The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

Once again I return to Bataille. In the preface to Accursed Share Vol 1 he describes the disconcerting experience of being confronted with the question of his work – the why of it:

“…the book I was writing (which I am now publishing) did not consider the facts 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 clear the notion of a “general economy” in which the “expenditure” (the “consumption”) of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object.”

This sense of coming at economics not as some narrow system of capital expenditure and profit, but rather as the ‘general economy’ of the system of the world itself – the Solar Economy – is this bewilderment we feel in realizing his conceptual reversal of modern economic theory based on the object of production rather than that of expenditure and waste (“consumption”). As he’ll tell it “This first essay addresses, from outside the separate disciplines, a problem that still has not been framed as it should be, one that may hold the key to all the problems posed by every discipline concerned with the movement of energy on the earth – from geophysics to political economy, by way of sociology, history and biology.” For underpinning it all was a materialist conception of force, drives, and energetics:

“Writing this book in which I was saying that energy finally can only be wasted, I myself was using my energy, my time, working; my research answered in a fundamental way the desire to add to the amount of wealth acquired for mankind.”

In his iconic affirmation that “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” he reminds us such comparisons follow from considerations of an energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy, but requires instead a thinking on a level with a play of forces that runs counter to ordinary calculations, a play of forces based on the laws that govern us. In short, the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions reveal their meaning, propositions according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.”

What I begin below will by circuitous route come back to Georges Bataille by way of a reading of the work of Eugen Böhm von Bawerk (1851-1914) an Austrian economist who made important contributions to the development of the Austrian School of economics. His critique of Marx has yet to have an answer, and is to this day muddled in controversy by Marxists and Non-Marxists alike.

Theories of Luxury Capitalism: Consumption and its General Economy

In the Russian preface to the Theory of the Leisure Class (not to be confused with Thorstein Veblen’s work of that title) Nickolai Buckharin reports:

I had long been occupied with the plan of formulating a systematic criticism of the theoretical economy of the new bourgeoisie. For this purpose, I went to Vienna after succeeding in making my escape from Siberia; I there attended the lectures of Professor Bohm-Bawerk (1851-1914), of the University of Vienna. In the library of the University of Vienna, I went through the literature of the Austrian theorists. I was not permitted, however, to finish this work in Vienna, since the Austrian Government had me imprisoned in a fortress just before the outbreak of the World War, while its argues were entrusted with the task of subjecting my manuscript to careful examination.

That Buckharin a Bolshevik revolutionary, and later Soviet politician and General Secretary of Comintern’s executive committee under Stalin, along with being prolific author on revolutionary theory in his own right, would attend the lectures of one of the foremost critics of Marxian theory, Professor Bohm-Bawerk, a man who wrote extensive critiques of Karl Marx’s economics in the 1880s and 1890s, drawing several prominent Marxists along with Capitalist Economists is one of those little know histories we seem never to bring into relation when speaking of either of these two Systems of the World. One should remember that it was Bohm-Bawerk who had among his students later capitalist theoreticians and socialist exemplars as Joseph Schumpeter, Ludwig von Mises and Henryk Grossman.

My recent readings of some of my fellow laborers has led me to the belief that either economics has been reduced to a series of footnotes to Marx or Ricardo. Why? Because the actual powerhouses of economic theory seem forever to be passed over for their shadows and dark inheritors. Why is Bohm-Bawerk important so that both ultra-rightwing Austrian economists as well as ultra-socialist and right-turned communists such as Buckharin would seek him out and study his works?

In Karl Marx and the Close of His System (1896) Bohm-Bawerk examined Marx’s theory of labour value, claiming the basic error in Marx’s system to have resulted from a self-contradiction of Marx’s law of value, namely how the rate of profit and the prices of production of the third volume of Marx’s Capital contradict Marx’s theory of value in the first volume.

