Georges Bataille’s erotic novella L’histoire de l’oeil (Story of the Eye) was originally published in 1928, but it was not until the early 1940s that clandestine copies began to appear more widely; it was censored until the 1950s and appeared in English translation only in 1953.
Narrated by an unnamed young man looking back on his exploits, L’histoire de l’oeil describes the sexual perversions of a pair of teenage lovers. Simone is his primary female partner, but the narrative includes two important secondary figures, Marcelle, a mentally ill sixteen-year-old girl who comes to a sad end, and Lord Edmund, a voyeuristic English émigré aristocrat. Though often portrayed as pure pornography, interpretation of the story has gradually matured to reveal considerable philosophical and emotional depth, its imagery built upon a series of metaphors which in turn refer to philosophical constructs developed in Bataille’s wider work on the erotic, including the eye, the vagina, the anus, the testicle, the egg, the sun and the earth – conventionally uncomfortable connections which clearly resonated with Kügler when she was introduced to the story.
As with her Sade portfolio, Martina Kügler recognised that the imagination can often go where real world experience cannot, and that there are important transgressive sexual aspects of our deeper nature, needing some sort of expression, which are best explored through the non-verbal medium of art. As well as illustrating what many readers see as a difficult and disturbing narrative, she recognised in illustrating L’histoire de l’oeil an affinity with her own troubled relationship with the world.