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Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille (1928)


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Georges Bataille’s 1928 novella Story of the Eye has often been read for the graphic details of an increasingly inexplicable adventures of a pair of teenagers and their sexual perversions. Narrated by an unnamed male in his late teens, the book tells the story of his passionate affair with Simone, his primary partner. Throughout the book their relationship involves other people including a mentally ill sixteen year-old girl and a voyeuristic English émigré aristocrat. To say this book is risqué might actually be an understatement, but is the book really about fornication?

With a little help from French literary theorist Roland Barthes and his accompanying essay “The Metaphor of the Eye”, I quickly discovered that Story of the Eye is far more complex than I originally thought. However if you do read Georges Bataille’s introduction before the book like I did you will discover a few titbits that help decipher the surrealist nature of the novella. In this introduction Bataille talks about his love/hate relationship with his father, a man who went blind on account of neurosyphilis. He shares a memory he remembers clearly in his head of his father urinating and the vacant look in his milky eyes.

The reason this story is important to Story of the Eye is because the novella often references urination and eyes in the midst of the sexual acts. As Barthes explains in his essay, “Although Story of the Eye features a number of named characters with an account of their sex play, Bataille was by no means writing the story of Simone, Marcelle, or the narrator”. The act of sex is often accompanied with some form of violence. The eyes, milk, urine can all be seen as a reference to his memory of his father and any reference to testicles and eggs could be interpreted as metaphors to the creation of life.

While Roland Bathes goes into a far deeper analysis of the metaphors found in Story of the Eye, a slight understanding of the content changes this books topic from sexual perversions to an angry rant directed towards Bataille’s father. There are other reference found in the novella that connect to his life; for example the priest. Georges Bataille went into the seminary in the hopes of becoming a priest, however he had to drop out to find a job to support his mother, killing his dream. A topic I believe is discussed in more detail in his non-fiction book Eroticism.

I found myself being absorbed in Story of the Eye (which was translated by Joachim Neugroschel, Dovid Bergelson); although difficult to read, the symbolism really intrigued me. So much so that I had to order my own copy of the book in the hopes to re-read it soon. I read this as an ebook and I now own a physical copy which features the essays “The Pornographic Imagination” Susan Sontag and of course “The Metaphor of the Eye”. I am fascinated by the surreal erotic style of Bataille; I think he is an author I need to explore in greater details.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://www.knowledgelost.org/literature/book-reviews/genre/erotica/story-of-the-... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Sep 6, 2015 |
Garish, but not pornographic; the essays that it comes with are useful resources that explain much of the significance of the text itself. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Nov 8, 2014 |
This book is filthy, and not in the fun way. This is the most disturbing book I've ever read. It is as offensive as you can get, save for maybe incest, but even that wouldn't be too out of place in this book. It is 85 pages of fornication, masturbation, urinating, and something gross involving eggs and eyes. It's anything BUT erotic.

However, I couldn't put this book down, as much as I may have wanted to. It's the second half of the book that gets the most disturbing, but it also makes the most sense as to the point of this whole sad story. This book is something I cannot stop thinking about. I want to read it again, and maybe again after that.

I recommend this only to the brave and not to the faint of heart. The book is gross. If you can handle that, then read it.

Fun Fact: I checked this out from my school's library, and am now mortified I let this book be on my record. I don't recommend getting this from the library. I washed my hands after every single time I touched it. ( )
  danlai | Sep 1, 2014 |
I had a difficult time getting through this book. In fact, I read the first fifteen pages or so, put it aside out of disgust, and then finally went back and finished it in one sitting--partly out of determination, partly out of curiosity, and partly because quotes on the back of my edition (from Susan Sontag and Jean Paul Sartre) made me think that there just had to be something more to it if I kept going...

It is shocking that this was published in 1928, but I'm not sure how much of the "art" of this work comes simply from the outright shock value of the work. At many points, I was more disgusted by the text than anything, and while this might be noted as an early hallmark of erotic literature, I'd be hardpressed to call it anything more than pornographic since I didn't see any of the subtlety or sensuality of language that I'd generally associate with erotica. And, there was nothing normal here. The work revolved around fetishistic and violent actions and reactions.

Had I known exactly what I was getting into, I might have read the short essay titled "W.C." that appears at the back of my edition, written by Bataille in regard to the writing/history of the text itself. Perhaps, I might have had some slight more appreciation for the art of the novel had I read that first...but I'm not sure, honestly. This wasn't badly written, but the material wasn't what I expected or would have sought out.

Simply, too each their own, and there may well be much merit in this work...and I'm just not seeing it. But, that said, I certainly wouldn't recommend it, groundbreaking and noteworthy text or not. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Dec 27, 2013 |
The History: In Susan Sontag's essay, "The Pornographic Imagination," she discusses five novels, including The Story of the Eye. My essay series, The NSFW Files, will cover three, the first being Georges Bataille's 1928 shocker. Easily dismissed as juvenile and vulgar, a reader new to the capacious works of Georges Bataille should first have some historical, literary, and aesthetic background surrounding the novella. Written in 1928 by Georges Bataille under the pseudonym Lord Auch, the novel went through four versions (1928, 1940, 1941, and 1967). The City Lights edition I'm using for this review is based on the 1928 version.*

When it was written, France had endured the hardships and atrocities inflicted by the First World War. To put a perspective on how this effected the nature of French culture I will throw out some not-so-random numbers. 1.4 million. That is the number of French military casualties. During the Second World War, the United Stated had 418,000 total deaths, including military and civilian casualties. I mention this because during the Twenties, France becomes the hot-bed for the artistic avant-garde. Creating this infusion of literary and artistic radicalism involved a rejection of the old values that killed millions in the trenches, left survivors scarred and insane, toppled most European monarchies, and obliterated the techno-capitalist-progressivist optimism that fueled the Nineteenth Century.

