From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"It seems to me that if literature moves away from evil, it quickly becomes boring."--Georges Bataille
Though never an official member of Surrealism, Bataille described himself as Surrealism’s ‘enemy from within…’. More than Breton, he influenced 1960s French theorists and mid-1980s American art critics.
Bataille understood more clearly than any other writer
- "One reason that Histoire de l'oeil and Madame Edwarda make such a strong and unsettling impression is that Bataille understood more clearly than any other writer I know of that what pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death. I am not suggesting that every pornographic work speaks, either overtly or covertly, of death. Only works dealing with that specific and sharpest inflection of the themes of lust, "the obscene," do. It's toward the gratifications of death, succeeding and surpassing those of eros, that every truly obscene quest tends." --Susan Sontag in the The Pornographic Imagination
Influence on American modern art criticism
American art criticism as professed by Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Hal Foster has been much influenced by Bataille. In fact, the whole of so-called French theory has had an enormous — and by some much bemoaned — influence on postmodern American theory, much like German theory was influential in post-war France. See American reception of French theory.
Bretonian and Bataillean strains of Surrealism
Attracted early on to Surrealism, Bataille quickly fell out with its founder André Breton. In recent years, the Bataillean strain of surrealism documented in Bataille's journal Documents has come into favor. Documents also featured the often cited Critical Dictionary.
Life and work
- See Georges Bataille : An Intellectual Biography (2002) by Michel Surya
Bataille was born in Billom (Auvergne). His father suffered from general paralysis, brought on by syphilis. He was, according to Bataille, already blind when Georges was conceived. His mother also struggled with mental illness and attempted suicide several times.The family moves to Rheims in 1900. He and his mother evacuate Reims in 1914, which was under the German advance, abandoning his father, who was too far gone to be easily transported. They returned in 1915, but his father had already died.
He considered priesthood and went to a Catholic seminary but renounced his faith in 1922. He is often quoted as regarding the brothels of Paris as his true churches, a sentiment which reflects the concepts in his work.
Bataille attended the École des Chartes in Paris and graduated (second in his class) in February 1922, as a 'archiviste-paléographe' (which is translated by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson as 'palaeographic archivist', a term which by any modern English professional standards, is virtually meaningless). Bataille is often referred to, interchangeably, as an archivist and a librarian. He hid Walter Benjamin's manuscript of Paris Arcades in the Parisian Bibliothèque Nationale when Benjamin fled from the Germans to Spain.
While it is true that he worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale, his work there was with medallion collections (he also published scholarly articles on numismatics), and his thesis at the École de Chartes was a critical edition of the medieval manuscript L’Ordre de Chevalerie, a conte en vers of the 13th century which he produced directly by classifying the eight manuscripts from which he reconstructed the poem. After graduating he moved to the School of Advanced Spanish Studies in Madrid.
Journals and posthumous appreciation
Founder of several journals and groups of writers, Bataille is the author of an oeuvre both abundant and diverse: readings, poems, essays on innumerable subjects (on the mysticism of economy, in passing of poetry, philosophy, the arts, eroticism). He sometimes published under pseudonyms, and some of his publications were banned. He was relatively ignored in his lifetime and scorned by contemporaries such as Jean-Paul Sartre as an advocate of mysticism, but after his death had considerable influence on authors such as Michel Foucault, Philippe Sollers and Jacques Derrida, all of whom were affiliated with the Tel Quel journal. His influence is felt in the work of Jean Baudrillard, as well as in the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan.
Surrealism from the outside
Attracted early on to Surrealism, Bataille quickly fell out with its founder André Breton, although Bataille and the Surrealists resumed cautiously cordial relations after World War II. Bataille was a member of the extremely influential College of Sociology in France between World War I and World War II. The College of Sociology was also comprised of several renegade surrealists. He was heavily influenced by Hegel, Freud, Marx, Marcel Mauss, the Marquis de Sade, Alexandre Kojève and Friedrich Nietzsche, the last of whom he defended in a notable essay against appropriation by the Nazis.
