Visions Of Excess (Book Cover) by Georges Bataille

Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939, Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, and Donald M. Leslie, Jr., University of Minnesota Press. 1985.

This description pertains to the introductory background and first chapter of this book. The reader is introduced to Bataille as librarian, theorist, and activist whom struggled with mental illness or disorder. While he was deeply involved in the anti-fascist movements of his day (early twentieth century), some of his behaviours and prescriptions nonetheless engendered a fascist tendency. Bataille’s personal writings reveal obsession with ‘filth’, violence, destruction of society taboos and normative values, and resentment for established and elite power institutions. Batialle challenged prescriptions for piety and morality which he viewed as measures of control and a denial of base human qualities.

Though recognized as espousing Gnostic mysticism, his spiritualist experimentations are reviewed here as furthering his intentions to explore ‘primitivity’, as well as to find avenues for expressions of base violence. He views these as revealing humankind’s truer nature, and as an aid in divining life’s true meanings. Bataille wished to see the ‘rebirth’ of myth as a means of rebirthing (radically transforming) societal conditions, and joined the underground Surrealist and Marxist movements in France. He was a member of the College of Sociology and founded a secret society referred to as Acéphale, which is known to have centred around a fascination for human sacrifice. His direct association with various movements appear to have been intermittent, splintering off from any imposed dogmas or conditional stances, frequently at odds with this contemporaries.

Bataille’s short stories offer absurdist analogies, and sometimes incoherent visual metaphor, in place of analysis. That said, through the process of cultivating metaphor and symbolism (the Eye, Solar Anus, The Big Toe, etc) the author appears to be excavating and exploring meanings within his own inner emotional landscape. These stories repetitively arouse imagery of disassociated body parts (particularly sexually assigned ones), excrement, blood, violent events and actions, and the tremblings and eruptions (explosions) which he describes. Bataille later explained that violence is the outcome of intellectual despair, and that in such a state of being, ugliness and horror satiates our desire for the opposite.

Bataille frequently offered ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ analogies, pertaining to class as much as to physical functions and, along side other disenfranchised Surrealists, sought after a ‘third way’ or convergence between these. He coined the term ‘base materialism’ in order to avoid common connotations of the word ‘materialism’ in the cultural and theoretical contexts of his day. Described as devoid of religious relations and symbolic idealism, base materialism embraces individual corporeality unto itself, and explores all potentials for action in that context only. This base materialism might be viewed as similar to Agamben’s reference to the concept of ‘bare life’, though evoked and employed in differing context. Bataille’s association of high and low bodily functions to social class status is more concretely exemplified in the cultural case studies presented by Mary Douglas.

This review does not include his more conventionally philosophical writings; it is known that Bataille’s writings are included in a broader ‘literature of transgression’ that has aided analysis regarding taboo and consciousness, signs and significations, and approaches to the topic of deviance.

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