Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The crazy French guy: Georges Bataille, Postmodernism, and The Satanic Verses

Today's discussion regarding the possible extreme applications of post-modernism (for example, that one person’s pain would be another person’s pleasure and thus there can be no compassion in the world) reminded me a lot of a course I took three years ago in contemporary rhetoric. That semester, we studied George Bataille, who, at the time, I referred to as the crazy French guy because reading his translated works was driving me bonkers.

Anyway, I didn’t have time to go back and pull a lot of information on him from my notes but I did find some interesting quotes from "The Bataille Reader" (edited by Fred Botting and Scott Wilson, Blackwell Publishers, 1997) that seemed, scarily, to fit very well into our discussions of "The Satanic Verses." If anyone is interested in reading more from the book, I can loan you my copy.

I also came across some websites that provide more detailed information. But I want to give fair warning to anyone with a squeamish stomach: this guy was pretty extreme and some of the pictures on the sites can be disturbing. Definitely NOT for children.

As one of the websites below suggests, Bataille is a very difficult philosopher (?) to summarize and there is an inherent danger in taking quotes out of context like I am about to do. Still, I thought it would help to give just a flavor of his ideas. All of the following quotes are taken from the chapter labeled 'Torment in "The Bataille Reader," which presents material published in English in "Inner Experience" (1988) and originally in French as "Le Supplice" in 1947.
- “To face the impossible—exorbitant, indubitable—when nothing is possible any longer is in my eyes to have an experience of the divine; it is analogous to a torment” (page 64).
- “it is necessary for me to die (in my own eyes) to give birth to myself” (pages 64-65).
- “We cannot be without end that which we are: words canceling each other out, at the same time as resolute non-entities, believing ourselves to be the foundation of the world” (page 65).
- “My conduct with my friends is motivated: each being is, I believe, incapable of his own, of going to the end of being. If he tries, he is submerged within a ‘private being’ which has meaning only for himself. Now there is no meaning for a lone individual: being alone would of itself reject the ‘private being’ if it saw it as such…” (pages 72-72).

Here are some web addresses (sorry they don’t actually link—Blogger doesn’t seem to like my browser and doesn’t give me all of the options):

Fairly straight-forward biographical site:

Comprehensive dialogue regarding the basics of Bataille:

Warning: This last site is not for the faint of heart. It contains some rather explicit images of the pain/ecstasy principle advanced by Bataille. This is the very picture I stumbled across three years ago when I first encountered Bataille. It still makes my stomach turn. AGAIN, this is NOT for children.


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