Georges Bataille , a librarian by profession, was founder of the French review Critique. Allan Stoekl is professor of French and comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University and author of Agonies of the Intellectual. University of Minnesota Press Coming soon.
Home Current Catalogs Blog. View Cart Checkout. Search Site only in current section. Humans, he argues in an essay on De Sade, are composed of two contending drives: the drive to excretion and the drive to appropriation. In cultural terms, this is presented in terms of an opposition between collective, orgiastic impulses and social institutions legal, economic and political structures.
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Humans conceive of their world as being composed of homogeneous unities in order to facilitate appropriation science, for instance, thinks in related concepts, in terms of parts and their role within the whole. Philosophy is an intellectual expression of the urge to appropriate.
But the intellectual desire to appropriate produces its specific kind of own waste products. Nothingness, the infinite, concepts of the Absolute are all, for Bataille, notions that resist recuperation within an homogeneous conceptual order.
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He conceives of the body as being opposed to the normative constraints that serve to constitute subjectivity within social formations. The body thereby resists absorption by social forces. For example, in the modern era, which is dominated by the capitalist mode of production and hence by the values of prudence and usefulness, the body serves as a reminder of the limitations of the notion of exchange-value. Likewise, Bataille also alludes to the existence of practices that enact excess as a means of stating his case, for example human sacrifice is an act of gross expenditure, a total wastefulness that horrifies modern consciousness because of its violence, senselessness and irrationality.
Bataille applies this concept to his notion of sovereignty, which is best expressed not in acts of great meaning, but rather in acts of negation, "nihilation. It was translated into English and published in , with the title The Accursed Share. The Accursed Share presents a new economic theory, which Bataille calls "general economy," as distinct from the "restricted" economic perspective of most economic theory.
Thus, in the theoretical introduction, Bataille writes the following:.
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I will simply state, without waiting further, that the extension of economic growth itself requires the overturning of economic principles—the overturning of the ethics that grounds them. Changing from the perspectives of restrictive economy to those of general economy actually accomplishes a Copernican transformation: a reversal of thinking—and of ethics.
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If a part of wealth subject to a rough estimate is doomed to destruction or at least to unproductive use without any possible profit, it is logical, even inescapable, to surrender commodities without return. Henceforth, leaving aside pure and simple dissipation, analogous to the construction of the Pyramids, the possibility of pursuing growth is itself subordinated to giving: The industrial development of the entire world demands of Americans that they lucidly grasp the necessity, for an economy such as theirs, of having a margin of profitless operations.
An immense industrial network cannot be managed in the same way that one changes a tire… It expresses a circuit of cosmic energy on which it depends, which it cannot limit, and whose laws it cannot ignore without consequences. Woe to those who, to the very end, insist on regulating the movement that exceeds them with the narrow mind of the mechanic who changes a tire.
Thus, according to Bataille's theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which is destined to one of two modes of economic and social expenditure. This must either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring in war.
The notion of "excess" energy is central to Bataille's thinking. Bataille's inquiry takes the superabundance of energy, beginning from the infinite outpouring of solar energy or the surpluses produced by life's basic chemical reactions, as the norm for organisms. In other words, an organism in Bataille's general economy, unlike the rational actors of classical economy who are motivated by scarcity, normally has an "excess" of energy available to it. This extra energy can be used productively for the organism's growth or it can be lavishly expended.
Bataille insists that an organism's growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible.
Visions of Excess
The wasting of this energy is "luxury. Crucial to the formulation of the theory was Bataille's reflection upon the phenomenon of potlatch. Volume 1 introduces the theory and provides historical examples of the functioning of general economy: Human sacrifice in Aztec society, the monastic institutions of Tibetan Lamaism , the Marshall Plan , and many others.
Volumes 2 and 3 extend the argument to eroticism and sovereignty, respectively. It is collected in volume seven of Bataille's complete works.
Related Georges Bataille : On the Philosophy of Georges Bataille
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