Colette Peignot (1903 – 1938) was a French author who wrote under the pseudonym Laure. She was a revolutionary poet, masochist Catholic rich girl, & world traveler. Toward the end of her life she became the lover of French writer Georges Bataille. She was a prominent member of Bataille’s secret society Acéphale, and his novel Blue of Noon is based on events in their relationship. Her writings and her real life story were remarkable in their violence and intensity, and her relationships with Bataille and Michel Leiris clearly influenced their works. Laure succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five. For Laure’s funeral, her mother wanted a priest, but Bataille refused and threatened to shoot him at the altar. Her works were published posthumously against the will of her brother, Charles Peignot, by his nephew, the poet Jerome Peignot (who thought of Colette as a “diagonal mother”). Peignot’s work was a major inspiration for the American author Kathy Acker, whose early work Persian Poems is a cut-up and plagiarzing of Laure’s writing. Peignot’s love affair with Bataille also forms the central narrative conceit of Acker’s novel My Mother: Demonology. Perhaps most significantly, Peignot’s death inspired and is the subject of the great French author and philosopher Maurice Blanchot’s most significant novel, Death Sentence.
This complete collection of Laure (Colette) Peignot’s writings published for the first time in English includes “Story of a Little Girl,” about the Catholic priest who sexually molested her sister; “The Sacred,” a collection of poems and fragments on mysticism and eroticism; notes on her association with contr-attaque and acephale, and her involvement with the Spanish civil war and the early years of the Soviet Union; a compendium of correspondence with her beloved sister-in-law and tortured love letters to Bataille; and an essay by Bataille about Laure’s death of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five.
Laure’s Fragments of a Notebook (1937)
Avoid contact with all people in whom there is no possible resonance with what touches you most deeply and toward whom you have obligations of “kindness,” of politeness. Since these obligations engage me strongly as soon as I find myself in the presence of such people and engage me through an ill-fated habit of patience and good-will, which in fact becomes will for humiliation (sometimes abject). Imagine a musician in an orchestra playing off-key because his neighbor is doing so, to be nice.
Flee — literally flee — those with whom you can exchange only absurd remarks about others who are just like them and whom you have seen the previous night exchanging the same remarks, or equally vain gossip, about the very person you are talking to. There are certain people who end up frequenting and even calling friends those they denigrate constantly. I hate “goodness” and “kindness,” which have only led me to humiliation.
Keep silent as before. It’s better.
Contempt for those whose conversation boils down to all that I hate and flee: to a certain spirit of vulgarity and pettiness. Farce is what they feel comfortable with. I cringe before certain laughter and smiles drawn forth on this terrain. Sometimes a laugh is enough to cause me to have, not aversion toward, but distrust of a human being. There is a point at which polite distrust is worse than aversion because it is more reserved, but I can’t confine myself to this, and everything in me shouts, screams aversion.
Lack of reserve and moral propriety shocks me all the time, due to certain nervous (physical) reactions I can neither hold back nor hide. Those who broaden the horizon, those who narrow it.
How I prefer a true whore.
Do not get stuck where the essential is lost, where everything turns vulgar, base, and petty. Through my own fault, through a will for humiliation. A feeling of abjection. “Defeated ahead of time.” So from now on “dust to dust” resembles dust. At those moments it is physically impossible to be clear and frank. Shame and false shame.
Easy: to accuse others of being superficial = brilliant = alive.
Return to simple beings, to childlike reactions, a difficult return.
from a letter from Laure to Georges Bataille (1935)
‘I believe in our life together . . . I believe in it the way I believe in everything that brought us together: in the most profound depths of your darkness and of mine. I revealed everything about myself to you. Now that it gives you pleasure to laugh at it, to soil it –– this leaves me as far away from anger as it is possible to be. Scatter, spoil, destroy, throw to the dogs all that you want: you will never affect me again. I will never be where you think you find me, where you think you’ve finally caught me in a chokehold that makes you come . . . As for me I am beyond words, I have seen too much, known too much, experienced too much for appearance to take on form. You can do anything you want, I will not be hurt.’
Based loosely on the relationship between Colette Peignot and Georges Bataille, Kathy Acker’s novel My Mother: Demonology is the powerful story of a woman’s struggle with the contradictory impulses for love and solitude. At the dawn of her adult life, Laure becomes involved in a passionate and all-consuming love affair with her companion, B. But this ultimately leaves her dissatisfied, as she acknowledges her need to establish an identity independent of her relationship with him. Yearning to better understand herself, Laure embarks on a journey of self-discovery, an odyssey that takes her into the territory of her past, into memories and fantasies of childhood, into wildness and witchcraft, into a world where the power of dreams can transcend the legacies of the past and confront the dilemmas of the present.
