Friday, January 12, 2007



GEORGES BATAILLE

Georges Bataille (September 10, 1897 – July 9, 1962) was a French writer, anthropologist and philosopher, though he avoided this last term himself.

Life and work

Bataille was born in Billom (Auvergne). He initially 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. He then worked as a librarian, thus keeping some relative freedom in not having to treat his thought as 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 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.

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, Julles 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 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), 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 The Story of the Eye on its head, providing a much darker and bleaker treatment of contemporary historical reality.

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.

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. In 1946 Bataille married Diane de Beauharnais; they had one daughter.

Posthumous reputation

Bataille's works influenced a number of key philisophers and theorists towards the end of his life and after his death, including Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Lacan.

Ma Mére was adapted for film in 2004.

In 2006 the Hayward Gallery in London staged the 'Undercover Surrealism' exhibition devoted to "the vision of Georges Bataille".

Quotes

* "Man goes constantly in fear of himself. His erotic urges terrify him."
* "Eroticism is assenting to life even in death."
* "The sovereign being is burdened with a servitude that crushes him, and the condition of free men is deliberate servility."
* "Pleasure only starts once the worm has got into the fruit, to become delightful happiness must be tainted with poison."
* "Naturally, love's the most distant possibility."

Base materialism

Bataille developed base materialism during the late 1920s and early 1930s as an attempt to break with mainstream materialism. Bataille argues for the concept of an active base matter that disrupts the opposition of high and low and destabilises all foundations. In a sense the concept is similar to Spinoza's neutral monism of a substance that encompasses both the dual substances of mind and matter posited by Descartes, however it defies strict definition and remains in the realm of experience rather than rationalisation. Base materialism was a major influence on Derrida’s deconstruction, and both share the attempt to destabilise philosophical oppositions by means of an unstable ‘third term’. Bataille's notion of Base Materialism may also be seen as anticipating Althusser's conception of aleatory materialism or "materialism of the encounter", which draws on similar atomist metaphors to sketch a world in which causality and actuality are abandoned in favor of limitless possibilities of action.

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