The Accursed Share, Vol. I

Georges Bataille, 1988 (orig. 1949)

Highly original writing that incorporates a great deal of intellectual history, along with its critique, into a short space. Bataille believes that behind the specific economic facts that scientists may study, and the mechanistic pecuniary or productive operations of everyday life, is the circulatory movement of a general economy, which carries an ever-present productive excess into the realm of waste. Life is always excess: contained within the possibility of growth there is a possibility of death, which undermines the infinitude we so readily attribute to expansion and calling our very development a salubrious luxury. From the smallest plant to the greatest capitalist machine, the question of expenditure is never one of utility. The end of life is not a purpose, but a question, after all, and Bataille takes on some existential or even nihilistic reasoning in order to craft the fulcrum of his narrative. If are acts are oriented towards death, towards sumptuous destruction, why remain within the framework of logicalism and benefit? Our benefit is never a reward to ourselves but rather a symptom of the system, which may at times be set up in favour of the production of productivity such that our living standards are finally improved. But in the realm of sacrifice, drawing from Mauss and historiographical culture studies, Bataille steps too far: his theories are disproven by the same hand as Graeber and Veblen. I look forward to reading the second and third volume.


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