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Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography

An authoritative account of the life and work of Bataille.
Georges Bataille was a philosopher, writer, librarian, pornographer and a founder of the influential journals Critique and Acéphale. He has had an enormous impact on contemporary thought, influencing such writers as Barthes, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault and Sontag. Many of his books, including the notorious Story of the Eye and the fascinating The Accursed Share, are modern classics.

In this acclaimed intellectual biography, Michel Surya gives a detailed and insightful account of Bataille’s work against the backdrop of his life – his troubled childhood, his difficult relationship with André Breton and the surrealists and his curious position as a thinker of excess, ‘potlatch’, sexual extremes and religious sacrifice, one who nonetheless remains at the heart of twentieth century French thought—all of it drawn here in rich and allusive prose. While exploring the source of the violent eroticism that laces Bataille’s novels, the book is also an acute guide to the development of Bataille’s philosophical thought. Enriched by testimonies from Bataille’s closest acquaintances and revealing the context in which he worked, Surya sheds light on a figure Foucault described as ‘one of the most important writers of the century’.

Reviews

  • “Such is Surya’s intimacy with this material that each of his short, thoughtful chapters could serve as an introductory essay on Bataille.”

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  • "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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  • Georges Bataille on Jean-Paul Sartre on Jean Genet

    This week's archive article in the Times Literary Supplement is Georges Bataille's review of Jean-Paul Sartre's Saint Genet, his 1952 study of the life and work of Jean Genet.

    Among the consequential works of M. Sartre the most recent to appear is certainly the most singular. Nominally it is no more than a preface, the preface to a "Complete Works" in themselves highly singular, written by a living author condemned by common law who is by no means satisfied by filling them with a combative account of a uniquely profligate life: he uses them to make a boast of that life, which he regards as supremely important, and he uses it as an apology of Evil, which is both its excuse and the rule by which it has been led. But this preface is not only abnormal for its length (it contains 600 pages), it is a philosophic work of exceptional interest, and to that extent an unquestionable masterpiece.

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