Fascinated by human sacrifice, he founded a secret society, Acéphale (the headless), the symbol of which was a decapitated man, in order to instigate a new religion. According to legend, Bataille and the other members of Acéphale each agreed to be the sacrificial victim as an inauguration; none of them would agree to be the executioner. An indemnity was offered for an executioner, but none was found before the dissolution of Acéphale shortly before the war. The group also published an eponymous review, highly concerned by Nietzsche's philosophy, and which carried an attempt of thinking what Jacques Derrida has called an "anti-sovereignty". Bataille thus collaborated with André Masson, Pierre Klossowski, Roger Caillois, Jules Monnerot, Jean Rollin and Jean Wahl.
Bataille had an amazing interdisciplinary talent — he drew from diverse influences and used diverse modes of discourse to create his work. His novel Story of the Eye, for example, published under the pseudonym Lord Auch (literally, Lord "to the shithouse" — "auch" being slang for telling somebody off by sending them to the toilet), was initially read as pure pornography, while interpretation of the work has gradually matured to reveal the considerable philosophical and emotional depth that is characteristic of other writers who have been categorized within "literature of transgression." The imagery of the novel is built upon a series of metaphors which in turn refer to philosophical constructs developed in his work: the eye, the egg, the sun, the earth, the testicle.
Other famous novels include My Mother and The Blue of Noon. The latter, with its necrophilic and political tendencies, its autobiographical or testimonial undertones, and its philosophical moments turns Story of the Eye on its head, providing a much darker and bleaker treatment of contemporary historical reality.
Bataille was also a philosopher (though he renounced this title), but for many, like Sartre, his philosophical claims bordered on atheist mysticism. During World War Two, and influenced by Kojève's reading of Hegel, and by Nietzsche, he wrote a Summa Atheologica (the title parallels Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica) which comprises his works "Inner Experience", "Guilty", and "On Nietzsche". After the war he composed his "The Accursed share", and founded the also extremely influential journal "Critique". His very special conception of "sovereignty" (which may be described as "anti-sovereignty") was discussed by Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy and others.
Bataille was twice married, first with the actress Silvia Maklès; they divorced in 1934, and she later married the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Bataille also had a liaison with Colette Peignot, who died in 1938.
In 1946 Bataille married Diane de Beauharnais; they had one daughter.
Bataille was buried at Vezelay.
Bataille's intimacy at one point or another in his life with Maurice Blanchot, Roger Caillois, René Char, Pierre Klossowski, Alexandre Kojève, Jacques Lacan, Michel Leiris, André Masson, and Pablo Picasso.
- "Man goes constantly in fear of himself. His erotic urges terrify him." ("L'esprit humain est exposé aux plus surprenantes injonctions. Sans cesse il a peur de lui même. Ses mouvements érotiques le terrifient. La sainte se détourne avec effroi du voluptueux: elle ignore l'unité des passions inavouables de ce dernier et des siennes propres.")
- "Eroticism is assenting to life even in death."
- "The sovereign being is burdened with a servitude that crushes him, and the condition of free men is deliberate servility."
- "Pleasure only starts once the worm has got into the fruit, to become delightful happiness must be tainted with poison."
- "Naturally, love's the most distant possibility."
The main concept in Bataille's philosophy is Dionysian base materialism, his desire to bring all phenomena down to the same level of direct physical experience. In this sense, he shares many similarities with the philosophy of Mikhail Bakhtin.
- The Accursed Share
- Heterogeneous matter
- The Pineal Eye
- The Sacred
- Slow slicing
- The Solar Anus
Works published in French:
- Histoire de l'oeil, 1928. (Story of the Eye) (under pseudonym of Lord Auch)
- L'Anus solaire, 1931. (The Solar Anus)
- The Notion of Expenditure, 1933.
