Bataille’s first novel, published under the pseudonym ‘Lord Auch’, is still his most notorious work. In this explicit pornographic fantasy, the young male narrator and his lovers Simone and Marcelle embark on a sexual quest involving sadism, torture, orgies, madness and defilement, culminating in a final act of transgression. Shocking and sacreligious, Story of the Eye is the fullest expression of Bataille’s obsession with the closeness of sex, violence and death. Yet it is also hallucinogenic in its power, and is one of the erotic classics of the twentieth century.
Warnings: Graphic Violence, Rape/Noncon, Piss Play, Underage Sexuality, Hysteria/Madness, Suicide
Category: M/F, F/F
Story of the Eye is an erotic novella published in 1928, and is one of the classics of the transgressive fiction genre. Brutally violent and macabre, it is a a short and not-so-sweet read that will leave modern readers perplexed, much like the much earlier works of the Marquis de Sade. As a short, and frankly bizarre work, it will be difficult to approach reviewing, as it does not conform to any of the usual expectations of literature.
This is written in a very short, punchy style that is elaborately descriptive of lewd acts and not much else. Its story is very simple; its a sexual coming of age narrative involving the main character and his childhood lover Simone as well as other partners they come across on their wild and violent sexual adventures. The writing doesn’t linger overly much on any given scene, and while it is quite pornographic in nature there isn’t a lot of drawing out of the eroticism in the prose. Acts are stated more than described, and the focal point is much heavier on the fetishes and violence within the story than necessarily on any story of itself.
Clearly, this is not meant to be a character piece. These characters are puppets, dolls, not intended to have great dynamic development or to inspire emotions. So what is the purpose of this story? To shock? To titillate? Perhaps simply to explore, to play within a realm of pure violence as a thought exercise. The second half of the book the author spends simply reminiscing about his, the author’s, childhood and how real events within his life inspired the fictional events of the pages of this narrative. The hows and whys to the sexual fantasies and fetishes that he depicts, the reasons for his fixations. This story, I think, can’t really be understood through the usual lenses with which I would understand a novel but rather as a pure flight of curiosity and working through of personal experiences. To that end the book is rather fascinating, and even engaging.
There is, unfortunately, a rather strong undercurrent of sexism through the stories worldbuilding. Women within this author’s imagination are beings of pure sexual hedonism, as we see in the character of Simone; given over to every lustful thought that comes to them. Or, as seen in Marcelle, destroyed by the powers of lust and driven mad by their own desires. Hysteria is a concept seen here, as Marcelle’s few sexual encounters leave her a screaming madwoman who has to be institutionalized. In both of these characters we see utter irrationality. They form a Madonna/Whore dichotomy while also maintaining womanhood as madness. While the men in the story are certainly vicious and violent in their own right as well, it is a given within this world that women are the real driving force behind sexual hedonism and sexual violence.
The sexual content in this story is graphic and violent, but also just a whole lot of strange. That its unsettling is a given, but it’s hard to really emphasize enough just how niche and esoteric it is. Its primary fetish is a fetish for eggs- and I don’t mean oviposition, Eggs cracked in butt cracks, eggs dropped in toilets, eggs rubbed all over skin. Lots of violence and death as well, not to mention piss content and rape. I wasn’t sure anything could ever shock me as viscerally as Justine, but my word, Story of the Eye did it. Now, for all that it is graphic in the extreme, its not really especially sexy or sensual in nature. I can’t tell if it’s meant to be titillating to sadists or just shocking in general. Maybe a bit of both, but either way it is not for the faint of heart.
Story of the Eye impressed me, and while it’s not exactly what I would consider entertaining reading there is certainly something to be said for something that actually made me feel things, even if those things were repulsion. Definitely worth reading if you’re curious about the genre, but for the love of reading mind the warnings.
Have you read Story of the Eye? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!