Nikolai Bukharin in his Economic Theory of the Leisure Class (1927), argued that Böhm-Bawerk’s axiomatic assumptions of individual freedom in his subjectivist theories are fallacious in that economic phenomena can only be understood under the prism of a coherent, contextualised, and historical analysis of society, such as Marx’s. In contrast, Austrian economists have regarded Böhm-Bawerk’s critique of Marx as definitive. For example, Gottfried Haberler argued Böhm-Bawerk’s thorough critique of Marx’s economics was so devastating that as of the 1960s no Marxian scholar had conclusively refuted it.

Interlude: Historical Materialism and Marx’s Worldview

That the historical materialism of Marxist thought is now a mute issue, one that even Marxists themselves have long buried under their own critiques. But what is it? Plekhanov, one of the chief founders of historical materialism, puts it like this:

(I)t is the economic system of any people that determines its social structure, the latter, in its turn, determining its political and religious structures and the like. … (T)he fundamental cause of any social evolution, and consequently of any social advance, being the struggle man wages against Nature for his own existence. … Marx’s fundamental idea can be summed up as follows: 1) the production relations determine all other relations existing among people in their social life. 2) the production relations are, in their turn, determined by the state of the productive forces.2

Here we’re dealing with production not consumption as the earmark and fundamental reduction of social relations and history to the material processes of production as the determining factor of social relations, etc. So that at central kernel of the notion of historical materialism is the notion that economics produces the mode of social relations, and that production in turn is shaped by the technics and technological world within which those productive forces emerge. This reciprocal interplay of production and the state of technics and technology in the real movement of change and becoming produces history and its determining relations in society as in production at any one time. Or, what Marx would term the central motif of Communism:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence. (Karl Marx. The German Ideology. 1845)

Rather than some Ideal world to be attained (against Plato’s two-world Idealism), or some pragmatic reformation of present society (“state of affairs), Communism proposed to abolish not the world itself, but the Symbolic Order of social relations produced under the current system of capital relations, and thereby bring about a new set of relations under the auspices of the notion of Communism. Historical materialism for Marx began with the “acts of men”:

The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.  (Karl Marx. The German Ideology. 1845)

So one begins from the natural order of Nature herself and humankind’s struggles within this environmental world surrounding it. At the heart of this was human labour as the path toward subsistence and survival as the base line:

The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.

The key here is: “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.” This encapsulates historical materialism in the eyes of Karl Marx: as the material conditions determining production change, so does the nature of the individuals and their relations with both themselves and the natural environment in which they are situated. At the core of this is a notion of continuous revolution, of the real movement of the world as neither static nor fixed, but a continuous process of innovation, change, and becoming other. If one were to sum up Marx’s nineteenth century take on it, one could do no better than this quote from that same essay: “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” Being a man of his time Idealism, and Hegel explicitly dominated the world of thought, so that Marx’s main enemy was both an aspect of Idealism and also a false empirical tradition. If reversal is the earmark of oppositional thought, then Marx’s reversal of Hegelian Idealism is what historical materialism put into play. It’s much more than that and is caught in the Nineteenth century humanist traditions, so that our current crop of anti-humanists, inhumanists, speculative non-humanists would all castigate his tendency toward humanist categories and thought. But who gives a shit about all this? Marx is what he is: a man of the Nineteenth Century who was plugged into the cultural logics of his era dominated by industrial capitalism and the rising class of the bourgeoisie.

Bohm-Bawerk’s Critique of Marx’s Theory of Price

At the beginning of the third chapter of his Karl Marx and the Close of His System Bohm-Bawerk explains the ‘law of value’ as a governing tendency:

…the argument is more or less clearly deduced that at any rate for the sum of all commodities, or, for the community as a whole, the law of value maintains its validity. “Meanwhile it resolves itself into this–that by as much as there is too much surplus value in one commodity there is too little in another, and therefore the deviations from value which lurk in the prices of production reciprocally cancel each other. In capitalistic production as a whole ‘the general law maintains itself as the governing tendency,’ only in a very complex and approximate manner, as the constantly changing average of perpetual fluctuations” (iii. 140).

