Absence to presence: The life history of Sylvia [Bataille] Lacan (France)
Hunt, Jamer Kennedy
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Sylvia (Bataille) Lacan (1908-1993) was a french film actress who was married to the philosopher Georges Bataille and to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Despite this fact, she is virtually absent from the critical accounts of her two husbands' work. This is an account of her life and the forces that have functioned to keep her out of the historical record. In addition, I address the ways in which her two husbands' work contributes to that occlusion. I write the life of Sylvia (Bataille) Lacan in a variety of different frames and genres. In the section on theories of gender and exchange, I trace the genealogy of the concept of the "exchange of women." Starting with Marcel Mauss and moving onto Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, and Jacques Lacan, I argue, following Gayle Rubin, that those theorists could only have relegated women to the status of exchanged object by reifying women into abstractions, divorced from the power and agency that they do have. In the section on the cultural context of Sylvia (Bataille) Lacan's life, I show that a variety of cultural forces were competing to define the appropriate roles for women after World War II. I contend that in Surrealist art, for example, many of the artists encouraged other female painters and writers, while in their own work they relied upon stereotypical, infantilizing, and objectifying depictions of women. In the section on film theory, I closely examine Une Partie de campagne, a Jean Renoir film in which Sylvia Bataille starred. I map out the ways in which the film structures the spectator's gaze, configuring it as masculine, so that the tumultuous love scene at the film's climax is drained of its possible reading as a scene of rape. I include a biographical chapter in which I piece together the rare fragments of text that do attest to Sylvia (Bataille) Lacan's life. Finally, I conclude with an interview that I conducted with her about her life and the influence she had on her husbands.
Cultural anthropology; Women's studies; Biographies; European history; Cinema