Thinking excess : the radical sociology of Bataille and Baudrillard
This thesis explores the 'theories of Bataille and Baudrillard' in relation to the problem of extreme violence. The particular events of concern are the death of James Bulger, the Dunblane massacre and the 'serial killers' Frederick and Rosemary West. The thesis argues that dominant traditions in the social sciences are unable to engage with the horror of such events with anything approaching adequate terminology and that alternatives are urgently required. The study is theoretical not empirical and these cases act as crucial reference points throughout the theoretical discussions. Such events seem to disable reason and are frequently referred to as 'inexplicable' or 'evil'. They appear to be 'in excess' of the established explanatory paradigms. The thesis investigates the possibility of 'thinking excess' in new and alternative ways, more commensurate with the intensity of such events. The importance of Bataille notions of the sacred, sacrificial expenditure and non-dialectical negativity in approaching changing forms of extreme violence are emphasised. Bataille specifies a fundamental 'need' for violent expenditure or sacrifice that persists in a contemporary age no longer equipped to recognise these principles. Baudrillard's approach is related but departs from Bataille's thought. Baudrillard's emphasis on symbolic exchange, seduction and the fatal denies the existenceo f fundamental 'needs' yet also emphasisesth e cultural and ritual nature of extreme violence. These themes are developed into a detailed reading of 'deathevents'. They are theorised as distinctively contemporary, occupying a postdialectical cultural space characterised by the elimination of sacred and symbolic principles, which nevertheless endure in fragmentary, displaced and deracinated form. These are conditions in which new forms of 'evil' may emerge. In emphasising the theoretical differences between the readings of violence offered by Bataille, and by Baudrillard, the thesis rey-eals shifts in the nature of radical theory from the middle to the late twentieth century. The notions of utility, limit and excess are central to this shift and to alternative ways of thinking the excessive nature of contemporary violence.