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    In myself, the sat isfact ion of a desire isoften opposed to my interests . But I give in to i t, for inabruta l way i t has become for me the ul tima te end!

    I t would however be possible to state that eroticism isnot only this end that fascinates me. I t isnot, to the extent tha t the bir th o f chi ld ren can be its consequence . But only t he c ar ethat thesechildren will demand can humanly have a use value. No one would confuse erotic activity-fromwhich the bi rth of chi ld ren can re sult -wi th this use ful work , wi thout which these ch ildrenwould in the end suffer and die.

    Utilitarian sexual activity isin conflict with eroticism in that the latter isthe ultimate end of ourl ife. But procreation, pursued in a calculated way, l ike the work of the scythe, r isks being reducedin human terms to a lamentable mechanical activity.

    The essence of man asgiven in sexuali ty-which ishis origin and beginning-poses a problemfor him that has no other outcome than wild turmoil .

    This turmoil isgiven inthe "li tt le death." How can I ful ly live the "li tt le death" ifnot asa fore-taste of the final death?

    The violence of spasmodic joy l iesdeep in my heart . This violence, at the same time, and I trem-ble as I say i t, is the hear t of death: it opens i tse lf up in me!

    The ambigui ty o f this human lif e is r ea lly tha t of mad laugh te r and of sobb ing tea rs. I t comesfrom the difficulty of harmonizing reason's calculations with these tears . . .. With this horriblelaugh ....

    *With its f irst s tep, this book's meaning isthe opening up ofconsciousness to the identity of this

    "little death," and of definitive death. From sensuous pleasure, from madness, to a horror withoutlimits.

    This is t he f ir st s te p .Which brings us to the forgett ing of the pueri li ty of reason!Of a reason that was never able to measure i ts l imits.

    These limits are given in the fact that, inevitably, the en d of reason, which exceeds reason, isnotopposed to the overcomingof reason!

    In the violence ofthe overcoming, inthe disorder of my laughter and my sobbing, in the excessof raptures that shatter me, I seize on the similar ity between a horror and a voluptuousness that

    goes beyond me, between an ult imate pain and an unbearable joy!20



    (The Birth of Eros)

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    A "sculpted pun" from the Aurig-nacian (?) per iod: small f igurefound near Lake Trasimeno.

    cf. Pao lo Grazios i: "Une nouve ll estatuette prehistorique." B ul l. d ef.Socie te t . ,eh istor ique[mncaise, vol.X XX V, 1 93 9,p. 15

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    Probably another "sculpted pun"(a female nude in the form of aphallus). Aurignacian figure fromSireuil (Dordogne), seen from thefront, and in miniature frombehind.

    Cf. H. Breuil and D. Peyrony:"St atue tt e f emin ine au rignac ienneetc," Rev. anlhropologique,lanuary-March 1930E. Saccasyn-Del1aSanta:Us ) gu re s h u m ai n es a u P a le o li lh i qu esuper ieur euras ia tique(196), Antwerp,


    The famous Lespug ne Venus,ivorystatue from the Upper Aurig-nacianperiod, seen from the front,in profile, and from behind.

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    Figure of a woman, Brassempouy(female body known as "ThePear"). Late Middle Aurignacian.

    cr E. Piette: "La station de Brassem-fouy," L'Anthropologie,vol . VI, P la te,1895.


    which, morally and physically, defines us-and af-f irms us in our being . Without doubt , they s toodupright: but their legs were,not perfectly rigid asareours. It even seems likely that they had, like apes, ahairy exterior, which covered them and protectedthem from the cold. I t i s not only f rom skele tonsand burial chambers that we know about what pre-historians designate by the name of Neanderthalman; we have his tools of sculptured stone, whichare more advanced than those of his forefathers ,

    who were in general lesshuman. Moreover, Nean-derthal man was fairly quickly succeeded by Homosapiens, who isin all respects similar to us. (In spiteof his name, H o m o s a pi en sactually knew little morethan the still apelike being that preceded him, buthe was physically similar to us).

    Prehistorians give the name H om o f ab er (tool-making man) to Neanderthal man, andto hisprede-cessors.Indeed, the question of "man" comes aboutwith the appearance of tools adapted to a certain us-age and shaped toward a given end. The tool i s theproof of knowledge, ifone allows that knowledge isessential ly "knowing how to." The most ancienttr aces o f ar chaic man- bo nes acco mp an ied b ytools-were found in North Africa(atTernifine Pa-likao), and are estimated to be about a million yearsold . But the t ime when man became conscious ofdeath, marked by the first tombs, isalreadyof greatinterest (particularly on the level of eroticism). Thisdate isvery considerably later: in principle it wouldseem to be a h un dr ed th ou sand year s b efo re o urt ime. Final ly, the appearance of our fel low crea-tures, of beings whose skeletons unequivocally es-tablish them asbelonging to our species(ifone takesinto account not the scattered remains of bones butrather the numerous tombs linked to a whole civi-lization) brings us to no more than thirty thousand


    Thirty thousand years. But bythis time we are nolonger dealing with human debris recoveredthrough excavations and offered to scientists andprehistorians, who interpret them, necessarily,rath-er dryly.

    We are dealing now with amazing s igns , s ignsthat touch our deepestsensibilities: these signs haveaforce that moves us, and no doubt they will nevercease to trouble us. These signs are the paintingsth at v ery ear ly man lef t on the walls o f t he caves

    where he must have celebra ted his incanta toryceremonies.

    Left: Womasel (UpperRight: Stat(Middle A

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    Another famous statue fromthe Upper Aurignacian: theWillendorf Venus.

    Museumof Natural History, Vienna


    cf. J. Szombatry: L'Anthropologie,vol. XXI, 1910, p. 699.

    Before the arrival of late Paleolithic man, towhom prehistorians refer by a name scarcelyjustifi-able ( H o m o s a p ie n s ), lthe earliest man seems to havebeen merely an intermediary between the animalsand us. In his very obscurity, this being necessarilyfascinates us; but, taken asa whole, the traces he leftbehind hardly add anything to this undefined fasci-nat ion. What we know about him, and what touch-esus most intimately, isnot something that pertains

    primari ly to our senses. Ifwe draw from his funeralpract ices the conclusion that he was conscious ofdeath, we are most immediately moved only at thel eve l o f r ef lecti on. Bu t Upper Paleolit hi c man ,H o m o s a pi en s ,isnow known to usthrough signs thatmove us no t only in their exceptional beauty (h ispaintings are often marvelous). These signs affect usmore through the fact that they bring us abundantevidence of his erotic life.

    The birth of this extreme emotion, which wedesignate under the name eroticism and which sepa-rates man from animals , iswithout doubt an essen-t ia l d imens ion of what prehi sto ric r esearch cancontribute to knowledge.

    1. The adjective sapiens means endowed with knowledge. But it isevident that atoolpresupposes onthe part ofthe one who makesit aknowledge of itspurpose. Indeed this knowledge of the purpose ofthe tool isthe basisfor all knowledge. On the other hand, knowl-edgeof death, which iswhat brings sensibili ty into play and whichis,for this very reason, clearly distinct from pure, discursive knowl-edge, marks a stage in the development of human knowledge. Soknowledge of dea th , which comes long a ft er the knowledge oftools,nonetheless predates thearrival ofwhat prehistory callsby thename of H o m o s a p ie n s .

    Over: pp.Nude wotos. Uppe



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    The passing of the sti ll somewhat apelike Nean-derthal man into our fel low creature, into this ful lyformed being, whose skeleton in no way differsfrom our own and whose paint ings or engravings,where he is figured, show us that he lost the ani-mal 's lush hairy covering, was without doubt deci-sive. As we have seen, the probably villousNeander tha l man was aware o f death. And it is outof this awareness that eroticism appeared, dis tin-guishing the sex l ife ofman from that ofthe animal.The problem has not been addressed: in principle ,the sexual behavior of human beings, which isnot ,a s it is i n mos t animal s, seasona l, seems to de rivefrom that of the ape. But the ape ismost essential lydifferent from humans in that i t isnot conscious ofdeath. The behavior of an ape around a dead fel lowcreature indicates indifference, whereas the still im-perfect Neanderthal man, burying the corpses of hiskin, does sowith a superst it ious care that betrays atthe same time respect and fear. The sexual behaviorof human beings, like that of the ape in general,arises from an intense excitat ion, uninterrupted byany kind of seasonal rhythm; but it isalso character-ized by a reserve unknown in animal s and whichapes in particular never display. In truth, the feelingof embarrassment in regard to sexual activity recalls,in one sense at least, the feeling of embarrassment inregard to death and the dead. "Violence" over-whelms us strangely in each case : each time , whathappens is foreign to the received order of things, towhich this violence each time stands in opposition.There isan indecency about death, no doubt distinctfrom what is incongruous about the sexual act.Death isassociated with tears; and sometimes sexual

    desire isassociated with laughter. But laughter isnot

    somuch the contrary oftears asi t may seem: the ob-ject oflaughter and the object oftears are always re-lated to some kind of violence which interrupts theregular order of things, the usual course of events.Tears are usual ly l inked to unexpected events thatdis tress us, but on the other hand an unexpected andhappy resu lt somet imes moves us to the point ofcrying. Sexual turbulence obviously does not bringusto tears, but it always disturbs us, sometimes shat-ters us, and one of two things ensues: either it makes

    us laugh, or else it impels us to the violence of anembrace.

    It is indeed difficult ' to perceive, clearly and dis-t inct ly, how death, or the consciousness of death,forms a unity with eroticism. In i ts principle , exac-e rba ted desir e canno t be opposed to li fe, which i sr ather i ts outcome . The e ro tic moment is even thezeni th of thi s lif e, i n which the grea te st force andthe greatest intensity are revealed whenever two be-ings are att racted to each other, mate, and perpet-uate l ife. I t isa quest ion of l ife, and of reproducinglife; but in i ts reproduct ion, l ife overf lows, and inove rf lowing i t r eaches the most extr eme f renzy.These entwined bodies, wri thing and swooning,losing themselves in an excess of sensuous pleasure,a re in opposi ti on to death , wh ich wi ll la te r doomthem to the silence of corruption.