Amidst this cultural change and aesthetic avant-garde is Georges Bataille. Novelist, poet, anthropologist, surrealist, pornographer, philosopher, and literary critic, Bataille is comparable to William T. Vollmann in terms of scope of knowledge and dwelling on the more salacious aspects of human existence. Story of the Eye is the tip of a massive, fascinating iceberg. (I will explain more of his philosophy and how it dovetails with Story of the Eye below.)

In addition to the creative maelstrom of the Twenties, Bataille's pornographic fiction is part of a larger French literary heritage. The United States has the historical baggage of being founded by the Puritans with their funny shaped hats, harsh Calvinism, and penchant for hanging Quakers. France is an entirely different animal. Apart from France's ferocious secularism following the 1789 Revolution, France also has two literary figures instrumental to understanding this novella: the Marquis de Sade and Alfred Jarry. Jarry wrote Ubu Roi in 1896 to the shock of polite French society. Sade, as Sontag wrote, "had never been forgotten. He was read enthusiastically by Flaubert, Baudelaire and most of the other geniuses of French literature of the late nineteenth century ... The quality and theoretical density of the French interest in Sade remains virtually incomprehensible to English and American literary intellectuals, for whom Sade is perhaps an exemplary figure in the history of psychopathology, both individual and social, but inconceivable as someone to be taken seriously as a "thinker." Sade's literary footprint looms large in Story of the Eye.

(I will be approaching this analysis from a literary perspective, avoiding the condescension implied by both the moralizing and pathologizing perspectives.)

The Book: Story of the Eye is broken into four parts. The first is "The Tale," concerning the carnal misadventures of an unnamed Narrator, his friend Simone, and a girl named Marcelle. The Narrator and Simone participate in a series of sexual situations. Marcelle also participates, is scandalized, institutionalized, and, shortly after the Narrator and Simone free her, she hangs herself. As fugitives, the Narrator and Simone flee to Spain. They meet a debauched English aristocrat named Sir Edmond and their carnal misadventures escalate in ferocity and intensity. In one scene, Simone reaches orgasm upon witnessing a bullfighter getting gored, the bull's horn going through the bullfighter's eye. The final scene in this novella involves the Narrator, Simone, and Sir Edmond sexually abusing a priest, eventually killing him. The reader understands the title of the novella because of things done with a plucked out eye. With Bataille, as with Sade, sex is inextricably linked with death. In French, the orgasm is called "la petite mort," translated as "the little death."

The second part, called "Coincidences," is Bataille's biographical and psychological explanation for "The Tale." In this essay, he gives a kind of psychological exorcism, explaining his eccentric and torturous childhood. His father, a syphlitic, slowly disintegrated, mentally and physically during Bataille's childhood. His mother also attempted suicide. During the First World War, his family had to abandon his father in their home during the German advance. Like a bonus featurette on a DVD, Bataille pulls back the curtain and explains the transpositions and substitutions he made to his personal history. Taken alone, "The Tale" would be an amusing shocker and probably fade into literary obscurity. "Coincidences" transforms this shocker into literary art. The artistic merit is gained from how Bataille uses pornography. (By comparison, look at how the steampunk genre uses history.) The last two parts include "W.C.", a short essay about an abandoned work similar to Story of the Eye, and "Outline of a sequel," which follows Simone and the Narrator fifteen years after the novella, with Simone dying in a scene of sublime torture. (Again the sex and death motif.)

The Verdict: Yes, Story of the Eye is pornographic and yes, it is an example of literary genius. "The Tale" has cardboard characters, inexhaustible sexual acrobatics, and is festooned with four-letter words. But ... it is a monument of psychological confession and the power of transgressive literature. Besides influencing the Surrealists, Bataille's work can be seen as an early version of bizarro fiction.

*For more on City Lights and their legal battles, check out my review of Mania! by Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover.



http://driftlessareareview.com/2013/05/03/the-nsfw-files-the-story-of-the-eye-by... ( )
  kswolff | May 3, 2013 |
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Georges Batailleprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Neugroschel, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0872862097, Paperback)

Only Georges Bataille could write, of an eyeball removed from a corpse, that "the caress of the eye over the skin is so utterly, so extraordinarily gentle, and the sensation is so bizarre that it has something of a rooster's horrible crowing." Bataille has been called a "metaphysician of evil," specializing in blasphemy, profanation, and horror. Story of the Eye, written in 1928, is his best-known work; it is unashamedly surrealistic, both disgusting and fascinating, and packed with seemingly endless violations. It's something of an underground classic, rediscovered by each new generation. Most recently, the Icelandic pop singer Björk Guðdmundsdóttir cites Story of the Eye as a major inspiration: she made a music video that alludes to Bataille's erotic uses of eggs, and she plans to read an excerpt for an album. Warning: Story of the Eye is graphically sexual, and is only for adults who are not easily offended.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:06 -0400)

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