Start your review of The Tears of Eros Write a review Shelves: adventures-in-thought The doors of my mind have only recently opened to and been opened by Bataille, so what I say about The Tears of Eros will necessarily be that of a novice. Theres a thrill, tinged with anxiety, of being an intellectual novice at the age of We have hanging in our house a woodblock print done by a friend of ours of a gaunt and cigarette smoking Joan Didion. Worked into this portrait is a quote of hers - I know what nothing means and keep on playing. I have not read a single book of Didions, The doors of my mind have only recently opened to and been opened by Bataille, so what I say about The Tears of Eros will necessarily be that of a novice.

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For Bataille did not distinguish the real from artifice, the movement of transgression from its representations in art and literature. While Elkins wants to argue that the power of lingchi is to exceed the power of any art, and so to negate the idea of an art of transgression, this argument makes a partition between art and lingchi, art and reality, that is not consistent with a philosophy of eroticism in which such classifications spill into each other.

In an earlier book, The Object Stares Back , Elkins narrated the photographs, seeing the victim as a woman among male executioners and witnesses. Thinking of the execution as symptomatic of gender relations, including the possibility that this was an adulteress being put to death, was what made these images "difficult to come to terms with. The methods of these scholars have to do with a certain kind of looking, one immersed in the particular reason of this or that specialisation, reasoning away the horror of the images.

In eroticism, achieved at moments when terms such as "divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror" blur together and become interchangeable, one may experience the continuity of life beyond oneself, relieving the physical tension of discontinuity to which we are bound by death.

Through this idea of eroticism we can make more sense of the crowds of onlookers that surround lingchi executions, of the attraction of looking at extreme suffering.

For Bataille, this attraction lies in a transgression of those prohibitions by which we structure our lives. Lingchi violates such transgressions, and carries on a tradition of sacrifice in human societies. Bataille noted that after a sacrifice, "what remains, what the tense onlookers experience in the succeeding silence, is the continuity of all existence with which the victim is now one.

In his essay Elkins refers to the series that psychoanalyst Adrian Borel is supposed to have given Bataille in , and which are published in The Tears of Eros. Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3. In the original French edition of The Tears of Eros, one of these images is reproduced on the scale of a single page fig. For the viewer of the photograph, the angles of these legs and the pole to which he is tied point upward to the face, where the lightness of the sky relieves the darkness below.

In the second picture on the adjoining page fig. To relieve the gaze from this horrific sight the gaze travels upward, toward the end of a pole that is again propping up the upper part of the body, and to the light at the top of the image. The face there looks upward, backlit by the open sky, again with an expression that might be mistaken for ecstasy.

To cite the full passage in The Tears of Eros where he makes this extraordinary claim: I have never stopped being obsessed by this image of pain, at once ecstatic? I wonder what the Marquis de Sade would have thought of this image, Sade who dreamed of torture, which was inaccessible to him, but who never witnessed an actual torture session.

I want to propose that Bataille here puts into parentheses the impossibility of making such an observation. For Bataille was still struggling with the impossibility of thinking about Sade at this point in his life, of conceiving the "impossible liberty" that Sade took with the imagination original emphasis. In both cases representation reveals that what should be impossible can be possible. It is not so much lingchi that is intolerable here as a thought about lingchi that seems impossible, because to think it is to transgress the human which is constituted by the very prohibition of such a thought.

Yet for Bataille this impossibility demands to be thought because it exceeds those conditions that bind human beings to the discontinuity of death. This sight of ecstasy is evidence of an "assenting to life up to the point of death," which is the closest Bataille comes to a definition of eroticism.

Any central focus in the image is diffused by the overlapping planes of foreground and middle ground, and by the detail of people standing to the left and right. When Elkins published this photograph in "The Very Theory of Transgression," he did not identify this figure in the foreground with the chief executioner.

Bourgon makes this identification, which places this figure of formidable cruelty in the same line of sight as the viewer of the photograph. It is just such an identification that produces the repulsion from the scene, as if the viewer is implicitly responsible for the suffering in sight. Figure 4. Some of the photographs were reproduced as souvenirs and postcards, their distribution amongst participants, as well as family and friends, evidence of a compulsion to look that outlived the event itself.

