Rare Video: Georges Bataille Talks About Literature & Evil in His Only TV Interview (1958)

“Where oth­er trans­gres­sive fig­ures of the past have most­ly been tamed,” wrote Josh Jones in a post here last year, “[Georges] Bataille, I sub­mit, is still quite dan­ger­ous.” You can get a sense of that in the doc­u­men­tary fea­tured there, À perte de vue, which intro­duces the trans­gres­sive French intel­lec­tu­al’s life and thought, which from the 1920s to the 1960s pro­duced books like The Solar AnusThe Hatred of Poet­ry, and The Tears of Eros, all part of a body of work that cap­ti­vat­ed the likes of Susan Son­tag, Michel Fou­cault, and Jacques Der­ri­da.

At the top of this post, you can enjoy anoth­er, straighter shot of Bataille through his 1958 appear­ance oppo­site inter­view­er Pierre Dumayet — the only tele­vi­sion inter­view he ever did. The occa­sion: the pub­li­ca­tion of his book Lit­er­a­ture and Evil, a title that, Bataille says, refers to “two oppo­site kinds of evil: the first one is relat­ed to the neces­si­ty of human activ­i­ty going well and hav­ing the desired results, and the oth­er con­sists of delib­er­ate­ly vio­lat­ing some fun­da­men­tal taboos — like, for exam­ple, the taboo against mur­der, or against some sex­u­al pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Bataille’s fans expect from him a cer­tain amount of taboo vio­la­tion, though exe­cut­ed in a spe­cif­ic lit­er­ary form — not just prose, but the dis­tinc­tive sort of prose, whether spo­ken or writ­ten, brought to per­fec­tion by mid­cen­tu­ry French intel­lec­tu­als. In this ten-minute clip, Bataille elab­o­rates on his con­vic­tion that we can’t sep­a­rate lit­er­a­ture from evil: if the for­mer stays away from the lat­ter, “it rapid­ly becomes bor­ing.” He also gets into a dis­cus­sion of Baude­laire, Kaf­ka (“both of them knew they were on the side of evil”), Shake­speare, the impor­tance of eroti­cism and child­ish­ness in lit­er­a­ture, and the inher­ent­ly anti-work nature of writ­ing. How­ev­er rel­e­vant you find Bataille’s ideas today, you have to give the man this: he nev­er gets bor­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Georges Bataille: An Intro­duc­tion to The Rad­i­cal Philosopher’s Life & Thought Through Film and eTexts

Michel Fou­cault – Beyond Good and Evil: 1993 Doc­u­men­tary Explores the Theorist’s Con­tro­ver­sial Life and Phi­los­o­phy

Exten­sive Archive of Avant-Garde & Mod­ernist Mag­a­zines (1890–1939) Now Avail­able Online

Jacques Lacan’s Con­fronta­tion with a Young Rebel: Clas­sic Moment, 1972

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­maFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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