*Bataille, Georges

Georges Bataille young

Georges Bataille young



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Bataille, Georges

French, 1897–1962
Georges Bataille was an adventurer in the world of ideas and sensations, an explorer who, because he could not abstain from questioning every alternative as it was offered him, intrepidly embarked on an intellectual quest that would go beyond rationality.
Endowed with a penetrating and nagging intelligence that he nourished by wide-ranging reading, with concentration on Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, he was never content with others’ speculations even though he never succeeded in systematizing his own, perhaps because it was in their very nature that such a task would remain impossible.
Sharing fully in all the problems of what, at the opening of the essay collection La Littérature et le mal (1957; Literature and Evil) he characterized as a “tumultuous generation,” Bataille’s first endeavor to compensate for a difficult childhood was a failure, yet it was a tell-tale one. Brought up in the French lay tradition by his blind, paralyzed father, he first attempted to assuage the tempests of his inner life by embracing a religious vocation, entering the seminary of Saint-Fleur to train for the priesthood, and spending a period with the Benedictine congregation at Quarr, on the Isle of Wight.
Though the Abbey had a reputation for deepening spirituality, particularly through the beauty of its liturgical observances, Bataille’s mystic phase passed rapidly. Despite his faith he continued, as his critics have noted, to crave for deeper satisfactions than reason could offer; henceforth he would seek them not in religion but in the arts, especially literature, which he linked with anthropology.
Surrealism naturally attracted Bataille, though only for a time. As he explains in “Le Surréalisme au jour le jour” (“Surrealism Day by Day”), his restless mind could not brook André Breton’s domineering ways, and, though like many other French intellectuals he was attracted by left-wing politics, the Communist Party could not count on his loyalty for long. He joined with Roger Caillois and Michel Leiris to form the socalled Collège de Sociologie and founded journals, but these enterprises were shortlived.
Bataille’s preference was for the lonely furrow, and his reputation was at its highest not during his lifetime but posthumously, when his thought was taken up and promoted in Tel Quel (As is) in the 1970s.
“A mystic without God,” in Boisdeffre’s phrase, Bataille discerned the source of all literary creation in the problem of evil, exploring the issue in Literature and Evil. In a wideranging series of essays that were originally published separately in the journal Critique and that are more accessible than some of his other writings, he discusses not only Proust and, inevitably, Sade, Baudelaire, and Genet, but also Franz Kafka, William Blake, and Emily Brontë. He marvels that Wuthering Heights should have been written by a woman whose life was apparently so circumscribed and who still achieved such awareness of what for him are the most significant issues of existence. Bataille’s interest in eroticism had found early expression in Histoire de l’oeil (Story of the Eye), a novel published under a pseudonym because the frank, if somewhat limited, pornographic firstperson narrative would have clashed with his chosen profession in librarianship. In Literature and Evil Bataille presents his case in the more acceptable guise of criticism.
Eroticism takes a central place, affirming existence, releasing the individual from the isolation that is otherwise a fundamental concomitant of consciousness, and finding its culmination in death. Where an ancient philosopher might have placed a premium on the equanimity that is the reward of moderation, Bataille values anguish, the emotional turmoil that is the product of excess. This becomes all the stronger when excess can be experienced as transgression, with a genuine and alarming sense of going beyond all normal bounds in search of novel and unprecedented inner responses. The link with sexuality is, of course, strong, but not exclusive, for the special liberating response may equally be triggered by other exceptional stimuli. Bataille returns repeatedly and possibly with some retrospective elaboration to certain experiences, such as witnessing particular horrors at a bull fight. Paradoxically for him, cruelty has positive as well as negative
aspects. These ideas, which some might think depend to some degree on religious and social orthodoxies that have been rejected but never totally forgotten, are developed by Bataille in his essay L’Érotisme (1957; Eroticism) and, with a rather different context, in L’Histoire de l’érotisme (History of eroticism).
Another approach to Bataille is through the art criticism that constitutes a significant and characteristically multi-disciplinary part of his work from early on. In 1955 he published not only an essay on Manet, dwelling in particular on the significance of the rejection of his art by his contemporaries, but also a study of the cave painting at Lascaux. Some of the anthropological statements can be considered speculative, but this study offers Bataille the opportunity for reflections on the nature of art and its role in human existence. Arguing that the true dawn of art dates not from ancient Greece but from the time of Lascaux, he salutes a major advance as humankind becomes differentiated from beasts when the self acquires an inner life in the awareness of death and the desire for communication. Previously humans had devoted their energies to practical ends, but now arose the possibilities for something that Bataille regards as far more important: the ludic, which leads directly to ritual and art.
Bataille can write with all the clarity and elegance conventionally regarded as typical of French authors. But he can also be difficult. Modern French prose has a tendency toward ellipsis, and that suits him well. He is content to present his thought in a way that engages his readers by leaving it to them to make connections as best they may, and he is indeed a master of the pregnant pause. He is also fearless in the employment of abstract nouns, the significance of which in the particular context he has created can remain puzzling. This means that reading Bataille can itself be a challenging intellectual adventure.

Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille


Born 10 September 1897 in Billom, Puy-de-Dôme. Used many pseudonyms, including Lord Auch and Pierre Angélique. In ill health all of his life, and suffered from periods of depression. Converted to Catholicism, 1914: renounced, 1912. Military service, 1916–17: discharged because of tuberculosis. Joined seminary at Saint-Fleur, 1917–18. Studied at the École des Chartes, Paris, 1918–22; fellowship at the School of Advanced Hispanic Studies, Madrid, 1922. Librarian and deputy keeper, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1922– 42: resigned because of tuberculosis. Married Silvia Maklès, 1928 (divorced, 1934): one daughter. Editor, Documents, 1929–31. Liaison with “Laure” (i.e. Colette Peignot; died, 1938), 1934–38. Cofounder, with André Breton, Contre-Attaque (Counter-Attack) political group, 1935–36; cofounder, Collège de Sociologie, 1936–39, and a secret society, which published Acéphale review, 1936–39; moved to Vézelay, 1942–49.
Married Diane de Beauharnais, 1946: one daughter. Cofounder and editor, Critique, 1946–62; librarian in Carpentras, 1949–51, and Orléans, from 1951. Died in Paris, 8 July 1962.

Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
L’Expérience intérieure, 1943; revised edition, 1954; as Inner Experience, translated by Leslie Anne Boldt, 1988
Sur Nietzsche: Volonté de chance, 1945; as On Nietzsche, translated by Bruce Boone, 1992
La Part maudite: Essai d’économie générale, 1949; as The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, translated by Robert Hurley, 2 vols., 1988–91
Somme athéologique I-II, 2 vols., 1954–61
Lascaux; or, The Birth of Art, translated by Austryn Wainhouse, 1955; as Lascaux, ou, La Naissance de l’art, 1980
L’Érotisme, 1957; as Death and Sensuality, and as Eroticism, translated by Mary Dalwood, 1962
La Littérature et le mal, 1957; revised edition, 1967; as Literature and Evil, translated by Alastair Hamilton, 1973
Les Larmes d’Éros, 1961; enlarged edition, 1971; as The Tears of Eros, translated by Peter Connor, 1989
La Pratique de la joie avant la mort, edited by Bernard Noël, 1967
Documents (articles and reviews), edited by Bernard Noël, 1968
Le Collège de sociologie (1937–1939), with others (includes 8 lectures by Bataille), 1979; as The College of Sociology (1937–1939), edited by Denis Hollier, translated by Betsy Wing, 1988
Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Allan Stoekl, translated by Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, and Donald M. Leslie, Jr., 1985
Le Dictionnaire critique, 1993
The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, 1994

Other writings: novels (including Le Coupable [Guilty], 1944; L’Abbé C, 1950; Le Bleu du ciel [Blue of Noon], 1957), poetry, and works on art, eroticism, and literature.
Collected works edition: OEuvres completes, edited by Michel Foucault and Francis Marmande, 12 vols., 1970–88.

Nordquist, Joan, Georges Bataille: A Bibliography, Santa Cruz, California: Reference and Research Services, 1994

Further Reading
L’Arc issue on Bataille, 32 (May 1967)
Critique issue on Bataille (August-September 1963)
Gill, Carolyn Bailey, Bataille: Writing the Sacred, London and New York: Routledge, 1995
Hollier, Denis, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1989 (original French edition, 1974)
Land, Nick, The Taste for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, London and New York: Routledge, 1991
Richardson, Michael, Georges Bataille, London and New York: Routledge, 1994
Richman, Michele, Beyond the Gift: Reading Georges Bataille, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982
Shaviro, Steven, Passion and Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory, Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1990
Yale French Studies issue on Bataille, 78 (1990)

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