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  • The Dismembered Community: Bataille, Blanchot, Leiris, and the Remains of Laure
  • Patrick Ffrench
The Dismembered Community: Bataille, Blanchot, Leiris, and the Remains of Laure. By Milo Sweedler. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009. 214 pp. Hb. $50.00.

Colette Peignot (Laure), the pivotal figure of Sweedler’s study, was the author of an autobiography, Histoire d’une petite fille, and of a collection entitled Le Sacré, which articulates a theory of the sacred. The sacred, according to Laure, resides in ephemeral experiences of self-loss and abjection, a proposition with which readers of Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris may be familiar. Laure was closely associated with both, and was Bataille’s lover from 1934 to her premature death in 1938. Much of Bataille’s writing bears the trace of her presence and death, which Bataille and Leiris witnessed. Sweedler uncovers the detail of Laure’s presence in their writing. Moreover, both were responsible for the dissemination of her texts, having published them first in 1939. Prior to her relationship with Bataille, Laure was the companion of Boris Souvarine, the dissident Communist founder of the important journal La Critique sociale. Laure appears, then, to be a female figure very much surrounded, contested, and, in Sweedler’s account, canonized by a group of male associates. Sweedler elaborates on this structure, acknowledging the model of Jane Gallop’s study Intersections (1981), where Sade is the object of exchange. In this light Sweedler reads Laure back into such texts as Bataille’s Le Bleu du ciel and Leiris’s Miroir de la tauromachie. The principal modus operandi of The Dismembered Community is a kind of to and fro between textual analysis and biography, playing on their interrelation. This results in a somewhat ‘cryptographic’ approach (the author’s term, p. 19). After chapters devoted to Laure’s ostensible role in Bataille’s various communitarian projects (the Collège de sociologie, Acéphale), Sweedler attends to Blanchot. In this instance, however, the relation is an apparently negative one: Blanchot is Laure’s ‘undeclared enemy’ (p. 18), his essay ‘La Communauté négative’ performs the ‘ritual expulsion’ (p. 19) of Laure from Bataille’s community. Sweedler’s book is an addition to the studies of community in and around the work of Bataille, which construe community in negative terms as ‘inavouable’ (Blanchot, 1983), ‘désœuvrée’ (Nancy, 1996), at a loose end (the Miami Theory Collective, 1981). The terms and emphases of this version of the preoccupation will be familiar by now to those who have an interest in the ethical turn of theory. In a similar vein, Sweedler also has things to say about friendship, in particular that between Bataille and Blanchot, claiming that Blanchot sought to efface all trace of Laure from Bataille’s legacy, and thus to claim Bataille’s friendship, and the account of friendship that he constructs in Bataille’s name, for himself. Sweedler presents convincing evidence that some of the writings of Bataille, Blanchot, and Leiris bear the trace of their contested relations to Laure, who thus tends to appear as a sacred figure or as a ‘glorious’ body (p. 19) herself. As such it is a valuable contribution to studies of their work. It is easy to say in hindsight that there may have been room for a more critical reflection on the gender politics at stake, but this is the primary impression the book left on this reader. [End Page 363]

Patrick Ffrench
King’s College London


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