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Georges Bataille (1897 - 1962)

Lifespan: 1897 - 1962

« "Eroticism ... is assenting to life up to the point of death" . ». --1957, Georges Bataille ‘L‘Erotisme’

Georges Bataille, photo unidentified

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 Pornographic Imagination via Styles of Radical Will p. 60, Picador USA

Parents: French literature - French philosophy

Themes and tropes: Acéphale - anthropology - death - excess - eroticism - érotisme - eye - gift - sociology - transgression

Works (fiction): L'Histoire de L'Oeil (1928) - Solar Anus (1927/1931) - Georges Bataille - Madame Edwarda (1941) - Ma Mère (1966) - more ...

Works (non-fiction): Erotism : Death and Sensuality (1957) - Tears of Eros (1961) - more ...


I discovered Georges Bataille in Atlanta, Georgia in a tiny bookstore in the "hippy" neighbourhood of town. The book I found was L'Histoire de L'Oeil (1928) in an edition of City Lights.

Georges Bataille was a French anthropologist, sociologist, writer and philosopher in the tradition of Marquis de Sade, Lautréamont and Breton.

He was brought to the attention of American audiences by Susan Sontag.

He hid Walter Benjamin's manuscript of Paris Arcades in the Parisian Bibliothèque Nationale when Benjamin fled from the Germans to Spain.

His themes include the notion of the gift, transgression, excess, eroticism and death. He wrote a book on the trial of Gilles de Rais, a notorious serial killer in 15th century France.

His works of fiction have been adapted to film, most recently in Christophe Honoré's 2004 Ma Mére (My Mother).

He is one of the key players at Jahsonic.com. Personally, I find the most astonishing part of his philosophy the linking of death and sex. It gave me insights into the workings of erotic horror. [Oct 2005]


Georges Bataille (September 16, 1897 - July 9, 1962) was a French writer. First he was tempted by priesthood and went to a Catholic seminary but lost his faith in 1922. He then worked as a librarian, thus keeping his freedom not to have his thinking as his work.

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 publications were banned. He was relatively ignored in his lifetime, but has had considerable influence after his death on authors such as Michel Foucault, Philippe Sollers and Jacques Derrida, all of whom were affiliated with the Tel Quel journal.

Bataille was a member of the extremely influential College of Sociology in France between World War I and World War II. He was heavily influenced by Hegel, Freud, Marx, Marcel Mauss, the Marquis de Sade, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the last of whom he defended in a notable essay against appropriation by the Nazis. Bataille was fascinated by human sacrifice.

Bataille had an amazing interdisciplinary talent -- he drew from diverse influences and used diverse modes of discourse to create his work. His novel The 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), is pure pornography, and yet it has the philosophical and emotional depth of a great novel. 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. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Bataille [Jul 2004]

Key concepts

--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Bataille [Jul 2004]

The accursed share

In Georges Bataille's theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which is destined to one of two modes of economic and social expenditure.

Either it is spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, non-procreative sexuality, spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring in war. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accursed_share [Oct 2005]

Author as node

In Bataille any human being is no more than a conduit for communicative process, a channel for ideas which pass through him/her."If, as it appears to me, a book is communication, then the author is only a link among many readings."* The author is simply a node on a network, through which ideas pass.

* The quotation is taken from Volume VI of Bataille's complete works, La Somme athéologique II. Sur Nietzsche. Memorandum. Annexes. (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), p. 408, translated by Michele H. Richman in Reading Georges Bataille: Beyond the Gift (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1982), p. 130. Bataille employs this notion of communication in the context of his critique of Jean-Paul Sartre's notion of the subject as cogito: "The cogito, for Sartre, is the inviolable, atemporal, irreducible foundation.... For me, it exists only within a relation... it is a network of communications, existing within time. The atom refers to a wave: to language, words exchanged, books written and read. Sartre reduces a book to the intentions of an author, the author. If, as it appears to me, a book is communication, the author is only a link among many different readings." (Richman, 130).