    Indeed, to judge from appearances, eroticism isby a ll account s l inked to b ir th, t o a reproduc tionthat endlessly repairs the ravages of death.

    It is nonetheless true that the animal, the ape,whose sensual ity at t imes becomes exacerbated,knows nothing of eroticism. And this is preciselybecause i t lacks all knowledge of death. To the con-trary, i t isbecause we are human and live inthe som-ber perspective of death that we know thisexacerbated violence of eroticism.

    Speak ing f rom within the ut il it ar ian limit s o f

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    Headless woman of Sireuil (Mid-dle Aurignacian).

    reason, we can see the practical sense and the neces-sity of sexual disorder. But for their part, were thosewho gave the name of " litt le death" t to the culmi-nating moment wrong to have perceived its funerealsense?


    Is there not in our obscure, immediate reaction todeath and eroticism, inthe way I bel ieve they can beunderstood, a decisive value, a fundamental value?

    I began byspeaking of a "diabolical" aspect in theoldest images of man to have come down to us.

    But does this "diabolical" element , namely thecurse linked to sexual activity, really appear in theseimages?

    I want to introduce the most weighty of ques-tions, with a view to finding in the oldest prehistor-ic documents a theme illustrated in the Bible.Finding, or at least saying that I have found, in thedeepest parts of the Lascaux cave, the theme oforiginal sin, the theme of the Biblical legend! Deathlinked to sin, linked to sexual exaltation, toeroticism!

    In any event, within this cave, in a kind of pit,which is simply a barely accessible natural crevice,there lies a disturbing enigma.

    tCf. Bataille, E r o ti s m : D e a t h a n d S e n su a li t y,t rans . Mary Dal-wood (San Francisco: City Lights, 1986) : "Pleasure isso closeto r ui nou s wa st e t ha t w e re fe r t o t he mo me nt o f c l ima x a s a'little death' { / a p e t it e m o r t e ), "p. 170.

    :j:Puitshas somet imes been transla ted as "well ."

    In the form of an exceptiona l pa inting , the Las-cauxman has found a way to inter in the depths thisenigma, which he laysbefore us. To be quite accu-r ate , it was no t an enigma f rom hi s point o f vi ew.Forhim, the paint ing ofthis man and this bison hada clear meaning. But today, we can only despair be-fore the obscure image d isp layed on the wa ll s of acave: a man with a bird's face, who asserts his beingwi th an e rect penis, but who i s f al ling down . Th isman islying infront ofa wounded bison. The bisoni sabout to d ie , bu t, f ac ing the man, it sp ill s it s en-trails horrifically. I

    Something obscure, s trange, sets apart this pa-thetic scene, to which nothing in our time can becompared. Above this fal len man, a bird drawn in asingle stroke, on the end of a stick, contr ives to dis-tract our thoughts.

    Further away, toward the left, a rhinoceros ismoving away, but i t issurely not l inked to the scenewhere the bison and the man-bird appear, uni ted inthe face of death.

    Asthe Abbe Breuil has suggested, the rhinocerosmight be mov ing slowly away f rom the dying f ig-

    ures a ft er having to rn open the stomach of the b i-son. But clearly the composition of the imageattributes the origin ofthe wound to the man, to thespear that the hand of the dying f igure cou ld havethrown. The rhinoceros, on the contrary, seems in-dependent of the principal scene, which, moreover,might remain forever unexplained.

    What can one say about this str iking evocation,buried for thousands of years in these lost and, sotospeak, inaccessible depths?

    Inacces sib le? Today, for exact ly twenty yea rsnow, it has been possible to admit a maximum offour people at a time to view this image, which I

    would oppose to and a t the same t ime l ink with the

    Imagesof ro m t hn um be r

    f ig u ra t iot o t h ir t yC f p p.


    m -V



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    legend of Genesis. The Lascaux cave was discoveredin 1940 (on September 12th to be exact). Since then,a small number ofpeople have been ableto godownto the bottom of the pit , but the exceptional paint-ing has become quite widely known through photo-graphs. This paint ing, let me rei terate , represents aman with abird 's head, perhaps dead, but inanycaselying in front of a dying bison, which is in thethroes of rage.

    In a work written six years ago on the Lascauxcave,? I forbade myself from giving a personal inter-pretation of this surprising scene. I restricted myselfto relaying the interpretat ion of a German anthro-pologist- who compared i t to a Yakut sacrifice andsaw in the posture o f the man the ecs ta sy of a sha-man apparently disguised, by means of a mask, asabird. This shaman-a sorcerer-from the Paleoli th-ic age, would not differ very greatly from a Siberianshaman or sorcerer of modern times. To tell thet ru th , th is in te rpret at ion has in my view only onemerit: it underlines the "strangeness of the scene.?!However, after two years of hesitat ing, i t seemedpossible, for want of a precise hypothesis, to makean assumption. In a new work. s basing myse lf onthe fact "that expiation regular ly fol lows upon theki ll ing of an anima l among peop le s whose way ofl ife isprobably similar to that of the cave art is ts ," Istated:

    2. G. Bataille, L a s ca u x o r t h e B i r th o f A r t ,trans. Austryn Wainhouse.{Geneva: Skira, 1955}.

    ? H. Kirchner, "Ein Bei trag zur Urgeschichte der Schamanismus,"In Anthropos , vol . 47, 1952.

    4. I t a ls o u nd er li ne s t he f ac t t ha t l at e P al eo li th ic m an w as n ot a ft era ll s o d if fe re nt f ro m c er ta in S ib er ia n p eo pl e o f m od er n t im es . B utt he d et ai ls o f t hi s c om pa ri so n s ee m f ra gi le a nd h ar dl y t en ab le .

    5 . G. Barai lle, E r o ti s m : D e a th a n d S e ns u al it y,t rans . Mary Dalwood

    { Sa n F ra nc is co : C it y L ig ht s B oo ks , 1 98 6} , p . 7 5.

    , "The subject of this famous" painting,which has called forth numerous contra-dictory and unsatisfactory explanations,would therefore be m u r de r a n d e x pi a ti o n. "

    The shaman would be expiating, through hisown death , the murde r o f the bison . Exp ia tion forthe murder of animals kil led in the hunt isa rule formany tribes of hunters.

    Four years having passed, this statement seems tome to be excessively cautious. In the absence of anysupport ing commentary, such an aff irmation hadl it tle meaning. In 1957, I aga in l imit ed myse lf tosaying:

    "This view has at least the virtue ofreplacing the magical (and uti li tarian)int erpreta ti on of cave pic tures, so evi -dent ly in suffi cient , by a relig ious onemore in keeping with the nature of somesupreme game ....

    Today, it seems to me essential to go beyond this.In thi s book the enigma of Lascaux will no t beoursol e concern, but at leas t it wi ll be, i n my eyes , thepoint of depa rture. And a round th is enigma I wil ltry to show the meaning of a face t of man it wouldbefut ile to neglect or omit, one that isdesignated bythe name of eroticism.

    6. Fa mo us a t l ea st i n t he s en se th at s o m uc h h as be en w ri tt en a bo ut


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    Man with abird's head, detail fromthe scene in the pit of the Lascauxcave.Around 13,500 B.C.

    Cf. G. Bataille: Lascaux, orthe Birtho rArt, trans. Austryn Wainhouse,(;eneva, 1955.




    I should f irs t o f a ll t ake things up f rom fur the rback. In p rinc ip le , I could cer ta in ly speak abouteroticism in detai l without having to say too muchabout the world in which it plays a par t. I t wouldhowever seem futile to'speak of eroticism indepen-dently of birth, independently of the first conditionsunder which i t came about . Only the birth of eroti-cism, from out of animal sexuali ty, can bring forthwhat isessent ial about i t. I t would be useless to tryto ta lk about e ro ti ci sm if we were unable to speakabout what it was at its inception.

    I cannot fai l to evoke in this book the universe ofwhich man isthe product , the universe from whichhe isin fact dis tracted by eroticism. If, to begin thehistory of origins, we look at history, the misunder-standing of eroticism has entailed some obvious er-rors. But if, in wanting to understand man ingene ra l, I want in pa rt icul ar to unde rs tand e rot i-c ism, I am essenti al ly beholden to this init ia l im-perat ive: from the outset, I must give first place towork. From one end of history to the other, in fact,the fi rst place be longs to work. Work, beyond a lldoubt, isthe foundation ofthe human being assuch.

    From one end of history to the other, beginningwith the origins ( that is to say with prehistory) . ..The field of prehistory, moreover, is no differentfrom history except for the paucity of documents onwhich i t isbased. But on this fundamental point , i tmust be saidthat the most ancient evidence, and the

    mos t abundant , conce rns work . Beyond thi s we

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    h ave f ou nd s ome bo nes, either th ose of th e menthemselves or of the animals they hunted-and onwhich, it seems, they nourished themselves. Butamong all the documents and evidence that enableu s t o s hed a little l igh t o n o ur mos t d istant p ast,tools made of stone are by far the most numerous.

    The research of prehistorians has furnished innu-merable carved stones, which can often be approxi-mately dated according to the ir locat ion. Theses tones have been worked so as to ful fi ll some use .

    Some served asweapons, and others as tools. Thetools, which were used in the making of new tools,were at the same time necessary for the making ofweapons: projectiles, axes, and arrow tips, whichcould be madeof stone, but for which the basema-

    Bison with human rear legsan d p ha ll us . C av ern e d esTrois Preres, Sanctuary.

    Scene from which the detail(above)is taken. Caverne desTrois Freres.

    Cf. Heney Begouen and H. Breui l:"Les Cavernes du Volp," Arts

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    But if it is t rue that ark is o ur origin, if it is t ruethat work is the key to human ity, human beings,th rough work, ended up d ist anc ing themse lvescompletely from aniality. And they distancedthemselves in particular on the level of their sexuallife. At first they adapted their work activity to con-form to whatever usefulness i t held for them. But i twas not through work alone that they developed: inall areas of their l ife they made their act ivit ies andthe ir behavio r r espond to a g iven end . The sexualactivity of animals isinstinctive; the male who seeksout the female and covers her isresponding only toan instinctual excitation. But human beings, havingachieved through work the consciousness of asought-af ter end, came in general to be distancedfrom the pure ly inst inc tua l r esponse , i n tha t theydiscerned the meaning tha t thi s r esponse had forthem.

