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Georges Bataille (1897-1962) - pseudonyms: Lord Auch, Pierre Angélique, Louis Trente

 

French essayist, philosophical theorist and novelist, often called the "metaphysician of evil." Bataille was interested in sex, death, degradation, and the power and potential of the obscene. He rejected traditional literature and considered that the ultimate aim of all intellectual, artistic, or religious activity should be the annihilation of the rational individual in a violent, transcendental act of communion. Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and Philippe Sollers have all written enthusiastically about his work.

"Blameless, shameless. The more desperate the eroticism, the more hopelessly women show off their heavy breasts, opening their mouths and screaming out, the greater the attraction. In contrast, a promise of light awaits at the limits of the mystical outlook. I find this unbearable and soon returned to insolence and erotic vomit - which doesn't respect anybody or anything. How sweet to enter filthy night and proudly wrap myself in it. The whore I went with was as uncomplicated as a child and she hardly talked. There was another one, who came crashing down from a tabletop - sweet, shy, heartbreakingly tender, as I watched her with drunken, unfeeling eyes." (from Guilty, 1988)

Georges Bataille was born in Billon, Puy-de-Dôme, in central France. "I belong to a turbulent generation, born to literary life in the tumult of surrealism," Bataille once defined his background. His childhood was a nightmare, or at least we can conclude that with some certainty from his autobiographical piece in the novel Story of the Eye (1928). Bataille's mother, Marie-Antoinette, attempted suicide several times, but none of her desperate acts succeeded. Bataille loved his father, Joseph-Aristide, who suffered from general paralysis due to syphilis. In 1913 he went mad and died three years later. "What upset me more was seeing my father shit a great number of times . . . ", Bataille later wrote. At the age of fifteen Bataille left school for a period; until then he had not been a good student, but after taking up studies at a boy's school in Épernay on the Marne, he completed the first part of his baccalauréat. On the eve of World War I, Bataille converted to Catholicism. In 1916-17 he served in the army, but was discharged because of tuberculosis. Ill health and bouts of depression troubled Bataille all his life.

In 1917 Bataille joined the seminary at Saint-Fleur with the intention of becoming a priest. He spent a period with the Benedictine congregation at Quarr, on the Isle of Wright. A few years later Bataille experienced a loss of faith. From 1918 to 1922 he studied at the École des Chartres in Paris. His thesis dealt with thirteenth century verse. In 1922 he received a fellowship at the School of Advanced Hispanic Studies in Madrid. 

In the 1920 Bataille was involved with the Surrealist movement, but he called himself the "enemy from within." He was officially excommunicated from its inner circles by André Breton, who accused him of splintering the group. In the same decade, after a liberating period of psychoanalysis, Bataille started to write. He founded and edited many journals and was the first to publish such thinkers as Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Between 1929 and 1931 Bataille edited the journal Documents (1929-31), which was devoted to cultural phenomena.

Alexandre Kojève's lecture series on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit at the École des Hautes Études was pivotal for Bataille and for an entire generation of French intellectuals. It was also attended more or less regularly from 1934 to 1939 by Raymond Aron, André Breton, Roger Caillois, Pierre Klossowski, Jacques Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, and Raymond Queneau. According to Queneau, Bataille occasionally nodded off mid-session. Bataille said that Kojève's reading was "equal to the book" itself, that he was "suffocated, transfixed" by it: "Kojève's course exhausted me, crushed me, killed me ten times."

With Pierre Klossowski, the brother of the painter Balthus, Bataille befriended in 1934; they shared a similar interest in psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and Marquis de Sade. In 1935 Bataille co-founded with André Breton the anti-Fascist group Contre-Attaque. To explore the manifestation of the sacred in society he, in 1939, co-founded with Michel Leiris and Roger Caillois the short-lived Collège de Sociologie. It was closely associated with a secret society which published the Acéphale review.

Between the years 1922 and 1944, Bataille was a librarian and a deputy keeper at Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. In the evenings Bataille changed his role and became known as a regular visitor of bordellos. This habit caused him troubles at work. He resigned in 1944 because of tuberculosis, two years earlier he had moved to Vézelay, where he was eventually to be buried. During the Occupation Bataille traveled restlessly between Paris and provincial France, and produced some of his major essays, including L'Éxpérience intérieure (1943), Le Coupable (1944), and Sur Nietzsche (1945). In 1946 he founded one of the most respected scholarly journals in France, Critique.

