An Analysis of George Bataille's The Story of the Eye
...awareness of the impossibility opens consciousness to all that is possible for it to think. In this gathering place, where violence is rife, at the boundary of that which escapes cohesion, he who reflects within cohesion realizes that there is no longer any room for him (Theory of Religion 10).
When Georges Bataille first published The Story of the Eye in 1928, anonymously and "in a limited edition of 134 copies" (Lechte 118), he had been at the Bibliothèque Nationale in the department of numismatics for nearly six years. Bataille was thirty-one at the time of publication, and it was not his first or the most violent piece. "The Solar Anus" which preceded it actually looks ahead to the serious ethnographic articles, albeit often of a scatological nature, which Bataille wrote for Documents, a short-lived journal which he edited and founded in 1929. Active in surrealist and avant-garde circles, Bataille courted the radical left of the political and aesthetic arenas, although his professional work compelled him to function within rigid systems.
While The Story of the Eye is often dismissed as adolescent writing (Bataille himself calling it juvenile in a preface to a later edition), I offer here a reading of The Story of the Eye in the context of his profession as a librarian and of his work as editor and writer for Documents, a journal that consolidates his reflections as antiquarian, literary artist, and amateur ethnographer. To read Bataille's fiction in concert with his sociological and critical writing elevates the radical negativity of its violent transgression to a positive value. The text of this novel contains, in an embryonic stage, the basic theories which he continued to refine and develop and that were later to be influential in the evolution of post-structuralist thought. It executes Bataille's need to express through his writings what could not be contained by the cultural system within which he lived and worked, and it expresses his need to recognize the existence of what the system cannot contain--the vision of that other eye out of which he looks at the world. Thus rather than dismiss this text as juvenile or adolescent writing, readers should be aware of it as an early declaration of identity formation, one affected by actual events in his life and, although overwhelmingly privileging his sexual obsessions, one which contains nevertheless the core of his thinking.
In Bataille's profession of librarianship, cataloging or classification of material becomes obsessive to the extent that every item within a collection must have a named place or it cannot have a place in the collection, for only by being inserted into a named placed within a system can an object be curated or cared for. Bataille captures the intention of this systematizing in his Documents essay on "The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade" when he writes: "the work of philosophy as well as science or common...