Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Economy, Ethics, Abundance, Surplus, Gifts and Obligation



"I will simply state, without waiting further, that the extension of economic growth itself requires the overturning of economic principles—the overturning of the ethics that grounds them. Changing from the perspectives of restrictive economy to those of general economy actually accomplishes a Copernican transformation: a reversal of thinking—and of ethics."

"On a whole, a society always produces more than is necessary for its survival; it has a surplus at its disposal. It is precisely the use it makes of this surplus that determines it: the surplus is the cause of the agitation, of the structural changes and of the entire history of society. But this surplus has more than one outlet, the most common of which is growth. And growth itself has many forms, each one of which eventually comes up against some limit. Thwarted demographic growth becomes military; it is forced to engage in conquest. Once the military limits is reached, the surplus has sumptuary forms of religion as an outlet, along with games and spectacles that derive therefrom, or personal luxury."

excerpts from Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, Volume 1: Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1991)
La Part Maudite is a book by Georges Bataille, written between 1946 and 1949, when it was published by Les Éditions de Minuit. It was translated into English and published in 1991 with the title The Accursed Share.





"In the systems of the past we do not find simple exchange of goods, wealth and produce through markets established among individuals. For it is groups, and not individuals, which carry on exchange, make contracts, and are bound by obligations; the persons represented in the contracts are moral persons -- clans, tribes, and families; the groups, or the chiefs as intermediaries for the groups, confront and oppose each other. Further, what they exchange is not exclusively goods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances, and feasts; and fairs in which the market is but one element and the circulation of wealth but one part of a wide and enduring contract. Finally, although the presentations and counter-presentations take place under a voluntary guise they are in essence strictly obligatory and their sanction is private or open warfare."

exceprt from Marcel Mauss, The Gift, trans. trans. Ian Cunnisson (London: Cohen & West 1954)
Mauss's original piece was entitled Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques ("An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies") and was originally published in L'Année Sociologique in 1923-1924.


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