Georges Bataille

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Georges Bataille
Georges Bataille in the 1950s
Born Georges Albert Maurice Victor Bataille
(1897-09-10)10 September 1897
Billom, France
Died 9 July 1962(1962-07-09) (aged 64)
Paris, France
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Notable ideas
The accursed share, base materialism, limit-experience

Georges Albert Maurice Victor Bataille (French: [ʒɔʁʒ batɑj]; 10 September 1897 – 9 July 1962) was a French intellectual and literary figure working in literature, philosophy, anthropology, economics, sociology and history of art. At the core of his writings, which included essays, novels, and poetry, are explorations of eroticism, mysticism, sovereignty, and transgression.

Life and work

Georges Bataille was the son of Joseph-Aristide Bataille (b. 1851), a tax collector (later to go blind and paralysed on account of neurosyphilis), and Antoinette-Aglaë Tournarde (b. 1865). Born in Billom in the region of Auvergne, his family moved to Reims in 1898, where he was baptized.[1] He went to school in Reims and then Épernay. Although brought up without religious observance, he converted to Catholicism in 1914, and became a devout Catholic for about nine years. He considered entering the priesthood and attended a Catholic seminary briefly. However, he quit, apparently in part in order to pursue an occupation where he could eventually support his mother. He eventually renounced Christianity in the early 1920s.[2]

Bataille attended the École des Chartes in Paris, graduating in February 1922. Though he is often referred to as an archivist and a librarian because of his employment at the Bibliothèque Nationale, his work there was with the medallion collections (he also published scholarly articles on numismatics). His thesis at the École des Chartes was a critical edition of the medieval manuscript L’Ordre de chevalerie which he produced directly by classifying the eight manuscripts from which he reconstructed the poem. After graduating he moved to the School of Advanced Spanish Studies in Madrid. As a young man, he befriended, and was much influenced by, the Russian existentialist, Lev Shestov.

Founder of several journals and literary groups, Bataille is the author of a large and diverse body of work: readings, poems, essays on innumerable subjects (on the mysticism of economy, poetry, philosophy, the arts, eroticism). He sometimes published under pseudonyms, and some of his publications were banned.[citation needed] He was relatively ignored during 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 journal Tel Quel [Just as it is]. His influence is felt most explicitly in the phenomenological work of Jean-Luc Nancy, but is also significant for the work of Jean Baudrillard, the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan[3] and Julia Kristeva, and recent anthropological work from the likes of Michael Taussig.

Initially attracted 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 which included several other 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.[4]

Fascinated by human sacrifice, he founded a secret society, Acéphale, the symbol of which was a headless man. 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 of Nietzsche's philosophy which attempted to postulate what Jacques Derrida has called an "anti-sovereignty". Collaborators in these projects included André Masson, Pierre Klossowski, Roger Caillois, Jules Monnerot, Jean Rollin and Jean Wahl.

Bataille drew from diverse influences and used various modes of discourse to create his work. His novel Story of the Eye (Histoire de l'oeil), published under the pseudonym Lord Auch (literally, Lord "to the shithouse" — "auch" being short for "aux chiottes," slang for telling somebody off by sending him to the toilet), was initially read as pure pornography, while interpretation of the work has gradually matured to reveal the same 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 the posthumously published My Mother (which would become the basis of Christophe Honoré's film Ma Mère), The Impossible and Blue of Noon, which, with its incest, necrophilia,[5] politics, and autobiographical undertones, is a much darker treatment of contemporary historical reality.

During World War II Bataille produced Summa Atheologica (the title parallels Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica) which comprises his works Inner Experience, Guilty, and On Nietzsche. After the war he composed The Accursed Share, which he said represented thirty years' work. The singular conception of "sovereignty" expounded there would become an important topic of discussion for Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy and others. Bataille also founded the influential journal Critique.

Bataille's first marriage was to actress Silvia Maklès, in 1928; they divorced in 1934, and she later married the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Bataille also had an affair with Colette Peignot, who died in 1938. In 1946 Bataille married Diane de Beauharnais, with whom he had a daughter.

In 1955 Bataille was diagnosed with cerebral arteriosclerosis, although he was not informed at the time of the terminal nature of his illness.[6] He died seven years later, on 9 July 1962.

Key concepts

Base materialism

Bataille developed base materialism during the late 1920s and early 1930s as an attempt to break with mainstream materialism. He 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 mind and the 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 thinkers attempt to destabilise philosophical oppositions by means of an unstable "third term." Bataille's notion of 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.



