“When one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, “What does it mean?” It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable,” said Rene Magritte about his painting The Lovers. As you understand, we’ll talk about surrealism, but not about Rene Magritte in particular, although he was one of the most plagiarized artists, the true surrealist with witty and unexpected ideas.
Today I’d like to talk to you about the man of the same caliber, the author of all hidden, dim, and twisted. His name is Georges Bataille. Unlike Rene Magritte, he worked with the world of words, creating remarkable images of undercover surrealism. I understand, Georges Bataille is hardly a household name, but his work greatly influenced many famous authors in the post-modern culture.
Who was he?
Why should we remember him?
Bataille was born in the small town of Villon. His father, Joseph, was almost blind (some complications after syphilis), that’s why he spent his days at home, screaming from the pain. His mother, Marie-Antoinette, tried to take care of the house and her two sons, but as her husband’s illness worsened, the atmosphere at home became more unbearable. Georges attempted to get away from the nightmare of reality and asked to be placed in a boarding school, where he converted to the Catholic faith.
One day the young man went to dinner and met Henry Bergson (French philosopher). He checked the work of Bergson but found it weak. At the same time, he met a Russian writer, existentialist Lev Shestov, known for his “philosophy of despair.” Lev claimed that the cruelty of human thought is nothing if it is not its completion (conclusion). Georges Bataille was so taken by the ideas that he dreamt to translate Shestov’s literary work into English: The good in teachings of Tolstoy and Nietzsche.
“What is the ultimate human cruelty?” Wondered young Georges.
During that time, he created a new literary movement, called “Yes” in contrast to the “No” of the Dadaists. (I guess you’ve never heard about the “Yes” movement. Ah, I don’t blame you 😂! That “Yes” was merely there one day – like a wisp of smoke, swirling in the mind of Georges – and the next it was gone).
Bataille’s books describe how to create an image from dust, saliva, sweat. It discovers the face of evil in the tiny smile of the fellow passing by on the street. His work seems claustrophobic, and that’s why he reminds me of Rene Magritte, who also deliberately aimed to present the darker side of the unconscious mind. Magritte’s thought-provoking images remain enigmatic even now, in the XXI century.
!! By the way, Georges kept photographs of the real tortures on his desk, claiming he wanted to see “true ecstasy”; to find “human pain or a demon” in the victim’s faces. He saw beauty and some kind of inverted transcendence in agony, cruelty, and daily horror.
In 1928, Georges Bataille published Story of the eye. Almost at once, he earned the scandalous fame of the author of an erotic story. (None of the 134 printed copies were sold. All went among friends and acquaintances). One of the most horrific moments in that book is when the 16-years-old-girl, who is mentally ill, hangs herself, and the couple (the young narrator and his gf) have sex below her dead corpse. There’s more to the story… but you’ve got the idea 😱!
If you are 18+, then check the plot – here
But Bataille was still unhappy… He dreamt of describing the eyes as a symbol of sexuality. The idea arrived at him in Madrid, during a bullfight. He witnessed an accident: a wounded bull pierced the young torero’s skull with the help of its horn, gouging out one of the eyes. After a year or so, Georges Bataille wrote a story about an eye located on the top of the head, which allowed the main character to look at the sun without any distractions. The story is called Solar Anus; an eye in it appears with a gouged out flesh. The meaning behind the story was – “human eyes can’t withstand the sun, copulation or darkness.”
The goal of his writing didn’t change through the years – the desire to express the impossible, the unthinkable, the inaudible, and the unknowable. The wish to bring the language to the limit, express death, ecstasy, loss, and darkness as accurately as possible.
Our last stop is 1958 when Bataille published the book Literature and Evil. He wrote: “People are different from animals only because they follow the rules… but the rules are ambiguous. People observe the rules, then follow them, but they feel the need to violate them despite that. Violation of prohibitions doesn’t mean ignorance or stupidity. I believe it requires bravery, thinking, and determination. If a person has the courage necessary to transcend or break boundaries, one can assume he is a winner. This is how real literature is created – through the challenge, through the impulse, through the crisis. Real literature reminds me of Prometheus. A true writer dares to do what is contrary to the fundamental laws of writing or society’s expectations. Real literature questions the principles of regularity, standards, rules, norms, and cautions.”
Do I have to say more?
Let’s be like Prometheus! 😉
Next post – A pseudo-real combination