Here is Bataille’s version of le demier homme (Bataille reading a portrait

of Hegel as an old man):

I imagine seeing exhaustion, the horror of being in the depths of things – of

being God. Hegel, at the moment when the system closed, believed himself

for two years to be going mad: perhaps he was afraid of accepting evilwhich

the system justifies and renders necessary; or perhaps linking the certainty

of having attained absolute knowledge with the completion of history-

he saw himself, in a profound sense, becoming dead; perhaps even

his various bouts of sadness took shape in the more profound horror of being


This is the face of a Hegel on the verge of the inner experience, which is

what occurs when everything possible has been actualized, when nothing

remains but impossibility (nothing further can happen: history, like art, is

vergangen, all horizons have been surpassed – the Aufhebung has done

everything one can ask of it). Blanchot, writing on Bataille, comments:

“The interior experience insists upon this event that does not belong to

possibility; it opens in this already achieved being an infinitesimal interstice

by which all that is suddenly allows itself to be exceeded, deposed by

an addition that escapes and goes beyond [un surcroft qui echappe et excede

] . A strange surplus” ‘ A surplus of the negative, there

being nothing left to negate. A surplus that Hegel (as Bataille imagines

him) experiences in the form of a looming madness, an approaching horror

of being God, on a negative theologian’s theory of being God where being

such is existence without being – a mystical (that is, absolutely negative)

experience: “The experience of non-experience,” Blanchot calls it

 (Just think of it! God: an absolute surplus of negativity; or,

the death of God – as God imagines it. It would have to be a death that

went on forever.)

“What is a philosopher?,” Blanchot asks in “Connaissance de l’inconnu”;

and he answers, “borrowing words from Georges Bataille, it is

someone who is afraid”: afraid of the Outside, of the limit-experience,

of what remains irreducible to knowledge, of that which remains

unknown when knowledge has no further progress to make, of an existence

which, being without being, that is, not being the existence of this or

that being, is being that cannot be negated. As Blanchot explains in his essay

on Bataille: “Interior experience is the manner in which the radical

negation that no longer has anything to negate is affirmed”

(To be sure: “This has the air of a joke. But if we will grant that all modern

humanism, the work of science, and planetary development have as their

object a dissatisfaction with what is, and thus the desire to transform being

– to negate it in order to derive power from it and to make of this

power to negate the infinite movement of human mastery – then it will become

apparent that this sort of weakness of the negative, and the way in

which nothingness masks itself in the being that cannot be negated, lays

waste at one stroke to our attempts to dominate the earth and to free ourselves

from nature by giving it a meaning – by denaturing it”

Imagine therefore a time when the dialectic has overcome everything,

which means a time that has ceased to progress, a time without

progress or without a future (corresponding to a space without horizon):

call it a stop-time or “end of history” when everything has been accomplished

or fulfilled.

The difficulty is that for Blanchot temporality does not coincide with

history but exceeds it, interminably, as if at the end of history we were “delivered

over to another time”  (“What remains after the system

– the naught left over, still to be expended – is the push of dying in its

repetitive novelty” . In his essay on Bataille Blanchot asks

us to imagine living our lives twice, once according to the time of the possible

“as something we comprehend, grasp, bear, and master . . . by relating

it to some good or to some value” -some end or purpose; and another

according to an impossible, anarchic time or “time as something that escapes

all employment and all end, and more, as that which escapes our

very capacity to undergo it, but whose trial we cannot escape. Yes, as

though impossibility, that by which we are no longer able to be able, were

waiting for us behind all that we live, think, and say”.

The moral is (once more) that “possibility is not the sole dimension of our


Picture therefore Hegel sitting for the portrait that Bataille interprets.

This would be Hegel as the last man (a “Hegel living: the travesty of a

completed Meaning”) that is, Hegel passive and waiting

with nothing left to wait for: Hegel no longer coinciding with himself,

en detour to a nonrelation, becoming a visage without site or perspective,

framed by exteriority, thinking mad, Nietzsche-like thoughts (the only

thoughts left to think: “Nothing ends, everything begins again”;

 “There is nothing identical except for the fact that everything returns”

 By rights, or in keeping with the unitary rigor of

philosophy, Hegel ought not to have allowed himself to be turned into a

portrait (“Hegel the impostor”. In the event, availing himself

in this fashion, he opened a window in the history of reason, turned

himself into a presence that is no longer present: slipped, so to speak, into

the Outside. So it is not surprising that, on Bataille’s reading, fear is written

on Hegel’s face.

Maurice Blanchot – The Refusal of Philosophy

Gerald L. Bruns

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