This thesis explores the 'theories of Bataille and Baudrillard' in relation to the
problem of extreme violence. The particular events of concern are the death of
James Bulger, the Dunblane massacre and the 'serial killers' Frederick and
Rosemary West. The thesis argues that dominant traditions in the social sciences are
unable to engage with the horror of such events with anything approaching adequate
terminology and that alternatives are urgently required.
The study is theoretical not empirical and these cases act as crucial reference
points throughout the theoretical discussions. Such events seem to disable reason
and are frequently referred to as 'inexplicable' or 'evil'. They appear to be 'in
excess' of the established explanatory paradigms. The thesis investigates the
possibility of 'thinking excess' in new and alternative ways, more commensurate
with the intensity of such events.
The importance of Bataille notions of the sacred, sacrificial expenditure and
non-dialectical negativity in approaching changing forms of extreme violence are
emphasised. Bataille specifies a fundamental 'need' for violent expenditure or
sacrifice that persists in a contemporary age no longer equipped to recognise these
principles. Baudrillard's approach is related but departs from Bataille's thought.
Baudrillard's emphasis on symbolic exchange, seduction and the fatal denies the
existenceo f fundamental 'needs' yet also emphasisesth e cultural and ritual nature of
extreme violence. These themes are developed into a detailed reading of 'deathevents'.
They are theorised as distinctively contemporary, occupying a postdialectical
cultural space characterised by the elimination of sacred and symbolic
principles, which nevertheless endure in fragmentary, displaced and deracinated
form. These are conditions in which new forms of 'evil' may emerge.
In emphasising the theoretical differences between the readings of violence
offered by Bataille, and by Baudrillard, the thesis rey-eals shifts in the nature of
radical theory from the middle to the late twentieth century. The notions of utility,
limit and excess are central to this shift and to alternative ways of thinking the
excessive nature of contemporary violence.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.