A cigarette package

Above: An image currently appearing on UK cigarette packages. Credit: Oscopic


A medical photo of a tracheal stoma (surgical opening, or hole) that is currently being used on UK cigarette packages is an authentically Bataillean image. A Bataillean "poetic" image/object will be ambiguous (admitting more than one interpretation or explanation; equivocal), uncanny (seemingly supernatural; uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar, weird; of an unsettling accuracy, intensity), and/or surreal (bizarre, dreamlike).

For Bataille: "If poetry introduces the strange, it does so by means of the familiar. The poetic is the familiar dissolving into the strange, and ourselves with it. It never dispossesses us entirely, for the words, the images (once dissolved) are charged with emotions already experienced, attached to objects which link them to the known ... I believe that truth has only one face: that of a violent contradiction."

A classic Bataillean image in this format is found in his novella Story of the Eye: "I remember that one day, when we were in a car tooling along at top speed, we crashed into a cyclist, an apparently very young and very pretty girl. Her head was almost totally ripped off by the wheels. For a long time, we were parked a few yards beyond without getting out, fully absorbed in the sight of the corpse. The horror and despair at so much bloody flesh, nauseating in part, and in part very beautiful, was fairly equivalent to our [the unnamed narrator and his lover Simone] usual impression upon seeing one another."

The scare-photo (above) is imbued with a range of unsettling-and-haunting associations-and-references. Apart from being a horrifying traumatic wound, the stoma also looks like a relaxed or open anal sphincter. (Stale air is "exhaled" though both.) Such a conflation between two of the main human systems (respiratory, digestive) is disturbing (so is the thought of an anus under the chin). So too, the image appears also as a photo of a female vulva, with the vaginal canal rather wide-open. If seen in this way then there is a further ambiguity as to whether this is a vagina open because of pleasure, or duress, which is in itself explicitly Bataillean: "Extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror." In this second association, the strangeness of a vagina placed anatomically on the neck is (like an anus on a neck) uncanny and dream- or nightmare-like. Then, looked at once more, the ambiguity can shift again, so that the black space becomes an eye, or an eye-socket. The eye-socket of, say, a dead pig's head--with the beginning of the snout in the upper left of the photo (the severed head of a roasted pig is traditionally placed looking upwards like this). Overall there is a perceptual and associational shifting around between a traumatic medical wound, an anus, a vulva, and an eye (of a dead pig). Now, if that is not a Bataillean image, then what is??

(29 July 2018)