Georges Bataille

French intellectual and literary figure
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Georges Albert Maurice Victor Bataille (10 September 18979 July 1962) was a French writer. His multifaceted work is linked to the domains of literature, anthropology, philosophy, economy, sociology and history of art. Eroticism and transgression are at the core of his writings.

Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another; all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
Experience is, in fever and anguish, the putting into question (to the test) of that which a man knows of being. Should he in this fever have any apprehension whatsoever, he cannot say: “I have seen God, the absolute, or the depths of the universe”; he can only say “that which I have seen eludes understanding”—and God, the absolute, the depths of the universe are nothing if they are not categories of the understanding. If I said decisively, “I have seen God,” that which I see would change. Instead of the inconceivable unknown—wildly free before me, leaving me wild and free before it—there would be a dead object and the thing of the theologian, to which the unknown would be subjugated.


  • Extreme states of being, whether individual or collective, were once purposefully motivated. Some of those purposes no longer have meaning (expiation, salvation). The well-being of communities is no longer sought through means of doubtful effectiveness, but directly, through action. Under these conditions, extreme states of being fell into the domain of the arts, and not without a certain disadvantage. Literature (fiction) took the place of what had formerly been the spiritual life; poetry (the disorder of words) that of real states of trance. Art constituted a small free domain, outside action: to gain freedom it had to renounce the real world. This is a heavy price to pay, and most writers dream of recovering a lost reality. They must then pay in another sense, by renouncing freedom.
    • The Bataille Reader (1997), p. 340
  • It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.
Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another; all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
But the copula of terms is no less irritating than the copulation of bodies. And when I scream I AM THE SUN an integral erection results, because the verb to be is the vehicle of amorous frenzy.
Everyone is aware that life is parodic and that it lacks an interpretation. Thus lead is the parody of gold. Air is the parody of water. The brain is the parody of the equator. Coitus is the parody of crime.
  • Love then screams in my own throat; I am the Jesuve, the filthy parody of the torrid and blinding sun.
I want to have my throat slashed while violating the girl to whom I will have been able to say: you are the night.
The Sun exclusively loves the Night and directs its luminous violence, its ignoble shaft, toward the earth, but finds itself incapable of reaching the gaze or the night, even though the nocturnal terrestrial expanses head continuously toward the indecency of the solar ray.
The solar annulus is the intact anus of her body at eighteen years to which nothing sufficiently blinding can be compared except the sun, even though the anus is night.

Blue of the Noon (1935)

  • Today, I am overjoyed at being an object of horror and repugnance to the one being whom I am bound to... The blank head in which ‘I’ am has become so frightened and greedy that only my death could satisfy it.
  • "We’re like a farmer working his land before the storm, walking down his fields with lowered head, knowing that the hail is bound to fall. And then, as the moment approaches, standing in front of his harvest, he draws himself erect and, as I now am doing" – with no transition, this ludicrous, laughable character became noble: that frail voice, that slick voice of his was imbued with ice – "he pointlessly raises his arms to heaven, waiting for the lightning to strike him – him, and his arms …" As he spoke these words he let his own arms fall. He had become the perfect emblem of some dreadful despair.
  • All that I had loved during my life rose up like a graveyard of white tombs, in a lunar, spectral light. Fundamentally, this graveyard was a brothel. The funereal marble was alive. In some places it had hair on it.
  • I used to shut my eyes and let it shine redly through my lids. The sun was fantastic – it evoked dreams of explosion. Was there anything more sunlike than red blood running over cobblestones, as though light could shatter and kill? Now, in this thick darkness, I’d made myself drunk with light.
  • I was jealous of people with a God to hang onto, whereas I … soon all I’d have left would be ‘eyes to cry with’.
  • I can grovel at His feet if I believe He doesn’t exist.
  • I sank into the moist body the way a well-guided plough sinks into earth. The earth beneath that body lay open like a grave; her naked cleft lay open to me like a freshly dug grave... our bodies were quivering like two rows of teeth chattering together.
  • He had porcelain-blue eyes that even in a lighted railway car were lost in the clouds, as if he had personally heard the Valkyries’ summons; but no doubt his ear was more attuned to the trumpet-call of the barracks.
  • Each peal of music in the night was an incantatory summons to war and murder. The drum rolls were raised to their paroxysm in the expectation of an ultimate release in bloody salvos of artillery.
  • Against this rising tide of murder, far more incisive than life (because blood is more resplendent in death than in life), it will be impossible to set anything but trivialities – the comic entreaties of old ladies.
  • How can we linger over books to which their authors have manifestly not been driven? ... the freakish anomalies of Blue of Noon originated entirely in an anguish to which I was prey.
    • Appendix: The Author’s Foreword [1957]

Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939

  • The big toe is the most human part of the human body, in the sense that no other element of this body is as differentiated from the corresponding element of the anthropoid ape (chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan).
  • The human foot is commonly subjected to grotesque tortures that deform it and make it rickety. In an imbecilic way it is doomed to corns, calluses, and bunions.
  • Man's secret horror of his foot is one of the explanations for the tendency to conceal its length and form as much as possible. Heels of greater or lesser height, depending on the sex, distract from the foot's low and flat character. Besides the uneasiness is often confused with a sexual uneasiness; this is especially striking among the Chinese who, after having atrophied the feet of women, situate them at the most excessive point of deviance. The husband himself must not see the nude feet of his wife, and it is incorrect and immoral in general to look at the feet of women. Catholic confessors, adapting themselves to this aberration, ask their Chinese penitents "if they have not looked at women's feet.
The same aberration is found among the Turks (Volga Turks, Turks of Central Asia), who consider it immortal to show their nude feet and who even go to bed in stockings.
Nothing similar can be cited from classical antiquity (apart from the use of very high soles in tragedies). The most prudish Roman matrons constantly allowed their nude toes to be seen. On the other hand, modesty concerning feet developed excessively in the modern ea and only started to disappear in the nineteenth century. M. Salomon Reinarch has studied this development in detail in the article entitled Pieds pudiques [Modest Feet], insisting on the role of Spain, where women's feet have been the object of most dreaded anxiety and thus were the cause of crimes. The simple fact of allowing the shod foot to be seen, jutting up from under a skirt, was regarded as indecent. Under no circumstances was it possible to touch the foot of a woman.
  • p.21-22
  • Love expresses a need for sacrifice each unity must lose itself in some other which exceeds it. In erotic frenzy the being is led to tear itself apart and lose itself.
  • There is no communication more profound,” he claims. “[T]wo beings are lost in a convulsion that binds them together. But they only communicate when losing a part of themselves. Communication ties them together with wounds, where their unity and integrity dissipate in fever.
    • p. 250

L’Expérience Intérieure (1943)


Inner Experience, L. Boldt, trans. (1988)

  • Anyone wanting slyly to avoid suffering identifies with the entirety of the universe, judges each thing as if he were it. In the same way, he imagines, at bottom, that he will never die. We receive these hazy illusions like a narcotic necessary to bear life. But what happens to us when, disintoxicated, we learn what we are? Lost among babblers in a night in which we can only hate the appearance of light which comes from babbling. The self-acknowledged suffering of the disintoxicated is the subject of this book.
    • p. xxxii
  • We have in fact only two certainties in this world—that we are not everything and that we will die. To be conscious of not being everything, as one is of being mortal, is nothing. But if we are without a narcotic, an unbreathable void reveals itself. I wanted to be everything, so that falling into this void, I might summon my courage and say to myself: “I am ashamed of having wanted to be everything, for I see now that it was to sleep.” From that moment begins a singular experience. The mind moves in a strange world where anguish and ecstasy coexist.
    • p. xxxii
  • The analysis of laughter had opened to me points of contact between the fundamentals of a communal and disciplined emotional knowledge and those of discursive knowledge.
    • p. xxxiii
  • By inner experience I understand that which one usually calls mystical experience: the states of ecstasy, of rapture, at least of meditated emotion. But I am thinking less of confessional experience, to which one has had to adhere up to now, than of an experience laid bare, free of ties, even of an origin, of any confession whatever. This is why I don’t like the word mystical.
    • p. 3
  • Experience is, in fever and anguish, the putting into question (to the test) of that which a man knows of being. Should he in this fever have any apprehension whatsoever, he cannot say: “I have seen God, the absolute, or the depths of the universe”; he can only say “that which I have seen eludes understanding”—and God, the absolute, the depths of the universe are nothing if they are not categories of the understanding.

