For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Accursed Share

by Bataille, Georges (1988)


For some years, being obliged on occasion to answer the question" What are you working on?" I was embarrassed to have to say," A book of political economy." Coming from me, this venture was disconcerting, at least to those who did not know me well.(The interest that is …

Key Passage

The Remnants of Feudalism and Religion:The necessity of first eliminating the values of the past must be made clear, however. In the economic system of the Middle Ages wealth was unevenly distributed between those who manifested the accepted values, in the name of which wealth was wasted, and those who furnished the wasted labor.14 The work of the fields or the towns thus had a servile quality with respect to the values manifested, but so did the worker with respect to the clerics and nobles. These latter claimed not to be things, but the quality of thinghood, verbal protests notwithstanding, fell squarely on the worker. This original situation has a  specific consequence: One cannot expect to liberate man by going to the limit of the possi­bilities of things and nonetheless leave free, as capitalism does, those who have no other reason for being than the negation of work, which is base, in favor of more elevated activities, asserted to be the only ones capable of restoring man to himself. In a sense, the remnants of feudalism and religion, which capitalism overlooks, represent the immutable and unconscious desire to make a thine of the worker. Comparatively, the worker can only be a thine if we liberate ourselves by devoting ourselves to an activity that repudiates the labor of the worker. The fulfilment of things (the complete adequation of man to production) can have a liberating effect only if the old values, tied to nonpro­ductive expenditures, are denounced and dismantled, as the Roman values were during the Reformation. Indeed, there is  no doubt that man's return to himself implies first of all that the deceitful faces of the aristocracy and of religion be unmasked, for they are not really the face of man, but his appearance lent to things. Man's return to himself cannot be confused with the error of those who claim to grasp intimacy as one grasps a loaf of bread or a hammer. (p.139)


Bataille, Nietzsche, French, Political Economy, Economic Theory, Moral Philosophy


The Accursed Share, Bataille Citations

Links to Reference



How to contribute.