Georges Bataille  

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"Eroticism ... is assenting to life up to the point of death." [...] --Eroticism (1957) by Georges Bataille

[Excess energy] must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically. This is the logic of sacrifice." --The Accursed Share (1949) Georges Bataille

If, as it appears to me, a book is communication, the author is only one link in a unity of different readings. --Georges Bataille from his essay "On Nietzsche" (1945). --tr. unidentified

"It seems to me that if literature moves away from evil, it quickly becomes boring."--Georges Bataille

This page Georges Bataille is part of the mysticism series. Illustration to the Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum (1618) by Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens
This page Georges Bataille is part of the mysticism series.
Illustration to the Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum (1618) by Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens

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Georges Bataille (1897 – 1962) was a French writer, anthropologist, archivist and philosopher best known for his novella Story of the Eye (1928).

Philosophically, he traced the intimate connections between sex and death and is sometimes known as the metaphysician of evil.

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.

His macabre interests can be deduced from his reportedly daily gazing at the "Death by a Thousand Cuts" photographs later published in his thematic art compendium The Tears of Eros (1961).

In 2004 his novel My Mother was adapted for film by Christophe Honoré and in 2006 his visionary work was celebrated at the 'Undercover Surrealism' exhibition.

Along with Gilles Deleuze, Bataille is a patron saint of this wiki.



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

Georges Bataille's influence on American 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

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

Early childhood

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.

Academic studies

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

Georges Bataille's self-description as Surrealism's 'enemy from within'

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.

Non fiction

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.

Romantic life

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.

On October 2 1939, Georges Bataille meets Denise Rollin-Le Gentil who was the mother of the then 4 year old vampire filmmaker Jean Rollin.

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.


Key concepts

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.



Primary literature

Works published in French:

Complete works

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

Selected works:

Translated works:

Secondary literature

  • 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

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Georges Bataille" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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