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Consumption, Transgression, Eroticism: Watching Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day with Georges Bataille

Consumption, Transgression, Eroticism: Watching Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day with Georges Bataille

Christina Elle Burke   |   December 2020

“It takes an iron nerve to perceive the connection between the promise of life implicit in eroticism and the sensuous aspect of death.” – Georges Bataille[1]

The aim of this paper is an examination of how Claire Denis’ film Trouble Every Day (2001) presents, interrogates, and subverts the various conceptions of eroticism described by the Georges Bataille in his collection of essays, Erotism: Death and Sensuality. Trouble Every Day is a visually dense, narratively elliptical film; the longest scene of exposition, (in which the cursed American Shane Brown discusses his past relationship with the scientist Léo and his also infected wife, Coré, with the red-headed lab technician) is both delivered in a disinterested monotone and presented through a visually washed-out and static filter. It is a work that discourages the viewer from attempting to establish any narrative coherence for the film. Its reputation as a transgressive (or extreme) film is based on the two scenes of intense sexuality and violence that made it a scandal upon its initial release but which comprise only a small total of the movie’s length. It is a film onto which it easier to project meaning than to ever “understand” completely. The film hystericizes its viewers and it forces them to account for its narrative obliqueness and sudden bursts of violence; see, for instance, Judith Mayne’s reading of the film (in Claire Denis, 2005) as an extended AIDS metaphor. Bataille’s writings will serve as this essay’s anchor, as here the movie will be looked at as providing examples of the concept of “eroticism” in its most extreme forms. Eroticism in its simplest definition refers to “assenting to life even in death,”[2] affirming life while also being exposed to the negative void of personal destruction. Trouble Every Day’s connection with violence, sexuality, and death make its diegesis an ideal subject for the examination of Bataille’s concept. Furthermore, it also illustrates Bataille’s concepts of taboo and transgression, which play a pivotal role in achieving the sensation of eroticism, which this paper argues that the film reaches in its most graphic and horrifying moments. However, in addition to examining the story alongside Bataille, this paper will also examine how the movie plays with conventions of genre, and how it is constructed to address questions of eroticism and transgression on the level of the spectator. Bataille writes that the stirrings within us have their own fearful excesses; the excesses show which way these stirrings would take us. They are simply a sign to remind us constantly that death, the rupture of the discontinuous individualities to which we cleave in terror, stands there before us more real than life itself.[3]

Trouble Every Day exists between genres of the art film and the horror movie. By looking at how it fluctuates between these two poles and how it plays with these distinctions, further evidence of Bataille’s ideas at work will be demonstrated. How the genre of horror irrupts into the film and challenges both the viewer’s taste and how it alters their expectations will provide this analysis with an opportunity to criticize the role of eroticism in their reception of the movie. The first half of this paper will examine how the film’s narrative can be viewed alongside Bataille, with special attention paid to when his concepts emerge in the narrative and whether they are affirmed or subverted. How does the film’s narrative effect this reading of Bataille’s eroticism, both in terms of the concept, and the text? Does it change the conception of any of his ideas or simply reinforce them? The second half of this paper will focus on how the film’s generic structure and its relation to the spectator can be examined using Bataille’s notions of eroticism, and what reactions are provoked from its sudden irruption of gore into art cinema.

Much of what is observed in the diegesis (this term is preferred to plot or story because it designates the entire space of what happens in the mise-en-scène; the totality of what is displayed, not simply the course of the narrative) of Trouble Every Day are transgressions, some are petty, others more serious, and in two (seen) fatal moments they are rather extreme. The opening shot of the film is of an anonymous couple behaving amorously; an erotic gesture that sets the tone for what follows. However, what is transgressive in this image is not simply the action of the couple but that way that the gaze of the camera lingers: it shows too much, and the way the man’s hand rubbing against the woman’s neck is given center framing suggests the vampire (sub-)text that will linger throughout the film. Shortly afterward, Coré is introduced, although at this point she is not named and no exposition is provided for her behaviour. She seduces a truck driver, and the scene appears to be a case of banal prostitution.