- L'Amité, 1940 (Friendship) (under pseudonym of Dianus - Early version of Part One of Le Coupable)
- Madame Edwarda, 1941. (under pseudonym of Pierre Angélique - Fictitiously dated 1937; 2nd Edition - 1945; 3rd Edition - 1956 published with preface in Bataille's name)
- Le Petit, 1943. (under pseudonym of Louis Trente; fictitious publication date of 1934)
- L'expérience intérieure, 1943. (Inner Experience)
- L'Archangélique, 1944. (The Archangelical)
- Le Coupable, 1944. (Guilty)
- Sur Nietzsche, 1945. (On Nietzsche)
- Dirty, 1945.
- L'Orestie, 1945. (The Oresteia)
- Histoire de rats, 1947. (A Story of Rats)
- L'Alleluiah, 1947. (Alleluia: The Catechism of Dianus)
- Méthode de méditation, 1947. (Method of Meditation)
- La Haine de la Poésie, 1947. (The Hatred of Poetry - reissued in 1962 as The Impossible)
- La Scissiparité, 1949. (The Scission)
- La Part maudite, 1949. (The Accursed Share)
- L'Abbe C, 1950.
- L'expérience intérieure, 1954 (second edition of Inner Experience, followed by Method of Meditation and Post-scriptum 1953)
- L'Être indifférence n'est rien, 1954. (Undifferentiated Being is Nothing)
- Lascaux, ou la Naissance de l'Art, 1955.
- Manet, 1955.
- Le Bleu du ciel, 1957 (Written 1935-36) (Blue of Noon)
- La littérature et le Mal, 1957. (Literature and Evil)
- L'Erotisme, 1957. (Erotism)
- Le Coupable, 1961. (Guilty, second, revised edition, followed by Alleluia: The Catechism of Dianus)
- Les larmes d'Éros, 1961. (The Tears of Eros)
- L'Impossible : Histoire de rats suivi de Dianus et de L'Orestie, 1962. (The Impossible)
Georges Bataille, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard)
- Volume 1: Premiers écrits, 1922-1940: Histoire de l'œil - L'Anus solaire - Sacrifices - Articles.
- Volume 2: Écrits posthumes, 1922-1940
- Volume 3: Œuvres littéraires: Madame Edwarda - Le Petit - L'Archangélique - L'Impossible - La Scissiparité - L'Abbé C. - L'être différencié n'est rien - Le Bleu du ciel.
- Volume 4: Œuvres littéraires posthumes: Poèmes - Le Mort - Julie - La Maison brûlée - La Tombe de Louis XXX - Divinus Deus - Ébauches.
- Volume 5: La Somme athéologique I: L'Expérience intérieure - Méthode de méditation - Post-scriptum 1953 - Le Coupable - L'Alleluiah.
- Volume 6: La Somme athéologique II: Sur Nietzsche - Mémorandum - Annexes.
- Volume 7: L'économie à la mesure de l'univers - La Part maudite - La limite de l'utile (Fragments) - Théorie de la Religion - Conférences 1947-1948 - Annexes.
- Volume 8: L'Histoire de l'érotisme - Le surréalisme au jour le jour - Conférences 1951-1953 - La Souveraineté - Annexes.
- Volume 9: Lascaux, ou La naissance de l’art - Manet - La littérature et le mal - Annexes
- Volume 10: L’érotisme - Le procès de Gilles de Rais - Les larmes d’Eros
- Volume 11: Articles I, 1944-1949
- Volume 12: Articles II, 1950-1961
- Histoire de l'oeil, 1928. (Story of the Eye) (under pseudonym of Lord Auch)
- Le Bleu du ciel, 1935 (Blue of Noon)
- Madame Edwarda, 1937. (under pseudonym of Pierre Angélique)
- L'expérience intérieure, 1943. (Inner Experience)
- La Part maudite, 1949 (The Accursed Share)
- L'Abbé C, 1950.
- L'Erotisme, 1957 (Erotism)
- La littérature et le mal, 1957. (Literature and Evil)
- Les larmes d'éros, 1961. (The Tears of Eros)
- L'Impossible, 1962. (The Impossible)
- Ma mére, 1966 (My Mother)
- Le Mort, 1967 (The Dead Man)
- Théorie de la religion, 1973. (Theory of Religion)
- Lascaux; or, the Birth of Art, the Prehistoric Paintings, Austryn Wainhouse, 1955, Lausanne: Skira.