    If I said decisively, “I have seen God,” that which I see would change. Instead of the inconceivable unknown—wildly free before me, leaving me wild and free before it—there would be a dead object and the thing of the theologian, to which the unknown would be subjugated
    • p. 4
  • Inner experience, unable to have principles either in dogma (a moral attitude), or in science (knowledge can be neither its goal nor its origin), or in a search of enriching states (an experimental, aesthetic attitude), it cannot have any other concern nor other goal than itself. Opening myself to inner experience, I have placed in it all value and authority. Henceforth I can have no other value, no other authority (in the realm of mind). Value and authority imply the discipline of a method, the existence of a community.
    I call experience a voyage to the end of the possible of man. Anyone may choose not to embark on this voyage, but if he does embark on it, this supposes the negation of the authorities, the existing values which limit the possible. By virtue of the fact that it is negation of other values, other authorities, experience, having a positive existence, becomes itself positively value and authority.
    Inner experience has always had objectives other than itself in which one invested value and authority. … If God, knowledge, and suppression of pain were to cease to be in my eyes convincing objectives, … would inner experience from that moment seem empty to me, henceforth impossible without justification? ...
    I received the answer [from Blanchot]: experience itself is authority.
    • p. 7
  • The advance of intelligence diminished, as a secondary consequence, the “possible” in a realm which appeared foreign to intelligence: that of inner experience.
    To say “diminished” is even to say too little. The development of intelligence leads to a drying up of life which, in return, has narrowed intelligence. It is only if I state this principle: “inner experience itself is authority” that I emerge from this impotence.
    • p. 8
  • Inner experience … is not easily accessible and, viewed from the outside by intelligence, it would even be necessary to see in it a sum of distinct operations, some intellectual, others aesthetic, yet others moral. … It is only from within, lived to the point of terror, that it appears to unify that which discursive thought must separate.
    • p. 9
  • Philosophy … finds itself to be no longer anything but the heir to a fabulous mystical theology, but missing a God and wiping the slate clean.
    • p. 9
  • The difficulty—that contestation must be done in the name of an authority—is resolved this: I contest in the name of contestation what experience itself is.
    • p. 12
  • We reach ecstasy by a contestation of knowledge. Were I to stop at ecstasy and grasp it, in the end I would define it.
    • p. 12
  • I remain in intolerable non-knowledge, which has no other way out than ecstasy itself.
    • p. 12
  • It is through an “intimate cessation of all intellectual operations” that the mind is laid bare. If nor, discourse maintains it in its little complacency. … The difference between inner experience and philosophy resides principally in this: that in experience, … what counts is no longer the statement of wind, but the wind.
    • p. 13

On Nietzsche (1945)

  • Concern for this or that limited good can sometimes lead to the summit... But this occurs in a roundabout way. Moral ends … are distinct from any excesses they occasion. States of glory and moments of sacredness surpass results intentionally sought.
    • p. xx
  • Nothing radically changes when instead of human satisfaction, we think of the satisfaction of some heavenly being! God’s person displaces the problem and does not abolish it.
    • p. xx
  • An extreme, unconditional human yearning was expressed for the first time by Nietzsche independently of moral goals or of serving God. … Ardor that doesn’t address a dramatically articulated moral obligation is a paradox. … If we stop looking at states of ardor as simply preliminary to other and subsequent conditions grasped as beneficial, the state I propose seems a pure play of lightning, merely an empty consummation. Lacking any relation to material benefits such as power or the growth of the state (or of God or a Church or a party), this consuming can’t even be comprehended. … I’ll have to face the same difficulties as Nietzsche—putting God and the good behind him, though all ablaze with the ardor possessed by those who lay down their lives for God or the good. … I’ll admit that moral investigations that aim to surpass the good lead first of all to disorder.
    • pp. xx-xxii
  • In the helter-skelter of this book, I didn’t develop my views as theory. In fact, I even believe that efforts of that kind are tainted with ponderousness. Nietzsche wrote “with his blood,” and criticizing, or, better, experiencing him means pouring out one’s lifeblood. … It was only with my life that I wrote the Nietzsche book that I had planned.
    • pp. xxiv-xxv
  • What causes [fragmentation] if not a need to act that specializes us and limits us to the horizon of a particular activity? Even if it turns out to be for the general interest (which generally isn’t true), the activity that subordinates each of our aspects to a specific result suppresses our being as an entirety. Whoever acts substitutes a particular end for what he or she is, as a total being.
    • p. xxvi
  • I cannot exist entirely except when somehow I go beyond the stage of action. Otherwise I’m a soldier, a professional, a man of learning, not a “total human being.” The fragmentary state of humanity is basically the same as the choice of an object. When you limit your desires to possessing political power, for instance, you act and know what you have to do. … You insert your existence advantageously into time. Each of your moments becomes useful. With each moment, the possibility is given you to advance to some chosen goal, and your time becomes a march toward that goal—what’s normally called living. … Every action makes you a fragmentary existence. I hold on to my nature as an entirety only by refusing to act—or at least by denying the superiority of time, which is reserved for action.
    • p. xxvii
  • Humanity-attached-to-the-task-of-changing-the-world, which is only a single and fragmentary aspect of humanity, will itself be changed in humanity-as-entirety.
    • p. xxviii
  • Life is whole only when it isn’t subordinate to a specific object that exceeds it. In this way, the essence of entirety is freedom.
    • p. xxvii
  • Entirety exists within me as exuberance … in empty longing … in … the desire to burn with desire.
    • p. xxvii
  • It is the positive practice of freedom, not the negative struggle against particular oppression, that has lifted me above a mutilated existence.
    • p. xxvii
  • The total person is first disclosed … in areas of life that are lived frivolously.
    • p. xxix
  • Existence as entirety remains beyond any one meaning—and it is the conscious presence of humanness in the world inasmuch as this is nonmeaning, having nothing to do other than be what it is, no longer able to go beyond itself or give itself some kind of meaning through action.
    • p. xxx
  • An intention that rejects what has no meaning in fact is a rejection of the entirety of being.
    • p. xxx
  • If I give up the viewpoint of action, my perfect nakedness is revealed to me.
    • p. xxx
  • The preceding criticism … justifies the following definition of the entire human: human existence as the life of “unmotivated” celebration, celebration in all meaning of the word: laughter, dancing, orgy, the rejection of subordination, and sacrifice that scornfully puts aside any consideration of ends, property, and morality.
    • p. xxxii
  • In previous conditions, extreme states came under the jurisdiction of the arts... People substituted writing (fiction) for what was once spiritual life, poetry (chaotic words) for actual ecstasies. Art constitutes a minor free zone outside action, paying for its freedom by giving up the real world. A heavy price!
    • p. xxxii
  • [Zarathustra] never abandoned the watchword of not having any end, not serving a cause, because, as he knew, causes pluck off the wings we fly with.
    • p. xxxii
  • [Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return] is what makes moments caught up in the immanence of return suddenly appear as ends. In every other system, don’t forget, these moments are viewed as means: Every moral system proclaims that “each moment of life ought to be motivated.” Return unmotivates the moment and frees life of ends.
    • p. xxxiii
  • Human entirety can only be what it is when giving up the addiction to others’ ends.
    • p. xxxiv, note
  • To choose evil is to choose freedom—“freedom, emancipation from all restraint.”
    • p. xxxiv, note
  • We can’t rely on anything. Except ourselves. Ludicrous responsibility devolves on us, overwhelms us. In every regard, right up the present, people always have relied on each other—or God.
    • p. 3