    For the f ir st humans to become consc ious of it ,the aim of the sexual act must not have been thebirth of children, but rather the immediate pleasurewhich resul ted from it. The instinctual movement

    Cavernes desTrois Preres, Sanctu-a ry. Th e h orn ed g od . C lo se -u pview, great ly defo rmed by theperspective.

    Cf."Les Cavernes du Volp." o p . c i t .




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    Human scene (carvedon bone, Is-turitz grotto). Early Magdalenian.

    Cf. Rene de Sainr-Per ie r: "Deuxoeuvres d'art," Anlhrop%gie , vol.XLII, 1932, p. 23, fig. 2.

    was shi fti ng in the di rect ion o f an as socia ti on be-

    tween a man and a woman with the a im of nour ish-ing children, whereas within the limits of animalitysuch an assoc iat ion on ly took on meaning as theconsequence of procreation. Procreation was at theoutset not atal la conscious aim. When the momentof sexual union first came to be related to consciousdesir e by human be ings , t he end sought was plea-sure; i t was the intensi ty, the violence of pleasure.Within the framework of consciousness, sexual ac-t ivity was at f irst a response to a calculated seekingafter voluptuous pleasures. Even in our times, archa-ictribes have remained unaware of any necessary re-lationship between voluptuous union and the birthof children. For humans, this union of lovers or

    spouses had at f irst only one meaning, and that waserotic desire: eroticism differs from the animal sex-ual impulse in that i t is, in principle , just aswork is,the conscious searching for an end, for sensual plea-sure. This end is not, as it is in work, the desire toacquire something, the desire for increment . Onlythe child represents an acquisi tion, but primitiveman did not see in this effectively beneficial acquisi-t ion of the child the resul t ofsexual union. For civi-lized man, in general, bringing a child into theworld lost the beneficial-material ly beneficial-meaning it had for primitive peoples.

    Sex for pleasure viewed asan end isno doubt of-ten mispr ized in our t imes. I t does no t conform to


    the principles on which this act ivity isfounded to-day. In fact the pursuit of sensual pleasure, althoughnot condemned, i s neve rthe le ss viewed in such away that it isoften not open to discussion. To a greatextent, moreover, this reaction, which at first sightseems unjust if iable , is none thele ss log ical. In aprimitive reaction, which never completely ceasesC O be operative, sensual pleasure is the anticipatedresul t of erotic play. But the resul t of work isgain:work enriches. If eroticism isviewed in the perspec-

    tive of desire, independently of the possible birth ofa chi ld, i t resul ts in a loss, hence the paradoxical lyval id term "li tt le death." The "li tt le death" has l it -t le to do with death, with the cold hor ro r o f death.But isthe paradox altered when eroticism isin play?

    In fact, man, whose consciousness of death dis-t inguishes him from the animal, dis tances himselffurther to the extent that in his case eroticism sub-stitutes voluntary play, a calculation of pleasure, forthe blind instincts of the organs.


    The bur ia l chambers of Neander tha l man holdthis fundamental significance for us: they testify tothe consciousness of death, to the awareness of thetr agi c f ac t tha t man can , tha t he mus t, founde r indeath. But we can only be sure of this passage frominstinctual sexual activity to eroticism with respectto the pe riod when our fel low creature appea red,this man of the late Paleoli thic , the first who was inno way our in fe rior physical ly and who was per-haps, and we must indeed assume so, possessed ofmental resources similar to our own.f There iseven

    8. In pr in ci pl e, a c hil d o f t he l at e Pa le ol it hi c e ra , e du cat ed i n o urs ch oo ls , c ou ld h av e r ea ch ed t he s am e l ev el a s w e h av e.

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    no th ing to prove tha t this very ear ly man su ffe redfrom the (in fact very superficial) inferiority whichweattribute to those we sometimes call "savages" or"primitives." Are not the paintings of his era,which are the first known paint ings, comparable attimes to the works of ar t i n our museums?

    Neanderthal man manifested one more inferior-ity which distinguished him from us. Withoutdoubt , l ike us(and like his ancestors) he stood in anupr ight posit ion. But he sti ll kept hi s l egs a l it tle

    bent and furthermore he did not walk "like a hu-man;" he stepped on the ground with the edge ofhis foot and not the sole. He had a low forehead, ap ro tube rant jaw, and h is neck was no t, like ou rs,long and slender. I t iseven logical toimagine him asbeing covered with hair asare apesand mammals ingeneral.

    We really do not know anything about the disap-pearance of this archaic man, except that our fellowcreature occupied unchanged the regions that Ne-anderthal man had peopled. For example, he flour-ished in the Va lley of Veze re and in othe r r egions(in the southwest of France and the north of Spain)where numerous traces of his admirable talents havebeen discovered. The bir th of art , in fact, fol lowedupon the physical complet ion of the human being.

    Opposite:One of the Venuses dis -covered in 1952 byVesperiniin LaMagdaleine, a hamlet on the shoresof the Aveyron. " . .. The most re-markable sculptures of the Magda-lenian era" (H. Breuil).

    Cf. B. Berirac: "La Venus de laMag-daleine," Bul le t in defa Socie lej ran ,a iseprehislorique.v ol . L I. p p. 1 25 -2 6. C f.a ls o t wo p la te s i n R . Ver gn es : Gra-v ur e s m a g da /e n ie n ne s. e tc .i d. . v ol .XLIX. no. 11-12 . pp. 622-24.1952(reliefs).


    I t is work tha t was decis ive : it was the vir tue ofwork that determined intelligence. But the ultimateconsummation of man, this accomplished humannature, which atf i rs tbegan to enlighten usand end-ed up endowing us with a feeling of exhilarat ion,initiated a sense of satisfaction not merely the resultofa useful task. Atthe moment when, hesitantly, thework ofart appeared, work had been for hundreds ofthousands ofyearsa fact ofhuman life. In the end, i tis not work, bu t play, tha t marked the advent of a rt

    and the moment when work became in part, in

    Two reliars (Betir

    genuine masterpieces, some~~ing other than ~ re-sponse to the concern for uti li ty, Indeed, man IS es-sential ly an animal who works. But he also kno~show to change work into play. I would emphasizethis inthe context ofart (of the bir th ofart) : humanplay, t ruly human play, was first of all work, w?rkthat became play.? What ultimatel~ i.sthe meanmgofthe marvelous paintings that untidily adorn thesealmost inaccessible caves? These caves were sombersanctuaries faintly lit by torches; these paintings, it

    9.I amunable within the limits ofthis book to make any clearer the

    primary. decisive character of work.

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    is t rue, were supposed to bring about magical ly thedeath of the beasts and the birds they represented.But their fascinating animal beauty, forgotten forthousands. of years , s ti ll has a primal meaning, oneof seduc~lOn and pass ion, o f wondrous play, ofbreathtaking play, behind which l ies the desire forsuccess.

    These cave sanctuaries are, essentially, arenas ofpl ay. In these caves, pr ide of pl ace i s given to the?un t, by reason of the magica l va lue of the paint -mgs, and perhaps also the beauty of the figurations:the more beauti ful t hey were, the grea te r their ef -fect. But inthe charged atmosphere of these caves i twas seduction, the profound seduction of play thatwas no doubt preeminent, and it is in this sense thatthere are grounds for interpreting the association ofthe animal f igures ofthe hunt with the human erot-icfigure~. S~~han association iscertainly not in anyway prejudicia l. I t would make more sense to in -voke chance. But it is certain that these sombercaves were ac tua lly consecrat ed above a ll e lse towhat is , a t bo ttom, play-playas opposed to work,play whose essence isabove all to obey seduction, to

    respond to passion. Now passion , in troduced, i tseems, wherever human figures appeared, paintedor drawn on the walls of prehistoric caves, iserot i-cism. The dead man in the Lascaux pit aside, manyo~these fig.uresare masculine and have an erect pe-nrs. There ISeven a female figure who isquite obvi-ously expressing desire. Finally, the image at Lausselof a couple sh~ltered under the rocks openly repre-sents sexual.Union. The freedom of these early timeshas something .of a paradisiac nature. It is probablethat these rudimentary civil izat ions, which werehow:ve r mos t vigorous in the ir s impl ic ity, knewnothing ofwar. The civil izat ion of the Eskimos to-day, who were themse lves ignorant o f war be fore

    the white man arr ived, has none of i ts essential vir-48

    tues. It does not have the supreme virtue of thedawn of humanity. But the climate of prehistoricDordogne was similar to that of the arctic re?ion~where the Esk imos l ive today. And the Eskimossense of festivi ty was no doubt not foreign to thosewho were our distant ancestors. In response to someministers who wanted to oppose their sexual free-dom, the Esk imos sa id that up un til t hen they hadlived freely and gaily in a manner similar to thebirds that s ing . The cold, no doubt , is l ess of a hin-drance to e ro ti c games than we , with our p re sentcomforts, might imagine. The Eskimos give p~oofof this . L ikewise , on the h igh p la teaus of TIbe t,known for a po la r c lima te , t he inhabit ant s a re de -

    voted to these games. .

    There isperhaps a paradisiac aspect to early eroti-

    " Er ot ic s taJudea" ( fotoun) . End

    Cf. Rene Ne1933, pp. 5

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    c ism, na ive t races of wh ich we st il l fi nd in caves.But this aspect is not clear, for i ts chi ldlike naivetewas already beset by a certain heaviness.

    Tragic . .. And without the slightest doubt .At the same time, from the outset, comic.Because eroticism and death are linked.And because, at the same time, laughter and

    death, and laughter and eroticism, and linked ....We have already seen eroticism linked to death

    in the depths of the Lascaux cave.There is in that place some strange revelat ion, a

    fundamental re:velation. But such that we surelycanno t be su rpnsed by the s il ence-by the uncom-prehending silence which only so meaningful amystery can harbor.

