Monday, February 9, 2015

On Bataille's Accursed Share - a quickie



I've been busy writing a thing about some stuff (my desk is a mess of books as you can see). I ended up staring my computer screen without typing for a couple of days, so to break my trance I figured I'd jump into Bataille's Accursed Share. I'm always a tad worried about breaking a writing session for fear I'll not return to it. But this thing is a long thing - and Bataille's work is very much related to it - so I'm crossing my fingers that I can just jump straight back in.

So this quick and dirty, type and read-once thru post, is really about purging myself of a few thoughts around Bataille, so that they don't pop up subconsciously in my longer thing. That word thing being a case in point.

One reason Bataille uses the word thing is to describe the profane aspect of objects. I put up Money Wisdom #325 about it. A thing has usefulness for us, and in one sense, its that usefulness that anchors the thing in the profane world; its what makes a thing, a thing. For something to enter the sacred world that usefulness must be dispatched, destroyed or wasted. For example, when we describe an object as only ceremonial we are saying that at least part of its utility has been lost.

I'm of course, exploring these sorts of ideas in my Stick to Staff project. But what I want to mention here is a line from Charles Freeman's Holy Bones, Holy Dust. I've had the idea for the last few years that I'd like to trace a history of the totem object through to Holy relics and look at their interaction with the development of the economy. I couldn't help but mention in the Stick to Staff post my fascination with the Crown of Thorns (which I claim to be the most valuable monetary object that has ever existed) and the Saint Chappelle. Anyway, last night I picked up Holy Bones, Holy Dust for a quick skim and this line jumped out:
"Relics were part of the medieval economy, with a monetary as well as a spiritual value". (p.4)
There is a story to be told about how the balance between the profane and sacred transformed and shifted during this time. It'd be really interesting to set it alongside Joel Kaye's work Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century which looks at how monetization effected the development of proto-science.

Another way in which Bataille uses the word thing is in respect of intimacy. A couple of quotes on this #326 #328. Ostensibly, Bataille is talking about an intimacy with the Divine - but as you'll see it doesn't take much to link it to another phwoarm of intimacy. As will be apparent from that thing I'm writing, for twenty years or so now, I've had a fascination with the opening few pages of Freud's Civilization and its Discontents. It's where Freud talks about the oceanic feeling which his friend the writer Romain Rolland says he experiences and is, he (Romain) claims, the source of religious sentiments. Freud suggests that such feelings are in fact an echo from an early stage in our psychological development. He's clear that religion is illusion.

I suppose one way to think about this is wonder whether or not God exists (No need to get too hung up on this. I use the term Value Monism and recently explored these ideas in my posts on Philip Goodchild's The Theology of Money). But both Freud and Bataille owe so much to Nietzsche that the question seems somehow redundant here. Another approach would be to consider the role of reason. As Albert Tauber's Freud the Reluctant Philosopher reveals Freud din't give up on reason. Bataille seems much much more aligned to Nietzsche in this respect. If reason gets in the way of the Will to Power it should be crushed like everything else. There are some hints that privately Freud was a little less strident on reason, especially in his later years, but in the main body of his work, reason is venerated.

I've only read fifty of so pages into Vol2 of The Accursed Share at the time of writing this post but that's enough to know - alongside what I've read around the internet and in Nigel Dodd's The Social Life of Money - that Bataille recognizes the same problem with reason that I do. At least, I think 'its the same. I've never been able to express it properly. It's about reason and passion or thought and sex. Bataille's opener is Eroticism and the Reflection of the Universe in the Mind. So many of the themes that I consider important for a better understanding of money are considered - reason, thought, sex, the One and the Many. (A reminder - from where I'm standing an understanding of our being requires theories of money, value and mind as a starting point)

