In Visions of Excess, Bataille takes his otherwise mentor, Nietzsche, to task for promoting a metaphysics of transcendence — which Bataille perceived as a will to fall. He says that when Nietzsche clung tearfully to the neck of the old carthorse in Turin, he was exemplifying the state of having fallen from the psychological heights, which was an inevitable outcome of his philosophy of transcendence.
Initially I thought that Bataille’s criticism of Nietzsche was a way for him to develop an inroad for his own psychological approach, but it seems there is more to it than that. Bataille writes from a point of view of genuine insight.
For what is transcendence, after all, if it is not transcendence of the body? Even in its guise of being a moral transcendence of the ideologies and proclivities of the masses, it is ultimately this.
In order to understand the Icarian complex (the desire to attain transcendence and why it is bound for failure), one must consider the nature of the body, and how it is the psychological source and origin for all the pleasure we may have. (Nietzsche understood this implicitly, but did not take the logic of his knowledge far enough, so that be built certain contradictions – or “tensions” — into his philosophy, and ultimately remained somewhat a man of his time.)
To transcend those aspects of life to which one feels morally superior seems more than logical. However, to turn transcendence into a metaphysical principle, by which those who are destined to be superior distinguish themselves from their inferiors is more psychologically problematic. It may lead to an increasing psychological fastidiousness and separation from the thrall of life to the degree that one finds it difficult to feel the pleasure of the body any more. Ultimately, what one achieves this way is a self-transcendence, which makes it difficult to experience pleasure in life.
When we compare the harshness of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil to some of his earlier works, we may already be able to see some of the internal logic of this philosophy of transcendence, and how it has done damage to the author.
Already he is railing against women and promoting rigid traditional marriage as a way to right all wrongs. (In earlier writings he has a more realistic view of love as not requiring a permanent contractual binding.)
Could it be that the author, having detached too much from everyday life through his practice of transcendence, was unable to generate his own feelings of intrinsic connectedness to sensual reality? Being unable to derive sufficient pleasure from it in a natural way (by way of internal reference to the body), he was driven to trying to generate the philosophical basis for a social system that would remove the option for marriageable women not to marry marriageable men. In other words, at the point of the failure of his philosophical system on a psychological level, he became an antifeminist, who tried to make the future social and political systems take up the slack for what had become internally missing and inadequate?
To spell it out even more clearly: If Nietzsche, in his pursuit of transcendence, had lost touch with his body, he needed a woman to combine with him, to symbiotically become the body he’d lost touch with. This is what he was aiming for, and his psychological neediness was at the source of his antifeminism. For, one does not easily compel a woman to become a mere function of one’s desperate psychological needs if she is feminist and free. One needs the force of a social system to make this happen.
And in his last depraved attempt to use social forces to get what he ought never to have lost Icarus fell back to Earth — but didn’t know it.