Study Guide

Georges Bataille Influences

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Wuthering Heights 

This is the most profound love story every written. You know why? Because Emily Brontë recognizes that death is what truly fuels love; you can't have one without the other. Catherine loves Heathcliff but can't marry him, because he is of low birth, and society tells her she would get nothing in return from that marriage.

This idea of love, what I call "expenditure without return"—love that doesn't expect anything in return—is exactly what makes Heathcliff so attractive to Catherine. Her love is senseless, it draws her to a brutish, unwashed man. The relationship promises nothing to either of them but the inevitability of dying together.

That's true love, baby.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Look, I'm just going to say it: the poet is more important than God—it's that simple. William Blake proves my point in this awesome work. Here, the poet takes the sovereign power over man that religion thinks it has and gives it back to poetry and the arts.

Religion wants to say there are two kinds of things: good things and bad things. Blake tells us that the things we call evil are just as important and necessary as the things we call good. There is truth in evil; get used to it.

God can't always help you, but the poet always will. The poet helps you navigate between your rational self and your mystical, unknown self (you know, that thing influencing so much of your behavior from its control room in your subconscious).

"The Verdict"

Franz Kafka is my kind of guy. Did you know that he wanted all of his writings to be burned? That's right: he created great works of literature only to be destroyed, and that means that deep inside every text by Kafka lurks a secret desire to be destroyed.

It's like Kafka's writing has a persistent death wish—and that rocks my world.

This is a guy who just gets art and literature. Remember what I said about the necessity of both good and evil? Well, Bendemann's suicide in "The Verdict" is a form of return to a childish sovereignty that doesn't really distinguish between good and evil; Bendemann just wants to be in control of his own life. That's joyful to me—the fact that you can decide everything about your life, including your own death.


I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that I'm totally into the work of the Marquis de Sade. Juliette reveals one way a reader can free him- or herself from the prison of society's reasonable codes of conduct. Shocking literary depictions of sex are ways to break away from reason, at least in the minds of the characters in this novel. Juliette thinks that death would be ecstatic, like a type of orgasm. Durand agrees with her and says that orgasm brings into the mind thoughts about death that help us deal with death.

By the way, a euphemism for orgasm in my native tongue is la petite mort, or "little death." I love being French.

So many of us want to do and say and read things that come from the gut and not from the rational mind. Literature is made for exactly this purpose—to write and read about the things we can't talk about in polite and rational conversation. Without the obscene or the shocking or the devastating or the repulsive, there would be no literature.

No good literature, at least.

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