all. To all thesemen, thisfall s as aradiant divinity, ransporting, nd adored unquestioningly n an expressibleintimacy.Other than that achieved by a man and a woman alone together,thereexistsno otherform fharmony o visibly uthentic.Even he who arriveslate, nothavingseen thefall, uccumbstothecontagion Laughterhas thequal-ityofprovoking aughter.Hilaritydiscloses the fall whichhas ust occurredor some equivalent cause of oy, thecertainpresenceofprospectsofthespirit'srelease. This invitation s difficulto resist. solation s alwaystheeffectfgloom,offatigue,orheaviness; when invitedto oin in the"mad dance ofrelease,"thespiritrushesin heedlessly.

When I suddenlyencounter someone whom I know but rarelysee, welaugh in mutual recognition,n sudden release from olitudeand in communi-cation, althoughremaining solated amidstthoseunfamiliar o us, withwhomwe have no interchange.When, as a child,my bellywas tickled,the ticklingimparted udden, involuntarymovements o thatbelly,which,as they scaped,made me laugh out loud. I was released frommywithdrawalas theywere re-leased fromme. My tickler nd I entered nto a sharedconvulsionat thatmo-mentwhen the littlebellyhad escaped thestability believed in. The laughterincreased iftheticklingtself id, to thepointofhurting, nd thecloser came

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to shouting n distress, he more I laughed. In laughter,the momentof release

lies notso muchin itsbeginning s in its ncrease to thepointof a wonderfuln-tensity.At thatmoment,the distresswhichusually paralyzes action increasesthe violenceof an excitementwhich can no longerbe stopped. The laughterof

recognitionneverrebounds,for n agreeable encounterhas little hance of de-

veloping the open discomfortwhichmakes the laughterincrease. Anguish isnotthe cause ofthelaugh. If I laugh upon meetinga friend, t is, on the con-

trary, ecause a tensionclose to anguishhas arisen;one sometimes aughsquiteanimatedly f the meetingoccurs followingreal anguish, if a long-threateneddangerhas been averted in whichcase the encounterdoes not even have to be

surprising).Obviously, anguishdoes not release laughter,but anguishin some

form s necessary:when nguish rises, henaughteregins."Procedures"fordispellinganguish do not complicate laughter. If, in a

car, I laugh on reachingmaximumspeed, itis because withinme thepleasureofgoingfast s fargreater hanthevalid anxietyabout danger (I would not be

laughing if were more accustomed to speed or ifwhollyclosed to fear). I can

laugh a lot,if t s notmyfearthat s involved,but thatofsomeone else, such asa pretentious ld lady, whollyantithetical o thatworld of intensemovementwhich is to mytaste. The more she protests, hefaster he car is driven. The

anguish at stake is notmine, but thatofanother; I mightfeel t,but givenmyhostility, do not. Under ordinary onditionsan imperceptible nguishcan be

dispelledbypleasure. Children aughheartily t thefallofsomeone theyfearwhen stealingapples, theywill laugh at theownershouting n pursuitof them.What is dispelled is thepossibility fanguish, ratherthan a real, trueexperi-ence of t. Still,were theynot aware ofthe fall as downfall,childrenwould notlaugh. The law of coincidence (already discussed in the contextofthe gift flife)holds true for aughter.

The loss, thedownfalldoes notusuallyelicit aughterfrom he ndividualwho falls;he gains nothingby it. The childwho witnessesa fall,on theotherhand, gains in seeinghimself s superior,forhe remainsupright.This helpsto



mightmake himsee a resemblancebetween thefall-

ingman and himself, nd thathe himselfmight all. ndifferencerhostilityrerequired or an evident absence ofgravityn thefall). In theconsentto loss, asin the loss itself, given proportionofprofit o loss must be observed. If lossbe excessiveor profit ithernonexistent r too small, anguish is notdispelled;acceptanceof oss is then mpossible.A youngEnglishwomangreetedwithpatho-logical laughternews ofthedeath ofpersonsshe had known. This behavior--abnormalinviewofhergoodbreeding nd pleasantdisposition clearlyunder-scores that which is revealed in our laughter; a fundamentalaccord betweenour oy and an impulse to self-destruction. he difficultyf thataccord, how-ever, is also underscored.

