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5.0 out of 5 stars Unrivaled Genius, 11 Feb 2013
This review is from: My Mother: Madame Edwarda: The Dead Man (Paperback)
In this haunting novel, an Oedipal dynamic seems to engender the adolescent narrator's bitter assumptions about his father's drunken activities, the noises he curiously hears as he peers over the landing balcony of his family's bourgeois home at night, supposed by his parents to be asleep.

His father is initially depicted as a malicious drunkard, and the noises Pierre (the narrator) presumes are a kind of violence directed at his mother. An innocent and formative vouyerism herein becomes the recollected narrative itself. Upon witnessing the two of his parents maniacally romping in a downstairs room, his mother in only half her clothes, the perplexed narrator instinctively realises he is not to intervene!

[SPOILER WARNING]

After the death of his father, the narrator experiences a newfound ecstasy; a new life-force and burning desire for his mother. As he recalls, however, his mother - in explaining to him the convoluted, sadistic lineage of his becoming; his conception and birth - was `to borrow the phrase from [his] father'; that he ought to `"lay the blame for everything on [her]".'

In other words, the narrative, as told by the narrator, is without clear, unequivocal origin; the mother - in this instance - perhaps inhabiting the perversion and parental rhetoric of the father, herself deeply twisted and partial to unadulterated squalor; the transgressive embracement of an utter sexual debauchery.

Indeed, the mother specifically urges Pierre to embark upon a course of transgression himself, that they might confront the insanity of human experience together, that he might love her for her hideousness, in turn liberating himself from the facile constructs of a taboo-ridden normality.

The narrator's ambivalence is notable. He is at once pleasured and utterly dismayed by the revelations of his mother's purposeful, seemingly malicious, indiscretions. Tragically, she requires of him the "impossible"; that he strengthen his love for her whilst simultaneously embracing the staunch depravity that befits a counter-point to his until-now sheltered innocence.

The ecstatic coming-into of the narrator's sexuality is frequently likened to God, and yet [the narrator's] "heart is not big enough to contain him". Indeed, neither does the narrator believe in the God he invokes, and thus his invocation of the deity (in brutal proximity to the sexual act and its descriptive adherents) serves merely to bolster a narratological iconoclasm on behalf of both the Mother and the narrator, as well as of Bataille.

In the days following the death of his father, the narrator is taken by his mother for an expensive meal in a posh restaurant, the opulent setting of which implicitly invokes the economic stage from which they might incestuously transgress hereafter.

An uncanny, seemingly inconsequential waiter appears in the restaurant only to tell his customers of the arrival of a thunderous storm, and thus inaugurates a secondary or concurrently implicit theme of cosmic, elemental disorder.

Indeed the image of the lightning bolt in Bataille often figures in culminative moments, in ecstasy or revelation; a quasi-pathetic fallacy without definitive reliance on the epistemological substance of the paradigmatic cause and effect.

In other words, in Bataille, it appears to be unknown whether or not the inherent disorder of the weather and the cosmos inflict upon his characters the mania of a religious or chemical sense of turbulence. The two things seem merely concurrent, symbolic, but also - in this instance - atleast partially meta-fictional, since the waiter appears so fleetingly as to imply the announcement of a coming narratological device.

In a scene that fittingly demonstrates this, Mother and son are staying in the separate rooms of a hotel, after having eaten in the restaurant. There is a door between the two rooms. The mother is still drinking downstairs as the narrator goes to bed. The door is initially left partially open, but is quietly closed by the mother when she gets to her room. In the middle of the night, then...

"The sudden opening of the door coincided with the fierce flash of lightning which had started me awake; rain was splashing down in torrents. I heard my mother moving barefoot inside my room [...] then she stumbled over me. I rose. I took her in my arms. We were both afraid, we were weeping. We covered each other with kisses. Her nightgown had slipped off her shoulders so that the body I hugged was half-way naked. A patch of rain blown in through the window had drenched her; reeling her hair unloosened, she spoke without knowing what she was saying".

The sense of chaos and verbal madness herein not only confounds our understanding of the mother-son relation, but of society and the universe, as well.

Throughout the novel, various intertextual reference-points are uttered, presumably as to complicate the desired complacency of pigeon-holing any of the characters. The insidious, pleasure-bound mother is at one point compared to a Dionysian maenad, and thus the sense of her "innate" evilness is thrown into a logical disarray, not only as a narratological construct, but also by way of insinuating the masculine corrupter as both the father and Dionysus himself.

Undoubtedly texts such as Bataille's raise interesting questions about the nature of sexuality, particularly the depiction of female sexuality, and this is no exception. Women are various, intertextual, occasionally embodiments of psycho-spiritual discourse (such as invoked by the narrative's quasi-Jungian allegory of the Mother riding naked through the forest on her horse before she is raped by the father!), and sometimes they are even the dialectical inversion of a character within the same novel.

In this story, the character of Hansi is particularly interesting, insofar as she initially appears to represent the benevolent normalcy, as a counterpoint to the mother; a kind of fairytale figure who is "dream-like" and ultimately only made possible when the Mother herself is away. It is unclear whether or not the various women are "evil" or "malign" or "benevolent" or simply "women"; multiple and various (if perhaps highly sexed in this particular Sadean milieu...). It is clear, however that Bataille is a deeply feeling author, and that the impossible sustainability, the fluctuations and the tragedies, of these relations are of paramount concern. The transgressive impulse finds its voice here in perhaps the century's most sensitive (if diabolical) intellect.

Look away if you can, but his genius is formidable, perhaps unrivalled in modern fiction. And his eroticised literary spectre is no-doubt now peeping through the intertextual echoes of an opulent, velvet curtain, in an impossible non-heaven, sadistically watching as we sleep.
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My Mother: Madame Edwarda: The Dead Man
My Mother: Madame Edwarda: The Dead Man by Georges Bataille (Paperback - 16 Oct 2000)
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