Georges Bataille Generator

Reading the Wikipedia entry on Georges Bataille, you would get a distinct impression that he was a pivotal figure in the history of Continental philosophy in particular, and Western civilization in general. He is purported to be a key intellectual influence on Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, and several others.  None of these claims is substantiated with evidence—the exact influence of Bataille on Madness and Civilization, say, is unexplained, and no explanation is given as to how exactly Bataille’s work “has gradually matured to reveal . . . considerable philosophical and emotional depth.” However, for you indie music fans, Georges Bataille is featured in that Of Montreal song, “The Past is a Grotesque Animal”:

I fell in love with the first cute girl that I met
Who could appreciate Georges Bataille;
Standing at a Swedish festival, discussing Story of the Eye.

Since Of Montreal is a good band, and they seem like a smart group of people, this allusion to Georges Bataille would appear to reflect favourably on the quality of his work, right?

In fact, the opposite is true. Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal’s frontman, may be good at music making, but his taste in literature is evidently bottom of the barrel. Story of the Eye, in fact, is probably one of the worst things ever written that is still referred to as “literature.” It’s hard to believe, upon reading it, that what you’re reading is the same thing that was referred to by Barnes, because why would anyone want anything to do with a person who didn’t recognize right off the bat that Story of the Eye was a piece of garbage?

I will concede that a big part of the problem with Story of the Eye may be the translation, as I could imagine certain turns of phrase, like “she huddled against me with a beating heart and gaped at the huge phantom raging in the night as though dementia itself had hoisted its colors on this lugubrious chateau,” could actually read much better in French, and in English with a stronger translation. Surely reading another of his works would give us a better indication of whether it’s a translation problem or a Bataille problem, right? Reading through The Solar Anus, however, it’s hard to be convinced that he’s not just a bad writer:

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.

As far as Story of the Eye is concerned, this opinion is shared by a lot of the people at Good Reads (at least the ones on the front page). Anita describes it as “an enormous turd polished to a sheen by specious intellectualism.” According to Nathan, “the best part of this tedious wankstain is that it is short.” Chris, a reviewer with a keen eye for the written word, remarks that “in Story of the Eye the scenes aren’t particularly moving, interesting, or even necessary. Come to think of it, Story of the Eye pretty much sucked.” Patrick described my experience exactly: “This book was unabashedly, humiliatingly retarded. It’s the kind of book that’s so famous and then you read it and wonder if someone is pulling a practical joke on you.” John notes that “This book is just plain bad. No real characterization, plot, description, . . . nothing really.” “It reads like a dishwasher manual,” says Jaga. According to Blake, “it begins badly and then gets worse. The narrative is too brisk and lacks subtlety; the images are crudely sketched when they ought to be sharply drawn and vice versa and the transitions are blurred. It was just not pleasing.”

Strangely, the average review of Story of the Eye on Good Reads is 3.77 out of 5, which is unexpectedly charitable. This appears to be a result of a surfeit of readers who revel in pornography, as long as they have an excuse to parade it around as a showpiece of intellectualism. Take Beverly, for example: “Bataille’s masterpiece, a genius of eloquent pornographic imagery, so that one’s disgust is coupled with desire. I never read anything so appalling and enthralling at the same time.” Or Mr.: “a mordantly brilliant dip into the post-Nietzschen world modernity . . . . A seminal piece of 20th century literature.” Or Forrest: “It served as mirror to observe my own reaction to the transgressive.”

Of all the reviews I read, positive and negative, Doug’s is my favourite. It consists only of a quote from Nabokov, apparently as an authority on pornography, but also as an authority on good writing:

In pornographic novels, action has to be limited to the copulation of clichés. Style, structure, imagery should never distract the reader from his tepid lust. The novel must consist of an alternation of sexual scenes. The passages in between must be reduced to sutures of sense, logical bridges of the simplest design, brief expositions and explanations, which the reader will probably skip but must know they exist in order not to feel cheated . . . . Moreover, the sexual scenes in the book must follow a crescendo line, with new variations, new combinations, new sexes, and a steady increase in the number of participants (in a Sade play they call the gardener in) and therefore the end of the book must be more replete with lewd lore than the first chapters.

Not surprisingly, this describes Story of the Eye quite accurately. Nabokov disliked pornography and considered it somewhat antithetical to literature, because in pornography “every kind of aesthetic enjoyment has to be entirely replaced by simple sexual stimulation.” There is certainly no aesthetic enjoyment to be had from Story of the Eye, as even many of the favourable reviewers admitted (e.g., Melissa, who gave a four-star review, suggested that “if you read for narrative pleasure you should run in the other direction”). Thus it appears most likely that people who think highly of Story of the Eye either aren’t very well read, or their reluctance to admit that they like the story because it’s pornography compels them to gussy up their opinions with intellectualism.

This idea of gussying shallow things up with intellectualism may be familiar to some people in the context of other Continental writers like Derrida, and certain manifestations of academic postmodernism that emerged after these writers–at least, certain writers in the humanities took a lot of criticism for gussying up their weak ideas with fancy words (and between some and much of this criticism was warranted). Andrew Bulhak, a fan of Alan Sokal, created a script using the Dada Engine that generates complete academic papers with titles like “Deconstructing Social realism: The postcapitalist paradigm of narrative and neocapitalist modernist theory,” which are total nonsense but which are designed to sound like typical unintelligible humanities papers. After having read The Solar Anus, I think Bataille’s work would be a good candidate for one of these text generators. It would produce statements like this:

