On Bataille

[continued from here]

Erik Empson, 2006

...Bataille’s concept of 'general economy' (propounded most systematically in The Accursed Share) is intellectually construed in contradistinction to the painful dismemberment of the total that occurs on the dissecting table of scientific analysis. Bataille consciously construes an epistemic totality that aims not at the isolated particularity of individual economic events, but one that is always regulated by an idea that all organic behaviour is based upon similar principles, in this case a superabundance of energy. In the Accursed Share this is a natural biological reality of our eco-sphere, all things try to grow, where this growth is limited, an excess of energy is produced. This excess serves as the primary ontological consideration in the treatment of economic behaviour that is to be considered in unison with the erotic and the sacred. For Bataille, 'the sexual act is what the tiger is in space'. What societies do with the surplus of energy is fundamentally constituted by their religious and economic realities. The pre-modern world is characterised by the 'unproductive consumption of the surplus'. Hence the gift economy, or potlatch (a crucial concept in Debord and Baudrillard), were events of religious, erotic and economic significance – in the ancient world the building of cathedrals, or pyramids or the sacrifice of animals should be seen as the economic norm of which capitalist productivity is the abberation. With echoes of Marx, the modern Bourgeois world inaugurates the separation of these spheres (alongside the transition whereby the surplus product becomes redirected back into into production itself and not squandered but used to further multitply production).

Bataille represents a very different example of problem of the use of a materialist totality. Scientistic - though not in the sense of the illegitimate seperation of phenomena - but understanding them in their unity in their interaction with the general. The text of the accursed share and the study of eroticism, are characteristically interlaced with consciousness of the method. Bataille offers some curious anecdotal discussions of this…

“How…could I have had the extreme freedom of thought that places concepts on a level with the world's freedom of movement?”(p. 10 The Accursed Share)

'I could not at the same time give my thinking a general outline, and lose myself in a maze of interferences, where the trees constantly prevent one from seeing the forest. I wanted to avoid redoing the work of the economists, and I confined myself to relating the problem that is posed in economics to the general problem of nature.' (p. 13 TAS)

The movement…'that of excess energy, translated into the effervescence of life'. (p. 10 TAS)

Throughout much of Volume 1 we are largely expected to accept the concept of energy surplus and growth as, until it can be elaborated more concretely as he deals with its particular instances. But as a lesson in the totality there is definitely the coincidence of the desire for totality and its discovery in the science. That is to say, totality is simultaneously the norm of procedure as well as the instrumental result of our social desires. Totality is at once; the attempt to recapture lost intimacy, the orgasm, death (as offering continuity after a discontinuous existence)

In Eroticism transgression is intimately related to violence and ultimately death, a connection Bataille explores, literally in Blue of Noon and The Dead Man and analytically in his writings on surrealism and the sacred e.g. War, Philosophy and the Sacred. There is an interesting treatment of De Sade in eroticism. What Bataille tries to show is that Sade takes eroticism to its own conclusion, we might be repulsed by the acts, but they are to be viewed as an excess rather than completely abnormal and abberant.

But although described as a C20th Sade himself, Bataille has, as Richardson (1994) has pointed out, quite a different view of the erotic and of man. Whereas the Marquis saw society as an imposition and limited on a sovereign being, Bataille's thinks man within society and its current limits. (the contrast is explored on p. 17-18)

“By seeking to present a coherent whole I am working in contradiction to scientific method. Science studies one question by itself. It accumulates the results of specialised research. I believe that eroticism has a signiicance for mankind that the scientific attitude cannot reach. Eroticism cannot be discusses unless man too is discussed in the process….” (p. 7 Eroticism)

Science always abstracts the object it studies from the totality of the world. It detaches, it separates the atom or the cell and studies them in a detache way, and if it reintegrates these objects into greater wholes, it must still amintain their isolation; they are objects of sceince only to the extent that they can be considered separately. It mght in turn be pointed out that the sacred can just as easily be envisaged on its own. Possibly it can, and the results obtained may support such a proposition. The writings of sociologists have a power not only over those that read them, but also - and perhaps even stonger - over those whoe write them. But a question remains; suppose that the sacred, far from being, like the other objects of science, sbject to separation, is defined as the exact opposite of abstract objects (things, tools, and clearly definable elements), precisely as the concrete totality itself is resistant to it. Certainly, at first sight, this seems false. The sacred cannot be identified with concrete totality, at least to the extent that the profane itself must comprise part of the totality we ust propose if we are to define the sacred. But when one looks closer, what is the profane if not the sum of objects abstracted from the totality? The sacred world is a world of communciation or contagion, where nothing is seperated and a special effort is required to remain outside the undetermined fusion. It could even be said that the profane state is the necessary prerequisite for abstraction of the object from the totality of being." -

War and the philosophy of the sacred [review of Roger Callois, L'homme et le sacre(1950). Published in critique, no 45 (1951) {trans. english as Man and the sacred by Meyer Barash (1959) Illinois.}] - In The absence of Myth; Bataille 1994.

The erotic and the sacred can not be studied anyless in isolation that man and his society.

Batailles theory of general economy has been problematised in the following way:

“Bataille wants to maintain as a general anthropological principle the necessity of unproductive expenditure while simultaneously upholding the historic singularity of capitalism with regard to its expenditure” pp 209 Yale French Studies

Bataille subscribes in part to the Weberian idea of the ethic of capitalism, as thrift, profitable investment and accumulation for its own sake. However these forms have undergone something of a transition in contemporary consumerist society. Moreover, two world wars and Vietnam have demonstrated a necessity internal too capitalisms expansionist drive for extremely unprofitable military expenditure.

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