This young woman's laughterwas, I should think,directed less at thedeaths as announced than at theanguish caused by the idea that she must,at

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Sacrifice 71

all costs,stoplaughingwhen she was utterly nable to do so. In the same way

an actor can, against his will, begin laughing in a way that is intolerableonstage. This second anguish,whichin stiflingaughter ntensifiest, is strongerthan the first. tmaysuffice hattheyoungwoman at first otwhollyrealizetheoverwhelmingmeaning of death. On later perceiving it, she has begun to

laugh, and a laugh alreadybegun has, even more than a beginning augh, the

power to dispel anguish. If it is true that aughter s an impulse by which an-

guishis dispelled, itwill continueor increase, ifthereasons for uppressiondonotcease (or increase); for he mpulsemustconstantly ispel theunceasingre-turn nd renewal ofanguish.This process,whichcannot takeplace inthoseen-counters n whichrecognition t one fell troke liminatesboredom,also elimi-

nates both source and extensionof aughter. t can takeplace in the aughterofticklingthe first ickling, elatively ight,elicitedonlya meaningless anguish,easily dispelled, but it could quicklybecome aggressive). Accordingto my in-

terpretation f the youngwoman's funereal aughter,the anguish develops ofitselfwithinthe laughing person. But the process is more evident and morecomplicated in the gratuitous ntention fword play and comic scenes.

I have until now spoken only ofnatural laughter.Now men have culti-vated laughteras though t were theflower f ife.No twists, urns,or artificesare spared for ts increase and extension. The procedureconsists n renewingthe source oflaughter n somewhat the same way as we make a fire.We feed

the firewithfreshfuel,and thehighertheheat already generatedthefaster tburns. The successive portionsof fuel are generally only additive and of thesamekind,but sometimes he convulsion ofuncontrollable aughter mpelshimwhohas provoked ttogo tothe imit, o thepointofvertigo, fnausea. I shouldnow like, in order tomakemyself learlyunderstood,to elicit such a state,andam forcedto recall a passage from film The GoldRush).

In a mountainous andscape, twoabsurdlychildish haracters re fightinginside a smallwooden shack (so grotesquely hattheyare, to beginwith, rre-sistibly aughable); suddenlythehouse, shaken by thebrawl, slides down the

snowyslopeon which twas

precariously itting,nd

slipsswiftlyo the


a precipiceon which it sways, remaining finally uspended, blockedby an oldtreestump. This vertiginous ituationshould, in itself,produce onlyextremediscomfort.t is true thatthe charactersthreatenedwithdeath are unaware ofit; theycontinue to ump about in theirblindnessas ifon solid ground. Theirerror,the illusion of stabilitymaintained when the abyss is opening beneaththeirfeet, s in itself comic element ike theothers,whichfeedsthelaughteralready begun.

But in those situationswhich normally provoke laughter, the stress isnever on the element of anguish but always on the error,and especially ifathreatof death is involved. This

threat, stressed, renewed as insistently simaginable, even produces an intolerabledizziness. As the vertigo ncreases,intensifyinghe threat fcapsizal, theconvulsion of aughterreaches a limitless

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intensity.To himwho is, in thissortofcrisis,uprootedfromhis very ife,the

possibility f worldsunlimitedopens to thepointthat he dies. For in thatkindofbeyondinto which he nowemerges intowhich,againsthis willonly,he canenter- he can no longerdistinguishhimselffrom hat whichis most fearful ohim; he is no longerseparable fromdeath, from hat which is mortalto him,since by an inextinguishable, rending laugh he has crossed the threshold,entered nto this dreadfulunison.

If this s not so, it is almost so. It is not exactlyso, forto lightenthe an-

guish,a ruse was needed. Threat is introducednotonlywithin he world offic-tion or thatwould notmatter: forother, maginary haracters can tremble),but in thedisparagedworld of thecomic; itweighsupon theunserious I have

myplace within a world in which I have weight nsofar as I laugh at them).When, however, was under the effect f a redoubledlaughter,whichwenttoofar,these differences eased to matter n the same way; I perceivednothingclearly except my voluptuous innerharmonyof aughterand ofvertigo. n theintense aughter,the ifting fanguishdoes not entail a balance of accountsbe-tweenprofitnd loss. One can, bymomentum,gorelatively ar nthedirectionof oss. When a convulsionentailing oss of some kindbegins, thepresenceofsomeprofit thesense ofsuperiority is required,but whenconvulsionreachesits giddy intensity, wareness of thiscan no longerfunction n thisway. Thecharactersunder threatofdeath certainly ontinueto be "not serious" other-

wise the laughter s paralyzed, and anguish and vertigowin out- but he wholaughs ceases to feelmore serious than the objectsof his laughter. It is in thissense thathe is trulycarried away into the "immeasurable, limitlessbeyond"that he first aw from n high. His incursion nto the sphereof thedivine,hisdyingunto himself o not takeplace quite as I have said; theydo have theirfullmeaning nsofar s he wholaughsno longerbelongsto theworldofseriousness.They do happen exactlyas I have described,but are considered n advance asinferior; heywill be null and void forthe serious man that the laughingmanwill again become.

