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This article is taken from PN Review 120, Volume 24 Number 4, March - April 1998.

Death and the Unmaidenly James Sutherland-Smith

A selection from the writings of Georges Bataille (1897-1962) has become available in The Bataille Reader edited by Fred Botting and Scott Wilson (published by Basil Blackwell 1997). This is presumably a centenary edition, a paradoxical tribute by the Anglo-Saxon to someone who set his face against such 'projects'. In the introduction the editors attempt to disarm 'Anglo-Saxon pragmatism or utilitarian scepticism', implying that to examine Bataille's work in terms of rational argument is quite beside the point. There are quotations from Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida to support Bataille's reputation as a philosophical subversive including a typical piece of elegant variation from Derrida; 'With minute audacity, it will acknowledge the rule which constitutes that which it efficiently, economically, must deconstitute.' Very well, Bataille contradicts himself.

More interesting than the claims that Bataille subverts the nature of writing (the same might be claimed of someone like Kathy Acker) are his insights into the way uncontrollable impulses erupt into the processes of ratiocination, especially when they do so in an erotic form or in a form displaying a horror of death. Much of Bataille's thinking is grounded in a dualistic tradition which requires a negation to whatever concept is advanced. In Bataille's work negation is often substantial in its own right. Hence his work can have a Manichean timbre and it is unsurprising to find him displaying an interest in Gnosticism and the Occult. With regard to the erotic and its potential for ecstasy Bataille implies there must ...


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