    The image is all the more strange in that thisdead f igu re with hi s sex e rect has a bi rd 's head ananimal's head which isso childish that perhaps, 'ob-scurely, tentatively, a laughable aspect emerges.. The p .roximi~ ofa bi son, a dy ing mons te r los ingItS.e~tralls, a kind of minotaur which, i t appears ,this l thyphall ic dead man has kil led-there isprob-ablyno other image inthe world soladen with com-ic horror; nor, moreover, so unintelligible.

    We have here a desperate enigma, laughable in itscruel~, posed a~the dawn of t ime. It is no t r ea lly aquestion of solving this enigma. But however true itis that we lack the means to solve i t, we cannot justturn away from it; i t invi tes usat least to dwell in i tsdepths.

    Being the fi rst enigma posed by humans, i t a sksus to descend to the bottom of the abyss opened inus by eroticism and death.

    Noone ~uspected the or ig in o f an imal imageswould be ghmpsed by chance in some subterraneangal lery. For mil lennia, prehistoric caves and theirp.aintings had in some way disappeared: an absolute

    silence was becoming eternal. Even at the end of the

    last century, no one would have guessed the as-tounding ancientness of those paintings that chancehad uncovered. It was only a t the beginn ing of thepresent century that the authority of a great scholar,the Abbe Breuil, confirmed the authenticity of theworks o f these early men, the f ir st who were trulyour fel low creatures but who are separated from usbythe immensi ty of t ime.

    The light has dawned on ustoday, without thereremaining the shadow ofa doubt. A ceaseless streamof visitors now animates these caves that haveemerged lit tle byl i tt le , one after the other, from anin fini te n igh t. They a re drawn toward one cave inparticular, the Lascaux cave, the most beautiful, therichest.

    Of all of them, i t is this one that remains partial lymysterious.

    In the deepest c revi ce of this cave , the deepestand also the most inaccessible ( today, however, avertical iron ladder allows access to a small numberof people at a time, so that most of the visitors donot know about i t, or a tbes t know it th rough pho-tographic reproductions), at the bottom of a creviceso awkward to get to that it now goes under thename ofthe "pi t," we find ourselves before the moststriking and the most strange of evocations.

    A man, deadasfar asone can tel l, iss tretched out ,prostrate in front of a heavy, immobile, threateninganimal. This animal is a bison, and the threat itposes is a ll t he more grave because it is dy ing: it iswounded, and unde r i ts open be lly i ts ent ra ils a respi ll ing out . Apparently i t is this outstretched manwho st ruck down the dying anima l wi th his spear.But the man is not quite a man; his head, a bird'shead, ends in a beak. No th ing in thi s who le imagejus ti fie s the pa radoxica l f act that the man' s sex i s


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    Because of this, the scene has an erotic characterthis is obvious, clearly emphasized, but it i~inexplicable.

    Thus, in this barely accessible crevice stands re-vealed- bu t ob scur ely- a dr ama fo rg otten f or s omany millennia: it re-emerges, but it does not leavebehind its obscurity. It is revealed, but neverthelessit isveiled.

    From the very moment it isrevealed, it isveiled.But in these closed depths a paradoxical accord is

    s ign ed , an acco rd all t he mor e gr ave in th at it i ssigned in this inaccessible obscurity. This essentialand paradoxical accord is between death anderoticism.

    Its truth no doubt continues to assert itself.How-ever, no matter how it asserts itself, it still remainshidden. Such isthe nature of both death and eroti-cism. The one and the other in fac t conceal them-selves:they conceal themselves at the very momentthey reveal themselves.

    We cannot imagine a more obscure contradictionnor one bet te r cont rived to guarantee disorder inour thinking.

    Can we, moreover, imagine a place more condu-c iv : to this d isorder- the los t depths of this cave,which must never have been inhabited, which musteven have been abandoned in the earliest times ofhuman life. to (We alsoknow that in the era whenour f?refathers wandered to this pit in the depths,wantmg at a ll cos ts to get down into i t, they had tolower themselves by the use of ropes. 1 1 )

    "The enigma of the pit" i scer ta in ly one of themost difficult to bear;at the sametime, it isthe mosttragic oneamong the enigmas of our species.That it

    10.About 15,000 yearsbefore our era.

    52 11. A piece ofropehasevenbeen found in the caveat Lascaux.

    arisesfrom such a very distant past explains the factthat it isposed in terms whose excessiveobscurity isat first sight striking. But it isan impenetrabl.e ob-scuritythat has the elementary virtue of an emgm~.I f we allow this paradoxical principle, then thisenigma ofthe pit (which sostrangely and soperfect-ly corresponds to the fundamental enign:a, beingthe most distant one that a distant humamty posesforhumanity today, being the most obscure in its es-sence), this enigma, then, might a lso be the one

    most laden with meaning.Isit not heavy with, that initial mystery,which is

    in i tsel f the coming into the wor ld , the advent, ofman?Does it not atthe sametime link this mystery

    to eroticism and death?

    The truth isthat it isfutile to introduce an enig-maat once so essential , and yet posed in the mostviolent form, independently of a well-known con-text, a context that , however, remains in essencevei led by reason of the very s truc ture of human

    beings.I t remains vei led to the extent tha t the human

    mind hides from itself.Vei led in the face of oppos it ions tha t ver tigi -

    nouslydi~closethemselves, in these nearly.i~accessi-bledepths which are, forme, "the extrermties of the


    Such oppositions would be, in particular:

    The indignity of the ape,which does not ~~ug?.'.The digni ty of man, who can however spl it h is

    sides" laughing. . . ..The complicity of the tragic-which IS the basis

    of death-with sensual pleasure and laughter ...The int imate oppos it ion between the upr ight

    posture-and the ana l orifice-linked to squatting ...

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    Dionysos and a maenad (deta il ).Vase wit h red fi gures from themiddle of the fifth century.See p. 64-65. Louvre no. 421.



    (From Antiquity to the Present Day)

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    Very often, the raptures withthe name of Eros have a tr agi c sparticularly noticeable in the scpit . But nei ther war nor slaverythe earliest t imes of our own spe

    Prior to the end of the la tewar seems to have been unknowthis t ime-or after the intermedias the Mesolithicw=-that we finof men kil ling each other in copainting in the Spanish Levant sintense bat tle between archers ."far aswe can tel l, dates from abofo re our e ra. Le t us add only thhave continued to devote themsthe practice of war. However, itbelieve that in Paleolithic times,

    mean homicide, was probably nowas never a question of opposinging to annihilate one another.times, homicide occurred, thougly, among Eskimos who were, lunfamil iar with war. Eskimos l icomparable in general to the cliinFrance where the man ofour

    Small shr ine of Dionysos(Delos).

    I 12. Mesolithic refers to "middle stone,""old stone" (Paleolithic) and"new stonestone."13. A reproduction of this painting isin

    ------------ -

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    Monument in the shape ofa phal-l us. Small shrine of Dionysos{Delos}.

    In sp ite o f the fact that from its ear lie st occur-rence primitive war set one group against another, itseems likely that i twas not atf i rs tcarr ied out in anysystematic way. To judge from primitive forms ofwar, which a re s til l t o be found today, what was a tstake in the beginning was not a material advantageto be gained.

    The victors annihilated the vanquished group. Inthe wake of comba t they massacred enemy survi-vors, prisoners , and women. But young children of

    bo th sexes were probably adopted by the v ic to rswho must have granted them the same status asthe ir own chi ld ren a ft er the war was ove r. As far a swe can te ll , judging f rom the prac tices of modernprimitives, the only material gain from war was theultimate growth of the victorious group.


    I twas on ly much la te r- though we know noth -ing about the da te o f this change- tha t the victor ssaw the possibi li ty of putting their prisoners to use

    by reducing them to slavery. The possibi li ty of in-creasing the labor force and decreasing the effortnecessary for the survival of the group was quicklyappreciated. Thus, cat tle rearing and agricul ture,which had begun in Neoli thic t imes, prospered be-cause of the increased work force, which in turn al-lowed for a relative idleness on the part of thewarriors. And complete idleness on the part of theirchiefs.

    Before the arrival of war and slavery, embryoniccivilization had been based upon the activity of freemen who were all essentially equal. But slavery wasborn ofwar. Slavery played an important part in the


    Maenadsters {Mactury B.C.

    division of society into opposing classes. The war-r iors were able to amass great wealth through warand slavery, simply by endangering, first of all, theirown lives, and then by endangering the lives oftheir fel low men. The bir th of eroticism precededthe division of humanity into free men and slaves.But in pa rt, e rot ic p leasu re depended upon soc ia lstatus and the possession of wealth.

    In primitive conditions, erotic pleasure was con-sequent upon the charm, physical vigor, and intelli-gence of the men, and the beauty and youth of thewomen. For the women, beauty and youth re-mained dec isive . But thi s soci ety, wh ich came ofwar and slavery, believed in the importance of

    privilege.The syst em of pr iv il ege made pros ti tut ion the

    normal channel for eroticism, making it dependenton an individual's power or wealth, and dooming itto live as a lie. We should not be mistaken aboutthis: between prehistory and classical antiquity, sex-ual l ife went astray, i t became ankylose because ofwar and slave ry. Marr iage guaran teed a place for


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    necessary procreation. This place was rendered allthe more difficu lt in tha t f rom the beginning thefreedom enjoyed by males tended to let them strayfrom the house . Today, even now, humani ty hashardly got out of this rut.


    Ithyphallic characters andmaenads (Macedonia).

    Bibliotheque Narionale, MedalionCabinet.

    In the long run, one essential fact isclear:emerg-

    ing from the misery of the Paleolithic period, hu-man ity en co un tered evils th at mu st h ave beenunknown in the earliest times. The practice of warapparently dates from the beginning of these newtimes.!+Although nothing very precise isknown onthis subject, the arrival of war on the scene, at leastin principle, must have marked the decline of mate-rial civilization. The animal art of the late Paleo-lithic-which lasted some twenty thousand years-disappeared. At least it disappeared from the Fran-co-Cantabrian region.P nowhere did anything asbeautiful, as grand, take its place. At least nothingknown to us.

