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Umbah-Umbah

Jerome McGann

22 June 1989
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century 
by Greil Marcus.
Secker, 496 pp., £14.95, June 1989, 0 436 27338 1
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... Clark’s pictures, Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium, Theodor Adorno (in particular his great and mordant Minima Moralia), Christopher Gray’s Leaving the 20th Century, Abiezer Coppe, GeorgesBataille. Oddly, the name William Blake never passes the lips(tick) of this book. Marcus uses as well the reminiscences and recapitulations of various people who were swept up in the storms raised by ...

White Hat/Black Hat

Frances Richard: 20th-Century Art

6 April 2006
Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism 
by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh.
Thames and Hudson, 704 pp., £45, March 2005, 0 500 23818 9
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... critique. In the course of its re-examination of the historical avant-garde, the journal has brought new attention to Surrealists who rebelled against their controlling impresario, André Breton: GeorgesBataille, Roger Caillois, Michel Leiris. It has pondered the theory of the sign, foregrounded photography and helped to install Peter Bürger’s 1974 essay ‘Theory of the Avant-Garde ...

My Books

Ian Patterson

4 July 2019
... and Its Survival of Bodily Death. A whole swathe of 20th-century thought went with it, Lukács, Kristeva, Barthes, Sollers, Pleynet, Lyotard, Sartre, Fanon, Beauvoir, and the complete works of GeorgesBataille. Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Bradley, Collingwood, Scheler, Merleau-Ponty … all gone. No more literary criticism, or literary history, or history, or linguistics. And then there were the sets ...

Eat it

Terry Eagleton: Marcel Mauss

8 June 2006
Marcel Mauss: A Biography 
by Marcel Fournier, translated by Jane Marie Todd.
Princeton, 442 pp., £22.95, January 2006, 0 691 11777 2
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... two traditions of modern French thought descend from Mauss’s work. One passes into the high structuralism of Lévi-Strauss and Maurice Godelier, while the other inspires such dissident writers as Bataille and Baudrillard. If the former thinkers are disciples of Mauss the rationalist, concerned with equilibrium and reciprocity, Bataille seizes on the anti-utilitarian aspects of his essay on the gift ...

Writing Machines

Tom McCarthy: On Realism and the Real

18 December 2014
... entire project crumples and implodes. But this doesn’t quite answer the question of what the real is – what it’s made of. In the Critical Dictionary (to which Leiris also contributed), GeorgesBataille (whose short novel Story of the Eye contains the most stunning matador-goring episode in all literature – forget Hemingway) addresses the idea of ‘formlessness’: they imagine a ...

Against Passion

James Meek: Passionate Politics

30 November 2017
The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics 
by Mark Lilla.
Harper, 160 pp., £19, August 2017, 978 0 06 269743 1
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The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction 
by Mark Lilla.
NYRB, 166 pp., £9.99, September 2016, 978 1 59017 902 4
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... global order. Whatever the content of intellectual discourse, what was of vital importance to Kojève and his initiates was that they were engaged in ‘passionate thinking’. Lilla quotes GeorgesBataille as saying that each encounter with Kojève left him ‘broken, crushed, killed ten times over: suffocated and nailed down’. Bataille felt it necessary to validate an intellectual experience by ...

In Whose Interest?

Thomas Meaney: Truman’s Plan

6 December 2018
The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World 
by A.J. Baime.
Doubleday, 431 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 85752 366 2
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The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War 
by Benn Steil.
Oxford, 606 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 0 19 875791 7
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... achievement – the outstanding exception to its unilateralist instincts. It was recognised as such at the time by even some of the more severe observers of American activity in Europe. In 1949, GeorgesBataille celebrated the Marshall Plan as the greatest example of human generosity since the Native American potlatch. In American policy circles, the words ‘Marshall Plan’ have congealed into a ...

One Herring in a Shoal

John Sturrock: Raymond Queneau

8 May 2003
Oeuvres complètes: Tome II: Romans I 
by Raymond Queneau, edited by Henri Godard.
Gallimard, 1760 pp., €68, April 2002, 2 07 011439 2
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... slapstick version of another of his anthropological borrowings: the potlatch, a Native American ceremony of conspicuous depredation which much appealed to youthful hammers of the bourgeois ethos like GeorgesBataille and Queneau when they first read about it in the work of Marcel Mauss, for seeming to collide head on with the practices of an acquisitive society. In the potlatch, Kwakiutl notables in the ...

