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Olson, Allegheny College, 1994 [Carl, “Eroticism, violence, and sacrifice: A postmodern theory of religion and ritual,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 6.3, p. 237-238, 241-248]

4. Eroticism and death Without giving any historical proof for his position, Bataille asserts that the origin of eroticism can be traced prior to the division of humanity into those who were free and those who were slaves. It's origins can be found m pre- historic signs of erotic life embodied by figures with large breasts and erect penises, but its foundation is the sexual act itself (Bataille 1989a: 66). The knowledge of death plays an important role m the origin of eroticism. Al-though his claim cannot be refuted or proven, Bataille asserts that prehistoric beings were aware of death, an awareness that gave nse to an awareness of eroticism. The knowledge of death is essential because it gives rise to a sensibility that m turn stimulates eroticism, an extreme emotion that sepa- rates the sexuality of humans from that of animals (Bataille 1989a: 31-32, 23).5 The difference between humans and animals is more precisely defined when he states that "eroticism differs from the animal sexual impulse m that it is, m principle, just as work is, the conscious searching for an end, for sensual pleasure." (Bataille 1989a: 44) There is also an anticipation by the participants m erotic play that it will culminate with sensual pleasure. In the pleasure of erotic play one does not gain anything or become enriched, unlike [continues…] 6. Bataille's theory and the Sun Dance Bataille failed to test his theory of sacrifice by applying it to actual examples of sacrifice m the religions of the world. Havmg defined the nature of sacnfice for Bataille, it is therefore necessary to compare it to an actual sacnfice. In order to demonstrate the shortcomings of Bataille's theory of sacrifice I have chosen to apply it to the Sun Dance of the Sioux. Following this example, I suggest that, contrary to Bataille's theory, a more reasonable interpretation of the Sun Dance can be attained by concentratmg on its symbolism. This approach is suggested by the theoretical work of Clifford Geertz (1971) and Victor Turner (1967; 1968; 1975), the latter of whom refers to a symbol as the smallest umt of ntual or as storage umts of dynamic entities. My account of the Sun Dance relies on the work James R. Walker (1980) because his information was gathered from several different sources, and it represents the most authoritative account available to us of the rite in one period of its history My approach presupposes that the nte and its meaning have continued to change m response to new circumstances for the Sioux. By selectmg this nte, I am bemg eminently fair to Bataille, from one perspective, because the erotic and violent features of the Sun Dance could be used to prove the validity of his theory The complexity of the Sun Dance makes it difficult to interpret. Although he does not consider the Sun Dance of the Sioux, Jorgensen (1972: 206, 236) interprets, for mstance, the Ute and Shoshone nte as an acquisition of power that transforms the person and allows him to gain power, status, and autonomy From another perspective, Melody (1976) interprets the Sun Dance of the Sioux as a commemoration of tribal virtues expressed m the dance, a celebration of the people, an acknowledgment of the generative power of the sun, and a celebration of renewal. The rejoicing over renewal of the world is close to Hultkrantz's mterpretation (1981. 238) of the nte as a recreation of the cosmos. According to Hassnck (1967' 238, 248), the Sun Dance represents a socially umfymg activityactivity and a chance to resolve a conflict between an individual ego and the adjustment to the physical and social forces. And Lewis (1972: 47) mterprets the Sun Dance in terms of its various functions: umfymg force; maintaining tribal traditions; insuring tribal well-bemg in huntmg and warfare; offering to the dancer perpetual prestige. I propose offenng a different mterpretive approach for the Sun Dance that cntically reflects on Bataille's theory According to this interpretation, the Sun Dance of the Sioux exhibits a threefold significance: existential, social, and cosmic. In other words, if one examines the many symbols associated with the nte, one will see that this sacnfice enables one to attain three levels of being. While the sacred pole was bemg pamted, mstructors and students sat m a circle around the black painted figures of a buffalo and man, each de- picted with exaggerated gemtals, m order to impart to the man the potency of Iya, patron-god of libertmism, and to the buffalo the potency of Gnaski, the crazy buffalo and patron-god of licentiousness (Walker 1980: 107-108). According to Black Elk's non-nsqué interpretation of the images, the buffalo represented all the four-legged animals on the earth, and the figure of the man signified all people (Brown 1979' 79). In contrast, Bataille would be quick to seize on the erotic connections of the patron gods of libertinism and licentiousness. However, if the erotic is a quest