    Human life, emerging from its initial simplicity,

    chose the accursed path of war. Ruinous war, warthat led to degradation, war that led to slavery,andled in addition to prostitution. 16

    1.4.Toward theend o~th~Paleolithic andprobably during thetransi-non f ro": , t he Paleo li th ic to the Neo li th ic per iod, known as theMesolithic period. See above, P: 57, note 12.

    15. Roughly the southwest of France and the north of Spain. Seeabove, p. 46

    16. I~prostitution was n~t .atfirst ne~ess.arilysomething degrading(conslde.rfor example rell~lous prosntunon, sacredprostitution), itvery.qu~cklyended up, with the onset of servile poverty, in baseprostitution.




    In the early years of the nineteenth century, He-g el tri ed t o sh ow that the rep er cus sion s o f w~ r,which stemmed from slavery, also had a benehcialaspect."?According to Hegel, contemporary manhad little in common with the aristocratic warriorofearly times. In principle, contemporary man wasthe worker. The rich themselves worked, asdid ingeneralthe dominant classes.They worked, at least

    in moderation.Itwas the slave,in any case, and not the warrior,

    who by means ofwork changed the world; and it isthe slave,in the end, who ischanged in his essencebywork. Work changed him to the extent tha t hebecamethe only authentic creator of the wealth ofcivilization; in particular, intelligence and knowl-edgeare the f ru it s of the labor to which the s lavewas const ra ined , working in the f irst p lace in re-sponseto the orders of his master. It isin this way,we should point out , tha t work engendered man.Those who do not work, who are dominated bytheshameof work-the rich aristocrat ofthe ancien re-gimeor those with private means today-are mererelics. Industrial wealth, which isthe pleasure of to-day'sworld, isthe result of thousands of years' work

    on the par t of the ens laved masses , the unhappymultitude, which since Neolithic times has been

    composed of slavesand workers.Henceforth, work is what is decisive in the

    world. War itself poses above all industrial prob-lems, problems that industry alone can settle.

    But, before the idle ruling class,which drew itsstrength from wars, fell into its present state of de-generation, its idleness tended to detract somewhatfrom its importance. (Those who leave to others thetedious, exacting effort of work areultimately beset

    17.In T h e P h e no m e no l og y o f M i n d(1806).

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    by a veritable curse.) Everywhere, aristocracy fairlyquickly gave its elf ove r o f i ts own accord to deca-dence . Thi s is a p rinc ipl e tha t was formulated by aTunisian Arab writer of the fourteenth century. Ac-cording to Ibn Khaldoun, the victors, who hadadopted an urban lifestyle, were one day conqueredbynomads, whose tougher l ife had kept them up tothe challenges ofwar. But we must apply this law toa larger domain. Asa general rule, the use ofwealthin the long run leads to a grea ter re sil ience on the

    part of the poor. At f irst , the richest have superiormaterial resources. The Romans maintained theirdomina tion because for a long t ime they had hadthe advantage of superior military tactics. But a daycame when this advantage weakened, because of anincreased aptitude for war among the barbarians andalso, on the Roman side, a decrease inthe number ofsoldiers.

    Satyrs and maenad (deta ilf rom a six th century Greekvase).

    Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen.


    But the role of mil ita ry se rvi ce in wars was s ig-nif icantonly in the beginning. Within the l imits ofa given material civilization, stabilized by a lastingadvantage, the underprivileged classes benefit froma moral vigor which, in spite of their materialstrengths, islacking in the privileged classes.

    We must now turn to the problem of e rot ic ism,whose importance isno doubt secondary, but whichhasan important place in antiquity, a place it has losttoday.

    Detail ofsixth cen


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    . In~smuch aser~ticism had anymeaning in antiq-~lty, inasmuch asIt had any role in human activity,Itwas not always to the aristocrats-which meantin those days , anyone who had at tained the privi-

    leges of wealth18-that this role accrued. Indeed itwas above all the religious restlessness of the have-nots in the aristocrats' shadow that determined themeaning of eroticism.

    Wealth, of course, played its part. Asfar asestab-l~she.dpractices were concerned, marriage and pros-titution meant that the possession of women tendedto depend on money.But within this brief surveyoferoticism in antiquity, I must firstof all consider re-ligious eroticism, especially the orgiastic religion ofDionysos . With in the Dionys iac cult , money inprinciple played no part, or played only a secondaryrole ( like a s ickness in the body) . Those who tookpar t in Dionysiac orgies were often have-nots ,

    sometimes even slaves. According to the time andthe place, social class and wealth varied. (We havehardly any information about this. But we neverreally have any definite evidence.)

    It is impossible to say anything with exactitudeabo?t the importance of such a dissolute activity,which seems to have had no uniformity whatsoever.As th ere was n ot really an y u nif ied Dion ysi acchurch, the rites varied with time and place. Thuswe have only a very uncertain knowledge aboutthem.

    18. InGreece. atleast .a birth that was not backedup bywealth hadno legal status.

    Nobody took the trouble to inform posterity. No

    one would have been able to do so with a des iredpreclSlon.

    We canjust about say with certainty that beforethe f irst centuries of the Roman Empire, a t least ,aristocraticrevelers played no important part in the

    sects.In the beginning, in Greece, asfar aswe can tell,

    the practice of the Bacchanalia had on the contrarythe sense of a surpassing of sensualist eroticism.Dionysiac practices were at first violently religious;itwasan enflamed movement, itwas amovement ofsel f loss . Yet this movement, on the whole , i s sopoorly known that the links between the Greek the-aterand the cult of Dionysos are difficult to locate.

    Dancingthe potteHieron (

    Cc hpltanc hMpl


    - ~ - ---

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    But i twould not besurprising if the origin oftrage-dy i s in some way linked to thi s vio lent cul t. Thecult of Dionysos was in essence tragic. At the sametime it was erotic, i t was so in i ts frenzied disorderbut we know that to the extent that the cult ofDionysos was e roti c, it was tr agi c. Tragic , more -over, above all , and eroticism ended up bringing itinto a domain of tragic horror.


    In considering eroticism, the human mind ISfaced with its most fundamental difficulty.

    Eroticism, in a sense, is laughable ..... ~ ll usion to the e roti c i s a lways capable o f a rous -mg Irony.

    Even in speaking ofthe tears ofEros, I could givein to laughter . .. . Eros isnonetheless tragic. Aboveall , Eros is the tragic god.

    We know that for the ancients, Eros had apuerileaspect: i t had the face of a young child.

    But after all , isnot love all the more anguishing

    in that i t moves us to laughter?The founda tion o f e ro ti cism is the sexua l act.

    Now, this act issubject to a prohibi tion. I t' s incon-ceivable! making love is prohibited! Unless you do itin secret.

    But ifwe do it in secret the prohibi tion transfig-ures what i t prohibi ts and illumines i t with a glow,at once sinis ter'? and divine: in a word, i t i lluminesi t with a rel igious glow.

    The prohibition gives its own value to what itproh ib it s. Of ten , a t t he ve ry moment I se ize upon


    19.The lighting of obscenity, like that of crime, islugubrious.

    the intention to refrain, I ask myself i f, on the con-trary, I have not been deceitfully provoked!

    Prohibition gives to what it proscribes a meaningthat in i tself the prohibi ted act ion never had. A pro-hibited act invites transgression, without which theact would not have the wicked glow which issose-duc tive . In the tr ansgress ion of the p rohibi ti on a

    spell is cast. ..I t isnot only eroticism that emits this glow. It ISa

    glowing that also illumines religious life each timefull violence comes into action, the kind of violencethat comes into play when death opens the throat-and ends the lif e-of the v ic tim.

    A maenad aplate signed

    Cf. Lp.29,T h e



    ... ----- _

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    Sa ty rs a nd ma en ad , fi ft hcentury B.C. Detai l f rom aGreek vase.

    Fine Art s Museum, Bos ton. Cf. ErnstPfuhl: M e i st e rw e rk e e t c. o p . c i t .

    Satyr and maenad. Plat esigned by Hieron.

    Louvre (G. 144).

    Sacred!In advance, the syll able s of th is word a re bu r-

    dened with anguish, and the weight which burdens

    is that of death in the sacrifice. .. .Our ent ire l ife isburdened with death . .. .But, in me, definitive death has the sense of a

    strange victory. I t bathes me with i ts glow, i t opensin me an infinitely joyous laughter: that ofdisappearance!................................................................................


    If! had not, in these few phrases, enclosed myselfin tha t moment when death dest roys be ing, howcould I speak about this "little death" in which,wi thout actually dying, I coll apse in a feel ing oftriumph!


    There is much more in e rot ic ism than we are a tfirst led to believe.

    Today, nobody recognizes that eroticism isan in-sane wor ld whose depths , f ar beyond i ts e the realforms, are infernal.

    I have given a lyrical form to the insight I amnow proposing, which would affirm a link betweendeath and eroticism. But on this I insis t: unless i t isgiven to us in a ll it s sudden dep th , the meaning oferoticism wil l escape us. Eroticism isf irs t of all themost moving ofrealities; but it isnonetheless, at thesametime, the most ignoble. Even after psychoanal-ysis, the contradictory aspects of eroticism appear insome way innumerable; t he ir p rofundi ty is r el i-gious-i t ishorrible, i t is t ragic, i t iss ti ll inadmissi-ble . Probably all the more sobecause i t isdivine.

    In relat ion to the simplif ied reali ty that isa l imitfor mankind asa whole, eroticism isa ghast ly mazewhere the lost ones mus t tr emble. Th is i s the onlyway to come close to the truth of eroticism: torremble.P?

    Prehistoric man knew this when he linked hisexcitement to an image buried in the pit of the Las-caux grotto.s!

    The votaries of Dionysos, who were able to con-join the ir impul se to that o f the bacchante s, wereaware of this when, lacking children of their own,they tore with their teeth and devoured live goats. 22

    20. See above , p . 25, and below, p . 142 .

    21. See above, pp. 34-38.

    22. I may seemdifficult to understand here; but rather than goingon, I refer the reader to the relevant chapters of mybook.

