Story of the Eye
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Histoire de l'oeil (Eng:Story of the Eye) is a novella written by Georges Bataille that details the sexual experimentation of two teenage lovers, and their increasing perversion. It is narrated by the young man looking back on his experiences. In its recent Penguin edition (2001), it includes Metaphor of the Eye, a commentary from the late Roland Barthes and notes by Susan Sontag on the significance of Bataille's novella for literary and cultural depictions of human sexuality. Story of the Eye also is one of the key texts in Sontag's nobrow essay The Pornographic Imagination.
Histoire de l'oeil was first published under the pseudonym 'Lord Auch' at Paris in 1928 in an edition of 134 copies by René Bonnel and Pascal Pia. It was illustrated with eight lithographs by André Masson.
Story of the Eye consists of several vignettes, centred around the sexual passion that exists between the unnamed late adolescent male narrator and Simone, his primary female partner. There are two secondary figures within this episodic narrative as well. Marcelle is a mentally ill sixteen year old, who comes to a sad end, and Lord Edmund is a voyeuristic English emigré aristocrat.
Simone and the narrator first consummate their attraction for one another on a beach near their home, and involve Marcelle within their pastime. The couple are exhibitionists, copulating within Simone's house, in full view of her mother. During this second episode, Simone derives pleasure from inserting hard and soft boiled eggs for her vaginal and anal stimulation, and there is considerable enjoyment also derived from the viscosity of various liquids.
The pair undertake an orgy with other adolescents, which does involve some broken glass and involuntary bloodletting, ending in Marcelle's breakdown, without any further sexual contact at this stage. The narrator flees his own parents' home, and takes a pistol from the office of his bedridden, senile and violent aged father. They view Marcelle within a sanatorium, but fail to break her out. Naked, they flee during night, back to Simone's home, and there are more displays of exhibitionist sex before Simone's widowed mother before the two are finally able to break Marcelle out of the institution. Unfortunately, Marcelle is now totally insane, and deprived of her therapeutic environment, she hangs herself. The pair have sex next to her corpse.
After Marcelle's suicide, the two flee to Spain, where they meet Sir Edmund, a debauched English aristocrat. They witness a Madrid bullfight, which involves the prowess of handsome twenty year old matador El Granero. Initially, El Granero kills the first bull that he encounters, and the animal is posthumously castrated, and Simone derives pleasure from the vaginal insertion of these taurine testicles. Unfortunately, El Granero is killed by the next bull that he fights, and his face is mutilated, with the result that as his body is removed from the stadium, his right eye has worked loose from its socket, and is hanging, bloody and distended.
Simone, Sir Edmund and the narrator visit the Catholic church of San Seville after the day's events, and Simone aggressively seduces Don Aminado, a handsome young Spanish Catholic priest, fellating him, while Simone and the narrator have sex. Sir Edmund undertakes a blasphemous parody of the Catholic Eucharist involving descration of the bread and wine using Don Aminado's urine and semen, before Simone strangles him to death during his final orgasm. Sir Edmund eviscerates one of the dead priests' eyes, and Simone inserts it within her vagina, while she and the narrator have sex. The trio successfully elude apprehension for the murder of Don Aminado, and make their way down Andalusia before Sir Edmund purchases an African-staffed yacht so that they can continue their debaucheries, whereupon the story ends.
In a postscript, Bataille reveals that the character of Marcelle is based on his own mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, while the narrator's father is also a transcription of his own unhappy paternal relationship. In an English language edition, Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag provide critical comment on the events.
Sontag: Bataille and de Sade
Susan Sontag first published her essay "The Pornographic Imagination" for her collection of literary reviews, Styles of Radical Will (1969). She argued that as a genre, pornography should be judged on the basis of its own narrative structure. She counters Theodor Adorno's argument that pornographic narratives consist of nothing more than a series of episodic vignettes centered on description of human sexual activities. Georges Bataille is particularly significant for her case, given the transgressive literary merit of his work through its juxtaposition of eros and thanatos (sex and death). She claims that Story of the Eye was a therapeutic and autobiographical text for Bataille, and that Bataille owed much to the Marquis De Sade, another transgressive libertine French author who dealt with the same subject matter.
Barthes: Metaphors of the Eye and Liquid
Roland Barthes published the original French version of his essay, Metaphor of the Eye, within Bataille's own journal Critique, albeit shortly after Bataille's death in 1962. As one might deduce, Barthes' analysis centres on the centrality of the eye to this series of vignettes, and notices that it is interchangeable with eggs, bulls' testicles and other ovular objects within the narrative. However, he also traces a second series of liquid metaphors within the text, which flow through tears, cat's milk, egg yolks, frequent urination scenes, blood and semen.
Furthermore, he argues that he does not believe that Story of the Eye is necessarily a pornographic narrative, given that these structuring chains of metaphors do provide coherent underpinning sequences.
- Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk says this is her favorite book, and plans to read a portion of it on one of her albums.
- Georges Bataille: Story of the Eye: New York : Urizen Books: 1977: ISBN 0916354903
- Susan Sontag: "The Pornographic Imagination" in Styles of Radical Will: London: Secker and Warburg: 1969: ISBN 0-436-47801-3