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Georges Bataille: 1897 - 1962

Georges Bataille

The Death of 1000 cuts

Slow Death by Leng-Tch'e (cutting into pieces):
There is true ecstasy in this expression.

Biographical Notes

  Georges Bataille was born on 10 September 1897 in Billon, Puy-de-Dome, in central France. His father suffered from general paralysis, brought on by syphilis. He was, according to Bataille [1], already blind when Georges was conceived. His mother was also of dubious sanity.

  Family moves to Rheims in 1900. Bataille converts to Catholicism around the time of his baccaulaureate, just before the outbreak of the War in 1914.

  He and his mother evacuate the city, which was under the German advance, abandoning his father, who was too far gone to be easily transported.

  His father dies raving, ranting and refusing to see a priest, on 6 November 1915. These events have a powerful effect on Bataille.

  But the weirdest thing was certainly the way he looked while pissing. Since he could not see anything, his pupils very frequently pointed up into space, shifting under the lids, and this happened particularly when he pissed. Furthermore, he had huge, ever gaping eyes that flanked an eagle nose, and those huge eyes went almost entirely blank when he pissed, with a completely stupefying expression of abandon and aberration in a world that he alone could see and that aroused his vaguely sardonic and absent laugh.... In any case, the image of those white eyes from that time was directly linked, for me, to the image of eggs.... [1]

  Bataille claims that from 1914 "until 1920, rarely did I let a week go by without confessing my sins." [1] In 1917, he joins the seminary of Saint-Fleur with intentions of becoming a monk.

  Experiences a loss of faith in 1920 because "his Catholicism caused a woman he loved to shed tears." [2]

  Attends the Ecole des Chartres, submits a thesis on "The Order Chivalry, told in verse from the thirteenth century" in 1922.

  Obtains a fellowship to attend the School of Advanced Hispanic Studies in Madrid, travels extensively through Spain, witnesses the gruesome death of a bullfighter, Manuelo Granero.

  Secures a position at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris towards the end of 1922.

  From 1923 to 1928 he becomes marginally involved in the Parisian Surrealist circles; undergoes a successful psychoanalysis which allows him to write; marries the actress Sylvia Makles and has a child. (Sylvia later goes on to marry Jacques Lacan .)

  Assists with the publication of the journal Documents in 1930, gathers around him many of those who had formerly been involved with the Paris Dada, Grand Jeu and Surrealist Groups. Incurs the wrath of Andre Breton, who believes that Bataille is forming a counter-Surrealist movement.

  Alastair Brotchie claims that Bataille is one of the main instigators in the anti-Breton group, responsible for the attack in the journal A Corpse which showed a deathlike Breton crowned with thorns. [3]

  Marriage breaks up, he enters into an intense relationship with Colette Peignot, whose later death in 1938 devastates Bataille.

Georges Bataille

Bataille circa 1933

  In 1935, he and Breton bury their differences to fight against the rising tide of Fascism. Along with Roger Callois, they establish an anti-Fascist group called, Contre-Attaque, "which had for its aim the re-establishment of revolutionary principles betrayed by the Communist and Socialist Parties." [2]

  Forms the esoteric group Acephale and its theoretical counterpoint, The College of Sociology in 1936. Among the members of the College, which holds periodic lectures, are Caillois, Michel Leris and Pierre Klossowski. Speakers are the premier intellectuals in France at the time: Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Claude Levi-Strauss to name only a few. [4]

  Founds the influential journal Critique in 1946. Publishes the early work of Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault.

  Recuperates from recurrent tuberculosis, marries a second time, has another child and suffers through a series of financial difficulties. In 1949, he obtains employment as a librarian in Charpentras in Provence. He holds a similar position in Orleans in 1951.

  In 1961, through an auction of paintings held by such friends as Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Henri Michaux and Joan Miró he is able to purchase an apartment in Paris and have a measure of financial security.

  Georges Bataille died on 8 July 1962 in Paris.

Much of the above comes from the excellent source: Georges Bataille by Michael Richardson. [2]

A Sweet Passage From The Story of the Eye

  The events that followed were without transition or connection, not because they weren't actually related, but because my attention was so absent as to remain absolutely dissociated. In just a few seconds: first, Simone bit into one of the raw balls, to my dismay; then Granero advanced towards the bull, waving his scarlet cloth; finally, almost at once, Simone, with blood-red face and a suffocating lewdness, uncovered her long white thighs up to her moist vulva, into which she slowly and surely fitted the second pale globule- Granero was thrown back by the bull and wedged against the balustrade; the horns struck the balustrade three times at full speed; at the third blow, one horn plunged into the right eye and through the head. A shriek of unmeasured horror coincided with a brief orgasm for Simone, who was lifted up from the stone seat only to be flung back with a bleeding nose, under a blinding sun; men instantly rushed over to haul away Granero's body, the right eye dangling from the head.

Subcultural Relevance

  Obviously, Bataille has extreme relevance as a nexus point for the intellectual and artistic life of mid-20th century France. Much of his "achievement" can only be understood inside this historical context. In this way, the simplest method of locating Bataille is to place him dead square in the middle of a continuum between Fascism and Surrealism. And, humorously enough, perhaps this crude position is the only way to make sense of his writing, especially his "transgressive fictions." But while this might be helpful to closet Sadean Catholics and the all too common crypto-fascist French neurotics, it doesn't begin to explain Bataille's increasing valence within the last few decades of this country.

  It is Bataille's philosophy of excess and exuberance, his open acknowledgement of shame in the face of the extreme pornographic displays of sex and death, his sense of esoteric humor and history that make him so appropriate to this world we live in. Look around at all the weak-kneed "erotic philosophers" and judge who backs down from the abyssmal truth of the matter. The same goes for the vulturous "death therapists." Here is Bataille's relevance inside the subculture: with one foot in the flesh of the orgy and one in the bones of the grave, he speaks of the dark truths central to all human experience. And, most importantly, he embraces it, says YES to it, even though it would annihilate him. And beyond of all of his failings, this still stands. The corpse of Bataille never smelled sweeter.

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Major Works

Secondary Texts

Author: Bonesy Jones

Eyes of Georges Bataille: 1897 - 1962
The eyes of Georges Bataille

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