Publication Details

James, K. (2009). Breton, Bataille and Lacan’s Notion of “Transgressive” Sublimation. E-Pisteme, 2 (1), 53-66.


Surrealism has sometimes been characterised as a movement in flight from reality, attempting to evade the base and the material by immersing itself in oneiric realities and the "world-rubble of the unconscious" (Adorno). Indeed, Surrealism is frequently equated with an idealising "sublimatory" tendency within modernist art which contrasts with the deconstructive and "desublimatory" stance of George Bataille, a dissident surrealist known for his transgressive writings on eroticism. Even in their conceptualisation of love, the surrealists are frequently considered to be too idealising – and all the more so in the case of their leading spokesman, André Breton. In this paper I will attempt to present an alternative view of Surrealism which shows that its explorations of love do have a transgressive basis. Specifically I will use Lacan's theory on sublimation (which posits moral law as a regulator of desire) to show how regulation and interdiction (as promoted by restrictive social mores and religious repression) exacerbate desire. I will argue that it is precisely such interdiction that both Breton and Bataille revolt against in their writings and which inform their views of eroticism and love.

Link to publisher version (URL)