Bataille, Georges Albert Maurice Victor (1897–1962) By Pecora, Vincent P.
Georges Bataille (September 10, 1897–July 9, 1962) was a French writer who synthesized ideas from many disciplines. He converted to Catholicism at the start of World War I, joined a seminary, and had abandoned the Church by 1920, entering into psychoanalysis and also suffering from tuberculosis. He embarked on a pilgrimage to transgression, combining sadistic pain, sexual pleasure, and the sacred ecstasy of sacrifice. By day, he was a librarian at the Bibliothèque nationale, focusing on medieval artefacts; his nights he devoted to brothels. He drew ideas from Gilles de Rais, the Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Mauss, and Alexandre Kojève’s reading of Hegel. Bataille was a dissenting surrealist, finally breaking with André Breton after they formed the anti-fascist Contre-attaque circle. Bataille, Michel Leiris, and Roger Caillois founded the Collège de Sociologie (1937–1939), devoted to sacred forms of transgression, and the journal Acéphale. His major novels, Histoire de l’oeil [Story of the Eye] and Le Bleu du Ciel [Blue of Noon], later achieved cult status. Bataille developed Mauss’ work on the gift and potlatch into a notion of dépense [expenditure], rejecting the utilitarian labor theory of value (“restricted economy”) for the idea that sexual, moral, economic, and political value is produced by the glorious “general economy” of waste and destruction. Bataille applied this idea to fascist psychology and throughout La Part maudite [The Accursed Share], his grandiose history of economics, the scapegoat, and the dépense of the Marshall Plan after WWII.