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Fear and Loathing in Western Europe
on 2 March 2002
"Blue of Noon", an unpublished novel that Bataille himself had forgotten, has received some recognition by being published in a Penguin edition. It is a work that, yet again, defies any satisfactory definition. My own idea for an appropriate classification would be 'a Gothic novel'.
The story is interesting enough, though one can't really speak of a plot. We follow one Mr. Troppman, never sober and always sick, through European countries that slowly begin to fall under the insane shadow of German and Italian fascism. This advent of insanity is clearly reflected in his own life - his morbid fascination for corpses (one of the novel's peaks is a sexual encounter above a graveyard), a young woman named Dirty, the Marxist Jew Lazare, the young Xenie, and his wife Edith.
Repulsion seems to be the keyword of the book. Troppman seems to drift through a decadent world worthy of a powerful cleansing, a horrifying apparatus preparing to do just that, and the innocent victims of both. Through his haze of alcohol he tries to find a cause to devote himself to, loathing and lethargy irresistibly following his peaks of devotion. What is quite remarkable is Bataille's ability to inspire physical revolt in the reader in following Troppman's adventures.
"Blue of Noon" is one of the few books that actually made me feel physically unwell reading it. One is constantly swept with Troppman's enthusiasm and disillusion. The successive rapidity of his drinking, crying, vomiting, and lechery; his violent mood swings leaves one feeling as if experiencing a turbulent plain flight. The inability of choosing between the elusive dilemma's Troppman faces finds expression in Bataille's scrambling of the boundaries between beauty and scatology, and the absence of any conclusion to the book leaves the invoked tension lingering after the book is finished.
This is a book the demands re-reading and re-evaluation. That it is partly autobiographical adds a dimension to the understanding of the complicated person Bataille. Furthermore I can only echo Will Self's Introduction: "If you commit yourself to reading Blue of Noon there is no necessity for you to worry about where it's all heading - because your very assent to the journey means that you're incapable of reading a map."