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Madame Edwarda


Pierre Anglique Preface


Georges Bataille

The Sorcerers Apprentice (September 2009)

If youre afraid of everything, read this book but listen to me first: if you laugh, its because you are afraid. A

This translation is dedicated to Claire Harrison in memory of the nights it describes

book, you think, is something inert. Thats possible. And yet what if, as is the case, you do not know how to read? Would you begin to doubt . . . ? Are you alone? Do you shake with the cold? Do you know to what point man is yourself? A fool and naked?

Death is of all things the most terrible, and maintaining the work of death is what demands the greatest strength. G. W. F. Hegel

The author of Madame Edwarda has himself drawn attention to the gravity of his book. It seems important to me, nevertheless, to insist on the fact, if only because of the levity with which we are accustomed to treating writings whose theme is mans sexual life. Not that I hope or intend to try to change anything in those customs. But I ask the reader of this preface to reflect for a moment on the attitude traditionally adopted towards pleasure (which, in the play of the sexes, attains a mad intensity) and suffering (which death finally relieves, of course, but which, before that, it pushes to its extreme limit). A combination of conditions leads us to make of man (of humanity) an image as distant from extreme pleasure as it is from extreme suffering: the most common interdictions are observed, on the one hand, towards mans sexual life, on the other, towards his death; to the extent that around these realms a single sacred domain has formed that is at the origin of religion. The difficulty began when the interdictions surrounding the disappearance of a human being were the only ones to be accorded grave respect, while those surrounding the appearance of a human being which is to say, all genetic activity came to be taken lightly. I dont want to protest against the profoundest tendencies of the majority of people: it is an expression of the destiny which has made man laugh at his own reproductive organs. But this laughter, which accentuates the opposition between pleasure and suffering (that suffering and death are worthy of respect, while pleasure

is derisory, worthy only of our contempt), also indicates their fundamental kinship. Laughter is no longer a sign of respect, but it may be a sign of horror. Laughter is the attitude of compromise which man adopts in the presence of something which repels him, but whose appearance is not particularly grave. Thus, when eroticism is considered with gravity, is envisaged tragically, it represents a complete reversal in our way of thinking. I must start by making clear the futility of those banal assertions to the effect that sexual interdictions are nothing more than a prejudice, and it is time we rid ourselves of them. According to this view, the shame and modesty which accompany the strong sensation of pleasure are merely proofs of a lack of higher intelligence. One might just as well say that we should wipe the table clean and return to the days of our animality, to devouring what we wish and being indifferent to filth and ordure; as though the whole of humanity did not emerge from powerful and violent impulses of revulsion and attraction, to which our peculiarly human sensibility and intelligence are intimately bound. But without wishing in any way to oppose the laughter caused by indecency, we are free to return at least partially return to an attitude which laughter alone introduces. It is laughter, in fact, that justifies a form of condemnation that does us no honour. Laughter leads us along this path on which the principle of the interdiction, of necessary and inevitable decency, is transformed into blind hypocrisy and complete incomprehension of what the interdiction brings into play. Complete licence combined with joking is always accompanied by a refusal to take seriously by which I mean tragically the truth of eroticism.

The preface to this little book in which eroticism is clearly shown as opening onto the consciousness of the wound in being is for me the occasion of an emotional appeal. Not that I find it surprising that the mind should turn away from itself, and with its back turned, so to speak, become the obstinate caricature of its own truth. If man needs to lie, after all, he is free to lie! Perhaps the man who, in his pride, is swallowed in the human mass . . . But in the end, I shall never forget what binds me to violence and marvels, nor the will to open my eyes wide and look, face to face, at what is happening, at what is. And I should never know what is happening if I knew nothing of extreme pleasure, nothing of extreme suffering! Let us understand each other. Pierre Anglique takes care to say it: we know nothing, and we are lost in the depths of the night. But we can at least see what it is that deceives us, what it is that diverts us from knowing our distress, from knowing, more precisely, that joy is the same thing as suffering, the same thing as death. What this laughter diverts us from, what incites our joking attitude, is the identity between extreme pleasure and extreme suffering, between being and death, between the knowledge that ends with this dazzling view and a definitive darkness. No doubt we could end by laughing at such a truth, but it would be with an absolute laughter, one that does not stop at our contempt for something repulsive, but in which our disgust would penetrate our very being. To reach the point of ecstasy, the moment when we lose ourselves in the joys of the flesh, we must always posit an immediate limit to this joy: this limit is horror. Not only the suffering of others but also my own suffering, pushing me to the moment when my horror arouses me, can help me reach