This cancelation of surplus in the high-low deviations counters the Marxian notion of capital extracting profit from surplus labour. As my friend Jehu of The Real Movement said in a post:

Bohm-Bawerk’s critique is simple enough to understand… In volume 1 of Capital, Marx says the price of a commodity is more or less equal to the socially necessary labor time required to produce it, but, in volume 3 of Capital, Marx says the price of a capitalistically produced commodity is equal to this plus an average profit. Since any commodity has only one price, how do we reconcile these two different measures of that price?

Bohm-Bawerk was beside himself with this patent self-contradictory behavior on Marx’s part. How dare an economist contradict himself? (Jehu, The Real Movement)

Marx himself must, of course, have foreseen that his solution would incur the reproach of being no solution at all, but a surrender of his law of value. As Bohm-Bawerk concludes:

[ Marx suggests] the utterly unjustifiable conclusion that, in the “last resort,” the law of value, which proclaims the sole dominion of labour, determines the prices of production. This is to evade the admission of the contradiction; it is not to escape from the contradiction itself.  (Bohm-Bawerk)

Jehu in answer to this will in his acerbic and pungent invective state the obvious:

The problem was not a contradiction in Marx’s theory, but that Marx’s theory reflected the contradiction at the heart of capitalistic prices. As Marx argued in his Grundrisse, sometimes the contradiction in economics text books express a real life contradiction. Despite their obvious genius, Ricardo and Smith could not expunge this contradiction from their theories because the fucking contradiction wasn’t in their theories. (Jehu)

Consumption: The Contradiction in Marxian Theory

This question.. is that of knowing whether it’s possible to access an absolute that’s capable of being thought, not as a relative and cloistered outside, but as a Great Outdoors whose essence is irrelative to the thought of the knower?

—Quentin Meillassoux

If as Bohm-Bawerk argues “there is too much surplus value in one commodity there is too little in another, and therefore the deviations from value which lurk in the prices of production reciprocally cancel each other”, then the contradiction at the heart of capitalism lies not in its theoreticians but in the great outdoors of actual real-world capitalism. Nick Land in an otherwise polemical introduction into the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity remarks:

Capital has always sought to distance itself in reality – i.e. geographically – from this brutal political infrastructure. After all, the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace. But this ideal of total de-politicization, or the absolute annihilation of resistance to market relations, is an impossible megalomaniac fantasy, and Marx’s contention that labour trading at its natural price in an undistorted market (equal to the cost of its reproduction) will tend strongly to express an equally ‘natural’ political refusal of the market, continues to haunt the global bourgeoisie.3

Many detractors of Land’s current Neo-reactionary techno-commercialism do not realize his deep investment in a close reading of Marx during his early growth and militant approach undermining the official and authoritarian dictates of contemporary philosophy in the Academy. For those interested Robin Mackay’s Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism gives the pertinent history and background. My own involvement came through his early book, A Thirst for Annihilation which exposed the virulent nihilism at the core of our contemporary Western Civilization. Mining the dark heritage from Kant to Derrida he took Bataille to be the key to a theory of desire that had yet to be written, one that had in its academic foundries the names of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Freud, Deleuze/Guattari, each offering a distancing and an antagonistic relations to every theory of lack or transcendental logics. As he’d say of Bataille: “In truth, Bataille seems to me far less an intellectual predicament than a sexual and religious one, transecting the lethargic suicide upon which we are all embarked.” (Thirst, p. 8)

As Mackay states it according to the present-day Nick Land, “the person who wrote the following texts no longer exists”.

Yet for anyone who knew him, it is difficult to speak about these works without recalling Land as he was then. Not because one wishes to promote a personality cult around Land (something he himself was accused of at the time), but to emphasize that they are the residuum of a series of experiments. (ibid.)

