Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 3 minutes

Story of the Eye (L’histoire de l’œil) was written by Georges Bataille and published by René Bonnel in 1928, with an initial run of 134 copies.

Pascal Pia did the design work, as well as including eight unsigned lithographs by André Masson.

Books such as this were circulated ‘under-the-counter’, often by subscription only. They also found distribution amongst higher economic classes; seen as a luxurious item, illustrated in large volumes and artist’s books sold amongst collectors.

Story of the Eye is the book that set Georges Bataille on the road as being both a dark and witty writer.

Eroticism is a condition unique to humans, at least as far as science is concerned. No other species develop ideas based on sex for the acts other than pleasure, and most importantly, reproduction. Humans have taken these ideas to new and exciting heights, as well as dark and depraved depths.

For humans, the act of sex is not only about the above pleasure and reproduction, but the need for power, dominance and control.

Adversely, sex can also mean submission and loss of control.

I make these points to show you how Story of the Eye operates. It’s much more than a book about sex. It’s a story of eroticism in its most exquisite forms; Characters struggling for control of their lives, characters looking for gratification in the darkest of places, and overall, flawed individuals looking for love.

The English language translation also includes a critical essay by the wonderful Susan Sontag. If you’ve never read her essays then I suggest you start doing so now; they’re fascinating, often covering human behaviour and how we respond to certain events/actions.

The story consists of several vignettes, each following an unnamed adolescent narrator, and Simone, his principal sexual partner. They begin an affair of exploration, both physically and metaphorically, but soon began to explore new avenues.

When they’re caught frolicking in the garden by a young woman, they force her into being a part of their sexually explicit relationship.

It’s difficult to relate to this story in the conventional sense of the word; however, it did conjure up many ideas in my mind, which I’ve mentioned above regarding human behaviour.

Story of the Eye has many adoring celebrity fans; Writer Susan Sontag, Singers Björk and Nick Cave, as well as former pornstar Stoya; so much so that she’s even created a short pornographic art piece in tribute to the book (NSFW obviously).

Themes

As the title suggests, eyes, or a singular eye, is the common motif running throughout the book.

Roland Barthes notes in his included essay that the eye is interchangeable with eggs, the bull’s testicles and other mentioned oval-shaped objects.

The second series of metaphors come from the liquid included within these references, which flow in the form of cat’s milk, egg yolk, urination, and semen.

The objects mentioned in the book are related by different kinds of similarities; shape, size, texture, etc., but each holding a deeper meaning.

The Surrealists

Bataille was introduced to Louis Aragon at Zelli’s, a charming nightclub in France. According to historical sources, Bataille found Aragon to be “confident in both his thought and his personality, but neither stupid nor particularly intelligent; rather naïve but also very serious, seductive and ambitious”.

I mention this to draw parallels between the two.

In 1928, Aragon released his own erotic novel, Irene’s Cunt, under a pseudonym, much like Bataille here. I won’t go into too much detail because I’ve already covered most of it in my review, but where Aragon has a subtle beauty to his poetic writing, Bataille is much blunter.

Bataille also believed that the surrealists took themselves much too seriously, acting as if they had all of societies answers. These views come from the fact that Bataille was a reserved character, too shy to confront them on their grandiose confidence.

Jean-Paul Sartre later banished Bataille from the group as he found his work to be too much, which speaks volumes about his books.

Closing Thoughts

Story of the Eye is a good book, and I think it would be a great addition to anyone’s erotic/surrealist bookshelf.

However, I struggled in not continually comparing it to Irene’s Cunt, which as mentioned, was released in the same year.

It’s much more poetic, easier to read, and in my opinion, much more poignant for it.

All in all, certainly take a look at Story of the Eye but expect an incredibly uncomfortable read along the way.

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