for sensual pleasure, repre- sents a realm of play, and reveals a foretaste of continuity, it cannot be used to interpret the meaning of Iya and Gnaski because within the context of the Sun Dance they more powerfully suggest the renewal and recreation motifs of the rite. Bataille's concept of eroticism also would not fit into an insightful interpretation of the Sun Dance as a dominant theme of the rite because of its anti-social character as a solitary activity accomplished m secret. The heterological method of Bataille is intended to alleviate the contra- dictions of life and free the individual from the homogeneity of the world. In contrast to Bataille's insistence on a search for radical difference, the world- view of the Sioux, embodied m the symbolic aspects of the Sun Dance con-ceived as an offering of body and soul to Wakan-Tanka (the Great Spmt), suggests a homogeneous view of the cosmos. The umverse, for mstance, is represented by the round form of the ceremomal drum, whose steady beat is the throbbmg at the centre of the cosmos (Brown 1979' 69). Within the context of the Sun Dance, the cosmic pillar of the umverse is represented by the cottonwood tree, which further represents the enemy who is symbolically killed and transported back to the centre of the campcamp by means of sticks because human hands are not allowed to touch the body The ntual partic- ipants consecrate the tree with the stem of the sacred pipe, another symbol of the earth, the buffalo, and everything that lives and grows on the earth. Once the tree is trimmed of its branches and its sides and branch tips are painted red, the rawhide effigies of a man and a buffalo are suspended from the crosspiece of the sacred tree, which is then placed into a hole at the centre of the camp. The sacred tree not only suggests a umversal pillar, but it also represents the wayway of the people (Brown 1979 69, 75-76). Other cosmic symbols are the sun and earth signified by a red circle, symbolic of all that is sacred. In the centre of the circle representing the sun is a blue circle which suggests Wakan-Tanka, the centre of the cosmos and all existence (Brown 1979' 71-72). Moreover, the lodge of the Sun Dance is composed of twenty- eight poles, each signifying an object of creation, and staked m a circle that represents the entire created world (Brown 1979' 80). It is difficult to find anything excessive or transgressme in these cosmic symbols of the Sioux that would support Bataille's position. Rather than achieving the differentiation that Bataille's theory advocates, the sun dancer symbolically acquires the cosmos. According to the ethno- logical report of Walker (1980: 114), the candidate who dances the most excruciatingly painful form of the dance with the intention of becoming a shaman is given a small hoop by his mentor. This hoop is symbolic of the sky, the four winds, time, all things that grow, and all circular thmgs made by the tribe. After his successful completion of the dance, the sun dancer is allowed to place this symbol on his tipi. This privilege suggests that he attams all that the hoop symbolizes. Contrary to Bataille's theory, the highest aspiring sun dancer does not find that the cosmos becomes other for him, and he does not stand as an individual sovereign within the cosmos. He rather becomes part of the whole, and he acquires the cosmos. Instead of perceiving the cosmic symbolism associated with the most painful performance of the rite, Bataille's writings suggest that he would stress its sadistic and masochistic aspects. Sadism, an excessive violation of modesty and a violent excretion, is not onlyonly an eruption of excremental forces, but it also forms a limitation by subjugating whatever is opposed to such an eruption (Bataille 1970-1988: II, 56). If masochism is an enjoyment of pain, the violence exercised on the flesh of the sun dancers would be viewed by Bataille as a transgression and violation of the participant's flesh, which also calls attention to the flesh itself and connects it to the erotic. Bataille also mamtams (1984: 91) that violence agamst the flesh is an external manifestation of the internal violence of the sacnficial participant, which is perceived as a loss of blood and vanous forms of ejaculations. Moreover, for Bataille the cuttingcutting of the flesh would be suggestive of the discontinuity of the self. Unlike the solitary activity of eroticism for Bataille, the sun dancer of the Sioux rite does not distinguish or divorce himself from his society because he represents the people and suffers on their behalf during the rite. After punfymg themselves, their clothing, and the equipment to be used m the nte, the participants crycry at the centre of the campcamp and assume the suffering of the people, which enables other tribal members to gain understanding and strength (Brown 1979' 72, 78). If there is present the discontinuity charac-tenstic of Bataille's profane human society among the Sioux, the Sun Dance bridges any social divisions by uniting the social bonds of a particular tribe and umtmg them with different Indian tribes. By means of an invitation from the tribe initiating the nte prior