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Georges Bataille: Economics and Eroticism

Lecturer: Mark Hewson

Originally Taught: Summer School 2015

3-5pm | 19-23 Jan

At the centre of Bataille’s philosophy is his fundamental intervention in the logic of economic thought.  The outlines are announced in his key text on ‘The Notion of Expenditure’ (1935), and the theory appears in its fully elaborated form in The Accursed Share (1949).  The starting point is the strangely unbalanced character of economic thought, with its overwhelming emphasis on productivity, growth and accumulation, and its inability to take seriously the moment of losing, spending and giving.  Bataille shows that the latter element is in fact a focal point, even if it is not acknowledged as such, for all societies.  It is only with the moment of expenditure that the economic sphere becomes truly interesting and stirs the passions to their full extent.  In the archaic world, this moment is centred on the festival and the sacrifice: in the modern world, the forms are more numerous and more dissimulated, and require a more nuanced analysis: luxury, sports and games, and spectacle would be some of the domains that would provide material for such a reflection. 

But no doubt, one such domain stands out above all others, namely, that of‘eroticism’.  This course will move from Bataille’s economic thought to study his reflections on the erotic life, through a reading of Eroticism (1957).  Bataille suggests that an understanding of what he calls ‘general economy’ is necessary in order to approach the erotic phenomenon.  It allows a framework within which to reflect upon the many aspects of eroticism that can only with difficulty be understood in terms of the ‘reasonable’ passions of love and happiness.

Course Schedule

Part 1: Economics

Week 1. Archaic Economy.  Festival, Sacrifice, Potlatch

  • (Marcel Mauss, Essay on the Gift.  Georges Bataille, ‘The Notion of Expenditure’ and The Accursed Share, parts 1 and 2).

Week 2. Modern Economy.  The ‘disenchantment of the world’ and industrial society.

  • (Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, parts 3 and 4).

Part 2: Eroticism

Week 3. - Reproduction and Death
- Sexuality and Animality.
- Theoretical problems of studying eroticism (eroticism as ‘inner experience’). 

  • (Eroticism, chapters 1-4)

Week 4.  – The Role of Prohibitions: Transgression.
-  Bataille’s writings on prehistorical religion and sacrifice.  Caillois/Mauss: theory of the festival.  Categories of violence in the pre-historical world: hunting, murder, war, sacrifice.          
- The concept of ‘plethora’. Flesh and genitals. 

  • (Eroticism chapters 5-8: Roger Caillois: ‘The theory of the festival’: Additional Reading: Bataille: ‘Sade and the Normal Man’, in Eroticism (additional essays). Bataille: The Birth of Art.

Week 5.  – Modifications in the feeling of self in relation to desire and sexuality
-  Nudity
-  Desire as will to possess and desire as will to give oneself away. 
-  Christianity: the diabolic aspect of sexuality
- Marriage and Orgy.  Prostitution.
- Beauty.
Conclusion: interpreting the sex-death connection.

  • (Eroticism, chapters 10-13).