Courses at Mary Ward Centre, London

Georges Bataille and the College of Sociology, 20th September – 6 December 2018

This course gives an account of the career of Georges Bataille, one of the most influential French thinkers of the 20th century. Beginning with a discussion of Bataille’s connections with the Surrealist Movement, the course then dwells on Bataille’s founding of the College of Sociology with Roger Caillois and Pierre Klossowski in the 1930s. We explore the roots of Bataille’s thinking in the sociological thought of Durkheim (in particular, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life) and Mauss (The Gift, General Theory of Magic). The influence of the anthropology of William Robertson Smith and J.G. Frazer will also be discussed in depth. We will carefully examine the political context of the College of Sociology – ie. the rise of fascism in the 1930s – and we will assess the political ideas of the College. The tensions between Bataille and the other members of the College will be highlighted, with discussions of the influences driving Caillois’ work (Dumézil and Mauss) and Klossowski’s (Kierkegaard and Sade). The final part of the course examines Bataille’s turn to mysticism in Inner Experience, and his ideas about sexuality and death in Eroticism. The course culminates with discussions of Bataille’s contributions to economic theory and the political theory of sovereignty (The Accursed Share).

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