Continuity v. Discontinuity in Bataille

The previous Bataille post gave a preliminary definition of continuity, and thereby discontinuity, thusly: that which is united with or towards the start of a continuum with nature or inanimate matter, and discontinuity that which is disunited with or at the tail end of a continuum with nature or inanimate matter. Dictionary-wise, continuity is said to refer to a continuous and intra-connected whole, or otherwise an immediate connection or spatial/temporal relationship. Discontinuity would reasonably be the negation of all of these. Both of these notions seem consistent with Bataille’s own use. The latter more dictionary-based definitions are certainly fundamental to what Bataille may mean, as he speaks of course of the internal withdrawal of the organism “into itself” in such a way as to have a sense of breaking away from the environment (Bataille 1986, 99-100).

In other words, of assuming a degree of independence from the environment, insofar as, even if its initial environment sets the conditions for its own survival, its activity and behavior can extract itself from the context and consideration of environment. In extreme cases this would be observed in the autocidal acts of animals (I say “autocidal” so as to differentiate it from “suicidal,” the latter of which seems to require a deeper existential awareness found in consciousness), but milder cases simply involve the movement of animals into habitats which promote the precarity and struggle of the given animal, voluntary or otherwise. This is clearly visible in the urban environment, though over time inevitably promoting adaptation. Put simply, the organism has an agency insofar as it can disregard its initial environmental conditions of existence or causes of birth by virtue of its fuel (internal energic dynamic). Consequently, the sense of continuity v. discontinuity here seems to be predicated on an understanding of space and time as environments rather than mere physical aspects of existence. This means there can be a variation of habitat, regardless of “natural” habitat, for an organism.


The habitat, in this case, is the entire system of materials and their interrelated processes useful to the production/reproduction of an organism’s state. By an organism’s state is meant any particular internal configuration of materials at any given moment in time, or any fixed rate or frequency of some internal process. Thus, an independence from environment refers not to the ability to act and move with no environment whatsoever, but the undermining of a habitat’s own self-selection for the organism–the organism can now select its own habitat and is not bound to it, even as this habitat precisely determines the organism’s state. The degree, then, to which an organism has the intelligence to organize and adapt its own habitat correlates with the degree to which the organism is “discontinuous.”

Given that Bataille also speaks of humanity’s particular degree of environmental independence as the “self-negation of animality,” or the negation of nature, continuity and discontinuity, as stated before, refers to the degree of separateness from “nature” in Bataille’s own philosophy. But Bataille never really cares to give his readers a fixed notion of nature–in fact, the point of the dialectical language of negation Bataille uses is that nature is only determinate in relation to something else which posits itself as external to it. In this way its inaccurate to say that the discontinuous organism is discontinuous in light of its independence from nature, or its unnatural autonomy, as its autonomy precisely arises in and is constitutive of nature in one sense. For purposes of clarity, the aforementioned notion of “independence from environment” or degree of possible variability in habitat makes much more sense.

Another possibility is to, of course, semantically inflate what Bataille means by continuity v. discontinuity. For example, given that Bataille ascribes “inner experience” to particles, it is reasonable to suspect that Bataille’s notions of continuity and discontinuity refer to the relative distance an entity has from some sort of monistic, unconscious whole with no self, or sense of self (Ibid). This whole, not having self, and seeming to also precisely consists in this surplus of individualities–in multiplicity–would seem also to have a superficial similarity to the Deleuzian-Spinozan univocity of Being. Nonetheless, it is safer here to be minimalist than presumptuous–it will be asserted, as cautionary tale, that Bataille may not assent to this interpretation even if readers may want to do so.

  • Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death & Sensuality. Trans. Mary Dalwood. San Francisco: City Lights, 1986. Print.