Georges Bataille on Evil

Bataille On William Blake, Evil, and Energy:

Has the human being ever, for a single second, been able to discover an expression of liberty which rises above misery? In an eloquent world where logic reduces each thing to a certain order, William Blake spoke, on his own, the language of the Bible or the Vedas. By so doing he managed to restore life to original energy. So the truth of Evil which is essentially a rejection of subservience, is his truth. He is one of us, singing in the tavern and laughing with the children. He is never a ‘sad sire’, moralising and rational, who looks after himself and his money and slowly yields to the sadness of logic, without energy.

The moralist condemns the energy which he lacks. There is no doubt that humanity had to go through this phase. How could it survive if it had not denounced an excess of energy, if the very number of those who lacked energy had not brought those who had too much of it to their senses? But the necessity of adapting oneself ultimately demands a return to innocence. The marvellous indifference and childishness of William Blake, his feeling of ease when confronted with the impossible, his anguish which left boldness intact, all his defects and qualities were the expression of a simpler age and marked a return to lost innocence. Even a paradoxical form of Christianity can serve to indicate this; he is the only man to have seized with both hands, from two extremes, the roundabout of all times. Everything within him came to a halt before the necessity which entails laborious activity in a factory. He could not reply to the cold face animated by the pleasure of discipline. This sage, whose wisdom was close to folly, who was never disheartened by the work on which his liberty depended, did not have the self-effacement of those who ‘understand’, who surrender, renouncing victory. His energy rejected concessions to the spirit of work. His writings have a festive turbulence which gives the feelings he expressed a sense of laughter and liberty run loose. He never pursed his lips. The horror of his mythological poems is there to liberate us, not to flatten us: it reveals the great momentum of the universe. It calls for energy, never for depression.

– Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil

6 thoughts on “Georges Bataille on Evil

  1. Change your thoughts and you will change your destiny.

    Find a place inside where there is joy. And the joy will burn out the pain.

    Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.


    • Not sure I’d leave out Milton since his Blake’s major poem Milton resurrects that poet and incarnates his poetic genius in Blake himself… Blake in most of his prose elaborates Milton’s influence as the greatest one on his work. I studied Blake in detail back in my twenties and Rabelais, though the greatest of Menippean satirists and a pupil of Lucian would not be the first thought I’d have of Blake and his great poems… one of my first and abiding influences for Blake was both Northrup Frye’s Fearful Symmetry and the more historical variant by David V. Erdman’s Blake: Prophet Against Empire.

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      • Right, in a course I wouldn’t leave Milton out of the picture either. Blake certainly took Milton as his predecessor. But the error he said the spirit of Milton asked him to correct was the belief that sexual pleasure was the result of the Fall. I think this embrace of desire and energy is essential to his style and attitude, and this is what makes him unlike Milton and like Rabelais. “An Island in the Moon” is probably the best reference point for Blake’s sense of humor. H Bloom has made the argument for Blake’s satirical project pretty well, which corrects the trend to view him as an earnest mystic or theologian. I liked the quote because I think it accurately identifies the sort of person Blake was, which, in my experience, gets lost in the usual context of English poetry.


      • Well, my reference to that early work on Black by Erdman is the same: that Blake was a satirist of the Enlightenment project. I can see your point, although he’d be closer to Swift than Rabelais only in the sense that Menippean is a grand meal of the comic spirit. Blake was not a comic by any means, although he is a free spirit with the closeness to the gnostic sects of free love. 🙂

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