One of the ultimate joys of my life was discovering George Bataille. I was tremendously lucky to have studied my Masters at the South Bank University and my professor was Daniel Rubenstein. I arrived there with ideas about exploring ritual and probably redemption. Thankfully he turned me towards Bataille and philosophy. In this post I clearly cannot write about the entire anti-philosophy of Bataille so I wanted to share possibly my favourite Bataille book, The Tears of Eros, a book he completed while he was dying. Perhaps this is why the ecstasy contained within it is so powerful. In contrast to Rothko's last paintings which were filled with darkness and tragedy, a bleak and consuming depression that he felt could only be relieved by death. Bataille, although he may have been in pain whilst he was completing this last work, the absolute euphoria of the message that he wanted to convey seeps through every word and images printed within it.
Pain and ecstasy were at the heart of Bataille's work and one of Bataille's most coveted images was an image of Chinese torture. I will not reproduce it here however he states; 'This image had a decisive role in my life. I Have never stopped being obsessed by this image of pain, at once ecstatic(?) and intolerable.' (Bataille 1989: 206). He goes on to say; 'Through this violence - even today I cannot imagine a more insane, more shocking form - I was stunned that I reached the point of ecstasy.' (Bataille 1989: 206)
The idea of divine ecstasy and extreme horror was an obsession, he explored the limits of the erotic and sought it out everywhere, including his personal life. The images that he shared in Tears of Eros are many but to look at just a couple here. Bataille includes Clovis Trouille, The Tomb (formerly de Sade)
Here, Trouille clearly is trying to express in the image the litany of de Sade's sexual torture and perhaps the ecstasy that Trouille was hoping for upon death. This kind of deathly laughter what would have attracted Bataille to this artwork. 'Our entire life burdened with death...But, in me, definitive death has the sense of strange victory. It bathes me with its glow, it opens in me an infinitely joyous laughter: tha of disappearance!' (Bataille 1989:68)
This image above of Voodoo Sacrifice was part of a set of images that Bataille included in Tears of Eros, he considered these beautiful images of sacrifice which was also at the heart of Bataille's work. The sacred; 'Across time, the blood sacrifice opened man's eyes to the contemplation of the vexing reality, completely outside daily reality, which is given in the religious worlds this strange name: The sacred' (Bataille 1989:199). Bataille goes on to bring together this idea of horror and 'drunkeness' to understand the reality of death itself. Each say we fill of lives with the mundane, we go to work, we sleep through our day and yet deep inside we know that death is ever present. To find sacred moments in life is to understand the meaning of death and ecstasy. To seek out and go to the brink means, at least, we are living most fully just at the moment when we feel deaths whisper behind us.
I urge you to consider these images and if you have never read Bataille to do so. Consider here Rothko's image contemplate this as he did as he was building his Black Chapel. Then consider these works and really spend time with them and perhaps you will also reach the euphoria of Bataille.
Bataille G (1989) The Tears of Eros, City Lights Books, San Francisco