If I had to pick one book for the Bataille newbie, it would be this one. *Erotism* puts forth the crux of Georges Bataille's critical thought in what is its clearest and most forthright expression. Here the man once called "the theoretician of evil" lays out for the educated layman his controversial and challenging views of the interrelationship of sexuality, violence, taboo, suffering, mysticism, and death. Most of the major ideas found in Bataille's more complicated philosophical works such as *The Accursed Share* are distilled here, as well as the philosophical underpinning of the infamous novels *Madame Edwarda* and *The Dead Man.*
Bataille is always perversely entertaining, if sometimes frustrating, having a facility to cast even the most lurid subjects in a language that can render pornography intellectually impenetrable. The problem is partly due to the fact that Bataille's main concern is to elucidate what he calls "extreme states of being," those experiences at the very limit of human possibility such as orgasm, visions, and death--phenomenon that philosophy has traditionally left out of the equation when considering human life. Because these extreme experiences are often irrational--or transcend rationality, as Bataille would prefer it--they usually fall outside the natural scope of philosophy, as well as language itself. Bataille, who tries to write about these inner states on the outer edge, can only do so by ultimately failing, which he readily acknowledges is necessarily the fate of anyone who tries to express the inexpressible.
In *Erotism,* Bataille, for the most part, confines himself to saying what can be said before it becomes unspeakable and that's what makes this book so much more readable than most of his other texts. Taboo as that which sets us apart from the animal and yet is meant to be transgressed in order that we may know the sacred. Sacrifice as a communal "crime" by which we contemplate the deathless state of continuity that is death itself. Work as the dike that keeps humanity from being swept away in a flood of sex and violence. Bataille follows the red thread that zig-zaggedly stitches together man's age-old fascination with sexual transgression and violent death. From the cave paintings of prehistory to the novels of Sade, from Saint Theresa's pseudo-sexual ecstasy to the Kinsey Report, the result is a wide-ranging and fascinating re-interpretation of the religious instinct in man from the point of view of our mortal obsession with filth and degradation. What Bataille has wrought is a philosophy of "evil" that itself is a thing of transgression, overturning much of what we thought we knew about morality, love, civilization, god, and all the rest of it, but most of all ourselves.
A sort of primer to Bataille, *Erotism* can be used as a skeleton key to access the treasures locked away in his more inaccessible works. A must-read for any philosophically inclined renegade interested in sex and death, *Erotism* justifies your morbid penchant for the corrupt and obscene. You really shouldn't have another orgasm without being cognizant of the insights to be found in this life-warping and mind-bending book.