Complete works

  • Georges Bataille, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard):
    • Volume 1: Premiers écrits, 1922–1940: Histoire de l'œil - L'Anus solaire - Sacrifices - Articles
    • Volume 2: Écrits posthumes, 1922–1940
    • Volume 3: Œuvres littéraires: Madame Edwarda - Le Petit - L'Archangélique - L'Impossible - La Scissiparité - L'Abbé C. - L'être indifférencié n'est rien - Le Bleu du ciel
    • Volume 4: Œuvres littéraires posthumes: Poèmes - Le Mort - Julie - La Maison brûlée - La Tombe de Louis XXX - Divinus Deus - Ébauches
    • Volume 5: La Somme athéologique I: L'Expérience intérieure - Méthode de méditation - Post-scriptum 1953 - Le Coupable - L'Alleluiah
    • Volume 6: La Somme athéologique II: Sur Nietzsche - Mémorandum - Annexes
    • Volume 7: L'économie à la mesure de l'univers - La Part maudite - La limite de l'utile (Fragments) - Théorie de la Religion - Conférences 1947-1948 - Annexes
    • Volume 8: L'Histoire de l'érotisme - Le surréalisme au jour le jour - Conférences 1951-1953 - La Souveraineté - Annexes
    • Volume 9: Lascaux, ou La naissance de l’art - Manet - La littérature et le mal - Annexes
    • Volume 10: L’érotisme - Le procès de Gilles de Rais - Les larmes d’Eros
    • Volume 11: Articles I, 1944–1949
    • Volume 12: Articles II, 1950–1961
  • Georges Bataille: Une liberté souveraine: Textes et entretiens, 2004 (articles, book reviews and interviews not included in Oeuvres Complètes, Michel Surya Ed.)

Works published in French

  • Histoire de l'oeil, 1928 (Story of the Eye) (under pseudonym of Lord Auch)
  • L'Anus solaire, 1931 (The Solar Anus)
  • The Notion of Expenditure, 1933
  • L'Amitié, 1940 (Friendship) (under pseudonym of Dianus; early version of Part One of Le Coupable)
  • Madame Edwarda, 1941 (under pseudonym of Pierre Angélique, fictitiously dated 1937; 2nd Edition: 1945; 3rd Edition: 1956 published with preface in Bataille's name)[7]
  • Le Petit, 1943 (under pseudonym of Louis Trente; fictitious publication date of 1934)
  • L'expérience intérieure, 1943 (Inner Experience)
  • L'Archangélique, 1944 (The Archangelical)
  • Le Coupable, 1944 (Guilty)
  • Sur Nietzsche, 1945 (On Nietzsche)
  • Dirty, 1945
  • L'Orestie, 1945 (The Oresteia)
  • Histoire de rats, 1947 (A Story of Rats)
  • L'Alleluiah, 1947 (Alleluia: The Catechism of Dianus)
  • Méthode de méditation, 1947 (Method of Meditation)
  • La Haine de la Poésie, 1947 (The Hatred of Poetry; reissued in 1962 as The Impossible)
  • La Scissiparité, 1949 (The Scission)
  • La Part maudite, 1949 (The Accursed Share)
  • L'Abbé C, 1950
  • L'expérience intérieure, 1954 (second edition of Inner Experience, followed by Method of Meditation and Post-scriptum 1953)
  • L'Être indifférencié n'est rien, 1954 (Undifferentiated Being is Nothing)
  • Lascaux, ou la Naissance de l'Art, 1955
  • Manet, 1955
  • Le Bleu du ciel, 1957 (written 1935–36) (Blue of Noon)
  • La littérature et le Mal, 1957 (Literature and Evil)
  • L'Erotisme, 1957 (Erotism)
  • Le Coupable, 1961 (Guilty, second, revised edition, followed by Alleluia: The Catechism of Dianus)
  • Les larmes d'Éros, 1961 (The Tears of Eros)
  • L'Impossible : Histoire de rats suivi de Dianus et de L'Orestie, 1962 (The Impossible)

Posthumous works

  • Ma Mère, 1966 (My Mother)
  • Le Mort, 1967 (The Dead Man)
  • Théorie de la Religion, 1973 (Theory of Religion)