to its begmnng, other Indian tribes are invited to participate m the nte, even though some of the visitors may be hereditary enemies (Dorsey 1894: 452). This scenano enhances the social solidarity of the Indian nation and builds a closer relationship with the things of the um- verse ; the sacred centre created by the dancers is alleged always to be with them throughout the remainder of their existence. There is no evidence of transgressme or excessive social behaviour by the sun dancers m Bataille's sense. Moreover, the dancers have acquired a sacred power dunng the nte that they may later share with other members of their societysociety According to Powers (1977' 100), the acquired power of the sun dancers may be mvested m those who are sick by the placement of the dancers' hands on the less fortunate. Thereby the sacred power is shared to cure the sick, and enter into communion with others. In comparison to Bataille's theory, the sun dancers do not differentiate themselves from their society They share a sacred power that can benefit every member of the tribe. Bataille's heterological method and its stress on finding radical difference prevents him from seeing the socially unifying possibilities

of a rite such as the Sun Dance. According to Bataille, violence is inevitable because human beings can- not totally reject it. In contrast to Bataille's theory, the Sun Dance represents a threefold sacrifice of which the initial two sacrificial actions are symbolic: cutting down the cottonwood tree which is symbolic of the enemy; shooting at the effigies of a man and buffalo suspended from the crosspiece of the sacred tree, and the final action of the actual sacrifice of human flesh on the fourth day of the rite. The second symbolic killing of the effigies of a man and buffalo, amid much rejoicing by the participants, represents the hope for future success m hunting and victory in war (Powers 1977' 98). These sym-bolic killings by the Sioux violates Bataille's assertion that violence cannot be controlled. Rather, the symbolic nature of the Sioux killings suggests a limiting and eventual termination of violence and not a promoting of any cycle of violence. Although Bataille is right to emphasize the importance of violence m sacrifice, there does not appear to be any danger that the con- tagious violence of the sacred will overflow and overwhelm the Sioux and other tribes. There are certainly martial features to the Sun Dance, but their symbolic nature suggests a containment of violence rather than any overflow- ing of it. Bataille's theory does make clear, however, that the Sioux accept violence, even though they try to reject or control it. Within the drama of the Sun Dance, there is a hint of an inherent prestige associated with victims who choose to perform the sacrifice in the most painful and violent manner. The actual sacnficial victims, for instance, can choose to dance m any of four ways-ways: gazing at the sun from dawn to dusk; having wooden skewers, tied to rawhide ropes secured about half wayway up the sacred pole, mserted into their breasts; having wooden skewers mserted mto the breasts and then being suspended about one foot off the ground; or having wooden skewers inserted which then are attached with thongs to one or more buffalo skull(s) that must be dragged along the dance area (Powers 1977' 98-99). The Sun Dance is not completed until the flesh of the victim has been torn through, representing the death and rebirth of the victim. It is permissible for others to assist by pulling on the ropes to end the victim,' agony As well, the multiple number of sun dancers contradicts Bataille's assertion (1988a: 59) that a victim represents a surplus of communal wealth and substitutes for other members of the commumty Neither is the victim an accursed share destmed for violent destruction. Bataille is nght, however, to emphasize the importance of death m sacnfice, which possesses the power to return one to continuity by means of eroticism. What he fails to see is the connection between death and spintual rebirth. And due to his notion of eroticism, which represents a disequilibrmm that stimulates a person consciously to call one's being into question, Bataille is not able to recogmze that the sun dancer is actually actually able to find his identity Although Bataille's theory of sacrifice does not account for the Sun Dance in its entirety, the rite does adhere to his theory to some extent because it calls attention to the flesh and reveals external violence and the internal violence of the subject. The violation and breaking of the sun dancer's flesh does suggest the usefulness of Bataille's observation about the intimate connection between human flesh and violence. However, by giving pieces of their flesh, the sun dancers impugn Bataille's claim that the violation of the victim's flesh connotes a connection to a sexual act. At this point, Bataille's theory is problematic because it lacks consistent sense m the context of the Sun Dance. Bataille's need to reintroduce eroticism blinds him to the facts or drama of an actual sacrifice. The flesh of the sacrificial victim m the Sun Dance represents ignorance (Brown 1979' 85) and not the dispossession of the self, an anti-social aspect of eroticism for Bataille. From an existential perspective, to be freed from the ropes tied to the skewers symbolizes freedom from the bonds of the flesh and not some erotic urge. The lack of an erotic emotion is evident m the symbolism of donning rabbit skins on the dancer's arms and legs. The rabbit is a symbol of humility, a virtue with which one must approach Wakan-Tanka. The victim is also equated symbolically with the sacred pipe that stretches from heaven to earth (Brown 1979. 