For Bataille, prostitution is an inevitable result of desire, “not every woman is a potential prostitute, but prostitution is the logical consequence of the feminine attitude. In so far as she is attractive, a woman is a prey to men’s desire.”[4] However, this observation is immediately subverted. This woman is not prey to the man’s desire. From the event of the seduction to the aftermath, when Léo arrives on the scene: there is blood on the reeds in the field, a wounded corpse, and Coré with her mouth caked in blood. This is not the petty jouissance of conventional prostitution. Something has gone differently, to say the least; the type of transgression here has shifted from Eros to Thanatos. Already in these opening moments, an example of Bataille’s “connection between death and sexual excitement”[5] has been presented. What follows is the introduction of an American couple preparing to set off on their honeymoon, and they are a seemingly banal pair (the name Brown is itself fairly innocuous), but even this image is upset. The husband, Shane, rushes to the restroom, plagued by some sort of nightmare/fantasy/vision of his wife, June, covered in blood. While it may seem to torture him, it is also possible to read this vision as an unconscious fantasy, particularly if it is acknowledged that “the urge towards love, pushed to its limit, is an urge towards death.”[6] This is, as will be learnt from watching the movie, particularly the case for the kind of creature that Shane is becoming.

It is also worth noting that for all its oblique and understated presentation up to this point, what has been explicitly depicted in the film is blood. Bataille makes the point that “blood in itself is a symbol of violence.”[7] This film’s treatment of blood is unique; in many films blood is synonymous with the color red, often in bright or exaggerated hues. In Trouble Every Day, blood clots, it sticks, it drips. It has a textural capacity that many films often choose to omit. This is what makes the vision on the airplane so disturbing, the blood on the woman’s body seems internal, decaying; one can almost imagine they way it would feel to touch it. This is further observable after Coré disembowels the young robber, the way the walls become painted with blood that has a caked-on appearance. It is visibly dried, much like the blood on her mouth that Léo is often seen wiping away. The blood also serves a juxtaposition to the cleanliness seen throughout the film, something that Martine Beugnet has remarked upon:

cleanliness appears as an important and recurrent motif in the film; it weaves itself through the film’s multiple narrative threads, from the cleaning of blood after the murders, to the tedium of the maid’s job, as she tidies up room after room in the hotel where the Browns have settled, to the sterile and pristine environments of the laboratories.[8]

This cleanliness however is often interrupted. There is always temptation to kick-up a well-organized pile of leaves, that “beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it,”[9] and in this film, sterile spaces often become desecrated in some way. The brains get dissected in the lab, occupying sterile tables with marks of infection, the maid fills the room she has just cleaned with cigarette smoke, and ultimately, Coré’s chambers become marked with the blood of the young man. Cleanliness is another taboo that seeks to cover over a kind of innate violence. Léo cleans up Coré not only to hide the crimes she has committed but to restore the clean image of the wife he has lost. It is a way of establishing order that in the face of the unending desire for destruction can never be maintained. Shane, for example, is unable to completely wash away the blood from the maid he victimizes; he can only run, back to a home that will now be as fraught with danger as Paris has been.

What happens after the couple lands in Paris is a return to the series of petty transgressions. Two young men attempt to plot a robbery of Léo’s home as Shane and June arrive at their Parisian hotel and he spends more time staring at the maid’s figure than that of his wife. These minor transgressions are not simply foreshadowing, but atmosphere building. Bataille writes that “the main function of all taboos is to combat violence,”[10] and through the representation of minor transgressions, the film establishes a general undercurrent of petty violence that will explode into the torturous eroticism of its most gruesome moments. The pursuit of transgression presents a building violence, this is also made clear in Bataille’s lengthy observation about the relation between transgression and taboo when he writes that

we can even go as far as the absurd proposition: ‘The taboo is there in order to be violated.’ This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify and arouse it. We should not be frightened of violence in the same way if we did not know or at least obscurely sense that it could lead to worse things.[11]

By constantly giving ground to broken taboos, there is an affirmation of the violent force of transgression. The minor pleasures of the maid who smokes in the bed she has just put together, or of the thief who wants to unlock the neighbor’s door are violations that prefigure the more destructive actions that follow. Coré’s erotic consumption always begins with the basic transgression of infidelity, and then the violence percolates to its cannibalistic extremes.