Kathy Acker: ‘My Mother: Demonology started out as my fascination with Laure’s work and with Bataille, and with wondering what that generation, two generations ago, was thinking. I was amazed reading her work that the same preoccupations I have are there too. The work Bataille and Laure were doing in the ’30s was model-building from the ground up. Neither the democratic nor the post-Leninist model was usable, so they turned to anthropological work and started looking into myth and sacrifice to come up with a new ground for a new social model. Whereas Breton settled for Stalinism after psychoanalysis, Bataille and Laure were looking for something else, where irrationality would not be just a matter of mental functions, and sexuality would be something more than just the repressed. We’re in a similar situation today with regard to Russian communism and democracy. In her search, Laure also looked consciously as a woman, which greatly interested me. So it was by chance (in other words by some determination that doesn’t have a name yet) that in the course of working through Laure’s texts I became interested in witchcraft. And this started my novel. The witchcraft material presented another history of women, or another history–one not written by and about dominant men.’ — (from an interview by Lawrence Rickels)
from My Mother, Demonology (1995)
I had to return home.
I didn’t want to escape my parents becuase I hated them but because I was wild. Wild children are honest. My mother wanted to command me to the point that I no longer existed. My father was so gentle, he didn’t exist. I remained uneducated or wild because I was imprisoned by my mother and had no father.
My body was all I had.
A a a I don’t know what language is. One one one one I shall never learn to count.
I remained selfish. There was only my mother and me.
Selfishness and curiosity are conjoint. I’d do anything to find out about my body, investigatged the stenches arising out of trenches and armpits, the tastes in every hole. No one taught me regret. I was wild to make my body’s imaginings actual.
And I knew that I couldn’t escape from my parents because I was female, not yet eighteen years old. Even if there waws work for a female minor, my parents, my educators, and my society had taught me I was powerless and needed either parents or a man to survfive. I couldn’t fight the whole world; I only hated.
So in order to escape my parents I needed a man. After I had escaped, I could and would hate the man who was imprisoning me. And after that, I would be anxious to annihilate my hatred, my double bind.
This personal and political state was the only one they had taught me. I’m always in the wrong so I’m a freak. I’m always destroying everything including myself, which is what I want to do.
Red was the color of wildness and of what is as yet unknown.
As my body, which my mother refused to recognize and thusn didn’t control, grew, it grew into sexuality. As if sexuality can occur without touching. Masturbated not only before I knew what the word masturbation meant, but before I could come. Physical time became a movement toward orgasm. I became sexually wilder. I wanted a man to help me escape my parents but not for sexual reasons. I didn’t need another sexual object. Mine was my own skin.
Longing equaled skin. Skin didn’t belong to anyone in my kingdom of untouchability.
I hadn’t decided to be a person. I was almost refusing to become a person, because the moment I was, I would have to be lonely. Conjunction with the entirety of the universe is one way to avoid suffering.”
Maurice Blanchot’s great novel Death Sentence recounts the horrific drawn out death of writer Colette Laure Peignot, a close friend of Blanchot’s and the lover of his colleague the writer Georges Bataille. In the novel, the main character Anne recalls a correspondence she’d had with J., who, in her delirium on her deathbed, had visions of a rose incapable of wilting, “a perfect rose”. Anne imagines on her deathbed that she is being offered immortal or “artificial roses”. In this way, as well as in innumerable other cases within Blanchot’s novel, Anne’s death mirrors the death of Peignot, who famously uttered in her last breath, “la rose”.
from Death Sentence (1948)
She had fallen asleep, her face wet with tears. Far from being spoiled by it, her youth seemed dazzling: only the very young and healthy can bear such a flood of tears that way; her youth made such an extraordinary impression on me that I completely forgot her illness, her awakening and the danger she was still in. A little later, however, her expression changed. Almost under my eyes, the tears had dried and the tear stains had disappeared; she became severe, and her slightly raised lips showed the contraction of her jaw and her tightly clenched teeth, and gave her a rather mean and suspicious look: her hand moved in mine to free itself, I wanted to release it, but she seized me again right away with a savage quickness in which there was nothing human. When the nurse came to talk to me–in a low voice and about nothing important–J. immediately awoke and said in a cold way, “I have my secrets with her too.” She went back to sleep at once.