the state where joy slides into delirium; but then there is no form of revulsion whose affinity with desire I do not perceive. Not that horror is never confused with attraction; but if it cannot inhibit or destroy it, horror increases the attraction. Equally, danger typically paralyses us; but when it lacks the power to do so, danger excites our desire. We never reach ecstasy except when, however remotely, we are faced with the prospect of death, with the prospect of what destroys us. A man differs from an animal in that certain sensations wound him and reduce him to the intimacy of his being. These sensations vary according to the individual and his way of life. But the sight of blood or the odour of vomit, which arouse in us the horror of death, can force us to experience a state of nausea which afflicts us more cruelly than any suffering. The sensations associated with the final vertigo are literally unbearable. There are persons who prefer death to touching a snake, however harmless it may be. There exists a domain in which death signifies not only our disappearance, but the unbearable process by which, despite ourselves, we disappear, even when, at all costs, we must not disappear. It is precisely this at all costs, this despite ourselves, that distinguishes the moment of extreme joy and an indescribable but miraculous ecstasy. If there is nothing which surpasses man, which surpasses us despite ourselves, which, at all costs, must not be, we will never attain the insensate moment towards which we strive with all our strength, but which, at the same time, we use all our strength to avert. Pleasure would be contemptible were it not also this appalling surpassing of limits, which is not confined to a sexual ecstasy which the mystics of various religions but the Christian mystics above all have known in the same manner.

Being is given to us in an unbearable surpassing of being, no less unbearable than death. But since, in death, being is taken away from us at the same time that it is given, we must search for it in the feeling of death, in those unbearable moments when, no longer being within us except through an excess of being, it seems that we are dying, and the fullness of our horror coincides with the fullness of our joy. Even thought (reflection) only ends with its own excess. What, beyond the representation of excess, does truth signify if we do not see what exceeds the possibilities of seeing, what it is unbearable to see just as, in ecstasy, it is impossible to attain pleasure? What, if we do not think that which exceeds the possibilities of thought . . . ?* At the end of this pathetic meditation silenced, with a despairing cry, as it is swallowed in the impossibility of sustaining itself we rediscover God. This is the meaning, the

I apologise for adding here that this definition of being and excess

cannot rest on a philosophical foundation, since excess, by definition, exceeds every foundation. Excess is that through which being, before it is anything else, is beyond all limits. Being undoubtedly also exists within limits: it is these limits that permit us to speak of it (I speak also, but in speaking I do not forget not only that speech will elude me, but that it is eluding me now). These methodically arranged sentences may be possible (largely because excess is the exception, it is the marvellous, the miraculous; excess designates attraction attraction, if not horror, everything, in short, which is more than that which is) but their impossibility is taken as given from the first. As a result, no chains bind me, never am I enslaved; I retain a sovereignty from which only my death which will demonstrate the impossibility of limiting myself to being without excess will separate me. I do not reject consciousness without which I could not write but this hand that writes is dying, and only through the death to which it is promised can it escape the limits it accepts in writing (accepted by the hand that writes but refused by the hand that dies).

enormity, of this insensate little book: its narrative brings onto the stage God himself, with all his attributes; yet this God is a public whore, no different from any other whore. But what mysticism could not say (at the moment of speaking it fell into a swoon) eroticism can: God is nothing if he is not, in every sense of the word, the surpassing of God in the sense of vulgar being, in the sense of horror and impurity, in the sense, finally, of nothing . . . We cannot, with impunity, incorporate into language the word which surpasses words, the word God; the moment we do so, this word, surpassing itself, vertiginously destroys its own limits. What this word signifies recoils before nothing. It is everywhere it is impossible to expect it to be: it is, in short, enormity. And he who even suspects as much, instantly falls silent. Or, seeking for a way out but knowing that he is trapped, he searches within himself for that which, having the power to destroy him, renders him similar to God, similar to nothing.* On the incredible journey to which this most incongruous of books invites us, there may, nevertheless, still be some discoveries for us to make. For example, by chance, happiness . . . Joy is found precisely within the perspective of death (thus, it is masked under the appearance of its opposite, sorrow). I am in no way inclined to argue that sensual pleasure is the essential thing in this world of ours. Man is not limited to the organ of pleasure. But this unavowable organ teaches him his

