Why I can’t stand Georges Bataille



by Dr. Joseph Suglia

I first discovered Bataille at the age of eighteen. Here was a French Nietzschean who wrote strident essays and excessively explicit novels. What was there not to like? Throughout my eighteenth and nineteenth years, I read the oeuvres of Bataille, alongside the works of Heidegger, Derrida, and many others.

Around the age of twenty, my relationship with Bataille underwent a change. I could no longer stand to read his writings.

La Littérature et le Mal (1957) destroyed my love for Bataille. The book is almost unreadably silly. Bataille argues, with the most incredible casuistry, that literature and evil are the same. Literature evades collective necessity. Evil evades collective necessity. Both literature and evil evade collective necessity. Therefore, literature IS evil. However, this does not seem to imply, according to Bataille, that evil is literature.

This is a bit like saying: A duck is not a zebra. A chicken is not a zebra. Therefore, a duck is a chicken. However, a chicken is not a duck.

“Hegel, la Mort et le Sacrifice” (1955) troubled me, as well. I had read enough of Hegel to know that Bataille was making intellectual errors, was misinterpreting Hegel.

Bataille’s misinterpretation of Hegel may be summarized thus: Human beings sacrifice the animal parts of themselves in order to become fully human. Nowhere does this statement appear in the Gesammelte Werke of Hegel. Hegel writes instead: “[Der Geist] gewinnt seine Wahrheit nur, indem er in der absoluten Zerrissenheit sich selbst findet.” When Hegel writes that the Spirit finds itself in a state of absolute shreddedness, he means that the human mind exteriorizes itself as an object and restores itself from its self-exteriorization. The human mind is both itself and outside-of-itself at the same time. There is no sacrifice of the animal for the sake of the human.

In L’Érotisme (1957), Bataille argues that death and eroticism issue from the same source, and many of his arguments are unforgettably convincing. But his opening claim is both banal and irrelevant: Bataille contends that the relation between sex and death is apprehensible at the microbiological level: When the ovum is fertilized, it is demolished. The ovum “dies” in order to form the zygote.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenology of eroticism, nor does it have anything to do with the phenomenology of mortality.

Last month, I read as much as I could endure of the fragments collected in The Unfinished System of Non-Knowledge. These are the incoherent screechings of a lunatic.

Dr. Joseph Suglia


16 thoughts on “Why I can’t stand Georges Bataille

  1. How fascinating. It seems like being a Nietzschean would be the sort of thing that would end that way, but it’s fascinating to know the effect is being observed. 🙂

  2. “These are the incoherent screechings of a lunatic.” That sounds enticing at first, but then you read those screeches and they leave much to be desired haha. Thank you for the read; this seems like a brilliant blog.

  3. Bravo Dr. and also navasolanature…. It sounds as though Bataille didn’t have sufficient opportunities to put his quill back in the spill, stand up, and walk to the nearest ice cream store… Do you know why he should have done that more often? Because life is like an ice cream cone on a hot, sunny day. You’ve got to lap it up as quickly and as fervently as you can because if you sit around thinking about what it might taste like, what it should taste like, or what it may taste like to someone else – then it will dribble all over your arse…. And obviously that will make you incoherently crazy….. Even the greatest philosopher looks a little stupid while wearing a sticky, chocolaty mess…. with almonds in it. And some bananas….

  4. While biologically there may be a connection between sex and death, and even in the abstract orgasm is a form of dying (ie “le petit mort”) the closest passion and eros approach death is that they are essentially juxtaposed. In my opinion, passion is the state in which you are most alive, creative and generative.

    That is without the added aspects of psychology or spirit, though a nihilist would have difficulty parsing anything but negative emotions as irrelevant and might even describe them as imaginary or hallucinatory.

  5. You were reading Derrida and Heidegger when you were 19 and 20? I’m impressed. I didn’t read either until Grad school! 🙂

  6. I don’t think I will stand (or understand) George Bataille either! I’m going to make sure I avoid his books 😉 Thanks for the follow and the warning!

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