- Manet, Austryn Wainhouse and James Emmons, 1955, Editions d'Art Albert Skira.
- Literature and Evil, Alastair Hamilton, 1973, Calder & Boyars Ltd.
- Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939, Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, and Donald M. Leslie, Jr., 1985, University of Minnesota Press.
- Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Mary Dalwood, 1986, City Lights Books.
- Story of the Eye, Joachim Neugroschel, 1987, City Lights Books.
- The Accursed Share: An Essay On General Economy. Volume I: Consumption, Robert Hurley, 1988, Zone Books.
- The College of Sociology, 1937–39 (Bataille et al.), Betsy Wing, 1988, University of Minnesota Press.
- Guilty, Bruce Boone, 1988, The Lapis Press.
- Inner Experience, Leslie Anne Boldt, 1988, State University of New York.
- My Mother, Madame Edwarda, The Dead Man, Austryn Wainhouse, with essays by Yukio Mishima and Ken Hollings, 1989, Marion Boyars Publishers.
- The Tears of Eros, Peter Connor, 1989, City Lights Books.
- Theory of Religion, Robert Hurley, 1989, Zone Books.
- The Accursed Share: Volumes II and III, Robert Hurley, 1991, Zone Books.
- The Impossible, Robert Hurley, 1991, City Lights Books.
- The Trial of Gilles de Rais, Richard Robinson, 1991, Amok Press.
- On Nietzsche, Bruce Boone, 1992, Paragon House.
- The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, Michael Richardson, 1994, Verso.
- Encyclopaedia Acephalica (Bataille et al.), Iain White et al., 1995, Atlas Press.
- L'Abbe C, Philip A Facey, 2001, Marion Boyars Publishers.
- Blue of Noon, Harry Matthews, 2002, Marion Boyars Publishers.
- The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, Stuart Kendall and Michelle Kendall, 2004, University of Minnesota Press.
- Ades, Dawn, and Simon Baker, Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and DOCUMENTS. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006).
- Boldt-Irons, Leslie Anne (ed.), On Bataille: Critical Essays (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995).
- Surya, Michel 'Georges Bataille, la mort à l'œuvre' (Gallimard: Paris, 1992)
- Connor, Peter, Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
- Derrida, Jacques, "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978).
- Gill, Carolyn, Bataille: Writing the Sacred, (London: Routledge, 1995).
- ffrench, Patrick, The Cut (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
- Gemerchak, Christopher, The Sunday of the Negative: Reading Bataille Reading Hegel (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003).
- Hill, Lesley, "Bataile, Klossowski, Blanchot: Writing At The Limit" (Oxford University Press, 2001).
- Hollier, Denis, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille (MIT Press, 1992).
- Hussey, Andrew, Inner Scar: The Mysicism of Georges Bataille (Amsterdam: Rudopi, 2000).
- Land, Nick, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an essay on atheistic religion) (London: Routledge, 1992).
- Nancy, Jean-Luc, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis & Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).
- Noys, Benjamin, Georges Bataille: a critical introduction (London: Pluto, 2000).
- Richardson, Michael, Georges Bataille (London: Routledge, 1994).
- Sollers, Philippe, Writing and the Experience of Limits (Columbia University Press, 1982).
- Stoekl, Allan (ed.), On Bataille: Yale French Studies 78 (1990). Includes: Bataille, "Hegel, Death and Sacrifice"; Bataille, "Letter to René Char on the Incompatibilities of the Writer"; Jean-Luc Nancy, "Exscription"; Rebecca Comay, "Gifts without Presents: Economies of 'Experience' in Bataille and Heidegger"; Jean-Joseph Goux, "General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism."
- Surya, Michel, Georges Bataille: an intellectual biography, trans. by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson (London: Verso, 2002).
- Parisian Messianism: Catholicism, Decadence, and the Transgressions of Georges Bataille is an essay by Michael Weingrad