The Accursed Share, Volumes 2-3: The History of Eroticism and Sovereignty
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The three volumes of The Accursed Share address what Georges Bataille sees as the paradox of utility: namely, if being useful means serving a further end, then the ultimate end of utility can only be uselessness. The first volume of The Accursed Share, the only one published before Bataille's death, treated this paradox in economic terms, showing that "it is not necessity but its contrary, luxury, that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems." This Zone edition includes in a single volume a reconstruction, based on the versions published in Bataille's posthumous collected works, of his intended continuation of The Accursed Share.In the second and third volumes, The History of Eroticism and Sovereignty, Bataille explores the same paradox of utility, respectively from an anthropological and an ethical perspective. He first analyzes the fears and fascination, the prohibitions and the transgressions attached to the realm of eroticism as so many expressions of the "uselessness" of erotic life. It is just this expenditure of excess energy that demarcates the realm of human autonomy, of independence relative to.useful" ends. The study of eroticism therefore leads naturally to the examination of human sovereignty, in which Bataille defines the sovereign individual as one who consumes and does not labor, creating a life beyond the realm of utility.Georges Bataille, a philosopher and novelist sui generis, died in 1962.
impure, was able, in a valuable and erudite study,4 to link together the pure, the right and the sacred, the impure, the left and the profane. What gives importance to this paradoxical division, contrary to that of primitive forms, is the fact that it implies a change in at the end of the Middle Ages, did not correspond to anything real. In all probability, the black mass presented itself so seldom in the guise of a phantasm or a suggestion of torturers that it could well have been authentically
established the contempt for that object.4 P ART Two The Prohibition Incest ONE T h e P r o b l e m of I n c e s t I . The Opposition between the "Eroticism" of Men and the "Sexuality" of Animals The desire to carry the movement of thought toward a completion, which is not a nonsensical aim but a necessary condition for the study of a crucial subject, must not distract one from a preliminary question. In the present case, the problem of the origin is decisive. Essentially, eroticism is the
opposition to this, '?he center of the sadistic world" is, according to Blanchot, "the demand for sovereignty affirming itself through an immense negation." At this point, the essential bond that subjugates man in a general way is revealed, the bond that robs him of the strength to reach that place where sovereignty would be achieved. For, in fact, the essence of the erotic world is not just the expenditure of energy, but also negation pushed to the extreme; or, if one prefers, the expenditure of
speed u p this movement. It is more than a little strange that such a passage t o the apathetic sovereignty of the universe differs from the limited negation of the mystics only in being a limitless negation. Like theopathy, t h e apathy of Sade required a c o n t e m p t for raptures and sensory joys, experiences that leave the supreme profligate and the supreme mystic equally unaffected. In t h e region w h e r e t h e THE COMPOSITE FORMS O F EROTICISM autonomy of the subject breaks away
be given as the goal of history. I even maintain the contrary: that if history has some goal, sovereignty cannot be that goal, and further, that sovereignty c c ~ l dnot have anything to do with that goal, except insofar as it would differ therefrom. That goal is perhaps, on the contrary, classless society; classless society is at least the direction that history has taken in our time. Obscurely still, the vast majority of men are ceasing to consent to the existence of privileged classes.