Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

Bataille and Film: Sovereignty, Laughter and the Gift of Death

Erin K Stapleton, Anthony Faramelli, Alice L Rekab


Bataille and Film: Sovereignty, Laughter and the Gift of Death

From three research students whose work concentrates on Georges Bataille, this panel will focus on specific areas of Bataillean philosophy as it relates to film.


“And your poetry will now be written in blood”:

Sovereignty as materialist rebellion in Dead Man

By Erin K Stapleton

Kingston University, London

Woven around a character who shares a name with the famous poet, Bill Blake, Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film Dead Man, entangles the Nietzschean narrative of Zarathustra and the tightrope walker to create an intoxicating material effect of sovereignty circulating within an extended experience of death.

In his essay “Base Materialism and Gnosticism”, Georges Bataille makes it clear that materialism is not to stand in for anything else, is not symbolic, or ideological, but rather, “matter as an active principle” (Bataille, 1985: 47). This approach to matter exposes the uselessness of superior ideals, by submitting itself to that which is lower than itself – base material. In the context of Dead Man, this is demonstrated in Blake’s submission to his death, to his journey and to his calling to write in blood. He doesn’t aspire to the lofty summit of moral redemption as “materialism, whatever its scope in the positive order, necessarily is above all the obstinate negation of idealism” but rather as he aspires to the peace of rebellion and eventual decay (Bataille, 1985: 45). In Dead Man, Bill Blake embodies an active subjectivity, active matter at the base of the pyramid, and it is no wonder that his presence undermines and disrupts the hierarchy of both language and society.

After being shot, and subsequently rescued by ‘Nobody’ the experience of death in the town ‘Machine’ alters the way in which Blake approaches expenditure. He abandons his productive existence as a bourgeois (educated, middle-class) accountant. And from this point in the film, he does not produce or consume to survive, his existence is solely based on the expenditure of ‘wasted’ energy. Blake is at once a killer, a fugitive and a dead man and in these capacities he is unsettlingly and entirely unproductive. In his journey, he rejects language, and societal order, living only in the present time, without the consideration for the past or future.

This paper will explore the relationship between Bataille’s materialism and sovereignty, with reference to Dead Man.



Fight Club, Community and The Gift of Death

By Anthony Faramelli

Kingston University, London

In David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club there is a beautiful moment when the main protagonist played by Edward Norton comes in to find the dead body of “Bob” being carried in by members of Project Mayhem, after being shot to death by a police officer during an act of. The others immediately want to dispose of his body, crudely referring to it as it being merely “evidence” – indicating the absolute thinghood of those within the community. Norton’s character shouts that, “his name is Robert Paulson”. The others are confused, until one (credited as “The Mechanic”) states that he understands, ‘In death a member of Project Mayhem has a name. His name is Robert Paulson’. This is immediately picked up by all the others in the room whom begin to chant, ‘His name is Robert Paulson’, a chant which is heard again in a different city while learning the true size of this community.  

I would like to examine how the death of “Bob” served to remove him from the profane world of utilitarian usage and actualized him as a sovereign individual who will live on forever through the community, which was solidified though his gift of death.

The greatest gift you can give to your community is that of your own life.  From this conceptualization of the immanent community we see that the fully realized person is the dead person. Death is not the absolute finitude of life, but rather the infinite fulfilment of a sovereign immanent life.

This paper will explore George Bataille’s work on community and sacrifice as outlined the Accursed Share series and The Theory of Religion as well as Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death with reference to Fight Club.



“The Sovereignty of Laughter in post civil war Sierra Leonean film.”

By Alice L. Rekab

Goldsmiths University, London

Taking the film In Bulgar, a musical comedy by the Sierre Leonian entertainment group Stars Combine as a starting point I would like to initiate a discussion on the production, distribution and consumption of  what George Bataille described in The Accursed Share as, “Objects of Laughter”  through film as a manifestation or assertion of Sovereignty in the aftermath of conflict and oppression and presenting the film as moving image sequence that attempts to capture that “moment of rupture” that is the cause/result of laughter.

In this film the artists pay homage to a food stuff that sustained the inhabitants of the nation during the civil war (1991-2002) during the worst periods of this conflict Bulgar wheat was eaten by all citizens because there was nothing else available.

Within this homage the artists describe both the common method of preparation and the seemingly adverse effect regular consumption of Bulgar wheat had on the digestive system. Through these simple comedic descriptive gestures they succeed in presenting the abjection of the conditions of war and food shortage as common(between performer and viewer) and in the past, and thus as both  an object of laughter and an object that enforces the primacy of the present moment over those past conditions that might have conspired to prevented it.

In Bulgar reflects on a time of lack/need through methods or practices that embody a sovereign abundance of energy/life beyond utility ie. to be able to create a film, to recount, to play, to dance, to sing and to laugh a laughter that does not shy away from the horror of death and need but rather looks right into it and in so doing celebrates its own undying. In that sense In Bulgar does not attest to mere survival but rather to the impossible coming true of a present moment and nothing more.

Only abstracts are available on this site

About the Presenter

Erin K Stapleton
Kingston University<br />
United Kingdom

Erin K Stapleton is a PhD candidate at Kingston University, London.

Anthony Faramelli
Kingston University
United Kingdom

Anthony Faramelli is a PhD candidate at Kingston University, London.

Alice L Rekab
Goldsmiths University, London
United Kingdom