Georges Bataille 1897–1962
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Lord Auch and Pierre Angelique) French novelist, philosopher, essayist, poet, critic, and editor.
Bataille's reputation rests largely on his theories of eroticism and mysticism, which he set forth in his philosophical essays and made the basis of his fiction. Although overtly erotic, his works are not usually considered pornographic, for Bataille considers sexual experience a means to freedom of the spirit, or "sovereignty." Believing that God is absent, Bataille sought "sovereignty" through loss of self, which is achieved by transgression and excess, notably through laughter, religious ecstasy, sacrifice, eroticism, death, and poetry. Considering human sacrifice the ultimate transgression, Bataille was fascinated by religious feast days that included rites of sacrifice. This fascination led Bataille to the work of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss and to a particular interest in the cultures of the Aztecs and North American Indians. In their use of human sacrifice and potlatch, respectively, Bataille saw an excessive, generous spirit which he admired. As a direct result of this, Bataille wrote an unconventional theory of economics which promoted waste and excess, rather than acquisition.
Believing that transgression existed beyond mere words, Bataille constantly battled with the problem of writing the inexpressible. He often used a series of ellipses points to signify an impasse of expression. His works, as described by Michel Beaujour, "endlessly circle around the instant when language breaks down, as it does in agony and orgasm." In his literary criticism, Bataille praised those authors who used language to express transgression and emotion; not surprisingly Bataille especially admired the Marquis de Sade's audaciously erotic works. Bataille was also influenced by G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and the proponents of surrealism. His work shows a remarkable mixture of these influences, while advancing his own unique views.
Bataille is probably best known for his erotic novels, particularly Histoire de l'oeil (1928; The Story of the Eye), Le bleu du ciel (1945; The Blue of Noon), and Madame Edwarda (1937). These works share a fascinating blend of horror, fantasy, and eroticism. However, Bataille's other works also bear witness to his obsession with these aspects of life. In Littérature et le mal (1957; Literature and Evil), Bataille searched for transgression in the works of Charles Pierre Baudelaire, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and others. L'expérience intérieure (1943) and Méthode de méditation (1947) outline Bataille's experiences in mysticism, his search for inner silence, and his fascination with images of unbearable pain coupled with ecstasy. In La part maudite (1949) Bataille related his belief in excess to economics. Many of Bataille's influential essays have appeared in Critique, the intellectual journal he founded in 1946 and edited until his death.
Although Bataille's first work was published in 1928, his works were not translated into English until the 1950s. This, along with the disconcerting nature of some of his themes, led to a delayed, hesitant reception of his writings by American and British critics. Bataille's work has, however, attracted the attention of the most prominent French critics of his time, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes. Bataille is still favored by the intellectual left in France. Since his writing reflects delight in overturning doctrines and modes of classification, scholars and critics have difficulty classifying it. Nonetheless, Bataille is admired for his erudition and his provocative approach to a side of human nature rarely seen in literature.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 101, Vols. 89-92 [obituary].)