accursed share
  ---- by Paul Hegarty
  The numerous but brief references made by Baudrillard to Bataille's concept of the 'accursed share' hardly do justice to the vital role the idea plays in the former's work. The accursed share plays the same role in Bataille as symbolic exchange in Baudrillard. Furthermore, symbolic exchange derives from the Bataillean idea. From The Consumer Society (1998a [1970]) on, Baudrillard adopts a position where market exchange is to be criticised, and the tools he uses derive from the French anthropological tradition that comes after Durkheim: Mauss, Hertz, The Collège de Sociologie (a group led by Bataille). Bataille argued that the economy as we know it is only a part, the 'restricted' part, of a 'general economy', which would include all types of exchange which had been excluded from the world where 'the economic' has increasingly been taken as the 'real world'. This general economy includes death, waste, expenditure, violence and sacrifice, rather than accumulation, profit, savings, truth and morality. It is first outlined in Bataille's 1933 essay 'The Notion of Expenditure' (Bataille, 1985a), and fully systematised in his Accursed Share of 1949 (Bataille, 1991a). The universe is fundamentally about waste, goes the argument (note that this does not provide a theoretical ground or foundation, as waste only exists as it is about to be destroyed), and therefore human society should try to make sure it is not kept away from waste. Like Baudrillard's notion of symbolic exchange, the accursed share in the form of sacrificial behaviour is both a near-metaphysical principle and something that takes place in history. Both have gradually been excluded as undesirable and non-utilitarian, and nowhere more so than in capitalism.
  The accursed share is how was tetranslates into human terms. At a society wide level, it is best characterised through the practice of human sacrifice. With the advent of Christianity, this is replaced by an impoverished representation. With the 'advance' to capitalism and industrialisation, death and anything that threatens clean, high-performing, moral behaviour is removed (see Bataille, 1991b). Taking Aztec civilisation as the paradigm of a society based on the accursed share, Bataille writes that 'the victim is a surplus taken from the mass of useful wealth [. . .] once chosen, he is the accursed share, destined for violent consumption' (Bataille, 1991a: 59). The universe is based on destruction, waste and violence and once our sense of this goes, we will have no say in how waste occurs: '[excess] must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically' (Bataille, 1991a: 21). In modern times, the slightly less bloody version proposed is the redistribution of wealth through an extended Marshall Plan - which might make more sense than a return to human sacrifice, but is a somewhat feeble and contradictory recommendation. At an individual level, the individual should restore his or her connection with 'the sacred' (the realm of waste and excess) through approaching death, in, for example eroticism, drunkenness or any practice where the self is lost, immersed in otherness so that the rational, thinking moral individual slips away, if only briefly. In the second volume of The Accursed Share, Bataille concentrates on death as the primordial exclusion performed by humanity. Bataille turns this fearful turningaway into a foundational moment that is deconstructive - that is, only once taken from us, can we recognise this 'outside' that is death.
  Without reducing the idea to metaphor, Baudrillard focuses on the critical value of the accursed share, as something 'which refutes all the axioms of economy as usually understood', where the 'target is utility' (Baudrillard, 1991a: 135). Baudrillard is wary of the belief in transgression as a way out that is held by Bataille, and also because late capitalism seems to be working on the basis of ridiculous expenditure and squander. But despite this reasonable critique (which is not indicative of his general position, as the rest of the article is highly positive about Bataille), Baudrillard offers us exactly the same 'flaws' with symbolic exchange in the very year (1976) he points out the limits of the Bataillean accursed share. Symbolic exchange would disrupt the 'system' of capitalism, offers an alternative view of human culture as a whole, and stems from sacrifice and death now lost to the modern West and must be excluded. If anything, Baudrillard's tentative use of Bataille when explicit (for example, the handful of pages in SED) indicates the proximity not only in content of the two ideas, not just in the form, but that Bataille's accursed share is the accursed share of Baudrillard's symbolic exchange - excluded as the other that has come too close while going too far. Baudrillard seems fearful of the implications of 'the accursed share' when developed in full, and turns away from it, continually trying to say he has moved on from it when actually it is the pulsating heart at the centre of his own 'system'.
  Passwords
   § death
   § excess

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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