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The Impossible Knowledge of Excess: An Appraisal of Works by Georges Bataille and Vladimir Nabokov

Ko, Tung-Wei (2023) The Impossible Knowledge of Excess: An Appraisal of Works by Georges Bataille and Vladimir Nabokov. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.101955) (KAR id:101955)


The thesis examines Bataille's formulation of heterology and its correlative notions in Nabokov's fictional work. A heterological theory of knowledge, according to Bataille, opposes "any homogeneous representation of the world [...] any philosophical system." In a strict sense, all perceived reality consists in the homogeneous - the term homogeneity, in Bataille's philosophy, signifies "the commensurability of elements and the awareness of this commensurability: human relations are sustained by a reduction to fixed rules based on the consciousness of the possible identity of delineable persons and situations..." Conversely, the heterogeneous concerns elements that are unassimilable not only to the social realm but to any data of sense and thoughts. In theory, the complete renunciation of human consciousness delivers one to the core of the heterogeneous, whose approximate aspects, however, are discernible in the present world.

Excess approximates the heterogeneous proper in its implications of non-production and the absence of explanatory matter. The living organism, receiving more energy than is needed for its growth, is naturally susceptible to impulses beyond its capacity and will. Violence, eroticism, an extravagant display of wealth, sacrifice are all manifestations of such expenditure of the surplus energy. Death looms on the horizon, both as a reminder of our material servitude and as the final warning for the inevitable consequence. But it is in death that excess enters into the realm of the heterogeneous proper.

All these questions will be explored in the following chapters. The objective is less to arrive at a definitive idea of something so defiant of the dialectical process as excess and the heterogeneous, than to provide a way of thinking wherein the primacy of reason and coherence is, in the interest of going beyond the limits of the homogeneous, openly thwarted. Nabokov's writings are used partly as proving ground of the primary theories and propositions, and partly as one end of an intense conversation with Bataille. On account of their shared propensity for an intellectual pursuit that runs counter to ordinary calculations, Bataille and Nabokov were without question two of the radical chroniclers of the aberrance of human condition. Their attempts to grasp the ungraspable essence of the heterogeneous are further testament to the eternal gulf between representation and reality, to the poverty of language.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Norman, Will
Thesis advisor: Ayers, David
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.101955
Uncontrolled keywords: Vladimir Nabokov, Georges Bataille, late modernism, 20th-century French philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2023 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2023 15:37 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Ko, Tung-Wei.

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