Friday, November 30, 2007

Georges Bataille: Into the Realm of the Senses

That scandalous 1976 Japanese film took its climactic scene from Bataille's novellette that dared to blend fornication with termination. The Marquis de Sade boasted that every man thinks himself a tyrant during the sexual act. Bataille, a critic of Sade as were so many of his circle, remains renowned today as an explorer into the realms that few besides the infamous noble had dared to enter. However, unlike Sade, the French philosophers who wondered about the forbidden attempted to leave coded road maps for us to follow; scatology and puerile sputtering gave way, as the philosophers (and sometime novelists) matured, into learned treatises. (Still, we forget that Sade left his share of more even-tempered arguments as well; most of his works of all sorts were burned and we have little extant of his massive oeuvre.)

Bataille and his fellows of the College of Sociology (a respectably titled front for Acéphale among other underground renegades- they apocryphally shared an interest in human sacrifice but while many were willing to be the victim, none even at the promise of amnesty could be found to be executioner) began tramping past Surrealism into the literary, religious, anthropological, and erotic zones. These had been left largely uncharted by intellectuals. His protegé (and another former seminarian) Pierre Klossowski continued in this direction if to less acclaim. In the wake of Modernism, preparing for existentialism, fighting fascism, and attracted to radical self-autonomy, these mid-20 c avant-gardists turned to Sade and Nietzsche, Catholic mystics and secular iconoclasts, for hints of where such a journey into the senses might take scholars. Without them, we'd never have had Zone Books, all those parenthetically altered titles of MLA papers, The Body as its own scholarly pursuit, Derrida, Lacan, Baudrillard, Foucault, and their own spawn-- "cultural studies" in today's "select bookstores" for tenured black-clad acolytes.

Known best for his half-arousing, half-ludicrous "The Story of an Eye," which apparently inspired a Bjork video, Bataille can be daunting. I am re-reading after a quarter-century his "Erotism" and find it tough going. Most of his writing tends towards far less salacious description than "Story." I admit being jilted by his novella "Blue of Noon." (I reviewed it last week here.) Such a genre is not my usual reading, but I find myself, in my own academic trek spurred by a few passages in "Ulysses" past a dizzying vista of ideological terrain recently, reminded of my grad school stumbling upon "Erotism" and its impact. Blame Joyce, or Nora. So, as I stumble into Bataille's study of the intersection between the violent and the sacred, the moment of death and that of erotic dissolution, the stripping of the victim and the silence of consummation, the tangling annihilation and willing sacrifice, I wanted to share a few sites that can assist the overwhelmed sightseer entering the labyrinthine chambers that comprise his formidable, if often scattered and gnomic, reclamation of the hidden.

Thanks to whomever at the University of Warwickshire transcribed the sample entry from the book for a course. These are excerpts from the opening to his "Erotism: Death & Sensuality." City Lights put Bernini's sculpture of St Teresa in ecstasy appropriately on the cover of the English translation. The introduction concludes: "Poetry leads to the same place as all forms of eroticism — to the blending and fusion of separate objects. It leads us to eternity, it leads us to death, and through death to continuity. Poetry is eternity; the sun matched with the sea."

A fuller version of the introduction, along with excerpts from "Erotism" on "Reproduction & Death" and an essay from "On Nietzsche" about "The Crucifixion," can be found at another site. Bataille again quotes de Sade with his less comforting but typically barbed thought of the day: "There is no better way to know death than to link it with some licentious image."

Bataille & mysticism expounded by a thoughtful Dutch adept at The Mystical Site. "So every marriage ends up killing its own God":

Geoffrey Roche, U. of Auckland, discusses at the final link (see below) Bataille's understanding of Sade. Bataille as the critic and heir to the Marquis can be as insistent as le Comte when it comes to the denigration of the female. Bataille tells us: "The whole business of erotism is to strike to the inmost core of the living being, so the heart stands still. The transition from the normal state to that of erotic desire presupposes a partial dissolution of the person as he exists in the realm of discontinuity." The violent climax presages death, the gap between our existence and the void. So far, so good.

But, that "he" --even taking into account Franco-pronominal prejudices-- prepares us for: "In the process of dissolution, the male partner has generally an active role, while the female side is essentially that which is dissolved as a separate entity." (qtd. from pp. 17-18 of text; p. 162 in Roche pdf.) Or, as the song goes "I'll stop the world and melt with you." Bataille does go on to note how the male's power enables his union with the female as she's dissolved, so my allegations that Bataille favors male dominance may be premature.

When discussing the frisson and the swoon, who's to say? We all, as he finds in arguing his convoluted way through "Erotism," must base our objective analysis upon our subjective experience. While Kinsey's paradigms had not yet totally displaced those of Freud when Bataille wrote these lines in 1957, Bataille betrays a fundamental assertion that the man rules the roost. Even the most transgressive of cocksure rebels, in matters of intimacy, cannot shed his Gallic and galling chauvinism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go raibh mile a Fhionnchu ! Very interesting x I only discovered Bataille recently and have been researching him since..Gra, Eabha Rose