Colette Peignot - Biography
Colette Peignot (1903-1938) was a writer of French nationality. She is most commonly known as by her nom de plume Laure, but she also wrote some materials under the name Claude Araxe. Laure is closely associated with French philosopher and writer Georges Bataille. However, Laure also moved in the same artistic and intellectual circles as Jean Bernier, Michel Leiris, Simone Weil, and Boris Souvarine. Despite the great reputations of her colleagues who held her in high regard, Laure has largely been ignored. Few of her writings have been published, and many critics are dismissive of her abilities based on a gender bias. Some critics describe Laure and her works as a footnote. She was a force in French experimental writing between the World Wars. However, this may illustrate the traditional bias of subjugating a women’s reputation to her male associate’s reputation. Laure was interested in exploring subjective politics and relational ethics.
Laure was born on October 8, 1903. The deaths of many of her male relatives during the First World War had a deep impact on Laure’s writings and outlook. Unfortunately, not many scholars or biographers have examined the life of this woman who was widely influential to many prominent artists and thinkers during the twenties and thirties.
Laure and George Bataille were lovers — their tumultuous love affair became the subject Georges Bataille’s novel Blue of Noon and Kathy Acker’s novel My Mother: Demonology. In addition, Maurice Blanchot used the extended death of Laure as the inspiration for his novel Death Sentence. Both Laure and George Bataille felt passionately about each other, but their relationship was marked by a distress.
When Laure died from complications of tuberculosis on November 7, 1938, her death impacted George BatailleGeorges Bataille greatly. Laure’s mother had requested a priest perform the funeral service. However, Bataille threatened violence if the service was done in the manner. During the Second World War, Battaille was rapt in contemplation provoked by the loss of Laure. He produced Summa Atheologica as a result of his contemplation. After Laure’s death, her nephew Jerome Peignot published her body of work despite the protests of Laure’s brother Charles Peignot. Michel Leiris and George Bataille helped prepare some of Laure’s manuscripts after her death.
Laure was a member of George Bataille's mysterious and secretive group Acephale. Little has been published about The Secret Society of Acephale. Much of what has been disseminated about the organization has been purposely deceptive or incomplete. What is known about the group includes the rejection of the Surrealist preoccupation with politics and the embracing of a Nietzschean and anti-Christian spirituality. Some have suggested that members of this group had the goal of creating a mode of life that was separate from the profane world around them. The society had an apocalyptic outlook. At Bataille’s insistence, the group explored performing a human sacrifice. According to Roger Caillois, they had a volunteer to be sacrificed but no one would perform the act. Patrick Waldberg indicates that at the last meeting the request for a willing sacrifice was declined. The society also published four issues of a journal called Acephale. The goals of this society were indicative of the tensions that Laure pursued in her work.
Her political stance was in opposition to Stalinism, fascism, Catholicism, and republicanism. During the 1930s, Laure found great resonance in the ideals of Trotskyism. Her pro-labor positions led her to study Russian and journey to the Soviet Union. In support of her leftist positions, Laure wrote for the journals Le Travailleur communiste syndical et coopératif and La Critique sociale . She also contributed to George Bataille’s Contre-attaque. Her political position became more radicalized when she started reading the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, William Blake, and the Marquis de Sade. The increased radicalization was in keeping with many French intellectuals who had become disenchanted with normal politics in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.
Her nom-de-plume Claude d’Araxe was taken from Virgil’s Aneid. Laure chose this name from the line “Araxes, indignant of bridges.” This was a reference to the to a river that divided Turkey and Iran from the Soviet Union. Some view this name as not only a literary reference but also a nod to the supposed bulwark of communist ideals. The fact that she used this name for her political writings gives credence to this analysis.
Representative of her atypical political stances was the style of writing she adopted for her political essays. Laure rejected the traditional essay for the aphorism, fragment, and poetic lines of flight. These writing furthered her reputation as an enigma.
Daily existence for Laure required a stance like that of a revolutionary in that it demands change and exchange. She took inspiration for the Marquis de Sade’s “movement of life” in which nothing is ever completed. This general state flows into her conception of self-sacrifice—a common trope from her literary associates. For Laure, life is a perpetual commitment to surrender. In some ways her vision of the gift that returns is similar to the ideas Marcel Mauss explored in his book The Gift.
In her poetry, Laure places her subjects in the tense continuum of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement. These subjects are neither master nor slaves, yet they have characteristics of both. These subjects move between their positionalities in trying to find a balance of their identifications. For Laure, the conception of the otherness is innately expressed as an individual’s potential. In effect, the other is the potential self. Such formations of identity fuel the internal struggles that Laure explores in her poetry. The central motivation of these subjects is to maintain and perform their existence. It is in this mode that the subject acts to define the subject. Throughout Laure’s work, there is a common theme of the trajectory to death and back to life. Such themes have traditionally been associated with naturalistic thought. Laure lacks a progressive trend, and has been identified as having much in common with the decadence of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These works share a disruptive trend common throughout much of the contemporaneous Surrealist movement. When Laure presents subjects who speak, they betray themselves, internally fighting. The struggle produces a subject who existence is a crime against itself. There is an inherent paradox in the development of the conflicting ideas.
Laure maintains that self-sacrifice is the way in which the sacred manifests. She imagines the conditions in which the executioner and the sacrifice are the same. She explores a type of economy in which life and death are conserved and expended. Her interests move beyond merely ethical and political since she is also interested in how people embody the philosophical conflicts her creative writing explores. Laure recognizes that the body is the physical barrier between death and life as well as barrier between illegality and legality.
Laure pursues the ways in which her ideas can be expressed through acts of transgression. Such transgressions are usually manifest by forms of sacrifice and through sacrifice an overarching power can be exerted over others. Laure understands that the act of self-sacrifice provides a political understanding of the sacred. Negotiating the communal ethics and subjective politics is manifested through the sacred, which is an incomplete and incompletable action that reaffirms the identity of self.