- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: Zone Books; 1st edition (March 26, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0942299116
- ISBN-13: 978-0942299113
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Accursed Share: an Essay on General Economy, Vol. 1: Consumption 1st Edition
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A serious book of political economy that also claims 'the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space.'... The Accursed Share is a brilliant product of [Bataille's] loony-tunes coupling of critical genres: pseudo/antisurrealist manifestos, leftist political treatises, erotics, Hegel 'n' Nietzsche studies, mysticism, anthropology, and sun worship.(Erik Davis The Voice Literary Supplement)
About the Author
Georges Bataille (1897-1962) was a French writer, essayist, and philosopher whose works include The Story of the Eye, The Blue of Noon, The Accursed Share, and Theory of Religion.
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The book was written in France to offer support for the American Marshall Plan to rebuild a prosperous global economy after World War II. On the final page of notes, the question, "Why deny the fact that there can no longer be a true initiative toward independence on the part of countries other than the USSR or the USA?" (n. 17, p. 197), states the geopolitical frame of reference that millionaires and billionaires with global interests seem to have risen above today, with the greatness of America as a superpower driving economic expansion in those areas where natural resources, access to capital, and wage levels allow maximum profits to appear when money can flow to those areas where it will accomplish the most. As the millionaire who has spent the most to advertise his views in the states with early presidential primaries, Mitt Romney has proudly proclaimed the greatness of America, but the underlying structure of the political hierarchy is similar in nature to the parallels between Ezra and Bataille's ACCRSED SHARE.
Chapters 9 and 10 of Ezra deal with a problem like the desire of people to move to the United States in order to make more money today. It was reported, "The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, have not broken with the natives of the countries who are steeped in abominations--Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites--but have found wives among these foreign women for themselves and for their sons; the holy race has been mingling with the natives of the countries; in this act of treachery the chief men and officials have led the way." (Ezra 9:1-2). It was such a massive problem that it took from the first day of the tenth month to the first day of the first month to officially process all the separations from foreign wives. This reminded me of Aztec customs which linked the victims to "The individual who brought back a captive had just as much of a share in the sacred office as the priest. A first bowl of the victim's blood, drained from the wound, was offered to the sun by the priests. A second bowl was collected by the sacrificer. The latter would go before the images of the gods and wet their lips with the warm blood. The body of the sacrificed was his by right; he would carry it home, setting aside the head, and the rest would be eaten at a banquet, cooked without salt or spices -- but eaten by the invited guests, not by the sacrificer, who regarded his victim as a son, as a second self. At the dance that ended the feast, the warrior would hold the victim's head in his hand." (Bataille, pp. 53-54).
Certainly the Aztecs were more harsh than the restrictions which the federal government wishes to put on drivers licenses in New York for those who are not American citizens or authorized by the United States government to live within the United States. The question of who is who here can have numerous answers, like questions about whether waterboarding is torture, or how people detained in Iraq compare to illegal combatants. Even a nominee for Attorney General might wish to equivocate about certain questions. Bataille picture people in Tibet willing to maintain a large number of monasteries to keep the young men from serving in an army. "In Tibet, even more so than in China, the military profession is held in contempt. Even after the reforms of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, a family of nobles complained of having had a son commissioned as an officer." (p. 110).
I was drafted once myself, so I read about these things after years of not knowing if I would serve in Nam; then, after I got to Nam, I was even told to go to Cambodia. Though Nixon thought sending troops into Cambodia might make Vietnam safer in 1970, it was also a risky move for those who were on helicopters that crashed. The feeling generated by such changes in the expectations associated with my ultimate objective is described by Bataille:
The victim is a surplus taken from the mass of useful wealth. And he can only be withdrawn from it in order to be consumed profitlessly, and therefore utterly destroyed. Once chosen, he is the accursed share, destined for violent consumption. But the curse tears him away from the order of things; it gives him a recognizable figure, which now radiates intimacy, anguish, the profundity of living beings. (p. 59).