My excuse for my many failures to relate sex to money, value and mind has always been that it is impossible to talk about sex without being sexual. This was a lesson learned from the experience of a great, wonderful and (sometimes) difficult adventure. So it's a truth I hold in high regard. Which is why I can summon up the nerve to say that I'm not sure Bataille manages to say things all that clearly either (although I wish I read French as I'm sure it works better in the original). Here's the last paragraph from his opener.
I don't intend in this way to declare a vague judgement concerning men, but rather to define a way of thinking whose movement corresponds to the concrete character of the totality that is offered for reflection. I would like to set forth this method by using rather than by analyzing it separately. But I needed to begin by saying that my purpose, to talk about eroticism, could no more be isolated from the reflection of the universe in the mind than the later could be isolated from eroticism; but this implies in the first place that reflection, thought, under these conditions, must be commensurate with its object, and not that my object, eroticism, be commensurate with the traditional thought that established contempt for that object.
There are a couple of footnotes Bataille gives. One on reflection which I'll not go into. The other is on those last lines which are where I really have trouble with the meaning. The footnote mentions John-Paul Satre and says that a sense of the erotic depends upon a sense of sin, or prohibition or transgression. So I think what Bataille is getting at (and I may well be wrong - there is a comments section!) is firstly that mind and sex need to be considered as a totality, not as one producing the other. And that in reflecting upon such things, we ourselves are subject to all the prohibitions placed upon our thinking. So like it or not, those prohibitions will be reflected in our reflections, (We can't talk about sex without being sexual).

Ultimately it is no use to proceed along lines of scientific method (as Freud did) when considering these issues because in doing so you are breaking that totality which vital to a deep understanding. If you isolate and look for causal changes you simply relegate the sexual to a function of other forces. This is exactly what happened to Freud, who started out with the interplay of sexual energies as formative of our psychology, and ended up subsuming those energies - relegating them - to be products of his metaphysical commitments to the life and death forces. Essentially, the sexual was subsumed to Freud's veneration of reason (because reason suggested the existence of those forces).

I've been liberal with my mixing up of eroticism, sex, and sexual. Bataille makes distinctions between these terms. Eroticism is the human form of the sexual which arises from our psychological response to sex. He differentiates human from animal along these lines. So animals have sex without guilt. I'm not a fan of this line of argument. Interestingly enough, I made a similar critique of Norman O Brown. He too, seemed to imagine that some form of marker between animal and human in terms of sexuality was a useful way to proceed. I don't think so, which is why I feel okay mixing the terms up.
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I'll just finish off with a quick word on Nigel Dodd's The Social Life of Money where Bataille is considered in Chapter Five Waste. I hadn't heard of Bataille before I read Nigel's book so I'm really grateful that he's focused on him. Oddly enough I was aware of the other two main thinkers in the chapter Derrida and Baudrillard (Derrida more so). But it was obvious to me that Bataille was really the man for a money-burner to read.

So, I re-read the Bataille section last night too. It made me realize that my discovery that Norman O Brown called Bataille a fellow traveler on the Dionysian path - which I mention in On Demurrage and Money Burning - was not my discovery at all. Nigel mentions it on p.205. But more importantly, it helped to contextualize the Accursed Share within Bataille's body of work.

[This is such an important thing to do. I think a truly outstanding contribution that Nigel's work makes, is in regard to Simmel, where Nigel draws up Simmel's work on Money AND on Society to present an idea of perfect money/perfect society and freedom/equality. You can check this out in the final themed chapter Utopia.]

There are of course many themes on could draw on from such a contextualization. One that caught my eye (that's a Bataille in-joke, btw) is base materialism. I'm not sure I've really understood what Bataille means by this term (if such an understanding is possible) but he seems to be grasping for an understanding of the world without venerating reason to a divine realm, and so making a thing out of the world itself. This resonates with the way that I approach my money burning ritual as a total prestation of being. I believe a partial examination of money - intellectual, practical, emotional or whatever - will only ever reveal a partial truth (it tends to reveal money either as a thing or a non-thing, real or unreal). To know it, you have to find a way to present the totality of your being to it - and burning is the best way I've found to do so. Anyway, Nigel gives us the following on Bataille's base materialism.
Despite their apparent variation, Bataille’s writings display a striking unity of purpose. Underlying the many varied subjects he writes on is the ‘anti-theory’ known as base materialism. Unlike more conventional forms of materialist thought, including historical materialism, base materialism derives its core analytical framework from an appreciation of the radicalizing potential of everything that could be described as repulsive and antithetical to reason. Bataille developed the notion through the review journal, Documents, in the fifteen issues he edited between 1929 and 1931. Bataille’s version of materialism is not an ontological theory, a philosophy of matter. He never defined exactly what he meant by it, other than to suggest that base materialism is not a theory at all in the sense that it cannot be subsumed by reason.
Nigel Dodd The Social Life of Money (2014) p.169

I have a ton of over money wisdom quotes from The Social Life of Money to go up. As I take breaks from writing the thing I'm writing I'll put them up.

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