G. Bataille's "La valeur d'usage de D.F.A. de Sade" (1929)

Georges Bataille, "La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade (1) (Lettre ouverte à mes camarades actuels)," Œuvres complètes, vol. II, ed. Denis Hollier (Paris: Gallimard, 1970), 54-69.
English translation: "The Use Value of D. A. F. de Sade (An Open Letter to My Current Comrades)," trans. Allan Stoekl, Visions of Excess, ed. Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 91-102.

Bibliographical Notes

In an editiorial note, Denis Hollier identifies three undated manuscripts with the title "La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade." Although undated, the manuscripts clearly are from the period of Bataille's feud with André Breton (1929-30; see Breton's Attack on Bataille). Hollier combined manuscripts I and II to produce "La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade (1) (Lettre ouverte à mes camarades actuels)," which is followed in the Œuvres complètes by the brief third manuscript, "La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade (2)." This third manuscript appears to be an unfinished revision of the essay's opening section.

Biographical Notes

Photograph of Bataille in 1930
Bataille 1930

In a letter to Maurice Heine (04 Dec 1930), Bataille mentions that he has begun writing "Le Jésuve," "La valeur d'usage de D. A. F. de Sade," and "La 'vielle taupe.'" He also mentions that he has immersed himself in the following books:

Text Notes

Note 1 - The identical nature, from the psychological point of view, of God and excrement should not shock the intelect of anyone familiar with the problems posed by the history of religions. The cadaver is not much more repugnant than shit, and the specter that projects its horror is sacred even in the eyes of modern theologian. The following passage from Frazer very nearly sums up the basic historical aspect of the question: . . .

The reference to Frazer is, of course, to Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1911-15); however, I haven't found the passage that Bataille quotes. Hollier records a note in the margin of Bataille's manuscript: "Cf. Robertson Smith tout ceci est insufficiant à remplacer par un renvoi (Robertson Smith)." The reference is to W. Robertson Smith's The Religion of the Semites (1889), in which Smith is the first to argue that function of sacrifice is to reaffirm communion among members of the social group and between the social group and the divine.

Note 2 - [Defining heterology] The science of what is completely other. The term agiology would perhaps be more precise, but one would have to catch the double meaning of agio (analogous to the double meaning of sacer), soiled as well as holy. But it is above all the term scatology (the science of excrement) that retains in the present circumstances (the specialization of the sacred) an incontestable expressive value as the doublet of an abstract term as heterology. (102)

Bataille's neologism, agiology, is based on the Greek root agio-, which is used typically to mean "sacred," or "holy." For example, in New Testament Greek "the Holy Spirit" is pnuema agios. This word also has the opposite meaning of "accursed," or "execrable"; but it appears that Bataille's rendering of agio- as souillé (soiled) is the result of a confusion with agenneia, which means "baseness," or "sordidness."

Rhetorical Considerations

An unremarked aspect of this essay is Bataille's expressed concern with audience. This aspect is especially significant if we view the essay in juxtaposition to the manifesto, the genre adopted by the Dada and Surrealist projects of cultural revolution.

Last update: 7/9/08

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