 In one of those cryptic and gnomic statements that one could gambol across in so many directions Land would himself in disowning this past release to an entity he invoked as Vauung: “I have decided to let Vauung inherit the entire misfortune of my past (a perverse generosity at best). Its story might never emerge otherwise.” In an otherwise hypernormalised (Adam Curtis) society such as ours reality is structured according to the symbolic organization of an official if unwritten agreement system of habits and consensus, one in which as Mackay will relate that Land’s plunge into the abyss is seen not as just excessive but as a mode of breakdown into madness: “Let’s get this out of the way: In any normative, clinical, or social sense of the word, very simply, Land did ‘go mad.’ Afterwards he did not shrink from meticulously documenting this process, as if writing up a failed experiment.” A postmodern rebel or Rimbaud of the post-Punk goths Land combined the abstract horrism of cyber-gothic myths from H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos to the Blavatskian Lemurian fantasias of ancient antediluvian alien incursions. From Cthulhu to kabbalistic numerological algorithms floating across the green and black coded entries of a secret science of futurism Land would push the limits of the flesh to its breaking point trying to as Rimbaud once put it “I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer: you will not understand this, and I don’t know how to explain it to you. It is a question of reaching the unknown by a derangement of all the senses. (303d)”

Deleuze will contrast Rimbaud’s form of self-division from the Kantian kind, in that he is like formless human matter that will one day find himself formed as a poet. He takes the perspective of the matter, and considers his I to be what provides the thoughts that form the raw matter of his self. Deleuze explains:

Aristotle tells us that there is matter and then there is form which informs [informe] matter. Matter is the copper, the bugle is the copper which has been poured into this form. Nothing could be more classical, and Rimbaud assimilates himself to a matter and says: thought forms me. (Cours Vincennes – 21/03/1978)

In their introductory essay to Land’s later essays gathered in Fanged Noumena Robin Mackay and will describe his decent into what they’ll term schizonumerics an Occult off-shoot of Deleuze/Guattari’s schizoanalysis as:

The elaboration of a schizonumerics cannot proceed without what is certainly the factor that allows Land’s thought to undergo a decisive shift: the intensification of his understanding of capitalism allowed by the fictional engagement with the most extreme possibilities of techno-capital. It is through fictions, or what will come to be called ‘hyperstitions’, that Land proceeds to deterritorialize and de-institutionalise ‘philosophy’, turning it into a mode of concept-production which dissolves academic theory’s institutional segregation from cultural practice and subverts the distinction between cognitive representation and fictional speculation.5

These theory-fictions would undermine the logical distinctions and categories of thought that held academic philosophy to the Kantian circle of what speculative materialist Quentin Meillassoux would term “correlationism”. Meillassoux opens After Finitude by arguing that at least since Kant, philosophy has been caught in the problem of this circular logics:

Correlationism takes many forms, but particularly those of transcendental philosophy, the varieties of phenomenology, and postmodernism. But although these currents are all extraordinarily varied in themselves, they all share, according to me, a more or less explicit decision: that there are no objects, no events, no laws, no beings which are not always-already correlated with a point of view, with a subjective access. Anyone maintaining the contrary, i.e., that it is possible to attain something like a reality in itself, existing absolutely independently of his viewpoint, or his categories, or his epoch, or his culture, or his language, etc.—this person would be exemplarily naïve.6

Meillassoux argues, that correlationism “consists in disqualifying the claim that it is possible to consider the realm of subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another.” (AF)

Ever since Kant the distinctions between phenomenal and noumenal have been predicated on the distinctions between subject and object the Transcendental logic of Kant’s system of categories and antinomies developed to displace the circular traps of within which these distinctions had fallen into error in both the empirical reliance on sense-data, and the equally felonious reliance on Reason in the rationalists. Seeking a third way he developed his own Transcendental logics as an Archimedean point (he hoped) outside either reason or sense-data to obviate the impact of there errors and antinomies. As Land would remark acerbically:

Kant’s great discovery—but one that he never admitted to—was that apodictic reason is incompatible with knowledge. Such reason must be ‘transcendental’. This is a word that has been propagated with enthusiasm, but only because Kant simultaneously provided a method of misreading it. To be transcendental is to be ‘free’ of reality. This is surely the most elegant euphemism in the history of Western philosophy. (Thirst, p. 1)

This banishment of reality (noumenal) from the strictures of the Kantian schema was to have dire repercussions for philosophy ever after. Cut off from the unknown and impossible realms of forces, Kant delimited and encircled a phenomenal universe of the known that could be limited to the limits of Reason itself (i.e., we could live ever happily after in an illusory world of the Same!). As Land comments:

The critical philosophy exposes the ‘truths of reason’ as fictions, but cunning ones, for they can never be exposed. They are ‘big lies’ to the scale of infinity; stories about an irreal world beyond all possibility of sensation, one which is absolutely incapable of entering into material communication with the human nervous system, however indirectly, a separated realm, a divine kingdom. This is the ghost landscape of metaphysics, crowded with divinities, souls, agents, perdurant subjectivities, entities with a zero potentiality for triggering excitations, and then the whole gothic confessional of guilt, responsibility, moral judgement, punishments and rewards…the sprawling priestly apparatus of psychological manipulation and subterranean power. (Thirst, p. 1)

So instead we were locked away in a safe world of finitude, limited by Reason to the circle of for-itself. A tidy world where Kant could tend his garden of thought without the pesky troubles of the great outdoors of chaos imposing its stark madness on his psyche. That we live in the Age of Critique is indubitable, but that critique repeats the gestures of the weak and the Same is another matter altogether. As Land will attest critique is “a matter of boundaries, or the delimitation of domains of application for concepts” (Thirst, p. 4). It is inherent to critique that a terrain of unthinkability is delineated, or that limits are set to the exercise of theoretical endeavour. The Kantian name for the items within the legitimate field of theoretical cognition is phenomena, whilst the extraterritorial items are called noumena or things-in-themselves. Because the noumenon escapes the categories of the understanding (which include modality) ‘we can neither say that it is possible nor that it is impossible’ [K III 304]. Noumena are what escape the competence of theory, being those ‘things’ which are unknowable in principle. ‘That, therefore, which we entitle “noumenon” must be understood as being such only in a negative sense’ [K III 278]. (Thirst, p. 4) Darkness ensues.

Surrounded by the Great Outdoors (“Outside”) we live in a fictional virtual zone of protective isolation – but only in our discursive fictions; for, in truth, the noumenal realms have not dispersed but impinge on our lairs of the Same everywhere. Hegel registering this defeat would bypass it for historical self-reflection, opting for the movement of the Subject as the Freedom from the fixity of the Same. Spirit under Hegel’s system thinks against Kant disputing the notion of the “spirit as a timeless (transcendentally pre-given) system of cognitive faculties (in Kantian fashion), but as a historical auto-production, in which the self is really—and not merely reflectively—determined by the logically orchestrated content of thinking as and through time” (Thirst, p. 4). This is where Marx doubles back and reverses Hegel’s spiritual mechanics of the Absolute, and offers his material creation of techno-genesis orchestrated not by the content of thinking but by the very material processes of human production “as and through time”.

Land reminds us that after the failure of both Schelling and Hegel our contemporary world inherited the weakening strategies of these ill-founded efforts, which would stretch into
“the failure of totality on the one hand, and an ever more complacently impotent discourse on the impossibility of radical subversion on the other” (Thirst, p. 5).

