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Acéphale By Elder, Bruce

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM356-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 19 May 2024, from


The name Acéphale refers to two related projects: one is a journal, founded by Georges Bataille (1887–1962), published between 1936 and 1939, whose articles often extolled Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy; the second refers to a secret society that formed around Bataille. That the term derives from the Greek ἀκέφαλος (akephalos, “headless”) made it an appropriate name for the counter-religion Bataille aimed at founding to revitalize the mythic experience of plenitude: the head, Bataille maintained, stands for hierarchical organization and God, so the society and journal that gave the gnostic-inflected counter-religion expression should be headless.

Bataille’s interest in an atheological counter-religion was grounded in the principle of expenditure that he saw manifested in unproductive forms of consumption, which have no end beyond themselves, and thereby constitute an irrecoverable loss. This anti-Platonic, anti-renascence social body would be headless because it would recover, within the isolation that confines modern humans, the vitalizing experience of the sacred—that is, of a privileged moment of communal unity and convulsive communication of ordinarily suppressed sensations. It would headless, too, because the Dionysian-orgiastic rituals of the secret society would be aimed against both reason and identity. Bataille’s conviction that ultimate expenditure is “the gift of the self” led the participants in Acéphale to an interest in sacrifice.

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Elder, Bruce. Acéphale. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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