74). In this context, the sacred pipe mdicates the transcending of earthlyearthly flesh. The dancer becomes the centre of the world m which the four directions meet when he is tied at the centre of the four poles, so that the four directions converge m his body (Brown 1979' 95). Within the drama of the Sun Dance, elements of eroticism, violence, and death are evident. This does not mean, however, that these features of sacrifice necessarily involve stressing separation, difference, transgression, and excess. Although it is possible to find these features in the Sun Dance to some degree, the Sioux nte stresses finding one's identity within a religious and social tradition. By successfully completmg the nte, a sun dancer does not separate himself from the group or become distinct from other things; rather, he often assumes a position of leadership within the tribe. And, as already noted, the sun dancer is intimately related to his mentor, ntual assistant or second, and other members of the tribe who play various roles m the nte. All this suggests the socially unifying nature of the nte. Moreover, within a tribal society such as the Sioux, the individual's identity is sociallysocially defined, even though one's visions and dreams help one to define oneself and one's place within a wider social context. Besides being a form of human sacnfice, the Sun Dance also functions as an initiation rite. The dancer, having died to his former ignorant condition, attains a totally new existential status of enlightenment and responsibility The ordeal that one endures is often accompanied by visions of the divine; the successful completion of the nte is a prereqmsite if one aspires to become a shaman. Walker (1980: 182) notes that after the successful completion of the Sun Dance the victim is eligible for leadership of a war party or for chieftamship. The candidate receives new meamng and status which is symbolized by the red design, drawn on his chest by the shaman as a symbol of all that is sacred. Furthermore, the victim is equated throughout the nte with the moon, which waxes and wanes, lives and dies, like all things (Brown 1979- 71). 7 Concluding remarks The significance of the Sun Dance enables us to see that there is an alternative interpretation to Bataille's theory that is more faithful to the actual evidence and is not simply imposed on the ritual activities by the creative imagination of a theorist. This interpretive analysis of the Sun Dance is suggested by the patterns exhibited by the nte itself and reflects more accurately the actual nte and its religious and symbolic context. Bataille, however, includes a personal agenda because he wants to re-introduce the erotic into religion. In other words, Bataille's theoretical speculation about eroticism shapes his theory of religion and sacnfice. Thus, his theoretical world-view takes precedence over the religious phenomena that he examines. With his involvement in the Surrealist movement, his emphasis on em- bracing bodily waste, his anal and erotic obsessions, the role of the ambiguous pineal eye in his works, and composition of excessively obscene novels, all suggest an explicit advocacy of decadence by Bataille. In his work entitled My Mother, the socially excessive theme is mcest. His novel The Blue of Noon, for mstance, focuses on the nauseous and squalid aspects of human life where its characters are engaged m endless orgies, vomiting, and unnat- mg. The erotic and death are contmually united in his Story of the Eye when, for example, the two leading libertmes of the novel have sexual mtercourse next to the cadaver of a young girl they have driven to death. Two further dramatic examples are the rape of a priest by the female protagomst and his death by strangulation and simultaneous sexual orgasm, and the death of the distracted matador gorged through his eye by the hom of a bull as he is distracted and blinded by the obscene antics of the female protagomst. Bataille's hermeneutical method of heterology is designed to lead to ex- cess and decadence. Trymg to explain his mithode de meditataon used m his book on religious expenence, Bataille wntes (1954: 216), "I think like a girl takes off her dress. At its most extreme pomt, thought is immodesty, obscen- ity itself." This kind of statement seems to suggest de Sade or Mephistopheles becommg Faust. In his work on heterology, Pefams summarily states (1991. 41) that the works of Bataille are "a theater of the excremental m whose scenes one may glimpse golden threads." Frednc Jameson (1991. 