Here I am attempting to get a handle on Battaille’s concept (as it’s read by Foucault) of transgression and the death of god.
Garth Gillan states: “the concept of transgression says that meaning is confronted not as an absolute transcendence grounding language, but in the limits of meaning. Language is the existence of sense in the recognition of limits…[b]ut sense is not created by remaining within limits, such as the analytic of finitude, as if they constituted a new set of positivities within which humanity is reconstituted. Sense is, rather, in the excess that transgresses those limits” (p. 66).
In Battaille eroticism arises when sexuality crosses the limits of a taboo or limit of sexuality. Transgression relies on and needs the existence of the limit but in the crossing of the limit in eroticism the taboo is not lifted, it still exists. The movement creating the transgression is the limitlessness that is required for the transgression of limits in the absence of an absolute “Limit”. At this point language is no longer dialectic or binary but merely recognises difference. One could say that it is neither wrong nor right but simply is. Contestation takes place without being resolved.
The language of transgression is distinct from the language of finitude by which man is known and knowable in the world. We are known by that which ontically defines us as in our “life, labour, and language” (p. 67) and it is various discursive fields that define our limits and what can be know about our body and being. “Mans finitude mirrors the finite content of the areas of knowledge through which he is known. The limits in the analytic of finitude are positive limits within which Man appears as an object of knowledge.”
Transgressive knowledge does not have man as its centre. “Transgressive thought does not presuppose an ontic ground for the division of reason and madness, the true and the false”; it rejects the theological foundation of Western thought. Limits exist within finitude as a priori means to create a homogenous and integral whole, but within transgression limits are constantly interrogated and acts of transgression replace the dialectic.
And this was Foucault’s genealogical programme to constantly interrogate the limits of reason, madness, penality, and psychiatry. Whilst he mentions limits, transgression, and excess mainly in his philosophical texts, such as Preface to Transgression it is these concepts which inform his approach to his analyses.
Reason is at play within all of the ways in which power has its effects on the body; and this forms its own transgression in that reason has transgressed its own nature by docily taking sides with the dichotomies it has created with its violence.
Lemert, C., & Gillan, G. (1982). Michel Foucault: social theory and transgression. New York: Columbia University Press.