The Solar Economy: Transgression and the Excess of Desire

So at last we return to Bataille as if by riverrun escapades between the tidal operations of the Same and Different, Identity and the Mutant formlessness of matter which appears to be imploding across the futurial inscapes of Capital’s body-without-organs (Deleuze/Guattari). This formlessness which for Bataille as for many of his progenitors would as Land describes it “shift the sense of matter towards the substratum of appearances (impersonal, unconscious, and real) that Schopenhauer calls will. Increate matter is a translation of will or noumenon; a designation for the anti-ontology basic to any positively atheistic materialism… (Thirst, p. 6) Land will go on to describe this emergence of the libidinal formlessness of matter and economy:

Kant’s theory of the spontaneous inventiveness of genius presents the same figure as that of pathological animality, the violent, feral urge towards becoming-inferior that must be suppressed by practical philosophy: an impersonal, energetic unconscious emerges as the as-yet unacknowledged problematic of Occidental philosophy. Non-agentic, lacking the intentional intelligibility of Kant’s ‘will’, and with no regard for architectonic order, this transcendental unconscious is an insurgent field of forces for whose cunning – as Nietzsche would discover – even ‘reason’ itself is but an instrument. Anticipating the psychoanalytical conception of ‘desire’, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche consummate the collapse of intentional transparency into the opacity of a contingent and unknown ‘will’, a ‘purposiveness without purpose’ whose unmasterable irruptions are in fact dissipations – pathological by definition – of energy excessive to that required for (absorbed by) the ‘work’ of being human. (FN, KL 283)

This notion of forces at play in the dark layers of the noumenal void or blank beyond which our staid conceptual frameworks in science or philosophy are but buttresses of the delusions and illusions of outmoded security regimes tied to Kantian finitude and the limits of Reason force on us the realization that we’ve all lived in a timeless pocket of fiction, a prison of our own making, a cultural nexus of protective symbols and signs to keep the thermospasm (Land) at bay.  As Mackay and Brassier in their introduction tell us for Land,

 ‘Matter’ is no longer the name of a recognisable substance, but a cypher for the unknown; ‘materialism’ is no longer a pretext for critique but a vector of exploration. Land’s pessimistic or Dionysian materialism abandons the Apollonian ideal of achieving order or reconciliation (even interminably deferred), seeking only to cause more trouble, to complexify, disrupt, disturb, provoke, and intensify. Accordingly, Land aims to plug philosophy into the ‘indecent precipitation’ of the poet-werewolf-rat-genius, whose operating principle is, like Artaud’s spiritual plague, ‘epidemic rather than hermeneutic’; who, like Nietzsche’s arrow, transmits the époche, chaos, the irruptions of the energetic unconscious, as opposed to capitalising (on) them; and whose subjection to the polite deliberations, hard work, and heavy responsibilities of critique or deconstruction Land dismisses as a travesty. Only the dissolution of ‘actually-existing philosophy’ might open the way to new practices capable of participating in the exploratory ‘intelligence’ of those infected by the unknown. (FN, KL 311-319)

Bataille enters just here with his solar economy found in the three volumes of the Accursed Share. As Land describes it, in Bataille’s work he “outlines a number of social responses to the unsublatable wave of senseless wastage welling up beneath human endeavour, which he draws from a variety of cultures and epochs (FN, KL 3367). From the potlatch of the sub-Arctic tribes, the sacrificial cult of the Aztecs, the monastic extravagance of the Tibetans, the martial ardour of Islam, and the architectural debauch of hegemonic Catholicism, through to the Protestant reformulations and iconoclastic takedown of the aesthetic impulse, theology accomplishes itself in the thoroughgoing rationalization of religion, marking the ideological triumph of the good, and propelling humanity into unprecedented extremities of affluence and catastrophe. (FN, KL 3375)

In a somewhat inelegant passage from this study, Bataille recapitulates the (quasi-Weberian) general economic background to his researches:

We accumulate wealth in the prospect of a continual expansion, but in societies different from ours the prevalent principle was the contrary one of wasting or losing wealth, of giving or destroying it. Accumulated wealth has nothing but a subordinate value, but wealth that is wasted or destroyed has, to the eyes of those who waste it, or destroy it, a sovereign value: it serves nothing ulterior; only this wastage itself or this fascinating destruction. Its present sense: its wastage, or the gift that one makes of it, is its final reason for being, and it is due to this that its sense is not able to be put off, and must be in the instant. But it is consumed in that instant. This can be magnificent, those who know how to appreciate consumption are dazzled, but nothing remains of it.7 (FN, quoted)

