For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939

by Bataille, Georges (1985)


Since the publication of Visions of Excess in 1985, there has been an explosion of interest in the work of Georges Bataille. The French surrealist continues to be important for his groundbreaking focus on the visceral, the erotic, and the relation of society to the primeval. This collection of prewar writings remains the volume in which Batailles’s positions are most clearly, forcefully, and obsessively put forward.This book challenges the notion of a “closed economy” predicated on utility, production, and rational consumption, and develops an alternative theory that takes into account the human tendency to lose, destroy, and waste. This collection is indispensible for an understanding of the future as well as the past of current critical theory.Georges Bataille (1897-1962), a librarian by profession, was founder of the French review Critique. He is the author of several books, including Story of the Eye, The Accused Share, Erotism, and The Absence of Myth.

Key Passage

Excretion is not simply a middle term between two appropriations, just as decay is not simply a middle term between the grain and the ear of wheat. The inability to consider in this latter case decay as an end in itself is the result not precisely of the human viewpoint but of the  specifically intellectual view­point (to the extent that this viewpoint is in practice subordinate to a process of appropriation). The human viewpoint,  independent of official declarations,  in other words as it results from,  among other things, the analysis of dreams,  on the contrary represents appropriation as a means of excretion.  In the final anal­ysis it  is clear that a worker works in order to obtain the violent  pleasures of coitus (in other words,  he accumulates in order to  spend). On the other hand, the conception according to which the worker must  have coitus in order to pro­vide for the future necessities of work is linked to the unconscious identification of the worker with the slave. In fact, to the extent that the various functions are distributed among the various social categories,  appropriation in its most over­whelming form historically devolves on  slaves:  thus in  the  past serfs  had  to accumulate  products for knights and clerks,  who barely took part in the labor of appropriation,  and  then only through the  establishment of a  morality that regularized for their own profit the  circulation of goods.  But  as  soon as  one attacks the accursed exploitation of man by man, it  becomes time to leave to the exploiters this abominable appropriative morality ,  which for such a  long time has permitted their own orgies of wealth. To the extent that man no longer thinks of crushing his comrades under the yoke of morality,  he acquires the capacity to link overtly not only his intellect and his virtue but his raison d'etre to the violence and incongruity of his  excretory organs, as  well as  to  his  ability  to become excited  and  entranced by  heterogeneous elements,  commonly starting in debauchery.  (p.106)


Bataille, Surrealism, French, Critical Theory, Excess, Twentieth Century, Philosophy


Visions of Excess, Bataille Citations

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