On humanity & eroticism (May, 2012)
Of all the philosophers I studied at art school, (the course I studied was very theory based) one French philosopher made such a deep and lasting impression on me that I have, from time to time, felt it necessary to revisit his work.
Georges Bataille was a librarian by trade but he also dabbled in writing and literary criticism, fooled around with Surrealism and the literature of the erotic. He was a big fan of De Sade but he also converted to Catholicism for most of his adulthood before renouncing Christianity in later life. He was a rebel of magnificent proportions and quietly went about deconstructing ideas and pushing ideological boundaries on a range of topics including economics, theology, anthropology, human sacrifice, mysticism, poetry, murder, art, literature, sex, death, the sacred and of course eroticism. If there is one theme or notion that runs through most of Bataille’s work then it is the notion of transgression. For Bataille, humanity was at its most real when it was somehow able to be in both places at once, in the dirt and the heavens. For him, humanity is aligned as much with the sacred and divine as it is with the base and depraved. And there is but one human act where both of these equally driving natures can share the limelight, and the half-light. The act of sex.
Sex by its nature is the one thing we all do that both binds and divides us. It is the only act that can combine our most lofty ideals with our most basic instincts. The thrust towards eroticism (and the production of art) is the reminder that we all share this compulsion to rid ourselves of our worldly trappings and notions of respectability and revel, if only for a time in the messy, the complicated, the primary and the pure. For Bataille, beauty could be found in a number of places, even The Big Toe which he called, “The most human part of the human body.”
The Story of The Eye (You can download a copy here.)is a far-fetched erotic tale of two teenage rebels who go on a sexual rampage involving all of Bataille’s favourite props; mud, semen, piss, egg yolks, and being French, of course a fair amount of Champagne.
His writings are worth reading if you are interested in a view of how things fit together that may not on the surface have anything to do with each other. I recommend The Accursed Share, Eroticism, and Visions of Excess as a starting point.
Finally, the erotic in art is not always about beauty and perfection…it is about beauty which defies explanation and there-for transcends our usual ideals on what is considered beautiful.