In modern society, people who are not talented enough to be known by millions of people are nobodies. John Lennon was not entirely unwelcome in New York City; he was merely shot down in the street. Government has become so awful at facing any kind of issue, Congress after World War II attempted to define a c.o. as someone who believed in a Supreme Being who prohibits a c.o. from taking part in any war. The Department of Justice was not generous in denying the status to boxer Cassius Clay all the way up to the Supreme Court, where most justices finally agreed that the Department of Justice was wrong about when Cassius Clay needed to file for a determination. Such questions plague anyone who has rules like the clean and unclean beasts in chapter 11 of Leviticus, which then considers leprosy in chapter 13, sexual impurities in chapter 15, nakedness in chapter 18, and handing over any children to Moloch in chapter 20. There are things which must not be worshiped:
"You must make no idols; you must set up neither carved image nor standing stone, set up no sculptured stone in your land, to prostrate yourself in front of it; for it is I, Yahweh, who am your God." (Leviticus 26:1).
It does not directly prohibit saluting the flag or pledging allegiance, but anyone who doesn't is likely to be sacrificed in some other way, like John Lennon certainly was, and Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom opposed certain aspects of the Vietnam war. The call to support the troops is like something in THE ACCURSED SHARE for me, but so much so that my list will not go on.
He wrote in the Preface to this 1949 book, "For some years, being obliged on occasion to answer the question, `What are you working on?' I was embarrassed to have to say, `A book of political economy.' Coming from me, this venture was disconcerting, at least to those who did not know me well. (The interest that is usually conferred on my books is of a literary sort and this was doubtless to be expected: One cannot as a matter of fact class them in a pre-defined genre.) ... I had to add that the book I was writing ... did not consider the matter the way qualified economists do, that I had a point of view from which a human sacrifice, the construction of a church or the gift of a jewel were no less interesting than the sale of wheat. In short, I had to try in vain to make the notion of a `general economy' in which the `expenditure'... of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object."
He continues, "If one has the patience, and the courage, to read my book, one will see that it contains studies conducted according to the rules of a reason that does not relent, and solutions to political problems deriving from a traditional wisdom, but one will also find in it this affirmation: `that the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space.' The comparison follows from considerations of energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy... the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions... according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, `luxury,' that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problem." (Pg. 11-12)
He states, "I insist on the fact that there is generally no growth but only a luxurious squandering of energy in every form! The history of life on earth is mainly the effect of a wild exuberance; the dominant event is the development of luxury, the production of increasingly burdensome forms of life." (Pg. 33)
He asserts, "One would not arrive at the real cause in this instance if one did not first perceive the general law of economy: On the whole a society always produces more than is necessary for its survival; it has a surplus at its disposal. It is precisely the use it makes of the surplus that determines it: The surplus is the cause of the agitation, of the structural changes and of the entire history of society. But the surplus has more than one outlet, the most common of which is growth... Thwarted, demographic growth becomes military; it is forced to engage in conquest. Once the military limit is reached, the surplus has the sumptuary forms of religion as an outlet, along with the games and spectacles that derive therefrom, or personal luxury." (Pg. 106)
He argues, "What is sadly forgotten in these calculations is, above all, that fabulous riches had to be dissipated in wars. This can be expressed more clearly by saying---paradoxically---that economic problems in which, as in `classical' economics, the question is limited to the pursuit of profit are isolated or limited problems; that in the general problem there always reappears the essence of its biomass, which must constantly destroy (consume) a surplus of energy." (Pg. 182)
He concludes in the final chapter, "If the threat of war causes the United States to commit the major part of the excess to military manufactures, it will be useless to still speak of a peaceful evolution: In actual fact, war is bound to occur. Mankind will move peacefully toward a general resolution of its problems only if this threat causes the U.S. to assign a large share of the excess---deliberately and without return---to raising the global standard of living, economic activity thus giving the surplus energy produced an outlet other than war." (Pg. 187)
This is one of Bataille's major "nonfiction" works, and will be of great interest to anyone studying his thought and its many manifestations.