secret. Since sexual joy relies upon opening the mind to a potentially harmful perspective, we usually deceive ourselves, attempting to reach our joy on a path as distant as possible from horror. The images which excite our desire or provoke the final spasm are typically dubious or equivocal: if they depict horror or death it is always in an underhand manner. Even from Sades perspective death is diverted onto the other, and the other, at least initially, is a delicious expression of life. The domain of eroticism is inescapably sworn to ruses. The object which provokes the urges of Eros appears in other guise to its true identity. So much so that in erotic matters it is the ascetics who are right. They say of beauty that it is the snare of the devil: beauty alone, in effect, makes bearable our need for disorder, for the violence and indignity that are at the root of love. I cannot examine here the details of deliriums whose forms continue to multiply, the most violent of which are made known to us, slyly, in pure love carrying the blind excess of life to the very limits of death. Undoubtedly the ascetic condemnation is coarse, it is cowardly and cruel, but it accords with the trembling without which we distance ourselves from the truth of the night. There is no reason why sexual love should be invested with an eminence which only belongs to the entirety of life, but if we do not bring the light to bear on the very point where night falls, how should we know ourselves to

I could point out, moreover, that excess is the very principle of sexual

reproduction: in effect, Divine Providence willed that, in its works, its secret should remain legible! Could man be spared nothing? The very day he notices that the ground has gone from beneath his feet, he is told that it is has been

Here, therefore, is the first theology proposed by a man whom laughter

removed providentially! But even if the sins of his blasphemy are visited upon him, it is by blaspheming by spitting on his own limits that the most unhappy of men finds his enjoyment, it is in blaspheming that he is God. In truth, creation is inextricable, irreducible to any movement of the spirit other than the certainty, being exceeded, of exceeding.

has illuminated, and who refuses to limit that which does not know what the limit is. Mark the day when you read by a pebble of fire, you who have paled over the texts of philosophers! How should he who would silence them express himself, if not in a manner which to them is inconceivable?

be, as we are, the projection of being into horror? If being is swallowed in the sickening void from which, at all costs, it must flee . . . ? Nothing, surely, is more dreadful than this! How ludicrous, in comparison, must the scenes of hell above church doors appear to us! Hell is the feeble image of himself that God has involuntarily inspired! But on the scale of unlimited loss we rediscover the triumph of being, from which nothing has ever been lacking save its consent to the movement that makes it perish. Being, of its own accord, joins in the terrible dance whose syncopation is the dancers rhythm, and which we must learn to accept for what it is knowing only the horror with which it is in perfect harmony. If we lack the courage to do so, no greater torture exists for us. And the moment of torture will never fail to arrive: how, if it failed to do so, should we overcome it? But the open spirit open to death, to torture, to joy without reserve, the open and dying being, suffering and happy, already appears in a veiled light: the light of the divine. And the cry which, from a twisted mouth, may twist and wring the being that utters it, is an immense alleluia lost in a silence without end. Prface de Madame Edwarda (1956)

Hans Bellmer, Madame Edwarda (1966)






I At the corner of the street, anguish, a foul and intoxicating anguish, attacked me (perhaps because I had just seen two furtive girls on the steps of a urinal). At moments like this I am overwhelmed by the urge to vomit. I suddenly felt that I had to be naked, then and there either that, or strip naked the girls I lusted after: only the warmth of stale flesh can sate me. But this time I resorted to more impoverished means. I ordered a Pernod at a bar, downed the glass in one gulp, then went from counter to counter, until . . . The night finished falling. I began to wander through the narrow streets which run between Rue Poissonnire and Rue Saint-Denis. Loneliness and the darkness completed my drunkenness. The night itself was laid bare in those deserted streets, and I wanted to be just as naked: I took off my trousers and draped them over my arm. I wanted to feel the coolness of the night air on my loins, and a sudden wave of freedom carried me along. I felt myself getting bigger, and held my erect cock in my hand. (My entry into the matter is hard. I could have avoided all this and still made my tale sound plausible. It would have been in my interest to take detours. But this is how it has to be a beginning without diversions. I continue . . . and it gets harder . . . ) Worried about attracting trouble, I put my trousers back on and headed for a place I knew called Mirrors: on entering, I found myself in the light again. Amidst a swarm of girls, Madame Edwarda, completely naked, looked bored