The Right Kind of Pain

Mark Greif: The Velvet Underground

22 March 2007
The Velvet Underground 
by Richard Witts.
Equinox, 171 pp., £10.99, September 2006, 9781904768272
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... of cool: a fantasy of an underground world of S&M dungeons and shooting galleries that offers pleasures similar to those to be had from ‘underground’ books in the hip-Gothic tradition of Sade, GeorgesBataille, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr and whoever serves as a present-day inheritor (Chuck Palahniuk?). Reed rewrote these books, in essence, as songs. The most famous literal example is ...

Report from Sirius B

Jeremy Harding: ‘Phantom Africa’

22 March 2018
Phantom Africa 
by Michel Leiris, translated by Brent Hayes Edwards.
Seagull, 711 pp., £42, January 2017, 978 0 85742 377 1
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... and he was delivered up for their inspection. André Breton made a meal of him but in 1929 he broke away and joined the team of Documents, the short-lived dissident Surrealist periodical edited by GeorgesBataille. Leiris was both a marginal and a promising figure. Dangerously self-obsessed, fatally inclined to turn his hand to anything that passed for literature – in 1925 he published a volume of ...
6 August 1992
Curriculum Vitae 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 213 pp., £14.95, July 1992, 0 09 469650 0
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... inveterate poseurs the both of them. And within the wider Western tradition, she elected to join a tradition of Catholic kitsch and cruelty which included such apostate writers as Antonin Artaud and GeorgesBataille, whose blasphemy would have been pointless had they not had the body of Catholic ritual there to egg them on. Catholicism, unlike Protestantism, is a religious tradition that is rich in ...

Fumbling for the Towel

Christopher Prendergast: Maigret’s elevation to the Panthéon

7 July 2005
Romans: Tome I 
by Georges​ Simenon.
Gallimard, 1493 pp., €60, May 2004, 2 07 011674 3
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Romans: Tome II 
by Georges​ Simenon.
Gallimard, 1736 pp., €60, May 2004, 2 07 011675 1
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... read on train journeys, but Maigret, in his appropriately quiet way, slipped more or less definitively from public view. Who would have predicted Maigret’s return – or rather that of his creator, Georges Simenon – in the grand Pléiade collection? To be sure, it is Simenon-lite, a two-volume selection of 21 novels. His total output was a prodigious 192 novels as well as 150 novellas and short ...

The Things We Throw Away

Andrew O’Hagan: The Garbage of England

24 May 2007
... there’s muck there’s brass,’ he said. ‘That’s an old Yorkshire expression. We’re all Gypsies when it comes to it, looking after the bins. It’s how we used to think. “Sovereignty,” GeorgesBataille wrote, “is the freedom to waste.” At festivals, at Christmas, and every day, we waste, we give things away, that is what seemed normal to us.’ The area around the waterway in Bristol ...

The Force of the Anomaly

Perry Anderson: Carlo Ginzburg

26 April 2012
Threads and Traces: True False Fictive 
by Carlo Ginzburg, translated by Anne Tedeschi and John Tedeschi.
California, 328 pp., £20.95, January 2012, 978 0 520 25961 4
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... juive, in the genesis of the Russian forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the hidden links of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy to Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique; and the presence of GeorgesBataille in the composition and character of Picasso’s Guernica.2 That said, we may still ask how the cascades relate to the broader waters of intellectual history, as it has developed since the ...
31 October 1996
Adventures on the Freedom Road: The French Intellectuals in the 20th Century 
by Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by Richard Veasey.
Harvill, 434 pp., £20, December 1995, 1 86046 035 6
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The Imaginary Jew 
by Alain Finkielkraut, translated by Kevin O’Neill and David Suchoff.
Nebraska, 230 pp., £23.95, August 1994, 0 8032 1987 3
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The Defeat of the Mind 
by Alain Finkielkraut, translated by Judith Friedlander.
Columbia, 165 pp., $15, May 1996, 0 231 08023 9
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... which is how Gide put it when he expressed amazement that someone should value “something” more highly than literature’. Indeed, from Barrès and Péguy to Gide and Malraux, from Breton and Bataille to Camus and Mauriac, the history of French intellectuals is largely a history of literature: the intellectuel is first and foremost a writer, whose status as an intellectual is defined in reference ...

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