After the two thieves successfully break into Léo’s house, one of them ends up going upstairs to where Coré is being kept and ends up being seduced by her. She offers a further transgressive thrill to the burglar who has arrived expecting to pillage a safe or some money but has instead only found the remains of Léo’s experiments. He has not been satisfied and thus he wanders upstairs where he knows that something “other” awaits. Coré’s strips for him between the bars that Léo has nailed on to prevent her from escaping. This gesture fulfills for the thief the message Bataille attributes to nakedness:

stripping naked is the decisive action. Nakedness offers a contrast to self-possession, to discontinuous existence, in other words. It is a state of communication revealing a quest for a possible continuance of being beyond the confines of the self. Bodies open out to a state of continuity through secret channels that give us a feeling of obscenity.[12]

The thief assumes that he is receiving an offering. However, what he does not realize is that it is he who is going to provide the marker of continuity for the erotic monster that is Coré. Here arrives the predicament of any analysis that centers on the themes of transgression and eroticism in this film, particularly following a reading of Bataille. Do Coré and, as is eventually discovered, Shane, still obey the laws of human eroticism? Or are they monsters, thus participating in an inherently nonhuman pleasure. This analysis suggests that they are monstrous agents of the extremes of human desire; they are monsters of purely unlimited transgression and eroticism, in some ways all too human. Bataille at one point observes that “in exceptional cases unlimited transgression is conceivable.”[13] What this film offers then is an example of people who have become capable of experiencing and creating unlimited transgression. Beings whose desire becomes embodied as a literal combination of sex and death. In generic terms, they are both vampire-cannibals who feast on their lovers/victims during sex but who do not convert them or devour them totally. This is not cannibalism in the traditional sense, as film scholar Florence Martin observes in her examination of the film; writing in regards to Denis’ understanding of the movie that “she insists that she does not film cannibalism, but, rather, the continuum between love and violence, between the amorous ‘I could eat you up’ and a form of vampirism that is never a rape (both partners are always consenting adults) but that, nonetheless, ends up in a murder.”[14] While her assertion that what is filmed is “never a rape” is dubious in the cases of both the young burglar and particularly the hotel maid (surely they do not consent to the violence visited upon them), nonetheless, Denis’ “monsters” are seducers, but like the lover in Bataille’s sense, they are concerned primarily with themselves and their own eroticism, which is both destructive and consumptive. These human monsters, this creature who acquires a kind of “living death,” presents an interesting challenge to eroticism, for they achieve the excessive affirmations of continuity that the average man appears to have lost; as Bataille notes, “we are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity.”[15] Coré and Shane achieve this continuity, but it is inevitably a singular, other-conquering process. Their eroticism is pure, but explosive, its power is an affront to the establishment of any symbolic or societal order, and they pursue the most destructive form of eroticism, demonstrated by the disturbing observation that

at bottom we actually want the impossible situation it all leads to: the isolation, the threat of pain, the horror of annihilation; but for the sensation of nausea bound up with it, so horrible that often in silent panic we regard the whole thing as impossible, we should not be satisfied.[16]

The two characters thus offer a realization of the deep-seated desire that appears in acts of transgression and eroticism, but witnessing the truth of that desire repulses most viewers.

The focus on mouths throughout the film contributes to this repulsion. In Visions of Excess, in the short article, “Mouth,” Bataille writes that “the mouth is the beginning or, if one prefers, the prow of animals; in the most characteristic cases, it is the most living part, in other words, the most terrifying for neighboring animals.”[17] Mouths in animals function as a warning for predators, for humans, the mouth primarily however is a conversational tool, the source of speech and the participation in linguistic exchange (it is still used for eating, but in the human context, meals also serve a function of mutual exchange and understanding). Bataille however, brings to light the unconscious danger contained in the mouth as a metaphor, writing that

among civilized men, the mouth has even lost the relatively prominent character that it still has among primitive men. However, the violent meaning of the mouth is conserved in a latent state; it suddenly regains the upper hand with a literally cannibalistic expression such as mouth of fire [bouche a feu], applied to the cannons men use to kill each other.[18]

