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STORIES OF THE EYE: The “Accursed Share”

He was an elusive yet central figure that essentially established what was possible or impossible in the wake of the Marquis de Sade. Nietzsche and Sade in one neat package called the eroticization of the death of god. The profane, the sacred and the erotic in a threesome.  Roland Barthes asserted that any exploration of pornographic transgression such as in “Story of the Eye” by Georges Bataille, will inevitably involves some form of linguistic transgression. Barthes did imply that Bataille did indeed find the means to accommodate pornographic excess.Bataille was exploring theories on the relation between trauma, pornographic narrative and the human body. Was it an impossible attempt to synthesize and integrate trauma with a narrative form. Certainly the distortion and anguish in the work indicate a valiant effort that can perhaps best be measured as a literary experiment on the spatial organization of text….

Miro. The Potato. 1928. "In order to argue that Miro's metaphoric chains should be thought of in the same universe as Bataille's, one would have to reconceive the meaning of those sumptuous washes that constitute the grounds of his paintings of 1924-27. One would have to stop thinking of them as avatars of something like Color Field painting--immaterial vehicles for the occasional ideogram--and start thinking of them in terms suggested by Leiris in 1929 when he spoke of these works as "not so much painted as dirtied," and saw the grounds as ruined walls awaiting the attack of the graffitist."

The “metaphysician of evil.” Bataille was interested in sex, death, degradation, and the power and potential of the obscene. He rejected traditional literature and considered that the ultimate aim of all intellectual, artistic, or religious activity should be the annihilation of the rational individual in a violent, transcendental act of communion. For Bataille, the cursed and the degraded was always the more profound; the pure and untouchable is always presented as a something to be peeled and discarded , a perhaps necessary but nevertheless, timid, perhaps cowardly covering up of the most primordial aspect of the sacred.

"In 1928, French philosopher Georges Bataille (under the pseudonym Lord Auch) shocked the world with The Story of the Eye, a sexually graphic and surreal novel. It still remains somewhat of a cult classic, and recently got some press when Bjork declared that she really enjoyed the novel, and incorporated some of its ideas into a video. Anything that Bjork likes has to be weird. Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye by underground filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney (A Chronicle of Corpses, Magdalen) is not an adaptation, but more an exploration. It is McElhinney's own take on Bataille's ideas, and it is equally shocking. The film starts with old stock footage of a childbirth, and moves on to various setting where men and women have sex alone or in various combinations. If McElhinney wanted to shock people, he succeeded. Because of the explicit nature of Story of the Eye, it will be all but unwatchable for mainstream audiences. "

…Yet Miro probably drew more “dirty pictures” than almost any painter one can think of, at least up until the very recent past. Vulvas litter his canvases of the ’20s, triumphant penises urinate fulsomely, the imagery of copulation is endless, smokers stroll with enormous erections that visually rhyme with their tiny pipes, semen turns to pollen, breast milk fills the sky, and there is an endless genital metaphoric play as hairy labia become mouths that in turn become spiders that in turn become radiant suns that in turn become eyes that in turn become ova….

The sacred of established religion- of elevation and eternity- is therefore only a loss of intensity of the more “genuine” religious tendency- that of the “accursed share” , the share of the moment, the instant that does not and cannot lead outside itself. The truly unconditioned death of god in other words; like St. George burying the slain dragon for many millenniums to come.

Miro. Dutch Interior I. 1928. Rosalind Krauss:And indeed, this reorientation would be a matter of retrieving Miro's own conception of their function. When Bataille himself wrote a short note on Miro in 'Documents in 1930, he quoted the statement Miro made fairly widely in the late '20s to the effect that he wanted "to annihilate painting." And this annihilation seemed in Miro's own view to be tied precisely to the withdrawal of "paint" from his works, such that he wrote to Leiris in 1924, "This is hardly painting, but I don't give a damn." Miro's "magnetic fields" retain all the centrality to his work that I saw them having in 1972, and indeed MoMA's exhibition is the first presentation of the full sweep of Miro's art to give this group of pictures pride of place. The question still remains, however, of how to look at this crucial series. And I am now wondering whether their implications are less a matter of Andre Breton's conception of the poetic image than of Bataille's reconstitution of metaphor....

…It is, of course, this very process of metaphor–or what Bataille would call “transposition”–that seems to wall these pictures off from Bataille’s base materialism. For if Bataille spoke of the fetishist’s loving the shoe more than any art lover could love a painting, if he asked us to consider staring wide-eyed before the erotic sight of the big toe, this was because he thought of this experience as “without transposition.” His concept of the fetish was more tribal than Freudian; it contained a picture of being compelled to worship a stone or an effigy not as a substitute, but as the real thing.

