The Accursed Share, Volumes 2-3: The History of Eroticism and Sovereignty
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.
domain of the prohibitions is not just that of sexuality and filth; it also includes death. The prohibitions concerning death have two aspects: the first forbids murder and the second limits contact with corpses. Like the prohibitions whose objects are dejecta, incestuous union, menstrual blood and obscenity, those applying to dead bodies and to murder have not ceased being generally observed (but the prohibition against murder is just about the only one to be sanctioned by laws, and, at least
only in one sense. Since man has uprooted himself from nature, that being who returns to it is still uprooted, he is an uprooted being who suddenly goes back toward that from which he is uprooted, from which he has not ceased to uproot himself.2 The first uprooting is not obliterated: when men, in the course of the festival, give free play to the impulses they refuse in profane times, these impulses have a meaning in the context of the human world: they are meaningful only in that context. In any
pharaoh, king, king of kings, played a leading role in the formation of that being with which we identify ourselves, the human being of today. But it also belonged to various divinities, of which the supreme god was one of the forms, as well as to the priests who served and incarnated them, and who were sometimes indistinguishable from the kings; it belonged, finally, to a whole feudal and priestly hierarchy that was different only in degree from those who occupied its pinnacle. But further, it
institution of marriage. The acquisition of a wife was that of a precious article of wealth, the value of which was even sacred: the distribution of this wealth raised vital problems, which had to be dealt with by rules. Apparently an anarchy like that reigning today could not have solved such problems. Only circuits of exchange in which the rights are predetermined can bring about, often poorly no doubt, but rather sanguinity on which the prohibition or prescription of marriage is based. It is
utopian, or judicious. I don't imagine the possibility of knowing this is within my reach, and in a sense it doesn't matter. But we would be mistaken, seriously mistaken, if we thought this resolve t o negate social difference with a view t o annihilating it was insignificant. Social difference is at the basis of sovereignty, and i t is by' positing sovereignty that the men of distant times gave differentiation its full scope: it was the developed forms of sovereignty that created the greatest