Erotism: Death and Sensuality (1962)

  • All eroticism has a sacramental character.
    • p.16
  • Inevitably linked with the moment of climax, there is a minor rupture suggestive of death; and conversely the idea of death may play a part in setting sensuality in motion.
    • p. 107
  • There is no better way to know death than to link it with some licentious image.

Quotes about Bataille

  • Bataille is associated with the surrealists. Basically the idea is that democracy doesn't work. Communism doesn't work. All these fucking models aren't working. We've got to find some new models — a model of what society should look like.
    We don't know what humans are like. And the ground is not economics; it's not like people do everything they do for economic reasons. You've got to look at the imagination; you've got to look at sex. We have no way of describing these things using the language we have. So a group was formed around Bataille to try to figure out what it means to be human — what society should look like.
    Humans have to live in a society — they can't just survive as individuals. That's not a viable condition. You know, everyone's always talking about trauma and pain and how this society isn't working, that we shouldn't have racism and sexism, but we never talk in positive terms — like what would joy be, what it would be like to have a totally great existence. Bataille and his followers looked for models for people to have totally great existences. … Well, they looked at tribal models and how they dealt with sexual stuff and sacrifice and property — the joys that aren't based on economic accumulation and the workaday world, but based on giving it all up — not having that specific, controlling, imprisoning "I." He wasn't a Freudian. He was much more interested in the tribal model where everything is on the surface and you deal with sexual stuff the same way you deal with economic stuff and social stuff. He was a very proper person, a librarian. Bataille's main enemy was Jean Paul Sartre — Bataille wasn't an upper-class intellectual and he took a lot of pressure because of that. Sartre wrote this really horrible article about Bataille and sort of kept his work from getting recognized.
  • The author of highly disturbing pornographic novels and equally disturbing theoretical work, Bataille was once called by André Breton the “excrement philosopher.” But this scathing sobriquet points to precisely what makes Bataille so useful in understanding human sexuality in all its polymorphous perversity. In fact, Bataille’s writings on ritual sacrifice and mystical experience help provide a fuller understanding of the bizarre rituals of the crush freaks.
    Both the writings and life of Bataille evidence an obsession with religion. In his teens, Bataille converted to Catholicism and contemplated entering the priesthood before renouncing his faith in order to fashion himself as an erotic mystic of decadence.
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