—-… As I listened without pause to her slight breathing, faced by the silence of the night, I felt extremely helpless and miserable just because of the miracle that I had brought about. Then for the first time, I had a thought that came back to me later and in the end won out. While I was still in that state of mind–it must have been about three o’clock–J. woke up without moving at all–that is, she looked at me. That look was very human: I don’t mean affectionate or kind, since it was neither; but it wasn’t cold or marked by the forces of this night. It seemed to understand me profoundly; that is why I found it terribly friendly, though it was at the same time terribly sad. “Well,” she said, “you’ve made a fine mess of things.” She looked at me again without smiling at all, as she might have smiled, as I afterwards hoped she had, but I think my expression did not invite a smile. Besides, that look did not last very long.
—-Even though her eyelids were lowered, I am convinced that from then on she lay awake; she lay awake because the danger was too great, or for some other reason; but she purposefully kept herself at the edge of consciousness, manifesting a calm, and an alertness in that calm, that was very unlike her tension of a short time before. What proved to me that she was not asleep — though she was unaware of what went on around her because something else held her interest — was that a little later she remembered what had happened nearly an hour before: the nurse, not sure whether or not she was asleep, had leaned over her and suggested she have another shot, a suggestion which she did not seem to be at all aware of. But a little later she said to the nurse, “No, no shot this evening,” and repeated insistently, “No more shots.” Words, which I have all the time in the world to remember now. Then she turned slightly towards the nurse and said in a tranquil tone, “Now then, take a good look at death,” and pointed her finger at me. She said this in a very tranquil and almost friendly way, but without smiling.
LAURE – Redécouverte en fragments (France Culture, 1977)
LAURE – Lecture de fragments choisis (France Culture, 1998)
Laure, LE SACRÉ
my life will never be where you think you can find it–too bad for me
‘Despite the publication of her writings some 35 years ago, woman author and political activist Colette Peignot (1903-1938)–also known as Laure, “la sainte de l’ abime” – remains an obscure figure of the French avant-garde. The reasons for this are many; among them was her early death from tuberculosis at 35 and her relatively scant number of publications. Indeed, the greater part of her work might never have seen the light of day had it not been for her more visible friends, many of whom were among the most prominent French intellectuals of the inter-war period. In addition to Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille, who prepared her writings for posthumous publication, she was friend to philosopher-activist Simone Weil and intimate with Boris Souvarine of Le Cercle communiste democratique. Like them, she was politically engaged in the tumultuous interwar years, rejecting republicanism, Catholicism, fascism, and Stalinist Russia. In response to the growing fascist threat in the early 30s, she embraced Trotskyism and turned to anti-Stalinist Russia for political cause and inspiration, befriending these progressive contemporaries and sharing their political engagement. Her fervent dedication to the worker’s cause motivated her to learn Russian, visit the U.S.S.R., join Souvarine’s anti-Stalinist group, and write for many preeminent leftist journals, including Le Travailleur communiste syndical et cooperatif, La Critique sociale (in which Bataille published his famous “La Notion de depense”) and, later, Bataille’s own political journal Contre-attaque. Her fidelities to the politics of the French left would wane in the mid-1930s, however, when she would embrace an even more radical, if not entirely unwieldy position strongly influenced by her friends–principally Bataille–and her reading of William Blake, D.A.F. de Sade, and Friedrich Nietzsche. To be sure, she was not alone in this departure from normative politics; 1930s France fomented with diffuse and complex political attitudes of all kinds. The Spanish Civil War and the failure of the Front populaire in 1937 further intensified this trend. Figures like Louis Aragon called for the “crusade of poetry and art” while others like Georges Bernanos championed a gallic antifascist Catholicism. Disenchanted with the failures of both the Right and Left, many like Laure sought out a radically new politics beyond both sides of the political spectrum. Perhaps the earliest traces of this transformation are to be found in her highly revealing self-chosen pseudonym, “Claude d’Araxe,” which derives from a memorable phrase taken from the Virgil’s Aneid, Book VIII, later placed atop a private letter to paramour Bataille: “Pontem indlgnatus Araxes” (“Araxes, indignant of bridges”). The Araxes, dividing Iran and Turkey on the one side and the former Soviet Union on the other, is a legendarily rapid and vehement river, one that historically confounded all attempts to build a bridge over it. That Laure used this as a pseudonym in her political writings no doubt recalls the country that she admired, but it also illustrates a general virulence, rebelliousness, and recalcitrance, an obstinate refusal of all things stagnant, a denial of established limits, and an impassioned assent to transgress them. Her contempt for fixity–l’emmerdement d’etre fixe as she once termed it–is ironically quite fixed throughout her writing, actions, and thought from this period. Her polities were by no means exempt from this contempt; ultimately, they adhered neither to an orthodox Marxism nor to the more coherent agenda of Souvarine and le Cercle communists democratique. If her early political revolt first found its home in the more established communist movement, it would later resist this very movement, taking the form not of organized coalition or political essay, but of poetry, aphorism, and fragmentary flights of the pen. These fervent yet ultimately unallied political beliefs made her a remarkable albeit enigmatic figure to her fellow leftist contemporaries.’ — Sean E. Connolly
