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Story of the Eye (1st City Lights ed) Paperback – January 1, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Only Georges Bataille could write, of an eyeball removed from a corpse, that "the caress of the eye over the skin is so utterly, so extraordinarily gentle, and the sensation is so bizarre that it has something of a rooster's horrible crowing." Bataille has been called a "metaphysician of evil," specializing in blasphemy, profanation, and horror. Story of the Eye, written in 1928, is his best-known work; it is unashamedly surrealistic, both disgusting and fascinating, and packed with seemingly endless violations. It's something of an underground classic, rediscovered by each new generation. Most recently, the Icelandic pop singer Björk Guðdmundsdóttir cites Story of the Eye as a major inspiration: she made a music video that alludes to Bataille's erotic uses of eggs, and she plans to read an excerpt for an album. Warning: Story of the Eye is graphically sexual, and is only for adults who are not easily offended.

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 103 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers; 1st City Lights ed edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872862097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872862098
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye (a novella that actually clocks in closer to a short story; you should be able to read it within a couple hours, at most) is thoroughly successful in realizing Bataille's goal--the creation of an intentionally disturbing mix of eroticism, insanity, wanton violence, surrealism, adventure, and even an occasional touch of comedy.
The author's note that appears at the end of the City Lights Books edition, translated by Joachim Neugroschel (based on the original 1928 version of the book, by the way; in later editions, Bataille revised the text so that it "differs so thoroughly in all details that one can justifiably speak of two distinct books" per Neugroschel), states the psychological sources of the material in a fairly straightforward way. Bataille's father was blind and had "huge, ever gaping" eyes. He was also paralyzed and would frequently relieve himself in front of Georges, sometimes accidentally. As if that wasn't tragic enough, he also went mad towards the end of his life, shouting out obscenities that shocked the strictly-raised Bataille. Shortly after this, Bataille's mother had a temporary mental breakdown, as well. The incident at the "haunted castle" actually happened, in part, and so on.
But although knowing the source material is informative, it's not necessary to enjoy the book, and Bataille extrapolates far beyond his experiences, strongly emphasizing the surrealist aspects (you can even interpret a fair amount of the book as a novelization of a handful of Dali paintings, imagined by a psychopath), and delivering the result in a beautifully terse prose--often bridging over to poetry--that owes as much to Steinbeck and Hemingway as it does to a more shocking Kafka.
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Format: Paperback
Georges Bataille often falls between the cracks of literary identificaton because his work straddles so many uncomfortable realms. A sometime-Surrealist who had a falling out with Andre Breton, Bataille's books are often compared to the Marquis de Sade's. Reading "Story of the Eye" it's not hard to see why: two teenage lovers experiment with their bodies and with foreign objects; eventually their erotic adventures include madness, torture, murder and the death of a bullfighter.
This is strange, heady stuff--fortunately the book is barely 100 pages long. This is underground literature at its finest, mocking the pretensions of culture, of decency, morality, and healthy sexuality. Bataille's style can be obtuse but can also illuminate dark, forbidden corners of humanity. If you're into de Sade, Wm. Burroughs, Surrealism, Clive Barker, the psychology of fetishism, or just want something to read that is light years from the crappy bestseller lists, read "The Story of the Eye" and introduce yourself to the unholy world of Georges Bataille.
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Format: Paperback
I wasn't sure what to make of The Story of an Eye when I first read it as an undergraduate in college twelve years ago. Recently rereading the book, I now have a clearer interpretation. I think the most interesting aspect of this book comes in Bataille's linking of his own "sexual perversions" to his childhood experiences with his father's eyes, urination, and the whole association of these experiences with eggs. It is facinating that Bataille apparently wrote this novella without the knowledge that he was dealing with parts of his childhood, but that all of this psychological material came through anyway. It made me contemplate my own childhood experiences and associations they have with my conceptions of sexuality as an adult. Another interpretation I have of this novella is that it is just a better-written version of de Sade. The Story of an Eye seeks to shock and offend in way that breaks down the repression of shame-based morality. In many respects, The Story of an Eye is just a listing of morally crude/violent sexual experiences. It's giving the finger to perceived patriarchal institutions such as the Catholic Church, mental hospitals, the government, parents, etc. by means of graphically describing perceived sexual "aberrations" in the eyes (no pun intended) of these institutions. The problem I have with this "sexual extremism = destruction of patriachy" philosophy is that this type of rebellion only creates the same type of violence and shame that it seeks to liberate people from. In my mind, the characters in The Story of the Eye become that which they rebel against. Still, this novella is well worth a read if you're a fan of rebellious sexual literature in the de Sade vein. It's also funny to think that The Story of the Eye was written around the same time of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
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Format: Paperback
There are two ways of looking at this extraordinary book:

1. It is one of the most intensely perverse pornographic books ever written, one in which normal sexuality takes a decidedly back seat to urolagnia, necrophilia, and other conditions with Greek names. Its main distinctions are that it is highly compact, unusually well-written, tightly structured in its use of recurring imagery, and so quickly moves from titillation to excess that it distances itself from the rest of the genre.

2. It is a seminal work by a major figure in 20th-century French culture, with significant ties to surrealism, deconstructionism, and psycholanalysis. Seen in this light, its cultural ties are significant and far-reaching. Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of the book is the postlude in which Bataille comments on the connections between this early novella and traumatic incidents in his own childhood, connections that he says he was unaware of at the time of writing. In effect, therefore, he is performing psychoanalysis on himself.

The trouble is that it takes somebody with considerable knowledge of mid-twentieth-century French thought to see #2 in #1. I imagine that the notes and essays in the Penguin Classics edition would be helpful in this respect; the City Lights Press edition, while attractively produced, just gives you the text (though usefully in the first edition, which most accurately shows the book's place at the start of Bataille's career). As a cultural artifact, this probably merits 5 stars, but I just don't think that most readers will see it as that kind of masterpiece.
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