on 26 February 2002
To give in a few paragraphs what this book is about is an impossible task, let alone evaluating it. Upon its publication in 1943 it took Sartre over 40 pages to review it. He called Bataille a dangerous madman as well as 'a new mystic'. (Noteworthy is that Bataille was friends with and exerted influence upon philosophers and artists ranging from Michel Foucault to Pablo Picasso, and is one of the most colorful 'bohemians' of the 20th century.)
Which is funny, because "Inner Experience", one of Bataille's most influential and most important works, begins with a repudiation of mysticism. Shortly, Bataille here explores that what he calls Experience, settled within a range of terms like "non-knowledge", "communication", "rapture", "anguish", absence", "night", but largely over-capping, "ecstacy".
Essentially, Experience is the absolvement of the I, an abyss where nothing 'is', produced by the tension between our conflicting desires to become everything and to retain our autonomy. This Experience once was made possible in sacrifice or feudal war, where man came in touch with violence, excess, and death. However, since religion and the state have gone into decline this Experience has become more and more Inner instead of collective.
Bataille explores where this Experience still lingers - in the festival, eroticism, sickness, art, war, financial spilling, violence, etc. But "Inner Experience" cannot be called easily accessible. Do not expect a schematic disposition of Experience, or a structured thesis with arguments and a conclusion. Rather, Bataille shows the elusiveness and the impossibility of describing Experience by accounts of boredom, dissatisfaction with his book, by contradicting his own words, and by riddling it with autobiographical data.
Thus, it is more in style of his example Friedrich Nietzsche in his attempts to show that 'communication' is incommunicable save through Experience by writing in a playful way, playing with words which meanings are shifting and re-locating themselves. Therefore this is a book that will not be 'understood' on its first reading, but will be understood differently again and again upon subsequent readings.
Readers unfamiliar with Bataille would do good to also obtain his "On Nietzsche", which has several useful appendixes on "Inner Experience" (both are parts of his "Summa Atheologia") and both clarify one another. Also Denis Holier's study "Against Architecture: the Writings of Georges Bataille" is a helpful text regarding Bataille's diverse ideas that have kept being in flux to the end of his life.