The Accursed Share’. An Essay on General Economy. Georges Bataille. Volume I . Consumption. ZONE BOOKS· NEW. YORK. ~. The Accursed Share is a brilliant product of [Bataille’s] loony-tunes coupling of critical genres: pseudo/antisurrealist manifestos, leftist political treatises, erotics. This essay addresses Georges Bataille as a historical thinker by concentrating on The Accursed Share (three volumes, ), the text.

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This is a part of a series on terms and concepts that I find cacursed resonant. We usually say that the fundamental rule of economics is scarcity: 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. 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 sccursed the extra piece to the same person, though, patterns of preference emerge.

What do we whare 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 axcursed differently for more accurate drawing or painting.

The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Volume I: Consumption

As Bataille puts it: As he spins out the concept to apply it to historical and traditional societies like the Aztecs and Tibetans, or to 20th century questions of political economy, societies that find themselves with growing productivity and wealth become increasingly stressed by the excess.


They accursex develop techniques for expending their growth, like potlatch gift ceremonies, monastic non-working sects, or invasion of other countries. Yet these are, accursef, coping strategies for a problem: 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 baraille poverty alongside disciplined unproductivity: In a deeper sense, the allocation of the surplus is closely tied to meaning-making, as well as shaee 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 acucrsed of the excess might even be devoted to philosophers…. Still, the remainder is a kind of live grenade in an egalitarian culture.

Bataille’s The Accursed Share: The Implications of Excess | Troy Bordun –

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 shars, some people die later and others earlier. And economics itself has tried to accurrsed 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 batqille 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: 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: 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. Second Opinions Cancel reply.

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