382), a self-admitted Amencan adherent of postmodern literary cnticism, affirms that decadence is a charactenstic of postmodermsm: "'Decadence' is thus in some way the very premonition of the postmodern itself, but under condi- tions that make it impossible to predict that aftermath with any sociological or cultural accuracy, thereby divertmg the vague sense of a future into more fantastic forms, all borrowed from the misfits and eccentrics, the perverts and the Others, or aliens, of the present (modem) system." And if, as sug- gested by Rosen (1987' 142), this decadence originates in political despair, Bataille's hermeneutical program is a political manifesto and not an apt tool for interpretmg religious phenomena. From a more positive perspective, Bataille's theory of religion does call attention to neglected elements in the study of religion in the form of bodily waste: excrement, saliva, tears, unne, mucus, dirt, skin, and so forth. Al- though his distinction between the sacred and the profane cannot be applied consistently as a useful hermeneutical device with the religious phenomena or world-view of Native Amencan Indians, his emphasis on the difference within the sacred itself is suggestive. He is also nght to stress the violent aspects of sacrifice and their sexual implications. Although violence is certainly present m the Sun Dance, the Sioux rite appears to move in the direction of nonviolence - by symbolically killing an enemy represented by a tree, for instance - that undermines Bataille's opinion that violence cannot be contained. By offering his body and soul, the Sioux sun dancer points to a renewal and continuance of cosmic generative forces. The Sun Dance also joins Indian societies together and provides for social continuity by allowing others to share m the sacred power engendered by the rituals. Moreover, the rite enables the sun dancer to become ontologically transformed by being reborn and being set free of his mortal flesh. Although there is a sense in which the sun dancer is distinctive, the emphasis of the nte is unity with societysociety and social well-being rather than stressing the differences between the sacrificial victim and society .
This argument is ahistorical, non-falsifiable and empirically wrong in many specific instances -- there are many cultures in which sacrifice does not serve a relevant symbolic function -- consider premodern Inuit cultures, many indigenous cultures in the Pacific Northwest or First Nation Australian or Pacific Islander -- many cultures that indulged in cannibalism marketed their human flesh as a delicacy or pure commodity, and there's no reason that even if we occupy an open energy system at the physical level that sacrifice must inevitably be expressed at a cultural level -- and by the way, are you worried that we just made a bunch of these examples up without doing much if any fact-checking? Please amplify that skepticism times infinity and apply it to every affirmative argument that appeals to science, history or theories of physical energy
Allan STOEKL '7, 2007, Professor of French and Comparative Literature – Penn State University, “Excess and Depletion: Bataille’s Surprisingly Ethical Model of Expenditure” in Reading Bataille Now edited by Shannon Winnubst, p. 254-8

To think about the use-value of Bataille, we must first think about the nature of energy in his presentation. For Bataille, excessive energy is natural: it is first solar (as it comes to us from the sun), then biological (as it passes from the sun to plants and animals to us), then human (as it is wasted in our monuments. artifacts, and social rituals). The movement from each stage to the next involves an ever-greater wasting: the sun spends its energy without being repaid; plants take the sun's energy, convert it, and throw off the excess in their wild proliferation; and animals burn off the energy conserved by plants (carnivores are much less "efficient" than herbivores), all the way up the food chain. "On the surface of the globe, for living matter in general, energy is always in excess, the question can always be posed in terms of extravagance [luxe], the choice is limited to how wealth is to he squandered {le mode de la dilapidation des richesses}" (1976a, 31; 1988, 23, italics in original). There never is or will be a shortage of energy; it can never be used up by man or anything else because it comes, in endless profusion, from the sun. Georges Ambrosino, Bataille's friend, a nuclear scientist, is credited in the introduction of The Accursed Share (1976a, 23; 1988, 191) as the inspiration for a number of the theses worked out in the book. In some unpublished "notes preliminary to the writing of The Accursed Share" (1976a, 465-69), Ambrosino sets out very clearly some of the ideas underlying Bataille's work: We affirm that the appropriated energies produced during a period are superior in quantity to the appropriated energies that are strictly necessary to their production. For production rigor of the thesis, it would be necessary to compare the appropriated energies of the same quality. The system produces all the appropriated energies that are necessary to it, it products them in greater quantities than