    -- -- ---

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    At this point, I would like to explain the religiousmeaning of eroticism.

    The meaning of eroticism escapes anyone whocannot see its religious meaning!

    Reciprocally, the meaning of religion in its total-i ty e scapes anyone who d is regards the l ink it has

    with eroticism.

    First Iwill t ry to give an image ofreligion that inmy view 23 accords with its essence, with its origin.

    The es sence of r el ig ion is to s ing le out cer ta inacts as guilty acts, namely prohibited ones.

    Religious prohibi tion proscribes on principle aspecific act , but i t can at the same time give a valueto what it proscribes. It is sometimes even possible,or even presc ribed, to v iol ate the proh ibi ti on, totransgress i t. But above all , the prohibi tion deter-mines the value-a dangerous value in principle-of that which i t denies: roughly, this value isthat ofthe "forbidden fruit" of the first chapter of Genesis.

    ~3.It light of this statement ofprinciple about the mean-mg of re~lglonthat a general account of Dionysiac religion cantakeon meanmg.

    It isbanalto understand religion interms of moraliry, which valueof anact depend upon itsconsequences. Butin religion, acts have essentially their immediate value,a sacredval-ue. It isof coursepossible (and important) to take a sacred value assomething useful(in w.hichcaseone treats this value asa strength).B.utasacred.valueremains nonetheless in itsvery principle an imme-diate v.alue:Ithasmea~ing only in the instant ofthis transfiguration,;-vheremwe pass precisely from usevalueto ultimate value,a valueindependent from anyeffect beyond the instant itself, and which isfundamentally an aesthetic value.

    Kant sa",:w~ere t~is problem ,:"asloc.ated,but there isprobablyan escapebU1~tnto ?ISstatement (Ifhe did not seethat hispositionpr~~upposes,in anyJudgment, a prior agreement on utility, againstutility).

    7 0

    This value turns up again in the feasts, during thecourse of which what was ordinarily excluded wasallowed and even required. Transgression, for thet ime of the feast , isprecisely what gives the feast i tsmarve lous aspect, i ts d ivine aspect. Among thegods, Dionysos is the one essential ly l inked to thefeast .Dionysos is the god of the feast , the god ofre-ligious transgression. Dionysos isseen most often asthe god of the vine and ofdrunkenness. Dionysos isa drunken god, the god whose divine essence is

    madness. But , to begin with, madness is i tself of di-vine essence. Divine, which is to say, i t denies thelaw of reason. '

    We usual ly associate rel igion with law and rea-son.But ifwe confine ourselves to what grounds re-ligions a s a w h ol e,we are forced to reject this notion.


    Munich, MPfuhl, M e

    Maenad(fifth ce

    .- ---------

    Maenad i n a t rance. Am-phora from the fifthcentury.Munich (2344).

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    Etruscan vase (fifth or sixthcentury B.C.) (copy).Ins ti tu te f ii r Sexua lfor schung .Vienna.


    Religion is doubtlessly, even in essence, subver-sive: it turns away from the observance of laws. Atleast, what it demands is excess, sacrifice, and thefeast, which culminates in ecstasy.>


    In wanting to give a striking image of religiouseroticism, I was led to considerations of great com-plexity. The question concerning the relationshipsbetween ero ticism an d r eligio n is all th e mor eunwieldy in that the religions flourishing today aregenerally content to deny or exclude them altogeth-er. It istrite to allege that religion condemns eroti-

    24..I shall haveto give a rather rapid account of the facts in theirentirety.

    The Triumph ojPriapus, post-Renaissance interpretation by Francesco

    cism, while eroticism is , ess entially an d in itsorigins, associated with religious life. The individ-ualized eroticism of our modern civilizations, byreason indeed of this individualistic character, no

    longer has any l ink to rel ig ion-unless i t i s in theultimate condemnation of eroticism's disorder assomething opposed to the meaning of religion."

    This condemnation, however, is inscribed withinthe history of religions: its place isa negative one,but it hasa place. I say this here parenthetically, be-ing obliged to set asidefor another work (inevitablyphilosophical in nature), the development that such

    25.One still findssomevague remnants that lend to Christianity (orat leastto this opposite of Christianity: Satanism) an erotic aspect:butafter Huysmans. Satanism lost the topical value that this writerdescribed atthe end ofthe nineteenth century in VI Bas. As far a s Icantell. these remnants arenothing more than commercially organizedcomedies.

    . - _---

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    an affirmation would require. Indeed, I have arrivedat the dec is ive moment in human li fe . In cas tingeroticism out of rel igion, men reduced rel igion to autilitarian morality. Eroticism, having lost itssacredcharacter, became unclean.

    I wil l restr ict myself for the moment to movingfrom these general considerations regarding the cultof Dionysos to a rapid exposit ion of what we knowabout certain fairly longstanding pract ices= thatbrought rel igious eroticism to the stage most wor-

    thy of our attention.Withou t any doub t, what we are dealing with

    here, in its essence, is the persistence of an obsession,which grew out of a purely mythological or r itualexistence. Dionysos was the god of transgressionand of the feast . He was a t the same time, a s I havesaid, the god of ecstasy and madness. Drunkenness,the orgy, and eroticism are the manifest aspects of agod whose traits are blurred in his profound frenzy.Beyond this drunken f igure, i t is true , we can dis -cern an archaic agricul tural divinity. In his oldestform, this f igure is related to material and agrarianpreoccupations, and is l inked to peasant l ife. Butvery quickly the concerns of the worker in the fields

    are lef t behind for the disorderl iness of drunkennessand madness .In the beginning, Dionysos was not agod of wine. In sixth-century Greece, the cul tiva-tion of the vine did not have the impor tance it wassoon to take on.

    Dionysiac madness was in fact a restrained mad-ness, considerate of the interests of its victims: onlyrarely was death the outcome. The fr enzy of the

    Fauns and Bacchant (after a watercolor, for Hancarville).

    26.A matter of at leasta millennium. It seems likelymoreover thatthe Dionysianisrn of the sixth century was a continuation of somealready very ancient customs. It isalsopossible that the Satanism towhich Imadereference islinked ingeneral to thecontinuance ofthecult of Dionysos (see pp. 70-72).

    The salonin Pompeicentury A

    " . .. t he bl a o f M y si m ag in ef in ed c ero ur e ra . .

    maenads reached such a pitch that only tearing apartl iving children, their own children, seems to haveappeased their fury. We cannot affirm with certain-tythat such excessesreally took place during the rit-ua ls .But when they had no ch ildren of thei r own,the frenzied maenads would tear apart and devouryoung goats-kids whose agonized crying differedlittle from the weeping ofbabies.27

    But if we know about the fury of the Bacchana -lia,we know nothing exact about how it developed.Other elements must have been added to i t. Imagesfound on Thrac ian coins he lp us imagine the de -rangement that must have reigned during a descentinto orgy. These coins represent only the archaic as-pects of the Bacchanal ia . The images portrayed onvasesin the centuries that followed help us see whatthese rituals were like, where licentiousness was therule. These late representations, on the other hand,alsohelp us realize that a development took place,after which the inhuman violence of its origins dis-appeared. The beauti fu l pa intings in the Vil la ofMysteries in Pompeii let usimagine the grandeur at-tained by refined ceremonies in the first century ofour era. What we know of the bloody repression of

    27.Asachild, I wasfilledwith anguish when Iused to hear thecrieso f the young goa ts in f ront o f my house , a s they came under thebutcher's knife.

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    186A.D., asrecounted by Livy, isthe basis ofcertaindoubtful accusat ions which served as the start ingpoint for a polit ical campaign destined to thwart adebil itat ing exotic influence. (In Italy, the cul t ofDionysos-in spite of there being a Latin Dionysos,the god Liber-was considered an oriental import. )The allegat ions of Tacitus and the narratives of Pe-tronius lead us to believe that, at least in part, Dion-ysiacpractices degenerated into vulgar debauchery.

    On the one hand, we believe that the popularityofDionysos in the first centuries of the empire wassuchthat his cult might have been considered a seri-ous rival to Christianity. O'n the other hand, the lat-erexistence of a more sober Dionysianism, a decentDionysianism, seems to indicate that the fear of de-rangement forced those fai thful to Dionysos to re-nounce the virulence of earlier times.

    Pan. Gr

    - - - - ~ ~-- -- - - -~-------- ----

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    Spranger: Las t Judgment(de-tail).

    L ik e T hi er ry B ou ts a nd Van d erWey-d e n , B a r t h o lo m e us S p r an g e r, a l th o u g ha m a nn er is t, a ls o e xp lo it ed t he " la stj u dg m e n t" i n o r d er t o r e pr e se n t n u d it y.Cf p p 8 1- 82 .urin.




    TO SATANISM)In the history of eroticis~, the Christian religion

    had this role: to condemn it. To the extent thatChris tianity ruled the world, i t a ttempted to l iber-ate it from eroticism.

    But ifwe want to come to a conclusion about theconsequences of this, we are obviously in a predic-ament.

    Christianity was, in a sense, favorable to theworld of work. It valorized work at the expense ofsensual pleasure. Of course, it turned paradise intothe world of immediate-as well as eternal-sat is-faction. But f irst i t made paradise the outcome ofan

    effort, the outcome of labor.In asense, Christianity isa link that made the out-

    come of labor-the labor, primari ly, of the ancientworld-the prelude of a world of work.

    We have increasingly seen how, for the ancientwor ld, the ul timate objec t of r eli gion was the li febeyond the grave, sothat supreme value was grantedto th is f ina l outcome, and then was immedia te lywithdrawn. But Chris tianity stressed this. To thepleasures of the moment i t lef t only a sense of guiltin relation to the final objective. From the Christianperspective, eroticism compromised or at least de-layed the final outcome, paradise.

    - --- - ----~-------~~

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    But this tendency had its counterpart: it wasthrough condemnation that Chris tianity i tself at-tained its burning value.

    Soit was with Satanism. Satanism, being the ne-gat ion of Chris tianity, had meaning only to the ex-tent tha t Chr ist iani ty appeared to be true . (How-ever, the negation of Christianity finally came to bethe quest for oblivion.)

