sontag: the pornographic imagination/ the failure of modern capitalist society

“Bataille’s works, better than any other I know of, indicate the aesthetic possibilities of pornography as an art form: Histore de l’Oeil being the most accomplished artistically of all the pornographic prose fictions I’ve read.” …..


Human sexuality is, quite apart from Christian repressions, a highly questionable phenomena, and belongs, at least potentially, among the extreme rather than ordinary experiences of humanity.  Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness –pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for extinction of one’s consciousness, for death itself.  Even on the level of simple physical sensation and mood, making love surely resembles having an epileptic fit at least as much, if not more, than it does eating a meal or conversing with someone.  Everyone has felt (at least in fantasy) the erotic glamor of physical cruelty and erotic lure in things that are vile and repulsive. These phenomena form a part of the genuine spectrum of sexuality, and if they are not to be written off as mere neurotic aberrations , the picture looks different from the one promoted by enlightened public opinion, and less simple.

One could plausibly argue that it is for quite sound reasons that the while capacity for sexual ecstasy is inaccessible to most people – given that sexuality is something, like nuclear energy, which may prove amenable to domestication through scruple, but then again may not. That few people regularly, or perhaps ever, experience their sexual capacities at this unsettling pitch doesn’t mean that the extreme is not authentic, or that the possibility of it doesn’t haunt them anyway. (Religion is probably, after sex, the second oldest resource which human beings have available to themselves for blowing their minds. Yet among the multitude of the pious, the number who have ventured very far into that state of consciousness must be fairly small,too) There is, demonstrably, something incorrectly designed and potentially disorientating in the human sexual capacity – at least in the capacities of man-in-civilization.  Man, the sick animal, bears within him an appetite which can drive him mad.  Such is the understanding of sexuality – as something beyond good and evil, beyond love, beyond sanity; as a resource for ordeal and for breaking through the limits of consciousness – that informs the French literary canon I’ve been discussing.

The Story of O, with its project for completely transcending personality, entirely presumes this dark and complex vision of sexuality so far removed from the hopeful view sponsored American Freudianism and liberal culture. The woman who is given no other name than O progresses simultaneously towards her own extinction as a human being and her fulfillment as a sexual being. It’s hard to imagine how anyone would ascertain whether there exists truly, empirically, anything in “nature” or human consciousness that supports such a split.  But it seems understandable that the possibility has always haunted man, as accustomed as he is to decrying such a split.  .  .

Perhaps the deepest spiritual resonance of the career of pornography in its “modern” Western phase under consideration here is this vast frustration of human passion and seriousness since the old religious imagination, with its secure monopoly on the total imagination, began in the late eighteenth century to crumble. The ludicrousness and lack of skill of most pornographic writing, films, and painting is obvious to everyone who has ever been exposed to them.  What is less often remarked about the typical products of the pornographic imagination is their pathos.  Most pornography – the books discussed here cannot be excepted – points to something more general than even sexual damage. I mean the traumatic failure of modern capitalist society to provide authentic outlets for the perennial human flair for high-temperature visionary obsessions, to satisfy the appetite for exalted self-transcending modes of concentration and seriousness..  The need of human beings to transcend “the personal” is no less profound than to be a person, an individual.  But this society serves that need poorly.  It provides mainly demonic vocabularies in which to situate that need and from which to initiate action and construct rites of behavior.  One is offered a choice among vocabularies of thought and action which are not merely self-transcending but self-destructive. .  .


“We will live in this world, which for us has all the disquieting strangeness of the desert and of the simulacrum, with all the veracity of living phantoms, of wandering and simulating animals that capital, that the death of capital has made of us—because the desert of cities is equal to the desert of sand—the jungle of signs is equal to that of the forests—the vertigo of simulacra is equal to that of nature—only the vertiginous seduction of a dying system remains, in which work buries work, in which value buries value—leaving a virgin, sacred space without pathways, continuous as Bataille wished it, where only the wind lifts the sand, where only the wind watches over the sand.”
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulationbig

the malady/greatness of arthur rimbaud by georges bataille

Man’s direction in life, as far as nature is concerned, is essentially negative. It goes from argument to argument and is made of rapid, quickly broken movements, exhilaration, and depression.

The movement of poetry arises from the known and leads to the unknown. If it is achieved, it touches on madness. But at the approach of madness, the tide recedes. Poetry is almost entirely a receding tide: the movement towards poetry, or towards madness, aspires to remain within the limits of the possible. At any rate, poetry is a negation of itself: it denies itself as it preserves itself and surpasses itself.

However, negation surpassing poetry comes from consequences other than receding tides. In approaching madness, the poet sinks into darkness. Still, madness does not have the means to maintain itself by itself any more than poetry does. Since there are poets and madmen–as there are monkeys of one type or another–poets and madmen exist only during certain moments. The limit of the poet is similar to that of the madman in that it affects one’s personal life but not human life in general. These fixed points in time give shipwrecks the means to maintain themselves on their own. Thus, the movement of water around such shipwrecks is only a belated instant.

The following text indicates an awareness of personal collapse as well as the impersonal movements that follow it. It expresses poetry engaged in its own negation. But what touches on knowledge of one’s self is simply desire, evocation; it’s the void, the chaos, leftover from poetry. Any distinction can be made between madness (to which poetry succumbs) and the rational exhaustion of the possibilities of the being. Madness is masked by the appearance of a will for experience, and this will is disguised by a derangement. The inability to survive comes from excess of desire, which goes in many directions at the same time. The collapse felt during exhaustion keeps the mind from surpassing desire, and exacerbates it.

Failure is the measure of the wager. Exhilaration is the promise of depression. Poetry is denied by displacement. The poet is no longer destroyed language reshaping a false world through deconstructed symbols, but is the man, who, weary of the game, wants to make a real conquest from this realm of madness. What collapsed through anticipation, which the seer cannot see, is the difference between enduring collapse (madness, or its equivalent, pure negation) and searching for the possible beyond that collapse. These two moments merge into one, as with poetry.
Rimbaud’s greatness is having led poetry to its own failure. Poetry is not a knowledge of one’s self.

translation by Mark Spitzer and Emmanuelle Pourroy

laure: the true whore as muse

“Avoid contact with all people in whom there is no possible resonance with what touches you most deeply and toward whom you have obligations of “kindness,” of “politeness.”- Laure, Collected writings

Although she wrote little and published almost nothing, Colette Peignot, a.k.a. Laure, is one of the more fascinating and intense women writers of the past century. Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris described her as “one of the most vehement existences [that] ever lived, one of the most conflicted.” They summarized her volatile personality as “[e]ager for affection and for disaster, oscillating between extreme audacity and the most dreadful anguish, as inconceivable on a scale of real beings as a mythical being, she tore herself on the thorns with which she surrounded herself until becoming nothing but a wound, never allowing herself to be confined by anything or anyone.” In other words, Laure was the epitome of what Bataille would dub the “sovereign” individual.

Read more HERE.