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Reviewed by:
  • Georges Bataille: une quête érotique du sacrépar Juliette Feyel
  • Paul Earlie
Georges Bataille: une quête érotique du sacré. Par J ulietteF eyel. ( Essais, 24.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013. 252 pp.

Asked to comment on the infamous Piss Christ affair of 1989, the unflappable Sister Wendy Beckett concluded that the urine-submerged crucifix represented less an attack on Christianity than a statement on what we have done to the notion of the sacred. What Juliette Feyel’s study of Georges Bataille’s erotic writings brings out very clearly is that the proximity of the sacred and the scatological is far less novel (or indeed shocking) than it might first appear. It is no coincidence that Bataille’s erotic work — in which, Feyel argues, the writer comes closest to communicating an experience of the sacred — abounds with references to the excretory and the obscene. That the sacred is crucial to Bataille’s theoretical-aesthetic project goes without saying. The question is rather one of approach. While Bataille’s quest for the sacred transcends disciplinary boundaries (incorporating reflections in sociology, economics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy), eroticism remains a privileged means of exploring the ‘instant sacré’ (p. 8), that impossible moment of communion with something greater than oneself. This is because eroticism grasps (or attempts to grasp) the sacred at its essential point of liminality, between [End Page 258]desire and anxiety, presence and absence, life and death. The difficulty here is how to communicate an experience that is by its very nature diaphanous, transient. The answer is the leurreof the literary image, a transitional object that acts as a kind of reader’s springboard towards the sacred. Bataille’s erotic imagery trumps the homogenizing, abstracting language of philosophy and theory; its sensuousness can both attract and repel. This inherent capacity for ambivalence echoes the more primary ambivalence of the sacred, whose essence, contrary to the Christian tradition, is both to delight and to horrify. For Bataille, the appeal of literature lies in its continuity with pagan traditions of sacrifice: drama and spectacle, audience participation, emotional extremes, a capacity to shock. Hence the erotic imagery of his work exhibits some of the most disturbing elements of sacrifice (bloodletting, torture, strangulation). like the reflection of Medusa in Perseus’s shield, these images allow us to stare into the sun, not in order to communicate or imitate the sacred but rather to arouse its essential jouissance. The difficulty is that this ‘ob-scenity’ can be more trapdoor than springboard, repulsing Bataille’s readers to such a degree that they prematurely abandon the quest for the sacred. Feyel’s response is one of measurement. If Bataille’s images thrill and appal in correct proportion (black humour, for example, can help defuse the disgusting), then the pleasure of the text can in fact be amplified. Here and more generally, her argument for ‘une érotisation progressive de la quête du sacré’ (p. 11) in Bataille’s work is a persuasive one. Given the salience of the sacred as a problematic in recent years, one might have expected more reflection on the relevance of Bataille’s account for continuing debates. It is probably beyond the scope of a predominantly literary and author-based study to broach such questions, but they remain tantalizingly hinted at in Feyel’s brief opening references to Piss Christ and other contemporary profanations.

Paul Earlie
Université libre de Bruxelles

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 258-259
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-11
Open Access
No
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