Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Episode 55: George Bataille, Blue of Noon

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This week we’ve got another listener pick, which is both a modernist classic and kinda gross. There’s lots of depravity in Bataille’s novel, including characters befouling a hotel room and a narrator who maybe had sex (or at least contemplated sex?) with his dead mother. We try to figure out if the book is shocking for the sake of being shocking, or if there’s a greater aesthetic pursuit in Bataille’s work. We also talk about the Spanish Civil War, the pitfalls of academic analysis, and surrealist absurdity.

BlueofNoon

In our second segment, we consider the role of a creative writing instructor when it comes to students writing unsettling work. Mike talks about an interview question he was forced to answer after the Virginia Tech shooting, and Tom shares a couple anecdotes about issues that have cropped up in his classes.

You can read Bataille’s piece The Solar Anus here, through The Anarchist Library. You can order Lee Klein’s Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck here, on the Barrelhouse site. You can support Powell’s (and give back to the show) by clicking on the cover image above, or any of the Powell’s links on our site.

As always, stream the episode here on our site, or visit us in iTunes, where you can subscribe (for free) and never miss another episode. Also, we’re happy to get feedback on what we talked about: drop us a line, or leave a comment here on the site.

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Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

One thought on “Episode 55: George Bataille, Blue of Noon

  1. Thank you for discussing this novel. I wasn’t sure about requesting it at first, but was eager to hear your thoughts on whether Bataille’s ‘project’ or intentions could be discerned through the disgusting imagery and nihilism; because I’ve only seen the book or any of Bataille’s fiction discussed in academic writing predisposed to read him generously.

    For what it’s worth coming from someone barely familiar with Bataille from architecture school, I don’t think Tom needed to be self-reproaching, since Bataille is still quite obscure outside of France (though he was a major influence on many better known French thinkers like Foucault and Barthes). His most important works and works about him weren’t translated into English until the ’80s and ’90s.

    Heidegger once described Bataille as “the most important contemporary thinker in France”, but I think this gets quoted because it’s so surprising (and perplexing, because they’re nothing alike). Please forgive this long but telling quote:

    I start from laughter and not, as Heidegger does in Was ist Metaphysik?, from anguish: perhaps this results in consequences at the level of sovereignty (anguish is a sovereign moment, but in a way that eludes itself and is negative); Heidegger’s published work, so it seems to me, is a distillery (or even a distilling treatise) rather than a glass of alcohol, it is a professional work, whose subordinate method remains glued to results: by contrast, what counts in my mind is the moment of unsticking, what I teach (if it is true that…) is a drunkenness, not a philosophy: I am not a philosopher, but a saint, perhaps a madman.
    — Note to Méthode de méditation

    (In Mike’s defence, I laughed at the excesses in this novel too.)

    I think you could characterise this novel as a confrontation with what Bataille later called the “base materialism” of life (and talked about today in terms of the ‘abject’). Maybe the strange, incidental way it describes the outbreak of war is just a result of it having been written in 1935-6, but I think the sense of utter disillusionment and apparent disconnection from historical events is general to Bataille’s writing, as if he was always writing about something bigger. He joined the surrealists in a revolt against fascism, but his revolt was so total and general (against not just fascism but any political economy or ‘project’) that few wanted to follow him to the limit. In that sense, I agree with Mike that WWII really kicked surrealism in the nads and probably did worse to Bataille’s ‘philosophy’. He’s easy to criticise as self-defeating, and as you mentioned in the episode, abject/surrealist art is maybe compromised to the extent that it is constituted as an artwork; but I think Bataille was onto some things no else saw. This book feels like a byproduct of his search for the limit (of the novel, and those relating to his philosophical obsessions, like the subject/object relation).

    Thanks again for this episode. I love the podcast and have been recommending it to friends.

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