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The Absence of Myth: Writings on Surrealism

One of the most provocative and controversial writers of his time, these essays comprise George Bataille's most incisive study of surrealism.

For Bataille, the absence of myth had itself become the myth of the modern age. In a world that had lost the secret of its cohesion, Bataille saw surrealism as both a symptom and a beginning of an attempt to address this loss. His writings on this theme are the result of a profound reflection in the wake of World War Two.

The Absence of Myth is the most incisive study yet made of surrealism, insisting on its importance as a cultural and social phenomenon with far-reaching consequences. Clarifying Bataille's links with the surrealist movement, and throwing revealing light on his complex and greatly misunderstood relationship with Andre Breton, The Absence of Myth shows Bataille to be a much more radical figure than his postmodernist devotees would have us believe: a man who continually tried to extend Marxist social theory; a pessimistic thinker, but one as far removed from nihilism as can be.

Reviews

  • “One of the most original and unsettling of those thinkers who, in the wake of Sade and Nietzsche, have confronted the possibility of thought in a world that has lost its myth of transcendence.”
  • “Bataille has survived the death of God.”
  • “Richardson's readable and accurate translations are carefully annotated, making this a useful collection for English readers.”
  • “The book is never less than fascinating and reveals Bataille as a wit as well as a thinker.”
  • “An illuminating historical document.”
  • “Challenging and terrifying.”

Blog

  • "I have no delusions. I am playing"—Leonora Carrington's Madness and Art

    Leonora Carrington was a prolific artist and writer, and one of the few women in the surrealist movement. Until recently, she was perhaps more famous for her personal life than her work (besides the riotous novella The Hearing Trumpet): after running off with Max Ernst, she suffered a breakdown and ended up in a Spanish asylum, from which she was rescued by her nanny in a submarine. 

    Joanna Walsh examines the intertwining of madness and art in surrealism and how Carrington refused the surrealist romanticisation of female madness, describing her time in the Spanish asylum in terms of a forced incarceration. Through her life and work, Walsh traces Carrington's rejection of patriarchal authority through her political activism and through the creation of dreams, myths and symbols centred around the feminine in her art. 

    This article is part of a series for World Mental Health Day 2015. 

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  • “Far more than philosophy”—the Times Literary Supplement on Georges Bataille

    Ian James is full of praise for Michel Surya's Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography in the Times Literary Supplement. Focusing on Bataille's political and philosophical thought, James writes that"Bataille's thinking elaborates an all-embracing cosmological vision of material and human life inscribed within a general economy of excess, expenditure, ruination and death".

    James notes that Bataille's sensational life and work can in no way be fitted into a singular  narrative. Nevertheless, there are threads running throughout Bataille's work (both fiction and theory) and his life, notably his lifelong committment to materialism: 

    Surya, perhaps more than any other commentator, does justice to the intimacy of the relation that subsisted between Bataille's life and his writing, and to the complexity of their interrelation. Despite their resolutely paradoxical, enigmatic or incomplete qualities, Bataille's life and writing are, Surya shows, united by a sustained concern to affirm and elaborate an uncompromising anti-idealism. If he was fascinated by the debauched the filthy, and the work of death, it was because he held ideality of any kind to whatsoever to be a dangerous repression of the base materiality of life ...

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