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Georges Bataille (1897-1962): Life & Letters

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2024 11:57 AM

Bataille quote
Bataille in 1940
Above: Bataille in his 1940 government-issued ID photo.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image license: Public domain.
Georges Bataille was a thinker of unusual range and force who developed a highly provocative vision of human experience and exerted an indelible influence among the writers who have had the most decisive impact on the academic study of literature and culture in Europe and America over the last fifty years: Baudrillard, Blanchot, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva, Lacan, and Lyotard, among others. A librarian by training, Bataille was steeped in the early discoveries made by modern cultural anthropology and sociology on economics, religion, sexuality, morality, art, language, and the human mind; he was further emboldened by the artistic and psychological revolutions promised by Dada, Surrealism, and early psychoanalysis as well as entangled in the political debacles of Marxism and fascism in the interwar years. Above all, he was deeply marked by his childhood experiences: his father's syphilitic paralysis, blindness, and insanity, his mother's emotional instability, and his own obsessive sexuality - a web of guilt and terror culminating in his and his mother's abandonment of his helpless father in flight from the German advance on their village during the First World War. This early experience of complicity in an act he perceived as unpardonable darkened and steeled Bataille's moral vision, which was forever after centered on the experience of anguish: the state in which the moral agent is caught between the inexorable force of a prohibition and the equally inexorable necessity of desire. In a career of several decades, Bataille consistently uncovers and affirms the unmistakable signature of violence, sacrifice, transgression, abjection, sensuality, excess, passion, waste, and horror at the heart of our erotic desires, religious fevers, artistic creations, and political disasters, and renders this discovery in a ruthlessly self-deconstructing language bent on lacerating its own certainties. As Foucault once wrote, Bataille is simply "one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century" - possibly one of the most lucid, certainly one of the most provocative and influential.
This research guide is designed both to make Bataille's texts and ideas as accessible as possible for readers new to his work, and to provide an exhaustive collection of resources for the seasoned student and scholar of Bataille. On this page, you can find the best resources in French and English for studying Bataille's life and correspondence. Resources in English are on the left, resources in French on the right. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region.

Life & Letters in English

Life & Letters in French