After the war Bataille was unemployed for a long time and his financial situation was rapaidly going downhill. In 1947 he lectured at the Collegè Philosophique and edited a series of books for the publishers Minuit. From 1949 to 1951 he worked as a librarian in Carpentras in Provence, and from 1951 in Orléans. In 1961 Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Juan Miro arranged an auction of paintings to help him in his difficulties. Bataille died in Paris on July 8, 1962. At that time he was ready to return back to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The Tears of Eros (1961) was Bataille's final book, an excursion in the history of eroticism and violence from the Aurignacian era to modern times. Bataille started to write it in 1959, but his declining physical strength, lapses in memory, and the arrest of his eldest daughter for her political activities for Algeria slowed down the work. In its foreword Bataille confessed: "In the violence of overcoming, in the disorder of my laughter and my sobbing, in the excess of raptures that shatter me, I seize on the similarity between a horror and a voluptuousness that goes beyond me, between an ultimate pain and an unbearable joy!" In the last chapter he wrote about the Chinese torture and presented photographs of an ecstatic man who is cut to hundred pieces. The strange, exalted facial expression of the man fascinated Bataille: "I have never stopped being obsessed by the image of this pain," he said. André Malraux, who was Minister of State for Cultural Affairs, condemned the book.

Bataille was twice married, first with the actress Silvia Maklès; they divorced in 1934. Among Silvia's credits were roles in films by Renoir and Carné. She also played in Renoir's Une partie de compagne (1936), in which Bataille appeared as a country priest. Later Silvia married the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Bataille also had a liaison with "Laurie" (Colette Peignot, who died in 1938). In 1946 Bataille married Diane de Beauharnais; they had one daughter.

Histoire de l'oeil (1928, Story of the Eye), Le Bleu du ciel (1945, Blue of Noon), and L'abbé C (1950, The Abbot C.) are among Bataille's best-known glorifications of eroticism. He felt that sexual union causes a momentary indistinguishability between otherwise distinct objects. The secret of eroticism opened visions into unknowable continuity of being, the death. Poetry has similar dimensions when it dissolves the reader "into the strange." Pornography was for Bataille the vehicle for his own surrealist experiments and memory – this also partly explains complex associations of eggs and eyes.

Story of the Eye, a classic of erotic literature, was written in 1928 under the pseudonym Lord Auch. It told a tale of a young couple, Simone and the narrator, who explore the boundaries of sexual taboos. They play with eggs, milk and all bodily fluids. During a champagne orgy, their friend Marcelle is left in a wardrobe. She becomes traumatized and is taken to a sanatorium. After she is brought back she hangs herself in the same wardrobe. Simone and 'the Cardinal', the narrator, escape to Spain, where their sexual fantasies become more blasphemous. "I was not even satisfied with the usual debauchery, because the only thing it dirties is debauchery itself, while, in some way or other, anything sublime and perfectly pure is left intact by it. My kind of debauchery soils not only my body and my thoughts, but also anything I may conceive in its course, that is to say, the vast starry universe, which merely serves as a backdrop." In one scene of the book the heroine strangles her partner to force sexual arousal on him. Later the Japanese director Nagisa Oshima used similar climax in his ritualistic film In the Realm of the Senses (1976), which was based on an actual criminal case in the 1930s Japan. Story of the Eye has enjoyed a cult status. Most recently it was rediscovered by the Icelandic pop singer Björk Guðdmundsdóttir.

Blue of Noon was set against the backdrop of General Strike in Spain and nascent German Nazism. The protagonist, Troppmann, sways between two women, Lazare, a young Communist, and Dorothea or 'Dirty.' Troppmann is almost always drunk, he is a manic, nihilist dreamer. Eventually he leaves Germany with Dorothea, they copulate in a graveyard and watch a band of Hitler Youth playing marching songs. Eyes appear again in the text: "My eyes were no longer lost among the stars that were shining above me actually, but in the blue of the noon sky. I shut them so as to lose myself in that bright blueness."

