Childhood & Early Life
Georges Albert Maurice Victor Bataille was born on September 10, 1897, in Billom in the Puy-de-Dôme department (an administrative district), in the region of Auvergne, France, to Antoinette-Aglae Tournarde and Joseph-Aristide Bataille. He had an elder brother, Martial Bataille.
In 1898, he migrated along with his family to Reims, in the department of Marne, in the Grand Est region of France. There, he was baptized. He also attended a local school. Later, he joined a school in Épernay, in the same department.
His childhood was traumatic. As an adult, he wrote about how he had inflicted wounds on himself with an urge to withstand pain. He claimed that his father, a patient of neurosyphilis, had sexually abused him.
In 1914, he embraced Catholicism and became a devout follower of the faith. He also attended a seminary to become a priest. However, he discontinued later, partially due to his unfavorable financial conditions, and started working to support his family. By early 1920, he had given up Christianity.
In 1922, he graduated as an archivist at an institute of paleography in Paris, called ‘Ecole Nationale des Chartes.’ It was a college affiliated with the ‘PSL Research University.’ His dissertation at the institute was a critical edition of the medieval manuscript ‘L’Ordre de Chevalerie.’ He recomposed the poem by classifying its eight manuscripts.
As he stood second in his graduation course, he was sent for further studies to the ‘School of Advanced Spanish Studies,’ presently known as the ‘Casa de Velázquez,’ in Madrid, Spain.
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Bataille was known to have worked with the ‘Bibliotheque Nationale de France,’ in Paris, as an archivist, a librarian, and a medieval specialist, but he was more involved with the medallion collections. He also wrote many journals on numismatics.
He ventured into surrealism in 1924. In 1927, he finished writing the surrealistic book ‘L’anus Solaire.’ Later, illustrations were added by Andre Masson, and the edited version of the book was published in 1931.
Between the late 1920s and the early 1930s, he developed the philosophy called “base materialism,” which was meant to counter materialism.
He became a good friend of Russian existential philosopher Lev Isaakovich Shestov. Shestov and his opinions influenced him a lot. Through Shestov, he was introduced to the views of German philosopher Friederich Willhelm Nietzsche. Other intellectuals, thinkers, and philosophers who inspired him were Georg Wilhelm Friederich Hegel, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade, Marcel Mauss, and Alexandre Kojeve.
In 1928, he released his work ‘L'Histoire de l'œil’ under the pseudonym “Lord Auch.” It was a psychoanalytical novella on two young lovers who explored different layers of sexuality. At the time of its release, it was treated as a pornographic novel, but gradually, it came to be known as transgressive fiction. Its English translation, ‘Story of the Eye,’ was published Joachim Neugroeschel after 50 years, in 1978.
In 1933, he published a French essay titled ‘La Notion de dépense,’ meaning ‘The Notion of Expenditure.’
Two years later, in 1935, he completed the novel ‘Le Bleu de Ciel.’ However, it was published only after 22 years, in 1957, with minor revisions made to the original.
Intrigued by human sacrifice, he started the public review ‘Acephale’ in 1936, along with his friends French physicist Georges Ambrosino and French philosopher Pierre Klossowski. It functioned as a secret society between 1936 and 1939. ‘Encyclopaedia Da Costa’ was one of its publications.
‘L'Amitié’ (1940) was the prequel to part one of ‘Le Coupable’ (its English translation was titled ‘Guilty’), which was released in 1944. He wrote the former under the pseudonym “Dianus.” The latter was his first significant work under his own name.
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‘L'expérience intérieure’ was printed in French in 1943. Its English translation, titled ‘Inner Experience,’ was published over 4 decades later, in 1988.
His other famous works between 1941 and 1945 were ‘Madame Edwarda,’ ‘Le Petit, and ‘L'Archangélique.’
‘Sur Nietzsche,’ a book published in 1945, was his take on Friedrich Nietzsche and his school of philosophy. Some of his works during the period of World War II were later compiled and collectively called ‘Summa Atheologica.’
Some of his well-known works released from 1945 to 1949 were ‘Dirty,’ ‘L'Orestie,’ ‘Histoire de rats,’ ‘L'Alleluiah,’ ‘Méthode de méditation,’ ‘La Haine de la Poésie,’ and ‘La Scissiparité.’
‘La Part maudite,’ his work on economics, was published in 1949. This collection of essays has been translated into English and released in three volumes. The first of them, ‘The Accursed Share: An Essay On General Economy. Volume I: Consumption,’ was released in 1988. Volumes II and III were published in 1991. They were translated by Robert Hurley.
‘L'Abbé C,’ a novel that dealt with dark eroticism, was printed in 1950. The story was set against the backdrop of the French Resistance during World War II.
The 1950s saw the release of new editions of some of his previous works. He also released original compositions such as ‘L'Être indifférencié n'est rien,’ ‘Lascaux, ou la Naissance de l'Art,’ ‘Manet,’ ‘Le paradoxe de l'érotisme, Nouvelle Revue Française, n°29, 1er Mai,’ ‘La littérature et le Mal,’ ‘L'Erotisme,’ and ‘Les larmes d'Éros.’
He was appointed as the keeper of the municipal library in Orleans, France.
His last work published before his death was ‘L'Impossible: Histoire de rats suivi de Dianus et de L'Orestie’ in 1962.
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He was the editor of the compelling literary journal ‘Critique’ until his death in 1962. The journal was established in 1946.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
At 22, Bataille fell in love with Marie Delteil, the daughter of his mother’s doctor, Jules Delteil. However, the young lovers were left heartbroken, as Jules rejected the alliance due to his financial status.
In 1928, he married French actor Sylvia Makles. They had a daughter, Laurence Bataille, who grew up to be a psychoanalyst. The couple divorced in 1934.
He also had a relationship with French author Colette Peignot. She was a vital member of ‘Acephale.’ She breathed her last at Bataille’s house in 1938, at the age of 35.
He married Diane de Beauharnais in 1946. The couple had a daughter named Julie Bataille.
He was diagnosed with cerebral arteriosclerosis, a terminal illness, in 1955. However, he was kept in the dark regarding the terminal nature of his condition. He bravely fought the illness for 7 years and passed away on July 9, 1962.
Some of his works that were published posthumously were the controversial ‘Me Mara’ (1966), ‘Le Mort’ (1967), and ‘Theorie de la Religion’ (1973). ‘Me Mara’ was made into a movie in 2004. A lot of his compositions have been translated into various languages.
During his lifetime, he received a lot of criticism from his contemporaries, including Jean-Paul Sartre. His literature was labeled as mysticism and pornography. However, after his death, many intellectuals, such as Michel Foucault, Philippe Sollers, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and Michael Taussig, were inspired by his works.