    Satanism had a role -e spec ia ll y toward the endof the Middle Ages-but because of i ts origin i t wasdeprived of any viability. Eroticism was necessarilyl inked to thi s drama . Satan ism fat ally doomed itsfollowers to the same misfor tune tha t be fe ll it , tothat same curse of which Satan was the first victim.Certainly, the possibi li ty of error played a part: thedemon, i tseems, had the power to bestow good for-tune. But such anappearance proved inthe end tobedeceptive. The inquisition had the power todisabuse.

    Fortune, without which eroticism inevitably re-sult ed in misfortune, its opposite, could only besought in ruse and strategy. But as strategy, eroti -cism lost i ts grandeur: i t was reduced to trickery. In

    the long run, the trickery oferot icism came to seemi ts e ssence . Dionysi ac eroti ci sm was an a ff irma-t ion-like all eroticism, which isin part sadistic-bu t in th is r el ative t ricke ry, a ff irmat ion becamemore and more oblique.s"

    2 8. B ut t he re w as o ne c ap it al e xc ep ti on : S ad e. I w il l c om e b ac k t o t h is(pp. 103-128).


    Thierry Bouts (1400-1475): Hell(detail)Louvre.

    If t h e M i d d l e A g e s r e pr e se n te d ~ u d i ty,i t w a s o n ly t o s ho w t he h o rr or o f I t. T he

    f em al e n ud es o f t he F le mis h p ai nte rT hi er ry B ou ts d o n o t r ep el t he s pe ct a-t or , b ut t he y i nc ar na te t he h or ro .r o fd a m n at io n . I n Ve n ic e a n o th e r p a in t err e pr e se n te d n u di ty : t h is w a s t o s h o w t h ec or ps es o f v ic ti ms o f t he d ra go n S t.G eo rg e w a s t o s l ay . Van d er Wey de nb r ou g ht t o t h e h o r ro r o f t h eLast Judg-ment th e n ud it y T he ir ry B ou ts h ads i tu a te d i n h e ll ( se e o v er ). A n d s o , l a te r ,d id Sp ra ng er . C j p . 7 8.


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    Carpaccio: Sa in t G eo rg e a nd theDragon (detail)

    Venice, S.Giorgio.


    The Middle Ages assigned a place to eroticism inpainting: it relegated it to hell!29The painters ofthist ime worked for the Church. And for the Church ,e rot ic ism was sin. The only way it cou ld f igu re inpainting was assomething condemned. Only repre-sentations of hel l-only repulsive images of sin-could furnish it a place.

    Things changed with the Renaissance. Theychanged, especially in Germany, even before themedieval form was abandoned-from the momentart lovers began buying erotic paint ings. Only therichest in those times had the means to commissionprofane paintings. Engravings were somewhat lessexpensive. But even engravings were not within ev-eryone's means.

    These l imits must be taken into account . The re-flection of passion depicted in these paintings isdis-

    Van der Weyden: T he L as t J ud g-ment(detail)

    29. ~ee the representation ofhell inpainting, pages 78, 81, and 82.But 10 Dante's poem, Paolo and Francesca achieved sublimelove inhell.

    Hospice de Beaume.


    torted. These paintings and engravings do notappeal, as did medieval imagery, to a general audi-ence, a popular forum. But the people themselveswere subject to the violence of passion: violencecould playa part in the raref ied world from whichemerged this art born of the night .

    We must indeed take these limits into account. Inpart, the reflection of passion in these paintings-orin these engravings-is dis torted. These paint ings:mdengravings do no t tr ansla te a common senti-ment, asthe imagery of the Middle Ages had done.Nonetheless the violence of passion played a part inthis erotic art born from 'the night of the rel igiousworld, of this surviving world, which piouslycursed all works of the flesh.

    The works o f Alb recht Dure r, Lucas Cranach,and Baldung Gr ien appeal to thi s st il l unce rt ainl ight of day.Because of this, their erotic value isinsomeway poignant. I tdid not enter a world ready towelcome it. Here we find a flickering, and even fe-verish glow. Clearly, the large hats of Cranach's fe-male nudes partake of an obsession to provoke. To-day,such isour frivolity that we could be tempted tolaugh at them. But we owe more than a feelingof amusement to the man who represen ted a longsawcutti ng into the c rot ch of a naked to rtu re vic -t im, hung by his feet . .. .

    F rom the time that a di st an t, of ten bruta l e rot i-ci sm ente red in to thi s world, we have found our-selvesfacing the terrible alliance between eroticismand sadism.

    Erotic ism and sadi sm are no less l inked in theworks of Alb rech t Durer than in Cranach or Bal-dung Grien. But it is to death-to the vision ofdeath as a ll -power fu l, a te rr ifying death whichnonetheless draws us toward an enchantment ladenwith a ll the t error s of wit chc ra ft- it i s t o death , to

    ._- ---= ---- -- - -

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    B 4

    Durer: T h e D e at h o f O r p h eu s,aftera painting by Mantegna(lost).

    Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Durer: Couple (1523).

    -_--- - -- __ ~-. - - -- -

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    Cranach: D e at h o f L u cr et iu s,one of the f ivepa in ted by

    Cranach.Museede Besancon,

    Cranach: Ve nu s a n d L o ve .

    Galleria Borghese, Rome.


    the rot ofdeath, and not to pain, that Baldung Grienl inks the attract ion of eroticism. A lit tle later theseassociations will disappear: mannerism will liberatepainting from them! But it is not until the eigh-teenth century that an eroticism that issure of i tselfcomes to light: libertine eroticism.



    Of all erotic paint ing, the most seductive tome isthat which has been named mannerism. Mannerismismoreover little known today. In Italy, mannerism

    -- - - - -- -- -- ~-

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    B B

    " ... w e o w e m o re th an a f ee l-in g o f a mus em en t to th e m anw h o r e p re s en t ed a l o ng s a w c u t-t in g i nt o t he c ro tc h o f a n ak edtor turev ic t im hungby hisfeet."Cf p. 83.

    Cranach: T he S aw.

    Bibliorheque Nationale.

    Cranach: J ud it h a nd t he H e adof Holofernes .

    Gemaeldegalerie, Vienna.

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    " th ei r e ro ti c v al ue i s i n s om ew a y p o ig na n t. I t d i d n ot e nt er aw o r ld r e ad y t o w e lc o m e i t . H e r ew e f in d a f l ic k e ri n g, e v en f e ve r -is h g lo w." C f p . 8 3.

    Hans Baldung Grien: Lovea n d D e a th ( Va ni ta s) , 1 5 10 .


    Hans Baldung Grien: Deatha nd t he Wo m an ,(iSiS).


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    Hans Baldung Grien: Th eWom a n a nd t he P hi lo so ph er ,(1513). (Cf. p. 117.)

    9 2

    Hans Baldung Grien: judith,(ISIS).


    Hans Baldung Grien: Lucre-tius, (1520).


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    began with Michelangelo. In France, the Ecole deFontainebleau represented it marvelously. With theexception of Michelangelo.>? the painters of the

    Hans Baldung Grien: H e r cu le s a n dOmphale.

    3 0. Wit h t he e xc ep ti on o f M ic he la ng el o and EI Greco. But I ams pe ak in g o nl y o f e ro ti c m an ne ri sm h er e, a nd a s i t s ee ms t o m e , e ro ti -c is m t ou ch es t he v er y e ss en ce o f m a nn er is m. I s h ou ld t he re fo re s ta tet o wh at e xt en t a nd i n w hat w ay E I G re co i s r el ate d t o m an ne ri sm.H e i s r el at ed t o i t i n t h e s am e w ay t he m ys ti ci sm o f a S ai nt A ng el a o fFol igno or a Saint Theresa of Avi la is l inked to a fai ling Chris tianity,i n w hi ch c on ce rn o ve r t he f ut ur e- wh ic h i s e ss en ti al ly w ha t g ro un dsC hr is ri an ir y- s- ha s g iv en w ay t o a c on ce rn w it h t he p re se nt m om en t( wh ic h I s ai d c al ls f or v io le nc e, f or t he i nt en si ty o f e ro ti ci sm ).

    CoIl. J. Masson, Ecole des Beaux-A r t s, P a r is .

    9 4

    Bernard van Orley (1491-1542):

    N e pt un e a n d t h e N y m p h .Brussels.

    Hans Baldung Grien: A dam andEve .


    mannerist school are l it tle appreciated. They have

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    pp yon the whole gone unrecognized. The Ecole deFontainebleau ought to have another place in paint-ing. And the names of Caron.>' Sp range r and VanHaar lem do not dese rve the ob liv ion into whichthey have more or lessfallen. They loved the "angelof the bizarre," they revived the forces of sensation.Classicism disdained them. But what is sobriety ifnot the fear ofeverything that isnot lasting, at leastof tha t which seems as i f it wil l not la st. For thesesame reasons, El Greco himself stopped attracting

    a ttent ion. Most manne ris ts , i t i s true , had none ofthe violence of El Greco-but eroticism harmedthem.

    31.Antoine Caron (born inBeauvais, 1520;died in Paris,1598)wastrained in theEcolede Fontainebleau under the direction of thePri-matice. Hispainting islinked to thestyleof Niccolo dell'Abate, buthis"madness" greatly exceedsthe scaleof hismastersand those whoinspired him.

    Giulio Romano (1492-1562): J u -piter (asa dragon) vis it s Olympia .

    Fresco, Pavia.

    9 6

    Jan Gossaert: M e t am o r p ho s is o f S a l-m a d s i nt o a H e rm a ph r od it e.

    Museum Boymans, Rotterdam.

    --~~~~--~----~-~~--~~------- - --_ - -~~~-~-- - - -

    Correggio (1489-1534}:Ju- 'i

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    F lo ra a n d R a m .Tapestry afterBronzino (1502-1572).98

    Pieri , F lorence .

    p il er a n d 10. Engraving byFrancescoBartolozzi.

    l I ibl io theque Nat ionale .

    I should point out that other painters, lessbold if

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    Pon to rmo [1494-1557] (af te rMichelangelo): Leda.

