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Wiping up after Bataille. The perils of intellectual sanitation.

WITH THE PUBLICATION OF Visions of Excess Georges Bataille at last appears in English in all his complex richness. Even before his death, in 1962, his thought was exploited by intellectuals who had no messing with the dirty imagery in which it grew and which is its real flower. Nor did they share his sense of mission: to restore the sacred, “a privileged moment of communal unity, a moment of the convulsive communication of what is ordinarily stifled” This is made clear in his critique of Surrealism, which, he said, invests “low values (the unconscious, sexuality, filthy language, etc.) . . . with an elevated character by associating them with the most immaterial [higher] values.”

For Bataille, only sacred—obscene—imagery could free and express the repressed, low values possessing us all. (For him, only what “possessed” one was of fundamental interest.) Here is his basic choice for art, on

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