Limit-experience (French: expérience limite) refers to actions which approach the limits of possible experience. This can be in terms of their intensity and seemingly impossible or paradoxical qualities. A limit-experience dissociates the subject from the experience that it exists in and identifies with, leading to a confrontation with the Real. The idea was proposed by Karl Jaspers and later, the French philosopher Georges Bataille, and subsequently became associated with French philosophers Maurice Blanchot and Michel Foucault.
Reaching back to Charles Baudelaire and his poetics of paradoxical experience, such as in the line "O filthy grandeur! O sublime disgrace!" in poem 25 of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, Bataille was struck by what he saw as "the fact that these two complete contrasts were identical—divine ecstasy and extreme horror". He went on to challenge the conventions laid down by the surrealists at the time with an anti-idealist philosophy conditioned on what he called "the impossible", defined by breaking "rules" until something beyond all rules was reached.
In this way, he strove for the limit-experience, what Foucault would later summarize as "the point of life which lies as close as possible to the impossibility of living, which lies at the limit or the extreme". Bataille sought to identify experiences of this kind, and to establish a philosophy that would convey how to live at the edge of limits where the ability to comprehend experience breaks down.
Foucault remarked that "the idea of a limit-experience that wrenches the subject from itself is what was important to me in my reading of Nietzsche, Bataille, and Blanchot". In his manner, the systems of philosophy and psychology and their conceptions of reality and the unified subject could be challenged and exposed in favor of what their systems and structures refused and excluded, viewing them from a standpoint informed by the potentials of limit-experience.
How far Foucault's fascination with intense experiences goes in his entire body of work is the subject of debate, with the concept arguably being absent from his later and more well known work on sexuality and discipline, as well as strongly associated with the cult of the mad artist in Madness and Civilization.
Influenced by Bataille, from whom he drew the idea of impossibility, Lacan explored the role of limit-experiences, such as "desire, boredom, confinement, revolt, prayer, sleeplessness ... and panic" in the formation of the Other.
He also adopted some of Bataille's views on love, seeing it as predicated on man having previously "experienced the limit within which, like desire, he is bound". He saw masochism in particular as a limit-experience, an aspect which fed into his article "Kant avec Sade".
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