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.
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