(Marginalnotation:to become God-

my aughterbeneath an

umbrella.)I should, at thispoint,emphasize theautomatic,incontrollablenature ofthesereactions s theydevelop. That whichwe control,whichwe can modify twill, has, relatively peaking, ittlemeaning. Ifwe could no longerconsiderourreactionsofopen laughteras inferior, ur statewould be changed; we couldconstructanotherworld. But we lack the strength;we are bound. We canneither liminate theweightofgravitynormodify heconditionsunderwhichwe laugh. The rules are reallyso clearlydefinedthat fanyone shouldhappento modifythem,we could no longer quite say of him thathe is a man--hewould then differ s greatlyfromman as a bird does from moke.

To understandmefully,

ne mustboldlyfocusattention- at least in thememoryof theirrepresentation-on thosemomentswhen laughter ntensifies.

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Sacrifice 73

In moments uch as those,could he onlysustainthem,a man mightfeel hathe

becomes God. But he can never, exactly,capture them; in believingthathedoes he merelydeludes himself.He may cease to consider aughteras an infe-riormode ofbeingonly fhe takes itseriously.Now, to laugh and to be seriousat the same time is impossible. Laughter is lightness, nd we miss it insofar swe cease to laugh at it.

In this state of suspension on the borderline between laughterand thedeep gravityof anguish-I feel compelled to enter, and to break open, theenigma of sacrifice.The laughterthathas whollyoverpoweredme I rememberin any case, like the sunset whichcontinues,afternightfall, o dazzle eyesun-accustomed to darkness.But theconsciousnessof sacrifice s a kindof ingeringattachment odeath; itcan onlydisheartenus. No matterhow strong ur dar-ing and ingenuity, he silence of anguish begins.

When I laughed, what was communicatedto me bythe aughterof otherswas thecancelingofanguish. If,on theotherhand, I approach sacrifice, am,as among laughingmen, dependent upon theemotions ofmyfellowmen; buttheparticipant n a sacrifice ommunicatesonlytheanguish itself ome, with-out liftingt. The performerfsacrifice nd itswitnessesbehave as though herewereonlyone meaningfulvalue, onlyone thatpossiblymatters: nguish. Thisanguishofsacrificemaybe weak; all things onsidered, t s reallythestrongestpossible, so strongthat were it to be slightlymore so, theonlookers could no

longerbe gathered,the sacrificewould have no furthermeaning, would nottakeplace. Anguishismaintained at varying evelsoftolerance;sacrfice einghecommunicationf nguishas laughter s thecommunicationof tsdispersion),thesumof nguish ommunicatedheoreticallypproacheshe umofcommunicablenguish.Overintensereaction renders heoperation neffective;hosesubjectto itaban-don sacrifice.

Sacrifice has a history, nd its variations trace themanner in whichthelevel of toleranceeventuallybecame more difficult. he horrorfelt t the im-molation of other men grew n time. The deer and the ramwhichCalchas andAbraham slew in


Iphigeniaand Isaac means thatthe sacrificersmust

have attributed o theirgods thewillofmen to whomthesightof human holo-caust finally ecame intolerable.Biblicalnarrative, lthough voidingexplana-tion, expressesthe tragic grandeurof thisdebate.

The immolationof animals laterceased to dispose in thesame way of thesum ofanguish required. But intolerance henbegan to come to termswiththedesire to put an end to blood sacrifice.Men looked for ess shockingreligiouspostures. Some now feltonlydisgustat the sightofbloodshed. Their anguishwas, in a certainsense, less excessivethaninadequate. They imagineddivinityin a less human form. t came to seem crude thatJehovahwould rejoice in theodor of

grilledmeat. At the


Christianity, repastof

communion,inwhich acrificewasmerely hecommemoration fdeath,was,moreover, harged

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with an anguishthatwas relatively reat comparedto thatprovokedbythe m-

molated animal.It was natural that t themomentwhenbloodyactionwas abandoned ... .*


The text breaks offhere.- trans.