CELLS, RECESSES, TOMBS: Vertiginous Spaces in Bataille's 'Le Bleu du Ciel' - Michael Eades (2009)

As part of an ongoing PhD project exploring transgressive literary approaches to urban space and the city in twentieth-century Paris and London, this essay examines the writing of space in Georges Bataille’s 1957 work of erotic fiction Le Bleu du ciel [Blue of Noon]. Considered in the light of Bataille’s own early theoretical writings of the late 1920s and early 1930s, as found in articles published in the avant-garde journal Documents, Le Bleu du ciel will be viewed as the staging of an essential conflict, present throughout Bataille’s thought, between transgression and containment, structure and formlessness.

Denis Hollier has suggested that Bataille’s recourse to architectural and spatial analogy is tied to a wider impulse to question and transgress structure in general, for which the vocabulary of architecture provides a linguistic base. Drawing upon this argument, my study suggests that in Le Bleu du ciel Bataille’s antistructural impulse is developed, within the inherently structured form of the novel, through the exploration of a network of thematically interconnecting spaces: cells, recesses, tombs. These spaces, it will be suggested, are in a state of vacillation in the novel, constantly enclosed and thrown open, confined and transgressed. Drawing upon theoretical work by Maurice Blanchot, the article considers how these vacillating, unstable, and vertiginous depictions of space might relate to the experience of reading – ultimately considering the status of Le Bleu du ciel as a textual space that induces vertigo in its readers.

Towards the end of Georges Bataille’s short novel Le Bleu du ciel (1957) the protagonist and narrator of the piece, Henri Troppmann, sits in a car outside an apartment building in Barcelona, waiting for a friend to emerge from a radical political meeting. In this meeting, headed by a fervent but unconventional revolutionary whom Troppmann refers to only by her surname, Lazare, a plan has been taking shape. The group, or cell (my stress on this word will be explained shortly), of revolutionary agitators has been debating the idea of mounting an assault on a local prison. This plan sparks the interest of the generally cynical and apathetic Troppmann, who immediately offers to act as getaway driver in the raid. It is not latent revolutionary fervor that has been stirred here, however, but rather an intuitive sympathy for the project in hand. Troppmann reflects that: ‘[a]u fond, j’étais fasciné par l’idée d’une prison attaquée’ [‘basically, I was fascinated by the idea of assaulting a prison’]