-- http://acjournal.org/holdings/vol6/iss3/responses/attias/virus.html, accessed May 2004

Georges Bataille on Un Chien Andalou

Georges Bataille loved the 1929 Luis Bunuel-Salvador Dali collaboration, Un Chien Andalou, saying of it:

Several very explicit facts appear in successive order, without logical connection it is true, but penetrating so far into horror that spectators are caught up as directly as they are in adventure films. Caught up and even precisely caught by the throat, and without artifice; do these spectators know, in fact, where they-the authors of this film, or people like them-will stop? If Bunuel himself, after the filming of the split-open eye, remained sick for a week . . . how then can one not see to what extent horror becomes fascinating, and how it alone is brutal enough to break everything that stifles? (Visions 19)
Bataille does not want the cinema to produce meanings, to be symbolic, to disinterestedly distill the truths of the human spirit. No, Un Chien Andalou is a powerful film because of the bodily sensations it evokes in its creator and its spectators. --Jeff Karnicky in Enculturation, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1998 via http://enculturation.gmu.edu/2_1/karnicky.html [Oct 2005]

Cinematic renderings of Georges Bataille's oeuvre

For Georges Bataille Eduard Manet inaugurated the modern painting. Through a 'style of silence' Manet was the first to break with the classic rendering of the subject in terms of what Bataille calls the 'style of eloquence'. The aim of this paper is twofold. On the one hand I wish to discuss Bataille's concept of visual silence - that is a form of visuality that doesn't lend it self to direct representation - and on the other hand I wish to discuss this in relation to film style. More specifically I will present different filmic renderings of Bataille's work from the Patrick Longchamps' Simona [IMDb] aka. L'Histoire de l'œil, 1975, to Christophe Honoré's Ma mère, 2003, in order to discuss the different ways in which Bataille has been conceived cinematically. --Thure Munkholm, editor of the Film Magazine Mifune, http://www.kommunikation.aau.dk/cfm/aktiviteter/seminar05.htm [Dec 2004]

April 1929: Documents

Documents, année 1929 et 1930, 2 volumes () - Georges Bataille [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Premier numéro de Documents, revue fondée par Georges Henri Rivière, Carl Einstein et Georges Bataille, animée par ce dernier et financée par le marchand d’art Georges Wildenstein (1892-1963). Elle paraîtra durant deux ans (quinze livraisons) et sera « pendant un certain temps, l’organe de la dissidence surréaliste --http://www.michel-leiris.com/HH/article.php3?id_article=27 [Jan 2005]

Kirjasto profile

French essayist, philosophical theorist, novelist, often called the "metaphysician of evil." Bataille was interested in sex, death, transgression,, degradation and the power and potentialities of 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. --http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/bataille.htm [Oct 2005]

Susan Sontag

Thanks to Susan Sontag's much-quoted essay "The Pornographic Imagination," Bataille is perhaps still best known in the States as an elegant and intellectual pornographer, heir of Sade and Apollinaire and author of Blue of Noon, Abbé C, Madame Edwarda, The Dead Man, and the outrageous Story of the Eye -- all, like My Mother, featuring at least one sexually aggressive heroine. Bataille's fiction owes much to the Marquis de Sade, and yet, though both writers are clearly anti-clerical, Bataille is never anti-religious. In fact, as a philosopher, his thinking turns in an essential way on ideas of sacrifice and the sacred. -- Welch Everman in ABAB: Acker, Bataille, Argento, Bronte via http://www.calarts.edu/~acker/ackademy/everman.html [2003]

Camille Paglia [...]

I was deeply disappointed in Bataille from the moment I picked up his books. His themes are my themes, his influences (in many cases) my influences. But he writes in the foggy, boring style that we now know all too well from poststructuralism and its mewling babe, postmodernism (flush it!). -- Camille Paglia, 1997 http://www.salon.com/july97/columnists/paglia2970722.html [Aug 2004]

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