The Accursed Share, Vol. Transgression is itself a push against an environmental order, that is, the illusion of a push against order that further solidifies said establishment. Servile use has made a thing an object of that which, in a deep sense, is of the same nature as the subject, is in a relation of intimate participation with the subject. It is not necessary that the sacrifice actually destroy the animal or plant of which man had to make a thing for his use. They must at least be destroyed as things, that is, insofar as they have become things.

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All the more reason to explore alternative framings, just as George Bataille did in his book The Accursed Share. Imagine you and your friends are splitting a pizza, and there is an extra piece. Who gets it? And what happens next? Perhaps it becomes the prize in a game of trivia. Perhaps the winner has a little extra energy, perhaps they get fat.

Perhaps you decide to throw it out. If your group always gives the extra piece to the same person, though, patterns of preference emerge. What do we do with the remainder? Bataille uses this simple concept to construct a remarkably compelling just-so story of the political economy of both inequality and culture. As a framework, it strikes me as particularly important for those who work on political economy, like an artist using a camera obscura to see a scene differently for more accurate drawing or painting.

They often develop techniques for expending their growth, like potlatch gift ceremonies, monastic non-working sects, or invasion of other countries. Yet these are, fundamentally, coping strategies for a problem: there is more than enough to go around.

And he claims that the modern industrial capitalism has broken all of these coping strategies by creating not just an excess but a growing one, a continual disruption that gets reinvested and accelerates the next crisis of extravagant, opulent luxury. Perhaps, as in Tibet, monks adopt ritualistic poverty alongside disciplined unproductivity: they beg for their meals and yet do nothing to participate in the agricultural labor that makes their meals possible.

In a deeper sense, the allocation of the surplus is closely tied to meaning-making, as well as to status. Sometimes it is easier to simply burn the excess. But someone must do the burning, and esteem and status are be left over as a residue of that role along with, perhaps, a few items or treats snatched from the fire before they are consumed. Or the excess can be expended on a class of artists, who make art, music, or literature that aspires to be uselessly beautiful.

Some part of the excess might even be devoted to philosophers…. Still, the remainder is a kind of live grenade in an egalitarian culture. It and its recipient is cursed unless it can be invested in increased productive capacities or expended harmlessly.

The useless has a dangerous tendency to become useful, and even necessary. For Bataille himself, this was a reason to reject the instrumental attitude almost completely. He sees human reason and culture as servile to a base pragmatism that fails to take seriously the teleological issues with our efforts to perpetuate endless growth. Certainly some people have better or worse lives, some people die later and others earlier. And economics itself has tried to capture this insight with its work on signaling theory.

In fact, the positive shocks of population growth, the industrial revolution, the green agricultural revolution, and the digital revolution have shown themselves to be even more disruptive. When fewer workers can produce more stuff—but not yet enough to distribute it equally—what are we to do with the extra? But societies usually learn that this kind of response to excess is not a good idea: when the accursed share is gone, there will be more people to feed and not enough to do it.

Yet for cultures that are built on sexual propriety, this safety is also unsettling. The Protestant Reformation and the Industrial Revolution are supposed to have led to our downfall: the combination of normative thrift, sexual repression, and massively increased productivity created a massive and growing accursed share.

Bataille thus prescribed perversion and indolence as an alternative, which is why he was able to write provocative and gripping political economic theory as well as surreal fetishistic pornography.

Or perhaps because he felt driven to write both he found ways to meld them. Instead, I find the concept of the accursed share most apt when we talk about wealthy societies that somehow, still, face budget crises or allocation problems.


The Accursed Share, Volume 1

What do education, cybernetics, music, technology and philosophy have in common? It is perhaps surprising that Bataille, who wrote so powerfully around deep human issues of sex, eroticism, and religion should have regarded his work on "general economy" to be his most significant: but "The Accursed Share" is an extraordinary work which builds on the earlier work, using it to probe the depths of human motivation in economic behaviour. Where most conventional economic thinking revolves around ideas of equilibrium, Bataille points to the fundamental asymmetries of economic behaviour - particularly the asymmetry between the acquisition of commodities and wealth and their waste. What causes energy to be released in particular and usually violent ways is the constraining power of social prohibitions. In order for this to happen, the constraining power of prohibitions needs to be understood better if not overcome. Bataille goes through a process of determining the prohibitions and understanding how they bear on economic rationality. When we look at data, what we see is an epiphenomenon of decision.

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Touchstone Terms: The Accursed Share

Mezim A wedding feast, an extravagant gift, an exhausting effort made to rescue afcursed lost at sea or in an avalanche, or a life spent in research that brought no profit and perhaps ended in a dead end — all these forms of potlatch get their meaning from death; they are festive and celebratory ways of dying. State University of New York Press, It was complete bedlam I have touched on how the gift is always a gift of self, and giving up your individualized existence is accudsed confrontation with death. Surpluses must be lost unproductively, and almost in this case, expenditure nearly found its form in the loss of life. Science always abstracts the object it studies from the totality of the world. University of Minnesota Press,Chapter 2: After their encounter, Andy expresses himself in this way: He continues on with his criticism of Native potlatch, putting it paradoxically with reference to self-consciousness and squander: It is evidently the latter.




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