"The actions of religious sacrifice and of erotic fusion, in which the subject seeks to be 'loosed from its relatedness to the I' and to make room for re-established 'continuity of Being', are exemplary for him. Bataille, too, pursues the traces of a primordial force that could heal the discontinuity or rift between the rationally disciplined world of work and the outlawed other of reason. He imagines this overpowering return to a lost continuity as the eruption of elements opposed to reason, as a breathtaking act of self-de-limiting. In this process of dissolution, the monadically closed-off subjectivity of self-assertive and mutually objectifying individuals is dispossessed and cast down into the abyss." (Jürgen Habermas in Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, 1987)

Friedrich Nietzsche's work influenced Bataille deeply, and such figures as Sade and Gilles de Rais. The latter was a 15th-century serial killer whose victims were young children. Bataille's views about social organization were influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss' The Gift. In La part maudite (1949) he dealt with the phenomenon of waste in nature and society. Although Bataille could write clearly he was many times content to present his ideas in a puzzling way. As in the novels of Henry Miller, obscenity functioned as a techique to break away from language and culture of the bourgeois society.

For further reading: Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography by Michel Surya, Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson (2010); Georges Bataille by Stuart Kendall (2007); Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin by Peter Tracey Connor (2000); Georges Bataille by Roland A. Champagne (1999); Bataille: A Critical Reader, ed. by Fred Botting and Scott Wilson (1998); On Bataille: Critical Essays, ed. by Leslie Anne Boldt-Irons (1995); Georges Bataille: A Bibliography by Joan Nordquist (1994); Bataille: Writing the Sacred, ed. by Carolyn Bailey Gill (1995); Georges Bataille by Michael Richardson (1994); Eroticism in Georges Bataille and Henry Miller by Gilles Mayne (1993); The Taste for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Violent Nihilism by Nick Land (1992); Georges Bataille, la mort à l'oeuvre by Michel Surya (1992); Passion and Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory by Steven Shaviro (1990); Yale French Studies issue on Bataille, 78 (1990); Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille by Denis Hollier (1989); Beyond the Gift: Reading Georges Bataille by Michèle Richman (1982); Vers une rèvolution culturelle: Artaud, Bataille, ed. by P. Sollers (1973); L'entretien infini by M. Blanchot (1969); L'Arc issue on Bataille, 32 (May 1967); Critique issue on Bataille (August-September 1963)

Selected works:

