Born in 1897, Georges Bataille wanted to become a monk but instead became a librarian, a profession he worked at until his death in 1962. He was also a poet, a novelist with a select critical following, an essayist, editor of the Bibliotheque Nationale's learned journal Documents , and founder of the literary magazine, Critique . In the '30s he was briefly associated with the French Surrealists and the Communist Party.
Bataille thought of himself as a philosopher and for years was best known for philosophical essays which were supposed to be the foundation of a multi-volumed "Summa A-Theologica". This was intended to explain his belief in mysticism and his rejection of all organized religion, especially Christianity and Catholicism. For Bataille, there is no God, no salvation and all hope of either must be abandoned. Excess is all that matters. He believed that only a relentless pursuit of eroticism, mysticism and intovication will lead to an acceptance of this irrational world and allow the individual peace of mind.
His novel, Blue of Noon , begins in London, where Henri Troppmann is drunk and impotent in the company of the debauched Dorothea, aptly nicknamed "Dirty." After they part, he returns to Paris and meetings with Lazare, a "girl of twenty-five, ugly and conspicuously filthy," who is always associated with scenes both funereal and macabre. On a frenetic tour of bars and bistros he next encounters the third woman who figures in the novel, Xenie, "a girl with too much money at loose ends." When Troppman becomes ill, Xenie nurses him through a nightmare of fever and delusion with a stupidly obstinate kindness even though he debases he repeatedly.
The illness ends as suddenly as it began and Troppman travels to Barcelona, arriving on the eve of a general strike. Afraid of battle and indifferent to its outcome, he remains a clear-eyed observer. The three women all come to Barcelona, but Troppmann and Dirty soon travel onto Germany, where the only explicit sexual encounter in the novel takes place in the mud among the gravestones of a cemetery. In the book's final pages, Troppman ponders the coming of war and finds himself filled with "the kind of black irony that accompanies the moments of seizure when no one can help screaming."
In may take rereading to get beyong an initial aversion to the vomit, sperm, and gore of this novel. But one should do so because the real value of Blue of Noon lies in Bataille's willingness to confront and depict powerful a world on the brink of chaos. (Urizen, $6.95)