The Magic Circle of Madness and Notions of Expenditure

Within Bataille’s work, there are numerous references to the magic circle. It is explicit in the comment about Van Gogh’s mutilated ear: “The monstrous ear sent in its envelope, however, abruptly leaves the magic circle where the rites of liberation stupidly aborted” (Bataille, p. 71). Bataille invokes this circle again in the allure of sacrifice. When Bataille comically describes the arbitrary sacrificial cow, this random creature only “becomes a divinity because of a circle traced around its legs” (p. 73). Finally, in “Notions of Expenditure,” the poor can only re-enter the “circle of power” (p. 121) through violent and bloody sacrifice, through revolution. These invocations of Huizinga’s creation provoke questions about the sun, a magic circle in its own right, under whose rays frenzied expenditures of madness and automutilation occur. Is the sun a magic circle, which preys upon those who interact with it, and prescribes the rules and nature of play? Although this contention seems inherently false given the sardonic attitude with which Bataille addresses the “magic circle” in “Sacrificial Mutilation” and “Jesuve,” the essence of the magic circle pervades Bataille explanation of mutilation and expenditure.

In Huizinga’s work, the magic circle is the space within which “Homo Ludens” plays, a place wrought with care. “Inside the circle of the game the laws and customs of ordinary life no longer count. We are different and do things differently” (Huizinga, p. 12). The power of the circle lies in its covenant between the players. “This is for us, not for the ‘others’. What the ‘others’ do ‘outside’ is no concern of ours at the moment” (p. 12). Players sacrifice time and effort, expend,  in order to play within the sacred circle. Huizinga extends the circle throughout Homo Ludens, however, until society, law, war, and countless rites and rituals are encompassed by it. Within the circle can occur abject violence, such as the boxing match, in which players can entertain with the knowledge that rules of the magic circle will allow them to safely exit the circle for the “real world.”

Could Gaston F.’s mutilation, as he stared into the sun, have been an entry into a magic circle? Does this transgression expose the sun as an unsafe magic circle? After all, “it is impossible to look at it fixedly at that time of day” (Bataille, p. 57) or else be considered mad. Furthermore, this offense results in a physical act of expenditure on behalf of the sun by the gazer, the sacrifice of the finger, and, in the case of Bataille’s third example in “Sacrificial Mutilation,” the gouging of an eye.

Perhaps the Pineal Eye is the eroticization of the engagement with the magic circle of the sun, perpetually playing, expelling, expending and excreting within its bounds. The Pineal Eye, forever able to interact with the sun, is liberated from the real world and bound only within the magic circle. In his description of the sacrifice of the gibbon, the ape’s anus, pointed toward to the sun, assumes qualities of the Pineal Eye. The  implication is that man has removed himself from the horizontal axis inhabited by non-human creatures. He has passed beyond that world where constant play with the sun was the common state, as exemplified by the animal anus, the world which was not circumscribed by the magic circle.

However, this dialectic between an a priori state and the state of modern man, further elaborated in “Notions of Expenditure,” seems at once faulty and comprehensible. The sun’s constant excess sustains life, perhaps too much life, embodied by a magic circle that is the earth, a scientific anomaly of which we are already a part. Either the magic circle is always present, because the earth itself is a magic circle, or not present at all. The frenetic rules of play are then always present and thus must demand a continual suspension of “reality” and self-sacrifice in the world of play, or the rules are never present and must be ignored. Is this a drive towards madness engendered by an awareness of the sun-provider, which constantly expends on the earth’s behalf and to which, in reverence, we must sacrifice? If so, this would certainly drive me to madness, beholding the sun’s glare to which I must always sacrifice something because it is an eternal provider. If I were always in the magic circle of the sun, I would be compelled to expend on its behalf endlessly.

As a final thought, I wonder if the magic circle is actually a means of conservation, while the sun is unremitting expenditure. We must conserve time and effort to then sacrifice them in the magic circle and play. With the sun, such expenditure is incessant, breaking the bounds of the magic circle and driving one to madness and mutilation.

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