When they were exhibited at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh , no text accompanied the photographs, which were expected to speak for themselves. Elkins plants a seed of doubt about this strategy, an uncertainty that viewers would interpret the exhibition to be about the injustices and horror of the racist history of the United States.

The Warhol Museum must have also regarded thinking otherwise to be impossible, but it was not so long ago in history that these images were circulated as a celebration rather than as an exposure of this racism. The violence of these events, if not their photographic reproduction and exhibition, may well provide viewers with an opportunity to experience the continuity that eludes the discontinuity of death.

The images in The Tears of Eros which accompany the lingchi photographs are largely carved, painted or drawn by human hand. This is the difference between Eroticism, which does not feature such a wealth of visual production, and The Tears of Eros, wherein writing is subordinated to an abundance of images.

Elkins argues that the radical incommensurability between the lingchi and the art works undermines the "orderly concept of transgression" in The Tears of Eros. Yet transgression was only ever a component of his philosophy of eroticism, which was. This is evident in his writings for Documents — 30 and in the examples of transgression in Eroticism which were material rather than aesthetic, including war, murder, sacrifice and religious experience.

In reducing the scope of informe to art Bois and Krauss reinstate the idealism that they are attempting to refute, turning from the clutter of the world to but one of its forms. In Formless, examples of surrealism, abstract expressionism and conceptualism are reinvigorated so that the effect is to reaffirm the value of established examples of modernist art.

We can turn to the images in The Tears of Eros for an idea of what an art immersed in the general movement of eroticism would consist of.

These images are all figurative, and depict the human body in transition. The least of these transitions is the movement between being clothed and nude, or in the throes of sexual ecstasy. In the vast majority of cases, the transition is disfiguring, involving some kind of dismemberment or distortion from which a return to form would be physically impossible.

There are criticisms that could be made of this selection of art. The art is Eurocentric. The images are from Europe or America , or made by Europeans at the very least. The art of one woman, Dorothea Tanning, stands amongst those of men, and there is a predilection toward naked female torsos in the images. Yet I suspect that these would be historical limitations for Bataille rather than theoretical ones, as his choices were limited to what was available to him.

This tension between the figuration of the human body and its concealment or disintegration indicates that the continuity of the images is found not in the figures but in their disintegration, and that the subject here is not the human and its variations but loss of the human.

The emphasis on art in The Tears of Eros indicates that Bataille believed that art could be conceived as a gateway to an impossible thought of this loss. By the standards of this loss, the loss of what constitutes the human, this art must be a failure to some degree, collapsing before the transgression that constitutes its subject. The inability to think about the work of art on the terms of its own loss is the condition by which it brings itself into being.

Works of art partake of eroticism merely by affirming their own status as works, implicitly dissolving into their own contrary worklessness, in a suspension that has its origins in the relation of being to death.

The discontinuity of a structure such as a work is attendant upon our own status as discontinuous people, yet art is itself a reaction to this inescapable state, and an affirmation of the continuity of life beyond oneself.

To think about art, then, is to think about this transgressive movement between the two, in order to stage a "permanent revolution", a movement without arrest in either the stratified structures of civilisation or the senselessness of orgiastic experience. For a correspondence between these images must convert them into forms that speak of the loss of what it means to be human, forms such as torture, cruelty and sadism.

Can one compare a man being sawn in half from the groin to that of a woman holding the decapitated head of her lover? Can one compare war and sacrifice? Elkins places the images outside an economy of art in order that this economy may operate, in a reduction of the other images in The Tears of Eros to representation.

Endowing the lingchi with the authority of the real, Elkins preserves the other within his theory, while for Bataille eroticism is a blurring or immersion. This is hardly the operation of informe as described by Bois and Krauss.

An operation produces or, in a medical sense, restores its subject, while the movement of eroticism describes loss. This is a loss that vastly exceeds the art that documents transgression, in its continuity exceeding the discontinuity by which art differentiates itself as art.


Georges Bataille

Born on 10 September in Billom in the region of Auvergne , his family moved to Reims in , where he was baptized. Although brought up without religious observance, he converted to Catholicism in , and became a devout Catholic for about nine years. He considered entering the priesthood and attended a Catholic seminary briefly. However, he quit, apparently in part in order to pursue an occupation where he could eventually support his mother.


The tears of Eros



The Tears of Eros


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