Death & Excess

death & excess

So why haven’t you heard of Georges Bataille? Jayem Leach gets angry

Faust, Fantasia, Peter Pan . . . Many and varied are the influences upon cigar chomping ageing wunderkind of the horror scene Clive Barker, most of them familiar in name at least to the average reader. Amongst them though is a little read story by an even lesser known author, Story of the Eye, ‘one of the most extraordinary pieces of eroticism (Barker’s) ever read.’ And he goes further. ‘He also wrote extraordinarily philosophical pieces about Eroticism and Death, which have been massive influences upon me.’ But who? De Sade? Poe? King?

Bataille. First name Georges. French.

Unfamiliar with the name? Well, ‘I don’t think there is a collected edition yet, though I’m sure there will be by the time I pass on.’

My advice to Clive would be for him not to hold his breath waiting. Certainly there is no collection of his works in existence, or if there is it is hiding with exemplary skill. For some time now I have made a habit of dropping into my local bookshop to check their stock of Batailles. I always encounter the same work. What makes this lamentable lack more regrettable is the fact that the Penguin Classics edition I encounter is always the exact same book. I even resorted to marking it inside the front cover as a kind of signature so that I might test my suspicion. Lo and behold I opened the cover a month later to find my mark still present. I had perhaps been checking for around six months, and in that time it is unlikely that this novel had ever felt the comforting counter on its underside.

And yet it seems strange that Bataille be condemned to virtual obscurity and anonymity, when he holds so much in common with the successful and much read modern horror establishment. In interview Ramsey Campbell talks of horror fiction taking on taboos and asserts that a lot of good horror fiction is ‘ . . . fundamentally in the business of going too far.’ This ‘going too far’ could perhaps be said to be one of the most central tenets of Bataille’s corpus. So why have so few people heard of him?

Well, he’s dead. And he’s French, which doesn’t help either. But anyone who feasted their eyes before the theatre of image that constituted Hellraiser or enjoyed for the same reasons The Hellbound Heart is in the opinion of this writer missing out. You want images that linger in the memory?

‘Those stars – those candles – were flaming by the hundred on the ground: ground where ranks of lighted graves were massed. We were fascinated by this chasm of funeral stars    . . . we fell onto the shifting ground, and I sunk into her moist body the way a well guided plough sinks into the earth.  The earth beneath the body lay open like a grave; her open cleft lay open to me like a freshly dug dug grave.  We were stunned making love over a starry graveyard.  Each of the lights proclaimed a skeleton in its grave, and they thus formed a wavering sky . . .’ Blue of Noon

Like, say, the supposedly controversial Natural Born Killers, Bataille’s writing portrays people in extremis, people upon the very edge of humanness. His circus of death, incestuous necrophilia and homicidal eroticism is an amoral arena into which the reader finds himself trapped, coming to regard morality as defunct. Simone and the unnamed narrator in Story of the Eye drift hallucinogenically through pages, killing repeatedly, often in blind sexual frenzies – never looking at their watches or being for one moment remotely interested in their reasons.

Evil here is a word without meaning. Remorse is absent because it does not fit into their system. They maraude across Europe and basically rather enjoy themselves. Things merely happen in Bataille’s fiction, often shocking things. They happen for no apparent reason, unexpectedly or by pure accident.

Bataille addresses the human condition at its most sensitive edges. He frightens us with ourselves. And the horror within is surely the truest horror of all.

The final judgement though rests with you. But it seems absurd and unfair that a writer such as Bataille should have his works almost exclusively assigned to the closeted corridors of academia.

Perhaps when you are converted to Bataille’s brand of death and excess you might bother the odd book manager to stock more stuff. A letter to your MP, a rally in Hyde Park – like Bataille, you can never go too far.

You haven’t heard the last of this – my mission continues.

J.  L.


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