For Coré and Shane however, the mouth returns to its animalistic roots as a predatory construct. It is inhuman (animal) for the mouth to be a center of destruction rather than communication. Both Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, cast in the roles of Shane and Coré have such striking faces; their mouths seeming to stretch wider than normal. Their celebrity beauty has been repurposed by Denis as a marker of superhuman desire and cannibalism. The focus on mouths also ties directly into the issue of which part of the victim both characters devour. Coré feeds on her partner’s neck, both alluding to classical vampiric fiction but also seeming more playfully amorous and destructive. Shane’s attack on the maid however leads to him consuming her genitals, thus completely effacing her sexual difference through cannibalistic consumption. This is one of, and perhaps the most horrifyingly striking juxtapositions that Denis creates that suggests a fundamental split between male and female eroticism. One would imagine that their pleasures would be complementary, given their shared singularity as monstrosities, but rather they are at times presented as antimonies.

The repulsion generated by the appearance of these characters is shared by them as well. Shane cannot stomach the sight of Coré when he arrives after her feeding, and he kills her because of the disruption and horror she provokes. Their pleasure is enormously excessive, which is other to the dimensions of capital and work the average person has to endure, which Bataille establishes when he remarks that “by definition, excess stands outside reason. Reason is bound up with work and the purposeful activity that incarnates its laws. But pleasure mocks at toil, and toil we have seen to be unfavorable to the pursuit of pleasure.”[19] For the remorseless capitalist Shane, her existence is unbearable. Shane is an altogether different beast than Coré, and this is tied up in his own actions and masculinity.

On the surface, Coré’s eroticism is inherently more animal, more excessive than Shane’s. She is a more animalistic figure as seen in the early scene where Léo has to trap her in her room; it is more like he is trying to subdue an animal than playing seductively with his partner. She is excessive, hidden away, and restrained. On the one hand, her infection makes her almost purely destructive, she plays into the sense of eroticism Bataille describes when he writes “our only real pleasure is to squander our resources to no purpose, just as if a wound were bleeding away inside us; we always want to be sure of the uselessness or the ruinousness of our extravagance.”[20] In this reading, she is like the gothic “madwoman in the attic” as figured in novels such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She is locked away because her condition makes her no longer able to be understood by the man who loves her. Her status as an undead being makes her dangerously other and thus she must be contained. Is this a being worthy of eroticism? I would suggest that much like the prostitute as God of Bataille’s own Madame Edwarda that this character is an overwhelming source of eroticism. It is the various embodied transgressions and excess erotic force that makes this figure (the seeming madwoman) such a figure of fear (particularly to the Victorian mindset). Bataille writes in his “Preface to Madame Edwarda” that “but what mysticism cannot put into words (it fails at the moment of utterance), eroticism says; God is nothing if he is not a transcendence of God in every direction; in that of vulgar being, in that of horror and impurity; even in that of nothing at all in the last analysis.”[21] Coré, and many other figures who share these same characteristics, are all examples of an unleashed eroticism that cannot be contained, and for the ages in which they live, they represent the greatest threat to propriety. It is no coincidence that much like the madwoman from Jane Eyre, she too ignites the fire that leads to her demise. Her surplus eroticism is so intense that she is unable to withdraw its dangers even from herself, and thus it ends up consuming her. Her final victim is in many ways herself. However, this reading of Coré does the character a degree of disservice. It suggests that she is reducible to a primal figure completely lacking in subjectivity, which is not the case at all. In complete contrast to Shane, she shows guilt for what happens to her victims, she feels the force of her transgression in a way that pushes her to self-destruction that is completely absent from her opposite number. Furthermore, in the way she paints the walls with the blood of her victim, which while admittedly horrifying, there is also demonstrated a kind of artistic subjectivity that Shane not only lacks but completely condemns. It is perhaps not correct to say that she is purely animal but open onto a dimension of sensational eroticism without telos that Shane will sublimate into a masculine and capitalist mode that rejects this affective drive. Coré is thus not killed exclusively by the fire, but by also by Shane, who as has been touched upon, represents an altogether different but equally dangerous incarnation of excess eroticism.