to death. She was, to my taste, ravishing. I chose her, and she came and sat down next to me. I hardly took the time to respond to the waiter when he asked me what I wanted. I seized Madame Edwarda, and she gave herself up to me immediately, our two mouths meeting in a sickly kiss. The room was packed with men and women: such was the wasteland in which our game was played out. In an instant her hand slid, and I broke suddenly like a pane of glass, trembling in my trousers; at the same moment I felt Madame Edwarda, whose buttocks I clasped in my hands, break in two: her wide, upturned eyes filled with terror, and from her throat came a long, strangled cry. I remembered my desire for scandal or rather, that it would be necessary, at all costs, to be scandalous that night. I could hear laughter over the tumult of voices, reaching me through the lights and the smoke. But nothing mattered anymore. I took Madame Edwarda in my arms, and she smiled at me. Transfixed, I experienced a new shock as a sort of silence fell on me from above, freezing me to the spot. I seemed to be borne aloft in a flight of angels with neither bodies nor heads, but shaped from something like the gliding of wings through the air only more simply. Suddenly I grew unhappy and felt myself forsaken, as one is in the presence of GOD. It was far worse and more crazy than simple drunkenness. At first I even felt sad that the grandeur descending upon me was robbing me of the pleasures I had counted on tasting with Madame Edwarda. I told myself I was being ridiculous: Madame Edwarda and I hadnt exchanged two words yet. I experienced a moment of doubt. I could say nothing about the state I was

in, only that in the midst of that tumult of lights, the night descended upon me! I wanted to turn the table over, smash everything but it was fixed to the floor and wouldnt budge. Has any man faced a more farcical situation? Then everything began to dissolve, the room and Madame Edwarda. Only the night remained . . . An all-too-human voice dragged me out of my stupor. Madame Edwardas voice, like her slender body, was obscene: I suppose you want to see my rags, she said. Gripping the table with both hands, I turned to face her. Still sitting, she lifted one leg high and wide above her head, and to open her gash still further, used the fingers of both hands to draw the folds of skin apart. Thus, Madame Edwardas rags looked at me, hairy and pink, and as full of life as some revolting squid. I stammered softly: Why are you doing that? You can see, she said, I am GOD. Im going crazy. Oh no youre not, youve got to see: look! Her harsh voice sweetened, becoming almost childlike as she said with such weariness, with the infinite smile of abandon: Darling, the fun Ive had . . . Holding her provocative position, her leg still raised in the air, she spoke to me with an air of command: Kiss me! But . . . , I protested, in front of all these people? Of course!

I trembled. I stared at her, motionless, and she smiled back so sweetly that I trembled again. At last, staggering forward, I got down on my knees and pressed my lips to that living wound. Her naked thigh caressed my ear and I thought I heard the sound of a sea swell, the same sound you hear when you put your ear to a large conch shell. In the absurdity and confusion of the brothel (I felt I was choking, flushed and sweating with the heat) I remained strangely suspended, as if Madame Edwarda and I were losing ourselves on a night of wind, alone together at the edge of the ocean. I heard another voice, coming from a strong and beautiful woman dressed in respectable clothes. Come my children, she said in a masculine voice, its time you went upstairs. The sous-madame took my money and I rose and followed Madame Edwarda, whose tranquil nudity guided me across the room. Yet this simple passage between densely packed tables of girls and clients, this vulgar rite of The Lady Ascending followed by the man who will make love to her, took on for me, at that moment, nothing less than a hallucinatory solemnity. The click of Madame Edwardas spiked heels on the tiled floor; the swaying of her long, obscene body; the acrid odour of an aroused woman in my nostrils, issuing from that pale body . . . Madame Edwarda went ahead of me . . . rising into the clouds. The rooms noisy indifference to her happiness, to the measured gravity of her step, was both a royal consecration and a flowering festival: death itself was present at the feast in the guise of what is called, in the nakedness of the brothel, the butchers cut.

