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"From the quarantine to the general strike: On Bataille’s political economy"

by Timofeeva, Oxana (2020)


The essay explores Bataille’s general economy as the theory of nonproductive expenditure and its implications for a new politics of nature. It suggests that this theory, elaborated by Bataille in the 1940s, can be valid today and applicable in the analysis of the most urgent problems of contemporary humanity such as the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change. The reading of general economy that is presented in this essay evokes the Bataillean notion of violence, which allows the political aspects of the human/nonhuman divide to be exposed. The essay begins with the metaphor of the sun as the source of both destructive and productive energy, continues with the reflections of the two kinds of violence, as well as two kinds of economies in Bataille, defines a passage between general economy and a possible general politics, and finally proposes to critically reconsider Bataille’s opposition between labor and nature in order to overcome it.

Key Passage

Bataille’s general economy introduces the domain of the nonhuman that remains alien to all restrictive economic activities of human beings on Earth. The more that will be produced and accumulated by humans, the more will be destroyed on the planetary level, as there are natural phenomena that humanity canneither appropriate nor even properly control—such as epidemic outbursts, global warming with its multiple effects, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions. These planetary activities are opposed to work: according to Bataille, they rather express the idle wastefulness of nature that time and again seem to obstruct the processes of capitalist accumulation and economic growth. Thus, a single virus kills thousands of people, but also crashes the markets worldwide: factories are closed, workers stay home. What humanity conceives as a huge problem, indifferent nature celebrates as abundance and splendor. (p.146)


Georges Bataille, General Economy, Nonproductive Expenditure, Covid-19, Climate Change, General Strike


On Bataille

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