Translation Tuesdays: Louis XXX, by Georges Bataille

louisxxxLouis XXX, by Georges Bataille
The Little One and The Tomb of Louis XXX
Translated and with Commentary by Stuart Kendall
Equus Press

Earlier this year, over at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, I awarded Louis XXX, by Georges Bataille as the Best Foreign Language Reprint.  In this essay, I want to investigate this anthology of previously unpublished writings by Bataille.  This essay also acts as a kind of bookend to my other essay on George Bataille’s seminal novella, Story of the Eye.  I wrote about Story of the Eye as part of my CCLaP essay series, The NSFW Files.

Categorized as “pornographic chamber music,” the two works by Georges Bataille are collected in Louis XXX (The Little One and The Tomb of Louis XXX).  These writings present an amalgamation of literary styles under the umbrella of desire and death.  The back cover blurb describes how Bataille will “commingle prose and poetry, fiction and autobiography, philosophical and theological meditations, abstract artifice and intimate confession, bound together by the mysterious pseudonym at the center.”  In The Little One, Bataille writes under the pseudonym Louis Trente.  Trente is French for thirty.  And the companion piece, The Tomb of Louis XXX, is written by Bataille with no pseudonym.

Stuart Kendall explores this overdetermined moniker.  Louis Trente references a future Bourbon heir to the French throne, the Council of Trent (a landmark Catholic synod that instigated the Counter-reformation), and the Roman numeral version of thirty (XXX) has obvious pornographic connotations.  In an instant, Bataille has linked together religion, religious history, French history, and pornography.  He has brought the reader into the enchanted realm of avant-porn.  The result is an alchemy of sexual explicitness, formal experimentalism, and fractured autobiography.

The Little One is an extended riff on the anus or (demotically) the asshole.  Included in these writings is “W.C.,” an outline for a sequel to Story of the Eye.  In all, The Little One begins with “Evil,” a fragmentary exploration of inner turmoil interspersed with aphorisms and gnomic utterances.  “Men misunderstand each other in the good and love each other in evil.  The good is hypocrisy.  Evil is love.  Innocence is the love of sin.”  “Neurosis: nostalgia for God’s anguish.”  “To write bare-stomached and bare-arsed, to write and to find the innocence that I have pulling away my shorts.”  And finally: “The refinement of God in vice: to give himself, under a suave mask, to the devotee, to die beribboned by the embarrassments of a sexagenarian virgin.”  Written in the fall of 1942, Bataille was also writing his magnum opus in philosophical inquiry, The Accursed Share.  This perplexing, verbally violent text existed only as a book printed for private circulation and was never reprinted.  The Tomb of Louis XXX, prepared and abandoned in 1947, was never published.

The Little One challenges the critic to summarize and explain it.  It’s about as easy as summarizing Matthew Barney’s epic Cremaster Cycle or Un Chien Andalou.  While I appreciate the fine analysis given by Stuart Kendall at the end of the book, I want to attempt a reading stripped of critical theory jargon and Procrustean historicism.  Seeing it from an another perspective, The Little One is like a profane religious icon, a pornographic fetish.  By concentrating on our gross anatomy, Bataille attempts to transcend the mundane shell of our messy biology in an attempt to reconcile the sacred with the mechanics of human sexuality.  In the short poem “Absence of Remorse,” he inserts commentary in between a scatological and visionary poem.  He asserts, “God is not a priest but a gland: papa is a gland.”  The book ends with “A Little Later,” where Bataille talks about writing as a means to research chance.  He seems to desire to find a means to rationalize and contain excess, in this case, erotic and emotional excess.

The Tomb of Louis XXX contains short bursts of poetry and a dramaticule that references the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom and then ends with short essays accompanying photographs.  Like The Little One, this piece is almost impossible to summarize in any conventional narrative sense.

In both of these fragmentary, hallucinatory, and sexually explicit works, we can see Bataille’s influence in authors like Kathy Acker and William S. Burroughs.  Both Acker and Burroughs sought to revive the art of fiction by ripping its limbs off, like Horus, their lacerations against narrative bloodying the ground and seeding it with the dark progeny of a new avant-garde.  On occasion, the best way to save the Western Canon is to burn it to the ground.

Stuart Kendall’s translation of Louis XXX marks an important event for those interested in plumbing the lesser known works of Georges Bataille and exploring the no-man’s-land between literature and pornography.

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