............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... ............................................... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . the mirrors that covered the walls of our room from floor to ceiling, and from which the ceiling itself was made, multiplied the image of our animal coupling, and at the slightest movement our pounding hearts were opened to the void into which we disappeared in the infinity of our reflections. Pleasure, finally, shattered us. Rising from the bed, we looked at each other gravely. Madame Edwarda held me spellbound: I had never seen a prettier girl nor one more naked. Without taking her eyes off me, she took a pair of white silk stockings out of a bottom drawer, sat on the edge of the bed and slowly pulled them on. But the delight at being naked took hold of her again: she parted her legs and offered herself to me, and the acrid nudity of our bodies pushed us to the same exhaustion of hearts. She put on a white bolero and concealed her nakedness beneath a domino; pulled the hood of the domino over her head, and hid her face behind a black mask lined with a beard of lace. Thus arrayed, she sprang away from me: Lets go!

But . . . are you allowed out? I asked stupidly. Hurry up, fifi, she replied gaily, you cant go out naked! She tossed me my clothes and helped me to get dressed: but as she did so, out of whim, a sly exchange passed now and then between her flesh and mine. We descended a narrow staircase at the rear of the building, encountering only the chambermaid. In the sudden darkness of the street I was surprised to find Madame Edwarda fleeing my side, draped in the black of the night. She ran off, evading my grasp: it was as if the mask she wore had turned her into an animal. It wasnt cold, yet suddenly I shivered. Madame Edwarda had become something alien, and looking up I saw a starry sky, empty and mad, open darkly over our heads. For a moment I thought I was going to stumble but I kept on walking.

II At that hour of the night the streets were deserted. All of a sudden, wildly and without a word, Madame Edwarda ran on alone. The vast arch of the Porte Saint-Denis loomed before her and she stopped. I hadnt moved a step, and standing now as still as I was, Madame Edwarda waited for me under the gateway, in the middle of the arch. She was completely and utterly black, as full of anguish as a hole. I realized that she was no longer laughing, and that, beneath the clothes giving her form, she was now absent. All the drunkenness drained out of me: I knew then that She had not lied, that She was GOD. Her presence had the unintelligible simplicity of a stone: in the middle of that city, I had the feeling of being in the mountains at night, lost in the midst of a lifeless solitude. I felt I was free of Her alone before this black rock. I trembled, seeing before me what is bleakest in this world. No aspect of the comic horror of my situation escaped me: that the sight of this woman whose appearance petrified me now, the instant before had . . . And the change had occurred the way one slips over. Within Madame Edwarda, grief a grief without suffering or tears had turned into an empty silence. And yet, I still wanted to know: this woman, so naked a moment ago, who had gaily called me fifi . . . I crossed the street: my anguish told me to stop, but I went on. Silently she slipped away, retreating to the pillar on the left. I was no more than two paces from that monumental gateway: when I passed under the stone arch, the domino

vanished noiselessly. I listened without breathing. I was amazed at being able to grasp it all so clearly. I had known, when Madame Edwarda had run off, that no matter how quickly, she must have ran under the arch; and, when she stopped, that she had been suspended in a sort of trance, far beyond the possibility of laughter. But I could no longer see her. A deathly darkness descended from the vault. Without giving it a moments thought, I knew that a season of agony had begun for me. I accepted it, I wanted to suffer to go further, to go, even though I should be struck down, to the void itself. I knew, I wanted to know, lusting for her secret, without doubting for an instant that it was deaths kingdom. Groaning beneath the vault, terror overcame me, then I laughed: The only man to pass the nothingness of this arch! I trembled at the thought that she might run away, disappear forever. And I trembled at my calm acceptance, even in my imagination, that I would become mad. I leaped forward, circling the pillar. Just as quickly I circled the pillar on the right: she had disappeared, but I couldnt believe it. I was left crushed before the door, and was just sinking into despair when, on the other side of the boulevard, I caught sight of the domino hidden in the shadows. Madame Edwarda was standing straight, yet still senseless, before a caf terrace closed for the night. I crept towards her: she seemed out of her mind, a creature from another world, and, in those streets, less than a phantom, less than a lingering mist. She withdrew softly before me until she stumbled into a table on the empty terrace.