In our consumerist civilization the waste is not at the end of any cycle of alignments of sun or moon, but continuous as our products are inherently informed by obsolescence so that ours is a throw-away culture whose waste is permanent revolution. We never accumulate things, only their signs in monetary terms. Things are always thrown back into the earth from whence they came, not in some bonfire of exuberant festivity as in the pot-latch, but rather as the hidden and squandered wastelands of our local city dumps where the Gehenna fires never go out. No longer bound to the natural cycles of ancient ritual and technics we live in an artificial world where secular excess and luxury are fed continuously to the fires to our techno-commercial production cycles, and the consumer becomes the producer of waste as profit marginalize in the indexing of forgotten products. Even our dung is fed back into the capitalist energy circuits. Everything that can be salvaged from our throw-away cultural logics is pounded, chemified, frozen, fire, pulverized, mudded, soaked, extracted into the filtered recycling engines of our endless circuits of commercial energy systems.

Interlude II: Pandemic Capitalism – The Rise of Viral Life

Yet, not all can be salvaged, rather there are systemic limits to growth that require the inevitable recommencement of the solar trajectory that scorches jagged perforations through such civilisations. The resultant ruptures cannot be securely assimilated to a metasocial homoeostatic mechanism, because they have an immoderate, epidemic tendency. (FN, KL 3363) As we hear from Bill Gates and other globalists, an international coalition is desperately seeking new vaccines. As Gates would say recently, “”is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics. Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat. The ability to rapidly develop and deliver vaccines when new unknown diseases emerge offers our best hope to outpace outbreaks, save lives and avert disastrous economic consequences.”

South Korea became the latest country to go on high alert status last month after a rapid outbreak and spread of the bird flu virus. With more than 50 confirmed avian flu cases in humans in less than a month, Seoul’s response has included quarantines, a temporary ban on moving, and the precautionary slaughter of more than 12 percent of the country’s poultry flock.

Gates Foundation officials warn that pathogens today have “achieved unprecedented breakout potential” at a time when about 10 million people fly every day, which leaves us susceptible to a global pandemic more deadly than the Spanish flu a century ago.

Ultimately, it’s the U.S. government’s job to ensure we have a response plan equal to the threat we face. Distressingly, the U.S. government right now is investing precious little in developing essential medical countermeasures, putting Americans at risk in the event of a potential pandemic.

Postlude: Questions of Anxiety?

All of this leads to Bataille’s refrain in his trilogy on the solar economy:

To solve political problems becomes difficult for those who allow anxiety alone to pose them. It is necessary for anxiety to pose them. But their solution demands at a certain point the removal of this anxiety. (AS, p. 10)

As our pundits, elite, and media buffoons broadcast only the continuous production of fear and anxiety through the mediatainment systems of communications across the global mesh in which catastrophe after catastrophe is marshalled in an effort to steer the populations toward zero we must look again into the fold of processes that might help us circumvent the delusions that would bind us in a cold world of decay, entropy, and viral apocalypse.

I see now that my extended essay has only hinted at the Accursed Share rather than exposed its inner workings, so that I’ll need to continue this series in other future moments. Challenging the one-sided approach of political economy offered in Marx and other economists, Bataille will ask a question, one I’ll leave you to ponder as I think through my next essay:

Shouldn’t productive activity as a whole be considered in terms of the modifications it receives from its surroundings or brings about in its surroundings? In other words, isn’t there a need to study the system of human production and consumption within a much larger framework? (AS, p. 13)

  1. Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: an Essay on General Economy, Vol. 1: Consumption
  2. Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume II, p 617.
  3. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 768-769). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 8949-8950). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 422-426). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: An Easy on the Necessity of Contingency. Bloomsbury Academic (January 5, 2010)
  7. G. Bataille Oeuvres Complètes, 12 Vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1987), vol.321, 2.

