"Literature is not innocent. It is guilty and should admit itself so." What does Bataille mean by this, and is he justified?

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“Literature is not innocent.  It is guilty and should admit itself so.”  What does Bataille mean by this, and is he justified?

        When Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was published, it was deemed by many to be a story of sinister and evil content, and this view was especially centred on the character Heathcliff.  Many readers, in general terms, would see the novel as guilty as opposed to innocent (it must be remembered here that Bataille uses the words guilty and innocent not with their everyday meanings, but with meanings that he constructs for the purpose of his argument), and this is perhaps why Georges Bataille chose to include it in his study, Literature and Evil, and also why the title quote is so relevant to the book.  But what does Bataille actually mean in this quote?  What is his definition of innocent and guilty?  Also, how does this relate to Wuthering Heights (the text we shall concentrate on here) and is Bataille justified in the conclusions he makes?  It is important then to firstly attain a good idea of the meaning of Bataille’s terms, as a starting point for this essay.

        When we think of the word innocent, the word good also comes to mind.  Innocence is the state of having done nothing wrong, and so something that commits no wrongs must then be good, and therefore free from guilt.  Bataille gives this utilitarian based view of Good; it is “based on a common interest which entails consideration of the future”.  So something that is not based on a common interest, and does not consider the future and consequences of itself cannot be classed as Good, or innocent, and so must be ‘bad’, and therefore can be said to be Evil.

Something that is Good has limits, or restraints on it, to ensure it adheres to the rules of what Good is.

        So it must follow that Evil, in opposition to Good, lacks these restraints, and does not consider the future – it merely exists in the moment it presents.  This is why it is so relevant to literature – when we read literature we are just existing in the moment of the novel – it takes no consideration of anything but that moment that it presents.  It allows us to explore this world, with no consequences.  We are able to suspend our disbelief, and enter the “mystical state” of the novel that we can experience in this solitude.  Also, if the content reveals a narrative where there are also no restraints, then this state is intensified.

        This is where Bataille makes a link with eroticism.  In the sexual act, one concentrates simply on the moment, in a manner unique to our species, and nothing else at that point matters.  We do not think of external constraints when experiencing sex or literature; both create a world in our minds opposite to that which we live in – no constraints or consequences exist there.

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        Bataille sees Evil and love to be closely related with each other.  He states “death seems to be the truth of love, just as love is the truth of death”.  It seems he believes that inside love there has to be a recognition of death, because if you love another life, you are aware it will end, as all human experiences do, and so you recognise that your love is finite – it is not unlimited.  So love is therefore Good, as it at least has this limit imposed upon it.  But perhaps it’s bad side can be said to ...

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