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Georges Bataille - Biography


Georges Bataille (1897-1962)

Georges Bataille was born in Billon, Puy-de-Dôme, in central France. His mother was suicidal, (though never successful in her attempts) and his father was a strict disciplinarian who later in life suffered from illnesses related to advanced syphilis and died in 1915. At the time, Bataille was a deeply religious man; he converted to Catholicism at the outset of WWI, and even joined the seminary at Saint-Fleur with the intention of becoming a priest, and later with the Benedictine congregation at Quarr, on the Isle of Wright. He served in the army in 1916-17, but was soon discharged on account of his poor health due to tuberculosis, from which he suffered most of his life. His religious ambitions suddenly ended with a loss of faith, and from 1918-22 Bataille studied 13th century verse at the École des Chartres in Paris. He also held a fellowship at the School of Advanced Hispanic Studies in Madrid.

In the 1920's Bataille associated himself with the Surrealists, though his views often differed from those of the influential André Breton, leading Bataille to declare himself "an enemy from within" the movement. At this time he underwent psychoanalytic treatment with great success, enabling him to write. He founded and edited many publications that reflected his interests in sociology, religion and literature. Included in his early excursions were the first publications of Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. He married his first wife, the actress Silvia Maklès, divorcing her in 1934. She went on to marry leading psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, to whom Bataille was also close. He edited and released Documents (1929-31) and in 1935 he cofounded an anti-Fascist group, Contre-Attaque, with Breton. His interests in the sacred and profane manifested in the formation of the short-lived Collège de Sociologie, co-founded in 1939 with Michel Lieris and Roger Callois.

Bataille's life from 1922-44 was an unusual mixture of sporadic work, the frequent visiting of bordellos, and ill health. He worked as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, until his nightlife and his troubles with tuberculosis threatened his relationship to such work. In 1946 Bataille married Diane de Beauharnais; they had one daughter. In 1949 he was once again working as a librarian, this time in Carpentras, Provence, though two years later he left to take up the same work again in Orléans. His financial difficulties worsened, and in 1961 Picasso, Max Ernst and Juan Miro arranged an auction of their paintings to help Bataille's growing debts. However, Bataille died the following year, not long after publishing his last book, the Tears of Eros in 1961.