If Coré’s eroticism is characterized by unlimited sensational eroticism, then Shane’s can be said to resemble the eroticism described in the example of De Sade’s sovereign man. Shane is someone who embraces the notion that “the man who admits the value of other people necessarily imposes limits upon himself.”[22] In contrast to Coré, who always has to be cleaned by Léo, whose frenzies induce a state of satiated catatonia tinged with guilt; Shane wipes himself clean after his crimes. He is able to express the same monstrous transgression as Coré, but then he is also able to reintegrate himself into the social order out of which he has fallen. It is no surprise then that he is characterized as a remorseless capitalist; his attitude suggests that “the kind of sexuality he has in mind runs counter to the desires of other people (of almost all others, that is); they are to be victims, not partners.”[23] While the maid may be drawn to his sense of spontaneity and power, this is no more than the journey of a moth to a flame. The maid is drawn into his sphere, but then she is annihilated by him, with no hint of remorse. By this point, he has witnessed Coré in her most monstrous state, but rather than extinguish himself, he instead chooses to persist in his form; willingly disregarding the destructive obscenity of his limitless desire; effacing it as a form of pleasure and reinscribing it as a form of power. It is no wonder then that he is content to return home at the end of the film, he is ready to return to the States and channel his vicious monstrosity into being a more vicious capitalist.

The preceding has focused on viewing the events of the film Trouble Every Day through the lens of Bataille’s concept of eroticism. What this analysis will now do is turn away from using Bataille to examine the diegesis of the film and treat his work in relation to the genre of the horror film and then more specifically regarding the generic assemblage of Trouble Every Day. Bataille, in many ways, seems like an ideal critic for an embrace of the horror genre, concerned as his work is with the intersection of death and sexuality, which is made especially evident when he states that “in order to reach the limits of the ecstasy in which we lose ourselves in bliss we must always set an immediate boundary to it: horror.”[24] Horror is thus situated at the crossroads of eroticism. It is the force that must be endured to reach it, but also whose innate repulsive qualities keep one from reaching it. For the spectator of the horror film, this means facing up to the shock of violence and grotesquerie. Writing about the spectators of a primitive sacrifice, Bataille observes that

a violent death disrupts the creature’s discontinuity; what remains, what the tense onlookers experience in the succeeding silence, is the continuity of all existence with which the victim is now one. Only a spectacular killing, carried out as the solemn and collective nature of religion dictates, has the power to reveal what escapes notice.[25]

The horror film spectator watching along with others in a packed theater may feel a similar affirmation. The communal viewing of the modern Horror film, in which spectacular death is not only inevitable, but also advertised and guaranteed, surely recalls the same sensation. This should not be viewed as a case of a simple sublimation of primitive desire, however. Following Bataille, horror is not an easily consumable form of transgressive jouissance; rather, it is something dangerous, something that mortifies us even as we seek it out. Bataille writes that “on the one hand the horror of death drives us off, for we prefer life; on the other an element at once solemn and terrifying fascinates us and disturbs us profoundly.”[26] Watching horror in this way becomes almost homeopathic; something that we must consume, but gradually and within certain limits. The quote at the beginning of this paper described the iron nerve necessary for the participation in facing death. It is not something to be looked at lightly, but rather it is a coming face-to-face with the very annihilation we usually seek to avoid but secretly desire, for “life is none the less a negation of death. It condemns it and shuts it out. This reaction is strongest in man, and horror at death is linked not only with the annihilation of the individual but also with the decay that sends the dead flesh back into general ferment of life.”[27] This observation of Bataille’s seems to offer a two-fold reason for watching the horror film; a desire to challenge our personal sense of order, and a homeopathic resistance through gradual integration. Bataille elaborates on this point further when he explains that

man must combat his natural impulses to violence. This signifies an acceptance of violence at the deepest level, not an abrupt break with it; the feeling responsible for the rejection of violence is kept going in the background by this acceptance. Moreover the urge to reject violence is so persistent that the swing of accepted violence always has a dizzying effect.[28]

