Georges Bataille on Jules Michelet

He was obviously guided by a certain anguish even led astray by it-while he was writing a book or burning with a dark passion. In a passage of his Journal (which I have been unable to read, it is not accessible, but on this point I have obtained from others adequate details) he says that in the course of his labours it would happen that inspiration failed him: he then would go downstairs and out of his house, and enter a public urinal whose odour was suffocating. He breathed deeply, and having thus “approached as close as he could to the object of his horror,” he re­turned to his work. I cannot help recalling the author’s counte­nance, noble, emaciated, the nostrils quivering.

Georges Bataille on Jules Michelet (1946)
Preface to la sorcière

The Principal Actor is the People

Photography of Jules Michelet by Félix Nadar F...
Photography of Jules Michelet by Félix Nadar Français : Photographie de Jules Michelet par Félix Nadar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another thing which this History will clearly establish and which holds true in every connection, is that the people were usually more important than the leaders. The deeper I have excavated, the more surely I have satisfied myself that the best was underneath, in the obscure depths. And I have realised that it is quite wrong to take these brilliant and powerful talkers, who expressed the thought of the masses, for the sole actors of the drama. They were given the impulse by others much more than they gave it themselves. The principal actor is the people. To find the people again and put it back in its proper role, I have been obliged to reduce to their proportions the ambitious marionettes whose strings it manipulated and in whom hitherto we have looked for and thought to see the secret play of history.

Revered by Barthes, Michelet is subject of the first section of Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station. Everything I read, including the paragraph above suggests his work is truly exciting.

Leaden Hours

And, especially-because for me it’s the bad time of day, the one I don’t like, when I don’t know what to do with myself, when I feel lazy without feeling relaxed, idle and unsociable; a flat hour {heure plat} (“washed out” {“à plat“}), undynamic: half-past three in the afternoon ( the time of my mother’s death;-as if I’d always known it would happen then-the time of Christ’s death). Michelet (always him): Nuns in the Convent (The Sorceress): “What killed them was not the mortifications they were called upon to endure, so much as sheer ennui and despair. After the first burst of enthusiasm, that dreaded disease of the cloister (describe early as the fifteenth century by Cassien), leaden ennui, the gloomy ennui of afternoons, the tender melancholy ennui which loses itself in vague languors and dreamy reverie, quickly undermined their health.” Michelet knew about a great many things; he knew about things that mattered, he knew that knowing about the leaden hours of the convent matters as much as knowing a out the wool wars of Florence, etc.