Translated works

  • Lascaux; or, the Birth of Art, the Prehistoric Paintings, Austryn Wainhouse, 1955, Lausanne: Skira.
  • Manet, Austryn Wainhouse and James Emmons, 1955, Editions d'Art Albert Skira.
  • Literature and Evil, Alastair Hamilton, 1973, Calder & Boyars Ltd.
  • Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939, Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, and Donald M. Leslie, Jr., 1985, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Mary Dalwood, 1986, City Lights Books.
  • Story of the Eye, Joachim Neugroschel, 1987, City Lights Books.
  • The Accursed Share: An Essay On General Economy. Volume I: Consumption, Robert Hurley, 1988, Zone Books.
  • The College of Sociology, 1937–39 (Bataille et al.), Betsy Wing, 1988, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Guilty, Bruce Boone, 1988, The Lapis Press.
  • Inner Experience, Leslie Anne Boldt, 1988, State University of New York.
  • My Mother, Madame Edwarda, The Dead Man, Austryn Wainhouse, with essays by Yukio Mishima and Ken Hollings, 1989, Marion Boyars Publishers.
  • The Tears of Eros, Peter Connor, 1989, City Lights Books.
  • Theory of Religion, Robert Hurley, 1989, Zone Books.
  • The Accursed Share: Volumes II and III, Robert Hurley, 1991, Zone Books.
  • The Impossible, Robert Hurley, 1991, City Lights Books.
  • The Trial of Gilles de Rais, Richard Robinson, 1991, Amok Press.
  • On Nietzsche, Bruce Boone, 1992, Paragon House.
  • The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism, Michael Richardson, 1994, Verso.
  • Encyclopaedia Acephalica (Bataille et al.), Iain White et al., 1995, Atlas Press.
  • L'Abbé C, Philip A Facey, 2001, Marion Boyars Publishers.
  • Blue of Noon, Harry Mathews, 2002, Marion Boyars Publishers.
  • The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, Stuart Kendall and Michelle Kendall, 2004, University of Minnesota Press.
  • The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture, Stuart Kendall, Michelle Kendall, 2009, Zone Books.
  • Divine Filth: Lost Scatology and Erotica, Mark Spitzer, 2009, Solar Books.
  • W.C., (fragmented) novel by Georges Bataille and Antonio Contiero; edited by Transeuropa Edizioni (Massa, 9/2011), ISBN 978-88-7580-150-2; accompanied with music by Alessandra Celletti and Jaan Patterson (Bubutz Records).
  • Collected Poems of Georges Bataille, Mark Spitzer, 1998, 1999, Dufour Editions. Hardback is titled Collected Poetry of Georges Bataille, 1998.


  1. This fact is not mentioned in the biography by Michel Surya, but see the Chronology in Georges Bataille, Romans et récits, Pleiade 2004, p. XCIV.
  2. Michel Surya, Georges Bataille: an intellectual biography; Georges Bataille, Choix de lettres (Paris: NRF)
  4. Bataille, Georges. "Nietzsche and Fascists", Acéphale, January 1937
  5. Kendall, Stuart (2007). Georges Bataille (1. publ. ed.). London: Reaktion Books. p. 206. ISBN 1861893272. Retrieved 27 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Surya, Michel. Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography, p. 474.
  7. Oeuvres Completes III, p. 491

Further reading

  • Ades, Dawn, and Simon Baker, Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and Documents. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006).
  • Barthes, Roland. "The Metaphor of the Eye". In Critical Essays. Trans. Richard Howard. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1972). 239-248.
  • Blanchot, Maurice. "The Limit-Experience". In The Infinite Conversation. Trans. Susan Hanson. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). 202-229.
  • Blanchot, Maurice. The Unavowable Community. Trans. Pierre Joris. (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1988).
  • Derrida, Jacques, "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978).
  • Foucault, Michel. "A Preface to Transgression". Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. In Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984. Ed. James D. Faubion (New York: New Press, 1998). 103-122.
  • Hussey, Andrew, Inner Scar: The Mysticism of Georges Bataille (Amsterdam: Rudopi, 2000).
  • Kendall, Stuart, Georges Bataille (London: Reaktion Books, Critical Lives, 2007).
  • Krauss, Rosalind, No More Play in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (MIT Press, 1985).
  • Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (London: Routledge, 1992)
  • Nancy, Jean-Luc, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis & Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).
  • Roudinesco, Élisabeth, Jacques Lacan & Co.: a history of psychoanalysis in France, 1925-1985, 1990, Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Roudinesco, Élisabeth, Jacques Lacan, Outline of a Life, History of a System of Thought, 1999, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Roudinesco, Élisabeth, Our Dark Side, A History of Perversion, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009.
  • Skorin-Kapov, Jadranka, The Aesthetics of Desire and Surprise: Phenomenology and Speculation (Lexington Books, 2015).
  • Sollers, Philippe, Writing and the Experience of Limits (Columbia University Press, 1982).
  • Sontag, Susan. "The Pornographic Imagination." Styles of Radical Will. (Picador, 1967).
  • Surya, Michel, Georges Bataille: an intellectual biography, trans. by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson (London: Verso, 2002).
  • Vanderwees, Chris, "Complicating Eroticism and the Male Gaze: Feminism and Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye." Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature. 38.1 (2014): 1-19.

External links