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The Thought of Georges Bataille

Lecturer: Nina Power

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

This intensive course will examine the work of Georges Bataille (1897-1962), at once philosophical, economic (though not in the usual sense of that word), poetic, artistic, mythical and anthropological. Bataille’s thoughts concerning excess, sacrifice, eroticism, laughter, materialism, death, desire, sovereignty and politics, particularly his attempt to understand the rise of fascism, remain invaluable, and are often drawn upon by heterodox thinkers wishing to think beyond the narrow confines of disciplines as they are usually presented to us. Bataille’s conceptualisation of the driving forces of human existence may veer towards the impossible, the incomprehensible and the irreconcilable, but at the same time he gives us extraordinary ways of thinking about nature, ecology and energy which are vital in making sense of today’s often maddening world. 

1.General Economy: Solar Excess

Primary Reading:

  • ‘The Notion of Expenditure’ (1933), Visions of Excess, pp. 116-129
  • ‘Rotten Sun’ (1930), Visions of Excess, pp. 57-58

Secondary Reading:

  • Allan Stoekl, ‘Bataille’s Ethics: Mechanized Waste and Intimate Expenditure’, pp. 32-59 Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability (2007)

2. Anthropology: Sacrifice & Sovereignty

Primary Reading:

  • ‘The Gift of Rivalry: “Potlatch”’ (1949), The Bataille Reader, pp. 199-209
  • ‘Sacrifice, the Festival and the Principles of the Sacred World’ (1948), The Bataille Reader, pp. 210-219
  • ‘Knowledge of Sovereignty’ (1953-54), The Bataille Reader, pp. 301-312
  • ‘The Schema of Sovereignty’ (1953-54), The Bataille Reader, pp. 313-320

Secondary Reading:

  • ‘Violence has its Reasons: Girard and Bataille’, Anthony D. Traylor, Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Michigan State University Press, Volume 21, 2014, pp. 131-156

3. Philosophy: Bataille Reading Nietzsche

Primary Reading:

  • On Nietzsche (1945), Preface, Parts I&II, pp. xix-48

Secondary Reading:

  • Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation (London: Routledge, 1992), Chapter 1, ‘The Death of Sound Philosophy’

4. Politics: Understanding Fascism

Primary Reading:

  • ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism’ (1934), Visions of Excess, pp. 137-160
  • ‘Nietzsche and the Fascists’ (1937), Visions of Excess, pp. 182-196

Secondary Reading:

  • Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason, Part II, 4 ‘Left Fascism: Georges Bataille and the German Ideology’, pp. 153-186

5. Art, Death, Erotics & Aesthetics

Primary Reading:

  • ‘Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh’ (1930), Visions of Excess, pp. 61-72
  • ‘The Pineal Eye’ (c. 1930), Visions of Excess, pp. 79-90
  • ‘Preface to the History of Eroticism’ (1953-54), The Bataille Reader, pp. 237-241
  • ‘Death’, The Bataille Reader, pp. 242-247

Secondary Reading:

  • Troy M. Burdun, ‘George Bataille, Philosopher of Laughter’ (2013), MLA paper