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On the High Wire
on 2 October 2007
The plunging neckline, suspenders through soft fabrics, the four-inch heels that shrink the waist and shape your breasts disguise our deeper desire for children, sex in clean sheets, back straight, knees apart.
By contrast, the erotic is a 'psychological quest' alien to that urge. The erotic is the hidden attraction to bondage, discipline, sadomasochism, the orgy; our predisposition to fantasize on sacrifice, incest and, ultimately, 'assenting to life up to the point of death.'
These are the themes set out and meticulously explored by Georges Bataille in his masterwork Eroticism, a controversial study that first saw the light of day in France in 1957 and is published now in a new edition in English by Marion Boyars Modern Classics with a brisk, no nonsense translation by Mary Dalwood.
Once described as the 'metaphysician of evil,' Georges Bataille (1897 - 1962) is one of the most important French thinkers of his generation. A librarian, pornographer and devout Catholic, he came in later life to regard the brothels of Paris as true churches and wrote, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, 'about man's condition, not his nature...In him reality is in conflict.'
Bataille is at his most convincing in the way he connects the underlying sexual basis of religion and philosophy to death. Erotic sex, he argues, is surrounded by taboos which we must struggle against in order to overcome the sense of isolation that surrounds us all. The erotic is life on the high wire, liberating, energizing, uniquely human. 'It seems to be assumed,' he writes, 'that man has his being independently of his passions. I affirm that we must never imagine existence except in terms of these passions.'
For anyone who writes, reads, sketches, photographs or enjoys any or indeed all aspect of their erotic life, Eroticism through 276 pages will ease the pain, heighten the pleasure, clear the mind and put you in touch with the you you really are. With references from De Sade, Freud and Saint Theresa, Georges Bataille strips away the veneer of what he sees as an imposed morality to take us into the heart of man's erotic impulse.
Chloë Thurlow's new book Being A Girl is published by Virgin Nexus.