As if I had woken her up, she murmured in a lifeless voice: Where am I? Desperately, I pointed to the empty sky above us. She looked up, and for a moment she stood still, her eyes vague under the mask, lost in the field of stars. I supported her gently, and her two hands clutched the domino in a sickly manner. She began to shake convulsively. She was suffering I thought she was crying, but it was as if the world and her anguish were being strangled within her, unable to melt into sobs. Gripped by a strange disgust, she pushed me away: then, suddenly demented, she lurched forward, stopped short, threw her cloak up, flashed her buttocks with a quick slap of her arse, then came back and threw herself at me. A gale of savagery rose within her: raging, she struck me in the face struck me with clenched fists, carried away by an insane brawling. I stumbled and fell under her blows, and she fled into the night. I was not yet on my feet, still groping on my knees, when she returned. She raged in a rasping, impossible voice, yelling at the sky, her arms flailing the air in horror: Im suffocating! she screamed. But you, you fake priest, I SHIT ON YOU . . . The broken voice ended in a sort of death rattle, her outstretched hands reached out to grab my throat and she collapsed. Like an earthworm cut by a spade, she writhed on the ground, shaken by breathless spasms. I bent over her and

tore the lace from the mask; she had bitten it off and was tearing at it now with her teeth. Her thrashing had left her naked to her bush: her nudity now had the absence of meaning and at the same time the excess of meaning of a death shroud. Strangest of all and the most anguishing to me was the silence which enclosed Madame Edwarda: no further communication of her suffering was possible, and I let myself be absorbed into this absence of expression into this night of the heart that was no less of a desert nor less hostile than the empty void of the sky. The fish-like flopping of her pale body, the primitive rage expressed on her haggard face, burned the life in me until it was nothing more than ashes, breaking it down till there was only disgust. (Let me explain myself. It is useless to dismiss it as ironic when I say of Madame Edwarda that she is GOD; but to say that GOD is a public prostitute and mad this makes no sense at all. Strictly speaking, Im happy for my sorrow to be an object of laughter: I will only be understood by someone whose heart is wounded by an incurable wound, one that nothing, ever, will cure him of . . . And what man who is wounded thus would ever consent to dying of any other wound?)

III The consciousness of this wound, when, during that night, I knelt down before Madame Edwarda, was no less clear nor less petrifying than it is now, in the hour when I write. Her suffering was buried within me like the truth of an arrow: I knew that she had pierced my heart, and that death would follow. As I waited for nothingness, everything that continued to exist appeared as nothing more than the dross over which my life lingers in vain. Confronted by so black a silence, something leaped in the depths of my despair: the contortions of Madame Edwarda tore me out of myself and flung me into a black beyond mercilessly, the way one hands a condemned man over to the executioner. When, after an interminable wait, a man condemned to death arrives in broad daylight at the very spot where the execution will be carried out, and he observes the preparations, then his heart beats fit to bursting in his chest, and on his shrunken horizon each object, each face, takes on a weight of meaning that helps to tighten the noose from which there is no longer the time to escape. When I saw Madame Edwarda writhing on the ground, I entered into a similar state of absorption, but the change that occurred within me did not enclose me: the horizon before which Madame Edwardas attack placed me was too elusive, like the object of my anguish; torn apart and broken down, I nevertheless felt a certain power stir within me on the condition that, falling prey to the same sickness, I would despise myself. The vertiginous fall in which I had lost myself had opened onto a field of indifference; I no longer had either worries or desires, and

at the point I had reached, the parched ecstasy of my fever rose from the utter impossibility of halting my fall. (Since it is necessary to lay myself bare here, it would be deceiving to play with words, to borrow the clumsiness of phrases. If no-one strips back what I say to its naked state, removing the dress and form, I shall have written in vain. Its just as well, as Ive already said, that my effort is hopeless, or the light that dazzles me which strikes me would only have blinded my eyes. Madame Edwarda is not the phantom of a dream; the sweat of her body soaked my handkerchief: and to the point where, led by her, I arrived, I would like, in my turn, to lead you. This book has its secret: I cannot reveal it, but it is far from all words.) The crisis finally subsided. Her convulsions continued for a while, but they had no more fury: her breathing returned to normal, her features relaxed, and she was no longer hideous. At the end of my strength, I lay down on the street beside her for a while, covering her with my jacket. She was not heavy, and I decided to carry her; a taxi stand on the boulevard was not far away. She lay motionless in my arms the whole way. The journey took me a while, however, and I had to pause and rest three times; nevertheless, she slowly came back to life, and by the time we reached the stand she wanted to stand up. She took a step and swayed. I held her up, and supported by me she got into the taxi. In a weak voice she murmured: Not yet . . . tell him to wait. I asked the driver not to move; then, almost out of my mind with weariness, I climbed in and slumped down next to her.

