In his own country, it is said, Georges Bataille is revered as a philosophical sage, ‘one of the most important writers of the century’ according to that dubious icon, Michel Foucault. Cynical foreigners may suspect this is due to the erotic violence of his novels, several of which, awash with slavering carnality, are available in translation. At a tad under twenty pounds, the present collection of writings, in which the orchidaceous rhetoric of surrealism is married to the involuted militancy of semiospeak, will not make much of a dent in Anglo-Saxon attitudes, revealing as it clearly does the profligate and infantile rage which so often seems to lie at the heart of French intellectual life.
Most of these essays were written in the immediate post-war period, when surrealism was already ceding ground to existentialism as the dominant cultural mode. Bataille had been peripherally involved in the movement before the war, but quarrelled with André Breton (‘this swollen abscess of clerical phraseology’) in that typically vehement