4 thoughts on “The Accursed Share: Economics of Excess

  1. Excellent post, Steve! As it begs for a continuation (as you say at the end, opening towards a wider discussion of the Accursed Share), I’d like to offer a few disjointed thoughts I had while reading it…

    First, I’m glad to see the level-headed treatment of the Austrians. Yes, “neoliberalism” begins with the Austrians (or, more, properly, as Foucault draws out in the Birth of Biopolitics, it begins with the organizational networks the Austrians were situated within) – but that has led to an all-too-hasty dismissal of their work by the those on the left. Trash like Misean praxeology aside, the relevance of topics like Hayek’s catallaxy (recently rehabilitated by Nick Land, as you know) can be grasped immediately. Everytime I see a lefty attack Hayek’s knowledge problem while citing James C. Scott’s “Seeing Like A State”, I want to pummel them with an avalanche of information theory. It’s the same goddamn argument, and Scott acknowledges it (going as far to give talks on the matter at the Cato Institute, that dreaded neoliberal institution…). In a similar vein, I realize that my “Uncertain Futures” is as neo-Schumpeterian as it is Marxian. Marx never gave us a complete crisis theory, and the Schumpeterian discourse, Austrian-derived as it is, is in my opinion that which can give us much of the missing pieces (though not all).

    Which leads me to my main point: beyond moving towards crisis theory, we need to reappraise the scope of Marxian theory. The Austrians threw into question the trifecta of prices, values, and costs found in Volume 3 of Capital – and they may as well be right. The clearest response I’ve seen to the “Transformation Problem” has been the TSSI solution offered by Andrew Kliman, and even then I’m not fully convinced. This indicates to me certain problems in the full conceptualization of the Marxian LTV… I’m inclined to veer away from Marx, at this point, to look at the alternative LTV that circulates partially in Smith, partially in Ricardo, and drawn out further by the American individualist anarchists Josiah Warren and Benjamin Tucker, and Kevin Carson most recently (in his “Studies in Mutualist Political Economy” – Far more simple, this/these LTV(s) concerns themselves with the manner in which prices are abstracted from their cost of production (with labor costs operating as the “center of gravity” in price). In his “State Socialism and Anarchism” ( Tucket fingers the state – and the monopolies it produces – as the source of this detachment, which is an argument that fits quite easily with the analysis of capitalism and the state as described in the “The Civilized Capitalist Machine” portion of AO.

    In this portion of AO, Deleuze and Guattari draw heavily on Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s “Monopoly Capital”, which demonstrates how top-heavy, monopolistic competition (which can only arise in the conditions described by Tucker and Carson, with support from Austrian economic theories) requires the state to help destroy portions of the surplus that it generates. Is this not the same as Bataille’s analysis of how surplus must be destroyed for society to organize itself in certain modes? If this is the case, then the exit is beginning to show itself… which is through some kind of market anarchism, not Marxian communism…

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of economists to think through … granted! As for Bataille and Maus’s theory of sacrifice, if you think on it consumer society is pure sacrifice, products already come with a time gradient of built in obsolescence (“nothing lasts, buy next years model, etc.”). In other words we continue to buy and buy and buy again, repeatedly year after year due to the obsolescence of our products. At one time products were manufactured to last (no sacrifice). Now there made to last but a year or so, or till warranties run out, etc. So sacrifice is a timed affair in the commodity markets. As for financial: there is a continuous non-stop 24/7 circuiting of the excess without rupture or sacrifice all managed in a frictionless space of machinic algorithms that will only become more and more timeless; or, pure speed – acceleration maxed and optimized for intelligence and learning systems, etc.

      One aspect of the political economists that is left out is the psychological component. As in your work and others its all strict math, figures, the graphs, charts, calculations etc. which is as it should be, but it leaves out the excess aspects of the world that seem to go by the wayside. I assume you’ll address that in other books. With the time and compression of everything in 78 pages you did a he’ll’ve a job.


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