Literature and Evil (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 7 Jun 2012
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Bataille is one of the most important writers of the twentieth century (Michel Foucault)
Bataille intellectualizes the erotic, as he eroticizes the intellect ... reading him can be a disturbing kind of game (The New York Times)
About the Author
Georges Bataille, French essayist and novelist, was born in 1897. He converted to Catholicism, then to Marxism, and was interested in psychoanalysis and mysticism. As curator of the municipal library in Orleans, he led a relatively simple life, although he became involved, usually on the fringes, with the surrealist movement. He founded the literary review Critique in 1946, which he edited until his death in 1962, and was also a founder of the review Documents, which published many of the leading surrealist writers. His writing is a mixture of poetry and philosophy, fantasy and history, and his first novel, Story of the Eye, was written under the pseudonym of Lord Auch. Bataille's other works include the novels Blue of Noon, L'Abbé C and My Mother, and the volumes of essays Eroticism and Literature and Evil.
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Think of a story that did not have any conflict in it whatsoever: a place or setting where all people lived in a state of peace. Admittedly, it is a difficult thing to do. For, in such a peaceful setting, where conflict does not occur, there is no story. In order for an author to create a story, they would first have to disrupt this sense of peace. They would then need to implement an oppressive form of power (an antagonistic entity), calling for the creation of conflict between characters, which could then be resolved through the shaping of some type of narrative structure. In a sense, creating a story (more importantly, one with a plot) is the act of putting power conflicts in the place of calm and peaceful settings.
Though many postmodern writers (and other writers still interested in experimentation) have attempted to create seemingly plot-less stories that do not rely on the creation of conflict, it is currently rare to see authors' stories be centered around peaceful settings. And those stories that are, are generally not ones that are going to be seen as entertaining in the eyes of an audience. Though it is possible to create stories without conflicts, it is difficult to keep an audience engaged or entertained by such a story for any prolonged period of time. Peaceful stories, where no conflict occurs, are generally ones where boredom is abound: ones where audiences generally become disinterested or disengaged through a lack of basic literary plot elements.
From this, we can see why Bataille claims that literature is evil. Literature must be evil in order to exist and engage an audience. Evil must occur to create conflicts for characters to overcome, pushing both the plot as well as the progression of a protagonist's personality (for the personality of the protagonist is ultimately shaped by his or her antagonistic "Other"). After all, what memorable hero is without his arch-nemesis? What mythic man is without his slain monster?
Since society is a power system, it is no surprise to see why people have become so receptive to seeing power struggles. Still, isn't it ironic to see how much more people appreciate power as opposed to a sense of peace in their stories? Though it is true that literature tends to focus on that which is fictitious, isn't it interesting to see how much of our fiction is influenced by fact? In other words, isn't it noteworthy to see how much of the excitement and meaning we find in such stories comes from our own power-based social predicaments: where peace is misplaced since it cannot stir, excite, or entertain an audience of people as prominently as power can through the creation of needless conflicts, which can then be overcome through the creation of heroic entities after whom we all aspire? It seems that the story shapes the man as much as the man shapes the story.
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