For a long while we remained sitting in silence, Madame Edwarda, the driver and I, motionless in our seats, as though the taxi were moving forward. At last Edwarda spoke to me: Tell him to take us to Les Halles. I repeated her directions to the driver and we set off. He took us through dimly-lit streets. Calmly and slowly, Madame Edwarda removed the lace of her domino, which slipped to the floor of the taxi; she no longer had the mask on, and she now removed the bolero, murmuring to herself in a low voice: Naked as a beast. She rapped on the glass partition to stop the taxi and got out. She walked round to the drivers window, close enough to touch him, and said in a deadpan voice: You see, Im stark naked . . . Come. Without moving, the driver regarded this beast: standing back, she raised her leg to show him her gash. Without a word and without hurrying, the man stepped out of his car. He was large and thick-set. Madame Edwarda wrapped herself around him, clamped her mouth over his, and with one hand fumbled in his trousers. Unloosening the belt, she pulled them down to his ankles and said: Come into the car. He came and sat next to me on the back seat. Getting in behind, she mounted the driver, slowly and sensuously, and slipped him inside her with her hand. I remained still, watching; her movements were deliberate and subtle, and she visibly gained a heightened pleasure from them. The driver responded, heaving with all the brute strength of his body. Born of the naked intimacy of these two beings, little

by little their embrace reached that point of excess where the heart fails. The driver fell back, panting, and I turned on the overhead light in the taxi. Madame Edwarda was sitting upright astride the worker, her head thrown back, her hair hanging down her back. Supporting her by the nape of her neck, I looked into her blank eyes. She pressed against the hand that held her, and the tension thickened her moan. For an instant her eyes lowered in their sockets, and she seemed to be at ease. Then she saw me: from her stare, at that moment, I knew that she was coming back from the realm of the impossible, and I felt, at the very bottom of her, a vertiginous fixed point. From its source in the root, the sap that was rising through her sprang out in her tears tears that ran streaming from her eyes. Love, in those eyes, was dead; only a cold morning dawned in them, a transparency in which I read death. Everything was bound together in that dreaming stare: the naked bodies, the fingers that prised open her flesh, my anguish, and the memory of saliva on lips nothing did not contribute to this blind slipping into death. Madame Edwardas orgasm a fountain of living water, flowing through her till it broke her heart was strangely prolonged: that stream of sensual delight did not cease to glorify her being, make her nakedness more naked, or her lewdness more shameful. Her body, her ecstatic face, was abandoned to an unspeakable cooing, and, in the midst of her sweetness, there broke a twisted smile: she was there with me in the parched depths of my soul, and from the depths of my sorrow I felt the torrent of her joy released. Yet my anguish refused the pleasure for which I should have yearned: Madame Edwardas agonising pleasure filled

me with the exhausting sensation of witnessing a miracle. My own distress and fever seemed paltry in comparison yet that was all I had, the only emotions within me that could respond to the ecstasy of the one who, in the depths of an icy silence, I called my heart. She was seized by some final shudders, but gently, and her sweat-covered body finally relaxed. In the back of the taxi the driver was sprawled out, drained. I still held Madame Edwarda by her neck: the cock slipped out and I helped her to lie down, wiping the sweat from her body. Her eyes dead, she let me do as I please. I had switched off the light in the taxi, and she was half asleep now, like a child. The same drowsiness must have come over us, Madame Edwarda, the driver and me. (Continue? I meant to, but now I dont care. Ive lost interest. I speak of what oppresses me at the moment of writing: will everything Ive written seem absurd, or might it make some kind of sense? Ive made myself sick thinking about it. I wake up in the morning the same way millions of others do, men and women, children and old men their slumbers dispelled forever . . . Myself and these millions, does our awakening have a meaning? Perhaps a hidden meaning? Hidden, obviously! But if nothing has any meaning, Ive written in vain, and Ill make my retreat with the help of sly tricks. I could let my grip go, of course, and sell myself to the absence of meaning: but that, for me and not the shadow of hope is the executioner who will torture and kill me. But what if there is meaning? Certainly I know nothing of it today. And tomorrow? What do I know of tomorrow! I cannot conceive of a meaning other than my own torture, and as for that I know it well already!