It also suggests a fascination with an impossible world, one in which death is somehow transgressed and rewritten into the social sphere. The contemporary fascination with the undead (as either vampires or zombies) suggests the horror of decay in the world of living flesh. That many horror films simultaneously make women’s bodies the particularly fetishized object of this ritual sacrifice needs to be addressed in further detail than can be handled here. Nevertheless, it seems evident that these rituals which emerge from deep-seated desires for transgression and violence are easily appropriated into the dominant social order and its power dynamics. Thus, while the form and horror of sacrifice are necessary and yet find themselves sublimated into contemporary misogyny and exploitation, its destructive power as such should also be able to be harnessed to explode the conventional taboos that restrict feminine sexuality to object of masculine consumption.

As has been discussed, Trouble Every Day is both of this tradition and not. While its characters seem to exist in a state of living death because of their extreme condition, they are not the generic living dead of much contemporary horror fiction. Furthermore, the film is not a conventional horror film, as Beugnet rightfully points out when she writes that “the film sits awkwardly at the crossroads between art and popular cinema; there is either too much or not enough gore.”[29] Its seeming formlessness perhaps explains its negative critical reception. In the short paragraph from Visions of Excess entitled “Formless,” Bataille describes the crisis of something which cannot be categorized by writing

thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape.[30]

Its reception deemed it appalling not simply due to the horror it presents, but its inability to satisfy the expectations of its viewers. Trouble Every Day refuses to be easily integrated into any conventions and thus it is resisted for its generic amorphousness. Before any examples of horror take place; the film seems much more like a kind of erotic thriller, as Beugnet can explain further, writing that “for all the force of their impact, the scenes of cannibalistic killings that drew so much attention are not meant to emulate the strategies of successful horror or gore features (that rely on the sheer accumulation, variety and flamboyance of gory effects to captivate their amateurs).”[31] Of course, as Bataille points out in his short section on the “Eye” in Visions of Excess, “extreme seductiveness is probably at the boundary of horror.”[32] Horror exists as a shadow behind that of the erotic thriller we initially think we are watching. It emerges and brings to light not only the dark void of desire hidden within the characters, but also of the thrill of the danger that the audience seeks within those confines. Horror for the art film functions as a kind of phantasm, which following Rudolphe Gasché’s writings on Bataille, brings to light the truth of the image. Gasché writes “what appears in the phantasm is a light in which only an image, a mirage, a shadow image of the truth comes to light” (284).[33] Horror, as it is employed by Denis in Trouble Every Day is a shadow image of the traditional erotic art film, it is the unspoken desire that wades underneath the erotic impulse of its usual presentation. As demonstrated by Martin’s quote mentioned above, the cannibalistic killings the film presents are merely an outgrowth of the amorous desire present already in much of Denis’ work. Here that same consuming desire is given its most literal manifestation through the cannibalistic actions of the characters in the film. This nonetheless brings the viewer into contact with a horror element that seems unwelcome and evokes the same distress and anxieties described in our reading of Bataille above. Trouble Every Day provokes mixed reactions both for its inability to be categorized generically and also because the horror it introduced to the art film brought an unwelcome and disturbing truth. In a way, the logic of the film’s reception mirrors the relationship presented between Coré and Shane; the unleashed and sensual eroticism of the film was condemned by the critical demand for order and rationality. It was lambasted by those who could not bear its excess and conventionally repurpose it for their own ends.