"Georges Bataille (1897 – 1962) was a Parisian thinker in the great subcultural tradition of Paris that produced such figures as Baudelaire, Appolionaire, and Breton. He was a literary figure, an art critic, and a philosopher, not to mention a librarian. He moved in Surrealist circles, earning early on the wrath of Breton for appearing to create a competing group of surrealists, a rift healed in the wake of rising fascism in Europe. Bataille had a flair for the dramatic and the mystical that was so much a part of Surrealism. He emphasized the irrational in opposition to the rational, the erotic as opposed to bourgeois morality, celebration of excess as opposed to capitalist restraint, transgression as opposed to conformity. "

And yet, as Roland Barthes has shown, Bataille’s own pornographic novel, The Story of the Eye, is itself an extraordinary cycle of metaphor in which “the story” is built up of chains of substitutions either along the shape of the object (eye–testicles–egg–sun) or along its contents (tears–sperm–urine–yolk–rain). And these chains not only produce the action of the novel, they generate its imagery as well, as in the phrase “the urinary liquification of the sky.” ( Rosalind Krauss )

Perhaps Bataille’s most famous text, Story of the Eye is a tale of obsessive sexuality involving rape, necrophilia, coprophilia, fetish objects (particularly eggs and eyeballs), and half a dozen other types of deviance.If Bataille’s novel was an attempt to write that which should not be written – it is his work that introduced the notion of transgression, the violent, ecstatic breaking of taboos that became so important to postmodern thinkers like Michel Foucault and Susan Sontag .

"Symbolically, along with the object itself, the one who offers the sacrifice is seen as removed from the demands of utility and consequently as possibly a sovereign subject. Those who offer the sacrifice are not completely dominated by the needs of the system or the process, but, rather, can exist free of their constraints in the moment of the sacrifice. Bataille examines these notions in light of Aztec sacrifice. While to modern sensibilities the immense level of human sacrifice in that culture seems an abomination, it represents the nature of sacrifice. In the words of Bataille, “The victim is surplus taken from the mass of useful wealth. And he can only be withdrawn from it in order to be consumed profitlessly, and therefore utterly destroyed. Once chosen, he is the accursed share, destined for violent consumption. But the curse tears him away from the order of things; it gives him a recognizable figure, which now radiates intimacy, anguish, the profundity of living beings.” ---

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Story of the Eye, a classic of erotic literature, was written in 1928 under the pseudonym Lord Auch. It told a tale of a young couple, Simone and the narrator, who explore the boundaries of sexual taboos. They play with eggs, milk and all bodily fluids. During a champagne orgy, their friend Marcelle is left in a wardrobe. She becomes traumatized and is taken to a sanatorium. After she is brought back she hangs herself in the same wardrobe. Simone and ‘the Cardinal’, the narrator, escape to Spain, where their sexual fantasies become more blasphemous. “I was not even satisfied with the usual debauchery, because the only thing it dirties is debauchery itself, while, in some way or other, anything sublime and perfectly pure is left intact by it. My kind of debauchery soils not only my body and my thoughts, but also anything I may conceive in its course, that is to say, the vast starry universe, which merely serves as a backdrop.” In one scene of the book the heroine strangles her partner to force sexual arousal on him. Later the Japanese director Nagisa Oshima used similar climax in his ritualistic film In the Realm of the Senses (1976), which was based on an actual criminal case in the 1930s Japan. Story of the Eye has enjoyed a cult status. Most recently it was rediscovered by the Icelandic pop singer Björk Guðdmundsdóttir.

…The notion of the gift in Bataille is closely related to that of sacrifice. Bataille basis his comments on the nature of the gift on the essay by Marcel Mauss, first published as “Essai sur le Don” in 1950 . Marcel Mauss (1872 – 1950) was the literal heir of Emile Durkheim and deeply involved in Durkheim’s project of sociology. While substantially a work of objective anthropology, the impact of the work, as Mauss makes clear in comments in his conclusion, was to be a critique, indeed an alternative vision, to utilitarian visions of capitalism. As Mary Douglas has argued in her foreword to the translation of the essay, “The Essay on the Gift was part of an organized onslaught on contemporary political theory, a plank in the platform against utilitarianism.”
At the heart of the essay lies a critique of anthropologists’ reading of gift-giving as a form of rational economic exchange. He berated anthropologists for imposing on other cultures preconceived models concerning the necessity and universality of economic exchange.

"...Thus how does one rectify the notion of Bataille that the gift as an annihilation of excess escapes a forward movement of time into the privileged domain of the sacred and eternal moment and Derrida’s argument that the gift actually creates a forward motion, an opening in temporal flow? The answer lies in the magnetic, indeed impossible, power of the gift. As Derrida argued, the gift draws the flow of exchange and the temporal flow towards itself. In the gift, the giver as subject initiates, the giver creates the demands and determines the very nature of the exchange. It is thus for that subject an escape from the rational discourse, which demands the individual as object. It opens the area of freedom, of play, that Bataille demanded and saw the hope for in Nietzsche. As Bataille saw an essential paradox of a gift that is an attempt at acquisition of a power, so Derrida saw an essential madness of the gift that seeking to escape and lose itself, draws the world to it...."

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Posted by Dave on Jan 9th, 2011 and filed under Cinema/Visual/Audio, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Response for “STORIES OF THE EYE: The “Accursed Share””

  1. Dave says:

    Thank-you Andrew; and also for tackling such a challenging subject. Best.

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