The Epididymis of the Moon
Each of the moon’s phases represents a step in the transition from flaccidity to erection. As the crescent reflects a building of lunar passion, the full moon results from an ejaculation of gibbousness. Each lunar orgasm is constituted from particles of thought, and as the lunar erection thrusts into the dripping shadows, the light of the sun is reflected in a torrent of blood. Thus menstruation is a flushing of the bodily consciousness through the plumbing of fear and loneliness. Within the woman, impregnated by the gibbous moon, the fetal goddess becomes restless. It plucks the legs from a hornet and watches it writhe, electrified by the erotic pain of dismemberment. Like a fly caught in flowing sap, the fetal goddess is drowned, at birth, in a cascade of semen, and her body corrodes into the fluid of moonlight. But because the craters of the moon tolerate only love and hate, they drink the saliva of the bourgeoisie. In the struggle for power, only love caresses the shafts of moonlight penetrating the clouds, making them shudder with thunder and delight. And like rain the shaft of moonlight pours onto the oceanic sea a torrent of waves, and those waves lap against the shore like a tongue, making the rocks wet with pleasure. In the warm cavity of a shadow lurks the anus, and within the anus, the written word trembles sordidly.

Any takers?


3 responses to “Georges Bataille Generator

  1. Cite Wikipedia and then judge a person’s work on a few out of context samples. This is a B- French Literature 101 paper at best.

    What the world needs is more shallow criticism like this.

  2. mackereleconomics

    What the world needs is more shallow criticism like this:

    “Cite Wikipedia and then judge a person’s work on a few out of context samples. This is a B- French Literature 101 paper at best.”

  3. I want to say that first of all, while I am a huge fan of Bataille’s writings and ideas as a whole, I am not thoroughly impressed by Story of the Eye. That said, I think it is incredibly unfair to pick two pieces of Bataille’s writing which were his absolute earliest in his published career and then attempt to elucidate how these pieces influenced later figures in post-structuralism and other fields. Bataille’s complete works number over 7000 pages and his erotic novels are but a minute percentage of these works (roughly 6% by my quick estimation); the rest is all non-fiction and not in the same style. Bataille was also among the first to defend Nietzsche against Nazi appropriation (see “Nietzsche and the Fascists”). It seems you are quite critical of some of the methods and ideas of various post-modern writers. I am not defending them or their ability to write coherently, all I want to do is demonstrate that Bataille’s ideas influenced them. For the sake of brevity, I will not go into huge detail in what follows but I will be happy to clarify any points if you would like more information.

    Foucault’s “A Preface to Transgression” quotes extensively from Bataille’s works, specifically from his “Eroticism: Death and Sensuality” but also from “Story of the Eye”. Some of the themes that Foucault describes can be seen in many of Bataille’s works (“Theory of Religion”, “The Accursed Share Vol. II” among others). One can see that Foucault takes Bataille’s ideas about transgression and taboo and applies them, in a broader sense, to society in general (for example, about society’s interpretation of “madness”). Furthermore, the notion of the “unassimilable elements”, what Bataille terms the “heterogeneous” includes themes such as madness. Foucault’s works on sexuality and knowledge are certainly linked to Bataille’s thought as well as his work on madness and also the construction of self-identity. Foucault was also a contributor to the journal Critique founded by Bataille and wrote a few articles as part of this that were in honor of his works.

    In Derrida’s “Writing and Difference”, he has an excellent essay on Bataille titled “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve”. I will argue that Bataille’s idea of the homogeneous and the heterogeneous is remarkable similar to Derrida’s notion of binary opposites (see “The Psychological Structure of Fascism” and “The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade”). Then there is the idea of Deconstruction itself which is really at the core of Bataille’s writing: in many of his works (specifically “Inner Experience”, “Guilty”, and “On Nietzsche”) he writes, again, for the sake of brevity: of a violent process of communication that strips an individual bare. Arguably, this is a more personal, introspective look at the idea, but there are similarities that can be drawn. Additionally, there is Derrida’s idea of “supplementarity”, and I think this can be compared to a huge part of Bataille’s “Inner Experience” which is devoted to the idea of ipse, desiring to “identify with the entirety of the universe” (completing the system) but in so doing, losing its individual autonomy.

    Barthes was among the first to write on “Story of the Eye” and he gave a very structuralist interpretation (see “The Metaphor of the Eye”), looking at the language Bataille uses as describing the story as a metaphor, the story of an object (the eye). Much of Bataille’s writing was concerned with what he termed “the death of language” and I certainly think that some of these ideas are related to the structuralist approach to linguistics (in a more refined sense of course).

    As far as Jaques Lacan goes, he was close friends with Bataille and eventually married Bataille’s ex-wife (and raised Bataille’s daughter) and was certainly familiar with Bataille’s ideas. I am not too familiar with Lacan’s works, but I know that there are writers out there that claim he used a lot of Bataille’s ideas without really crediting him. I can’t say much more than that.

    Kristiva, Barthes, Foucalt, Derrida, and Hollier (who wrote a lot of essays on Bataille including his most famous “Against Architecture”) were all part of the French Tel Quel group during the 1960’s and were all very familiar with Bataille and even organized a conference to discuss his works in 1972. Kristeva has written a few essays on Bataille as well but I have not read them. To say that none of these figures were influenced by him in one way or another is just ridiculous. I realize that the Wikipedia article does not give much detail, but that does not mean you should fill in the blanks yourself.

    Lastly, I would like to mention that the whole of Bataille’s enterprise is largely based on laughter, of not taking himself seriously. This is a huge part of his works and even the way he writes at times. He dramatizes, he goes to the extreme limit, he is ridiculous. But he is always laughing at himself and laughing at the reader. It would seem awfully hypocritical of him if he discussed the notion of a system never being able to complete itself and then claiming he had all the answers. He doesn’t and he knows it.

    All of this said, I found the output of the generator to be hilarious and well done and for that I applaud you. I think that any fan of Bataille should be able to read something like this and laugh!

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