  • Histoire de l'oeil, 1928
    - A Tale of Satisfied Desire (tr. 1953) / Story of the Eye (translated by Joachim Neugroschel, 1987)
    - Silmän tarina (suom. Seppo Tuokko, 1986)
    - film: Story of the Eye (2004), dir. by Andrew Repasky McElhinney, screenplay by Dan Buskirk. starring Melissa Elizabeth Forgione, Querelle Haynes, Kevin Mitchell Martin, Sean Timothy Sexton, Courtney Shea, Claude Barrington White
  • La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade, 1929 (in Œuvres complètes, vol. 2, 1970)
    - The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade (translated by Allan Stoekl, in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl, 1985)
    - Markiisi de Saden käyttöarvo (suom. T. Arppe, in Noidan oppipoika: kirjoituksia 1920-luvulta 1950-luvulle, 1998)
  • L'anus solaire, 1931
  • La structure Psychologique du Fascisme, 1933 (in La Critique Sociale; in Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, 1970)
    - The Psychological Structure of Fascism (translated by Carl L. Lovitt, in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl, 1985)
    - Fasismin psykologinen rakenne (suom. T. Arppe, in Noidan oppipoika: kirjoituksia 1920-luvulta 1950-luvulle, 1998)
  • La Notion de Dépense, 1933 (in La Critique Sociale; in Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, 1970)
    - The Notion of Expenditure (in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl, 1985)
    - Tuhlauksen käsite (suom. T. Arppe, in Noidan oppipoika: kirjoituksia 1920-luvulta 1950-luvulle, 1998)
  • Sacrifices, 1936
  • Chronique nietzschéenne, 1937 (in Acéphale; in Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, 1970)
    - Nietzschean Chronicle (translated by Allan Stoekl, in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl, 1985)
    - Nietzscheläinen kronikka (suom. T. Arppe, in Noidan oppipoika: kirjoituksia 1920-luvulta 1950-luvulle, 1998)
  • Madame Edwarda, 1937
    - Madame Edwarda (translated by Austryn Wainhouse, in My Mother, Madame Edwarda & The Dead Man, 1989)
    - Madame Edwarda (suom. Kaisa Sivenius, 1998)
  • L'apprenti sorcier, 1938 (in Nouvelle Revue Française; in Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, 1970)
    - The Sorcerer's Apprentice (in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl, 1985)
    - Noidan oppipoika (suom. T. Arppe, in Noidan oppipoika: kirjoituksia 1920-luvulta 1950-luvulle, 1998)
  • L'Expérience intérieure, 1943
    - The Inner Experience (translated by Leslie Anne Boldt, 1988)
  • Le Coupable, 1944
    - Guilty (translated by Bruce Boone, 1988; Stuart Kendall, 2011)
  • Dirty, 1945
  • Le Bleu du ciel, 1945
    - Blue of Noon (translated by Harry Mathews, 1988)
  • Sur Nietzsche, 1945
    - On Nietzsche (translated by Bruce Boone, 1994)
  • L'Orestie, 1945
  • Dianus, 1947
  • L'Alleluiah, 1947
  • La haine de la poésie, 1947
  • La Part maudite, 1947
    - The Accursed Share (translated by Robert Hurley, 1988)
  • Histoire des rats, 1948
  • Théorie de la religion, 1948
    - Theory of Religion (translated by Robert Hurley, 1989)
  • Éponine, 1949
  • L'abbé C, 1950
    - L'Abbe C: A Novel (translated by Philip A. Facey, 2001)
  • L'Être indifférence n'est rien, 1954
  • Somme athéologique I-II, 1954-61
  • Lascaux, ou, La Naissance de l'art, 1955
    - Lascaux; or, The Birth of Art: Prehistoric Painting (translated by Austryn Wainhouse, 1955)
  • Hegel, la Mort et le Sacrifice, 1955 (in Deucalion 5; Œuvres Complètes, Vol. 12, 1988)
    - Hegel, Death and Sacrifice (in Yale French Studies, 1990)
    - Hegel, uhri ja kuolema (suom. T. Arppe, in Noidan oppipoika: kirjoituksia 1920-luvulta 1950-luvulle, 1998)
  • Manet, 1955
    - Manet (translated by Austryn Wainhouse and James Emmons, 1955)
  • L'Érotisme ou la muse en question de l'être, 1957
    - Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo (translated by Mary Dalwood, 1962) / Erotism: Death And Sensuality (translated by Mary Dalwood, 1991)
  • La Littérature et le mal, 1957
    - Literature and Evil (translated by Alastair Hamilton, 1973)
  • Les Larmes d'Éros, 1961
    - The Tears of Eros (translated by Peter Connor, 1983)
  • L'impossible, 1962
    - The Impossible (translated by Robert Hurley, 1991)
  • Le petit, 1963
  • Gilles de Rais, 1965
    -The Trial of Gilles de Rais (translated by Richard Robinson, 1991)
  • Ma mère, 1966
    - My Mother (translated by Austryn Wainhouse, in My Mother, Madame Edwarda & The Dead Man, 1989)
    - film: Ma mère (2004), dir. by Christophe Honoré, starring Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel, Emma de Caunes
  • La notion de dépense, 1967
  • Le mort, 1967
    - The Dead Man (translated by Austryn Wainhouse, in My Mother, Madame Edwarda & The Dead Man, 1989)
    - film 1987, dir. by Peggy Ahwesh & Keith Sanborn
  • La Pratique de la joie avant la mort, 1967
  • L'Archangélique, 1967
  • Documents, 1968
  • Œuvres complètes, 1970-88 (12 vols.)
  • Le Collège de sociologie (1937-1939), 1979 (Bataille et al.)
    - The College of Sociology (translated by Betsy Wing), 1988
  • Visions of Excess, 1985 (translated by Allan Stoekl, with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr.)
  • My Mother, Madame Edwarda and The Dead Man, 1989 (translated by Austryn Wainhouse)
  • The Accursed Share, 1991 (vols. 1-3, translated by Robert Hurley)
  • La Dictionnaire critique, 1993 (with Michel Leiris, Marcel Griaule, Carl Einstein, Robert Desnos, and writers accociated with the Acéphale and Surrealist groups)
    - Encyclopaedia Acephalica: Comprising the Critical Dictionary & Related Texts (edited by Isabelle Waldberg, 1996)
  • The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, 1994 (edited and translated by Michael Richardson
  • The Bataille Reader, 1997 (eds. Fred Botting and Scott Wilson)
  • The Collected Poem of Georges Bataille, 1999 (translated by Mark Spitzer)
  • L'Apprenti Sorcier (textes, lettres et documents (1932–1939) rassemblés, présentés et annotés par Marina Galletti, 1999
  • The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, 2004 (edited and with an introduction by Stuart Kendall; translated by Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall)
  • The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture, 2009 (translated by Stuart Kendall and Michelle Kendall)


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