    National Gallery, London.

    no less obsessed, were emerging around the sameperiod, and along similar l ines. Tintoretto was ElGreco's master, just as Tit ian was for all pract icalpurposes the mast er o f Tintorett o. Bu t in pa rt be-cause in Italy (particularly in Venice) classicism andit s coll apse were l ess f elt , the manne rism and thee ro ti cism of Ti tian-and of Tin toret to-were l es sdisturbing. Whereas El Greco's mannerism soshocked seventeenth-century Spain that the eclipseofone of Europe's most unusual painters lasted very

    nearlythree centuries. In France, where the excessesofEl Greco would never have aroused any interest,Poussin's erotic obsession, which at least in princi-pleran counter to hisclassicism, apparently encoun-tered no resis tance. If he ever betrayed himself , i twasabove al l i n an unused sket ch ( see p. 121).

    SchoolG ab riSister

    --_ ----_. ~ .-----------~ -- - ----~

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    School of Fontainebleau:T h e Te ar s o f E r o s.Thispaint-ing, long attributed toRosso, is known under thetitle of "Venus Weeping forthe Death ofAdonis."

    Musee d'Algers.

    10 2


    A radical change took place in eighteenth-cen-tury libertine France. The eroticism ofthe sixteenthcen tu ry had been heavy. It cou ld go hand in handwith a frenzied sadism, asi t did for example in thework ofAntoine Caron. Eroticism in Boucher shift-ed in the dir ec tion o f lightness . Lightness mighthavemade an appearance then only to open the wayfor heaviness .... Sometimes laughter sets the stage

    SchD itheby P

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    School of Fontainebleau: Sa -b i na P o p p ae a .


    10 4

    School of Fonta inebleau:Wom an w it h R ed L ily .

    Coli. of the Marquis de Biencourt ,Paris.

    fo r a heca tomb. But the e ro tic ism of those t imesknewnothing ofthe horrors towhich i twasjust theprelude.

    Boucher probably never met Sade. Whatever ex-cessesof horror may have obsessed him throughouthiswho le l if e- and which make up the f ier ce t ale sof his books-Sade knew how to laugh. 32 Weknow, however, that during a brief stopover on the

    SchP r o


    3 2. P h il o so p hy i n t h e B e d ro o misan amusing book: it l inks horror toamusement.


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    I I



    Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Bartholome Spranger:School of Fontainebleau: Mars and Venus.

    1 06

    Petit Palais.

    ~~- ---- - - - -- -- . -- -- -- =-----~---~

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    Galleria Borghese, Rome.

    Jacopo Zucchi (1541-1 5 89 ): P s y ch e S ur p ri s es L o ve .

    11 0

    Cornelin u s a n

    wayfrom the prison atMadelonnet tes to one atPic-pus,ajourney which, had it not been for the Ther-

    midorian Reaction, would have ended on thescaffold, Sade was completely drained by the sightofthose being executed before his very eyes, on theordersof the Revolut ion.P But the l ife ofSade him-self! He spent thirty years of his l ife in prison, but ,more than that, he peopled his sol itude with innu-merable dreams: d reams of t er rible sc reams andbloodied bodies. Sade endured this life, and endureditonly by imagining the intolerable. In his agitationthere was the equivalent o f an explos ion that torehim apart but suffocated him nevertheless.

    33.They had erected the guillotine in the prison garden.

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    Titian: Venus.

    Uflizi. Florence.

    Note tha t this i s the ( idea l) modelfor Manet's Olympia. C f. p 1 49 .

    l i 2

    Tit ian: Ariadne asleep, f rom theBacchanalia.The curious attitudeofthe child has rarely been noted.

    " r a d o . M a d r id .

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    ColI. Ehrmann. Paris.

    Tintoretto: Vu lc a n S ur p ri se s M a rsa n d Ve n us .


    Antoine-Caron: T he A p ot he os iso f S em e le .

    11 4

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    Tintoretto: J u di th a n d H o l o fe r n es .

    Prado, Madrid.

    11 6

    Vermeer of D


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    Ili lI'I'I


    Anonymous seventeenthcentury Flemish: S a in t J o hnthe Bapt is t(detail).

    Prado. Madrid.

    11 8

    Poussin: T

    " P ou s si nt he or y r ua p pa r en t lb e tr a ye d hunused sk

    Poussin: Hing by Be

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    I d d w. r c J : . ' r 6_y

    Rembrandt: J os ep h a n d P o ti ph a r' sWife (1634).

    Bibliorheque Nationale.

    1 20


    . -- - -

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    Rubens: Medusa .

    Gemaldegalerie, Vienna.

    12 2


    Rubens: TWar.

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    Boucher: P a s to r a l L o v er.Paintingcommissioned by Louis XV . Right:T he Tes t o f L o ve .


    HenryO p en H


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    Goya: The Old Women .

    Musee de Lil le .

    5. GOYA

    The problem opened up by the solitary sadness ofSade cannot be resolved through a tiresome effort

    that doesno more than put words into play. Only inhumor isan answer given to the ult imate quest ionofhuman life. The only way to respond tothe possi-bil ity ofovercoming horror is in arush ofthe blood.Each time, the response takes the form of a suddenleap into humor, and it means nothing but just thisleap into humor. I cou ld probably have ext ract edfrom Sade's language a move toward violence(though Sade's last years lead one to bel ieve that, asdeath approached, he was seized by a sinisterweariness). 34

    34. SeeG. Bataille, Erotism,pp. 170-173.

    12 8

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    Goya: Ta nt al us ( Th e C a pr i-chas). Goya: L o v e a n d D e a th .

    Bibliotheque Nationale. Bibliotheque Nationale.


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    The quest ion does not juxtapose one justi fiableway of seeing with another, unjusti fiable way. Itjuxtaposes contradictory nervous conditions, whichcan ultimately only be treated by sedatives or tonics.

    The ques tion is s til l a haunt ingly pa in ful one .Only one possibi li ty remains: to set an example offurious rage against one of depressed horror. Sadeand Goya lived at about the same time. 35 Sade,

    Goya: M a t ri m o ni a l M a d n es s .

    Bibliorheque Nationale.

    35. Goyawasborn six yearsafter Sade, in Spain.and died in Fran~efourteen yearsafter him. Goya was struck by complete deafness InBordeaux in 1792.

    13 2

    locked up in his prisons, sometimes at the extremeedge of madness; Goya, deaf for thi rty -s ix year s,locked up in a prison of absolute deafness. TheFrench Revolution awakened hope in both of them:both men had a pathological loathing of any regimefounded on rel igion. But more than anything else,an obsession with excessive pain unites them. Goya,unl ike Sade, did not associate pain with sensuouspleasure. Howeve r, hi s obsession with death andpain contained a convulsive violence that approxi-mates to eroticism. But eroticism isin a sense an out-let, an infamous outlet for horror. Goya's nightmare,

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    Goya: T h e C a n n ib a ls ( 1 ).

    li ke h is dea fness , impr isoned h im, making it hu -manly impossible to say whether Sade or Goya hadbeen more c rue lly impr isoned by fate . There i s nodoubt tha t even in h is abe rr ati on Sade had humanfeelings. Asfor Goya, he reached total aberration inhi s engravings, hi s drawings , and hi s pa in tings{without, i t is t rue, breaking any laws}; and more-usee de Besancon.

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    over, it may be that on the whole Sade remainedwithin the l imits of these laws. 36

    36. However, he only took to satisfying himself in imagination,through writing, in prison and ata latestage. Nowadays, the affairin Marseil les, which undoubtedly led to his being imprisoned forlife, would not have such graveconsequences.


    F r om H e ro d t o G i l le s d e R a i s.

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    Goya: T h e B e h ea d i ng .

    C ol I. Vil la go nza lo . C f. Re neHuyghe, Dialogl le avec le v isib le,Paris,1955.

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    Arcimboldo: P ortra it ofHerod .

    ColI.Cardazzo, Venice.

    Painting formerly belongingto the Liechtensteins, at thetime when Prince Karl(1563-1627) was viceroy ofBohemia.

    Machecoul: the chateau of Gillesde Rais.

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    Lacoste (Vaucluse): the chateau ofthe Marquis de Sade. Cf. pp. 111.

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    Sade knew of Gil les de Rais, and appreciated inthis man a hardness of stone. This hardness iswhatismost remarkable: "When the children final ly laydead , he would ki ss them . .. and choosing amongthem the most handsome ones with the finest limbs,he would set them aside to be admired and havetheir bodies cruelly opened up, relishing the sight ofthe ir inne r organs. " These words depr ive me for-ever of the possibi li ty of not trembling: "And very

    of ten . .. when the children were dying, he wouldsi t on their stomachs and take pleasure in seeingthem die thi s way, and he w ou ld la ug h a bo ut itwith[hi s servants ] Corr ill aut and Henr ie t . .. . " UI ti-mately, the sire de Rais, who had drunk to excessinorder to maximize his excitement, would fal l overin a heap. The servants cleaned up the room,washed away the blood ... , and while the mastersl ep t, they took care to burn the it ems of c loth ingone by one, want ing, they said, t o avo id the "badsmells. "37

    If he had known of the existence of ErzsebetBa thory, there i s not the s li gh te st doubt that Sadewould have felt t he f ie rcest exa lta ti on. Wha t heknew of Isabeau de Baviere sent him into raptures;Erzsebet Bathory would have made him howl l ike awild beas t. I s ay i t i n thi s book ; and I can do so only

    Erzebet Bath

    37. Cf. P r o ds d e G i l le s d e R a i s.Documents with an introduction byG.Bataille: Club francaisdu Livre, 1959.

    under the emblem of tears . I wri te these desolatephrases in a s ta te of mind qui te the oppos ite of thedelirious sangfroid that the name Erzsebet Bathorycallsup It isnot a question ofremorse nor ofa rage

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    callsup. isnot a question ofremorse, nor ofa rageof desireas it was in Sade'smind. It concerns open-ing consciousnessto the representation ofwhat manreally is. Faced with this representation, Christian-ity went into hiding. Beyond a doubt, mankind asawhole must forever remain in hid ing, but humanconsciousness-in pride and humility, with