On a universal scale: Economy in Bataille’s general economy

Philosophy and Social Criticism 38 (2):169-197 (2012)
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This article analyses the general economy of Georges Bataille (1897–1962) in relation to political economy. In the first section I present a critical perspective on economy that is necessary in order to appreciate Bataille’s conception of general economy, which is presented in the second section. The general economy is first considered in a macro-perspective, which comprises the whole of the universe, second in a micro-perspective, where the subjective aspect of economy is maintained as non-objectified desire and inner experience. In the third section I turn to the general economy as it was explicitly intended, namely as a political economy. First I argue that the suggestions that Bataille himself presents are apolitical in an ordinary sense of politics, and that this can be shown to be due to some conceptual slides between nature and society and between history and ontology. I then sketch some postmodern attempts to legitimize respectively capitalism and communism, which refer to the general economy, but argue finally that Bataille can escape both, since he maintains the important distinction between need and desire. Although Bataille’s conception of economy thus reminds us of aspects often overlooked by economy in an ordinary sense, it also contains some serious aporias, which means that it cannot constitute the theoretical basis of a new general political economy, as Bataille had hoped

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Asger Sørensen
Aarhus University


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