Volume 3, Number 1
Book Review: Tracing the Lines of Cultural Thought
Paul Hegarty. Georges Bataille: Core Cultural Theorist. London: SAGE, 2000.
Reviewed by: Kristina C. Marcellus
(Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada).
For those coming to Bataille through other writers, Baudrillard amongst them, Paul Hegarty’s Georges Bataille: Core Cultural Theorist (London: Sage, 2000) is a readable and thorough introduction. It clearly traces the development of several of Bataille’s key ideas through his writing (fiction and non-fiction) and through the influence of his ideas on later writers from Foucault to Derrida and Kristeva, among others.
Hegarty’s is a short book but it incorporates a full range of Bataille’s ideas. In eight chapters, everything from system to sovereignty, general economy to art and aesthetics to death is introduced in the context of Bataille’s life, associations, and the development of his oeuvre. To those familiar with Bataille’s work only through his influences on and in later works, Hegarty’s book is perhaps more accessible than others in that these later iterations of Bataille are incorporated into the analysis alongside his earlier formative influences. This situation within the wider intellectual context that precedes, co-exists and comes after Bataille is not only engaging to read because it makes it easier, perhaps, to link Bataille to work that may be more familiar to the reader – but also because it helps to trace the lineage and evolution of the ideas under consideration. For example, in the chapter on general economy, Hegarty notes that the notion emerges in “The Notion of Expenditure,” an essay that belies Bataille’s influences (Hegarty calls them “strands”) – Hegel, Nietzsche, Sade. Weber, Mauss, Derrida and Sartre also make appearances as either antecedents to or informants of Bataille’s work in this area or as exemplary of the ways with which Bataille’s work has been engaged by later writers. Hegarty works these lines of association throughout the book. Special attention to the Notes at the end of each chapter is rewarding, since further associations situating Bataille’s thought are illuminated here.
Baudrillard enters the fray through the chapter on general economy as well. In fact, with the exception of a very few other mentions and notes, this is the only chapter in which Bataille and Baudrillard are brought together, and even here it is primarily through the “Notes” section. This is of no consequence, though, since Bataille’s influence on Baudrillard is clear either directly (in the text and notes) or indirectly, through Hegarty’s account of Bataille’s influence on Baudrillard’s contemporaries, and indeed on French intellectualism more generally, e.g. the College de Sociologie, Acéphale.
On the whole, Hegarty’s Georges Bataille: Core Cultural Theorist is a thoughtful, thought-provoking and extremely useful text for many kinds of readers. Those who are unfamiliar with Bataille’s work will find it a clear introduction while those interested in French cultural thought more generally will find it useful in making connections between writers and ideas. Perhaps the reader who might find the book most useful, however, is one who, like me, comes to read Bataille after engaging with the ideas brought forth by later theorists. This reader will appreciate Hegarty’s book for bringing to the surface connections, both to Bataille and to other writers, which are sometimes not explicitly mentioned by those who employ or invoke it.
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2006)