The aim of this paper was to provide a reading Claire Denis’ film Trouble Every Day alongside French philosopher Georges Bataille’s writing on eroticism. The film presents the viewer with an elliptical series of images of petty transgression punctuated by scenes of surprising and overwhelming violence. Bataille’s writings help make sense of the force of these images, how they precede and follow one another, and what symbolic power they have embedded within them. Furthermore, the film provides a visual representation of Bataille’s ideas of eroticism, of seeing it function in (an)other space that allows one to reflect on their own desires and spectatorial expectations. Situating Bataille as a viewer of the horror genre also allowed this analysis to bring to light both the fascinations and repulsions that attract viewers to these works of art in the first place. In conclusion, the danger of eroticism is part of its allure, and that transgressive and horrific works of art serve to satiate but also provide a warning of the extremes of society’s hidden desires. However, Bataille’s writings on eroticism and transgression also deal at length with the way these behaviors have been sublimated into the experience of the everyday. Horror films tend to deal with the descent into the extreme, not how the extreme situates the experience of normalcy. An almost theoretically identical paper could be written on Claire Denis’ next film after Trouble Every Day, Vendredi Soir (henceforth: Friday Night, 2002). That film follows the erotic misadventures of a young woman caught in a traffic jam who’s anxious about moving in with her boyfriend, but the same concepts (transgression, eroticism, consumption) re-occur, only now in the register of an erotic and ephemeral rather than horror film. To providing a reading of Friday Night through Bataille would perhaps offer a “twee” reading of the philosopher that treats the sublimation of his concepts rather than their demonstration. But that analysis, like this one, would remain a fantasy of the philosopher who continues to escape from his reader’s grasp. Horror produces a shadow image of Bataille’s thought that can be read as in line with the extremes of language to which he pushes himself; but his writing is more heterogeneous than this accreditation, it is also a mysticism that prefigures that relationship between possibility and impossibility that characterizes much of post-structuralist thought. This analysis has dragged Bataille along to the screening of one specific film, but in matters of Bataille and his relationship to cinema, there are yet more viewings to be done.

  1. Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986), 59.
  2. Ibid., 11.
  3. Ibid., 19.
  4. Ibid., 131.
  5. Ibid., 11.
  6. Ibid., 42.
  7. Ibid., 54.
  8. Martine Beugnet, Cinema and Sensation (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 46.
  9. Bataille, Erotism, 144.
  10. Ibid., 41.
  11. Ibid., 64.
  12. Ibid., 17.
  13. Ibid., 65.
  14. Florence Martin, “Trouble Every Day: The Neo-Colonialists Bite Back,” The Films of Claire Denis: Intimacy on the Border, Ed. Marjorie Vecchio. (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. 2014), 126.
  15. Bataille, Erotism, 15.
  16. Ibid., 60.
  17. Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess, Trans. Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie Jr. (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press), 2008, 59.
  18. Ibid., 59.
  19. Bataille, Erotism, 168.
  20. Ibid., 170.
  21. Ibid., 269.
  22. Ibid., 170.
  23. Ibid., 167.
  24. Ibid., 267
  25. Ibid., 22.
  26. Ibid., 45.
  27. Ibid., 55-6.
  28. Ibid., 69.
  29. Beugnet, Cinema and Sensation, 37.
  30. Bataille, Visions of Excess, 31.
  31. Beugnet, Cinema and Sensation, 37.
  32. Bataille, Visions of Excess, 17.
  33. Rodolphe Gasché, Georges Bataille: Phenomenology and Phantasmatology, Trans. Roland Végsö (Stanford University Press 2012), 284.

Christina Elle Burke

Contributing Writer

Christina Elle Burke is a PhD candidate at Western University’s Centre For the Study of Theory and Criticism. Her work focuses on themes of transfeminism, posthumanism, and eroticism, with an emphasis on film.

Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. Trans. Mary Dalwood. San Francisco: City

Lights Books, 1986.

—. My Mother, Madame Edwarda, The Dead Man. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse. London:

Penguin, 2012.

—. Visions of Excess. Trans Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie Jr. Minneapolis: Minnesota

University Press, 2008.

Beugnet, Martine. Cinema and Sensation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin, 2006.

Denis, Claire dir. Trouble Every Day. 2001.

—. Vendredi soir (Friday Night). 2002.

Gasché, Rodolphe. Georges Bataille: Phenomenology and Phantasmatology. Trans. Roland

Végsö. Stanford University Press, 2012.


Martin, Florence. “Trouble Every Day: The Neo-Colonialists Bite Back.” The Films of Claire

Denis: Intimacy on the Border. Ed. Marjorie Vecchio. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. 2014.

Mayne, Judith. Claire Denis. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

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