Georges Bataille & Laure, 1948
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Ha ha. I’ve never heard of Dennis J. Cooper. There’s a producer/script writer/director named Dennis Cooper who’s made a few movies and produced/wrote the TV series ‘Miami Vice’ and ‘Chicago Hope’ and so on and so forth who’s immensely more successful than me but has less name recognition for whatever reason. ** G, Hi, G. Yeah, tough times all over, as they say. The tentatively good thing here is that the prime minister announced yesterday that the quarantine is working, and he thinks we’re past the peak now. Better than nothing, if that continues panning out. Oh, yeah, ‘God Jr.’ is kind of my odd book out, as they say. I’m quite fond of it. I think the last section of that novel is the best thing I’ve ever written, if I had to choose. I did get your email, yes, sorry, I’m feeling rather under the weather lately, and that’s slowed me up. I’ll write back to you asap, my apologies. I’m happy you liked some the music. Take care, pal. ** Steve Erickson, I didn’t quite make it through the whole Jeremiah Sand album, but it certainly was fun for a while. Hm, other fictional character movie offshoot recording artists … I’m certain there have been some, but my brain is too hazy to dig them out at the moment. No, I need to get listening to WFMU on my general radar. I’m happy you liked some of the tracks. Ha, I didn’t know that about Imperial Triumph’s coffee brand. That’s worth searching out. They’re nice. Oh, I’m all about not giving aspects of oneself names whenever possible. ** Bill, Hi. Hope the intrigue pans out. ‘Rough’ is your middle name? On Mondays? That’s very good to know. I’m feeling a bit worse, unfortunately, but not scarily wiped out. Ha ha, or maybe hang out a whole lot less? Everything seems to get here eventually albeit under cover of the law quite often. I’ll peer about. ** Brendan Lott, Hey, Brendan, buddy boy! Shit is dark here too. Or darkish. Supposedly we’re on the upswing. Awesome about your images going with Quinn’s piece in Evergreen. Yeah, Quinn actually comments here a lot, currently under the monicker ‘Bzzt’. He’s cool, and a very good writer, obviously. You guys should blab. Do pass along that link, yes! LA’s graveyard vibe and look are palpable. That’s the only reason I don’t just get on a plane and face quarantine right now. Excited for the image of your show, man. Keep toughing through everything. Love, me. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Yes, and I think this here blog will likely host ‘welcome’ posts for both of those books when they do come out if the guys in charge follow through. Vaccine thing is very promising, that’s for sure. Yikes, I hope the doc doesn’t find what you fear or nips the hell out if it if he does. Your body has been most uncooperative recently. Oh, boy, well, here’s hoping David and his car are a marriage made in heaven somehow. ** Brian O’Connell, Hi, Brian. My pleasure, man, and glad you like those tracks. Me too, obvs. Thanks about my health. It’s been a kind of run down in general thing, but yesterday it added some cold/flu-like symptoms which is unhappy news, but nothing too weird or ominous so far. Okay, I’ll try to watch ‘Come and See’. I have a couple of spurious sites in my bookmarks that might just be hiding it in plain sight if I’m lucky. Yeah, Ozu and Bresson and usually Carl Dreyer often get compared and grouped. Ozu’s stuff is quite different from Bresson’s, as you’ll see. Shows you how much room there is to move within austerity. Have the blast you hoped. I will seek some kind of blast-source on my end too. ** Niko, Hi, Niko. Thank you. Well, to play devil’s advocate, another way to look at it is that I’m lucky to have an agent. The vast majority of writers of my generation who write similarly adventurous fiction don’t have agents at this point. Agenting is a job, and agents understandably need income, and I’m not a writer who generates a lot of income for agents or myself. So an agent has to basically believe in that I’m doing to take me on, and I had an amazing agent for most of my ‘career’ who quit the biz some years ago. One doesn’t need to have agent to get published in this wild publishing climate, but it does mean the writer has to do legwork. I can see that it’s definitely much tougher without an agent if you’re trying to get your translated work published afar. I wouldn’t even know how to start with that. I guess you should check out foreign publishers who have some kind of concentration on work in translation? Action Books in the US publishes a lot of Swedish writers. New Directions does a lot of books in translation. And others. I would obviously love to read the novel if it gets in English, you bet. Thanks, and good luck with everything, and, if I can help, I certainly will. ** Okay. I restored this old post about the fascinating writer and figure Laure. Check it out. See you tomorrow.