(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Inner Experience was one of three books written by Georges Bataille during World War II in an attempt to express his philosophy of the sacred in human life. The other two volumes were Le Coupable (1944; Guilty, 1988) and Sur Nietzsche (1945; On Nietzsche, 1992). After the war, Bataille reworked these books somewhat and named them La Somme athéologique (summa atheologica). This general title was intended to recall the Summa theologiaea (c. 1265-1273; Summa Theologica, 1911-1921) of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the principal statement of Catholic religious philosophy during the Middle Ages. Bataille envisioned his work, in contrast to that of Aquinas, as an atheistic religious philosophy.

In style, Inner Experience and the other two books have little in common with the systematic, logical exposition of Aquinas. Instead, they are chiefly aphoristic, consisting of fragmented exclamations and images. This is consistent with Bataille’s intent in offering an alternative to the thinking represented by Aquinas. Although traditional philosophy is held together by a supreme being from whom all reason is derived and toward whom all reason proceeds, Bataille’s philosophy has no supreme being or center to maintain a systematic logic.

Although Bataille was an original thinker, Inner Experience shows the influence of a number of currents of thought. These include religious mysticism, Dada and Surrealism, and the vitalist tradition that gave rise to modern existentialism. Although the general title La Somme athéologique echoes Saint Thomas Aquinas, the rapturous tone of Inner Experience recalls the writings of Christian mystics such as Saint Theresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. In his youth, Bataille was a devout Catholic and briefly planned to become a monk. Even after losing his faith, the premodern Christian religious heritage remained a part of Bataille’s background because he was educated as a medieval librarian.