But for now, at this moment, there is only nonsense, the absence of meaning. Monsieur Nonsense is writing, and he understands that he is mad: how appalling! But his madness, this nonsense how serious, all of a sudden, it has become! Might that, precisely, be meaning? (No, Hegel has nothing to do with the apotheosis of a mad woman.) My life has meaning only on condition that it is lacking one: but let me be mad! Let him understand me who can, let him understand me who is dying . . . Being is there, not knowing why it is, and left trembling in the cold; the immensity of the night surrounds it, and it is there precisely in order . . . not to know. But GOD? What have you to say, Monsieur Rhetorician, and you, Monsieur Believer? Would GOD, at least, know? GOD, if he knew, would be a pig.* O Lord (I call to you, in my distress, from my heart) deliver me, make them blind! The narrative, should I continue with it?) Ive finished. From out of the slumber which, for a short time, left us asleep in the back of the taxi, I was the first to awaken, sick . . . The rest is irony, the long wait for death . . . Madame Edwarda (1941)

I said: GOD, if he knew, would be a pig. He (I suppose, at that moment, he

would be unwashed, his hair unkempt) who would grasp this idea to its end what would be human about him? Beyond everything . . . further, and further still . . . HIMSELF, in ecstasy above the void. And now? I tremble . . .

Hans Bellmer, Madame Edwarda (1966)

NOTE Madame Edwarda was written by Georges Bataille in September 1941, during the darkest days of the Occupation of Paris, and appeared at the end of that year, under the pseudonym of Pierre Anglique, in an underground edition published by ditions Solitaire. As a precautionary measure it was back-dated to 1937. Following the Liberation a second edition was issued by the same publisher in 1945, again backdated to 1942, and illustrated with thirty-one engravings attributed to Jean Perdu, a pseudonym for Jean Fautrier. A third edition, published by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, appeared in 1956 under the same pseudonym, to which Bataille appended a preface in his own name. In 1966, four years after his death, a fourth edition, also published by Pauvert, and accompanied by twelve engravings by Hans Bellmer, finally appeared under Batailles own name. On its first publication the book was reviewed by Maurice Blanchot, who called it the most beautiful narrative of our time. Bataille himself called Madame Edwarda the lubricious key to his war writings, and his return to it late in his life suggests the importance he accorded it in his oeuvre. It is possible to see in the character of Madame Edwarda a

Eugne Atget, Porte Saint-Denis (c. 1920)

composite figure in which Bataille brought together several women dear to him: Violette, a young prostitute with whom he had fallen in love in 1931, and whose release from her brothel he had tried, in vain, to purchase; Laure, the dark sovereign who had reigned over his pre-war years, and who had died of tuberculosis in 1938; Angela of Foligno, the thirteenth-century Italian mystic whose ecstatic account of the theopathic state informed so much of Batailles vocabulary here; and Madeleine, an ecstatic at the Salptrire to whom the psychologist Pierre Janet, Batailles one-time collaborator before the war, had

dedicated his most famous study, De langoisse lextase. When Bataille came to write a preface to his narrative, however, some fifteen years after its first publication, it was to a famous passage in the preface to Hegels Phnomenologie des Geistes that he turned for his epigraph. Beyond the particularity of its human elements, the shared language of its textual antecedents, it is the figure of consciousness Hegel describes in this passage that Bataille sought to embody in the character of Madame Edwarda: a figure which, in Hegels words, attains its truth only when it finds itself in absolute laceration, when the life of the spirit contemplates the negativity of death face to face and dwells with it.

Back cover: The Sorcerer, c. 13,000 B.C. Rock painting and engraving. Caverne des Trois Frres, Montesquieu-Avants, Arige.