are needed, and finally it even produces appropriated energies that its maintenance at the given level does not require. In an elliptical form, but more striking, we can say that the energy produced is superior to the energy necessary for its production. (I 976a, 469)4 Most striking here is the rather naive faith that, indeed, there always will be an abundance of energy, and that spending energy to get energy inevitably results in a surplus of energy. Ambrosino, in other words, projects a perpetual surplus of energy return on energy investment (EROEI).5 One can perhaps imagine how a nuclear scientist, in the early days of speculation about peaceful applications of atomic energy, might have put it this way. Or a petroleum geologist might have thought the same way, speculating on the productivity of the earth shortly after the discovery of a giant oil field.6 Over fifty years later it is much harder to think along these lines. Indeed, these assumptions are among those most contested by current energy theorists and experts. First, we might question the supposition that, since all energy in the biosphere ultimately derives from the sun, and the sun is an inexhaustible source of energy (at least in relation to the limited life spans of organisms), there will always be a surplus of energy. The correctness of this thesis depends on the perspective from which we view the sun's energy. From the perspective of an ecosystem—say, a forest—the thesis is true: them will always be more than enough solar energy so that plants can grow luxuriantly (provided growing conditions are right: soil. rainfall, etc.) and in that way supply an abundance of biomass, the excess of which will support a plethora of animals and, ultimately, humans. All living creatures will in this way always absorb more energy than is necessary for their strict survival and reproduction; the excess energy they (re)produce will inevitably, somehow, have to be burned of. If we shift this perspective slightly, however, we will see that an excess of the sun's energy is not always available. It is (and will continue to be) extremely difficult to achieve a positive energy return directly from solar energy.7 As an energy form, solar energy has proven to be accessible primarily through organic (and fossilized) concentration: wood, coal, and oil. In human society, at least as it has developed over the last few millennia, these energy sources have been tapped and have allowed the development of human culture and the proliferation of human population. It has often been argued that this development/proliferation is not due solely to technological developments and the input of human labor; instead, it is the ability to utilize highly concentrated energy sources that has made society's progress possible. Especially in the last two hundred years, human population has expanded mightily, as has the production of human wealth. This has been made possible by the energy contributed to the production and consumption processes by the combust ion of fuels in ever more sophisticated mechanical devices: first wood and then coal in steam engines, and then oil and its derivatives (including hydrogen, via natural gas) in internal combustion engines. Wealth, in other words, has its origins not just in the productivity of human labor and its ever more sophisticated technological refinements, as both the bourgeois and Marxist traditions would argue, but in the energy released from (primarily) fossil fuels through the use of innovative devices. In the progress from wood to coal, and from coal to oil, there is a constant progression in the amount of energy produced from a certain mass of material. Always more energy, not necessarily efficiently used: always more goods produced, consumers to consume them, and energy-based fertilizers to produce the food needed to feed them. The rise of civilization as we know it, then, is tied directly to the type of fuels used to power and feed it.8 Certainly BataiIle, following Ambrosino, would see in this ever-increasing energy use a continuation—but on a much grander scale—of the tendency of animals to expend energy conserved in plant matter. Indeed, burning wood is nothing more than that. But the fact remains that by tapping into the concentrated energy of fossil fuels, humans have at their disposal (ancient) solar energy—derived from fossil plants (coal) and algae (oil)—in such a concentrated form that equivalent amounts of energy could never be derived from solar energy alone.9 In a limited sense, then, Bataille and Ambrosino are right: all the energy we use ultimately derives from the sun. They are wrong in ignoring the fact that for society as we know it to function, with our attendant leisure made possible by "energy slaves," energy derived from fossil fuels, with their high EROEI, will be necessary for the indefinite future.10 There is simply no other equally rich source of energy available to us; moreover, no other source will likely be available to us in the future. Bataille's theory, on the other hand, ultimately rests on the assumption that energy is completely renewable, that there will always be a high EROEI, and that, for that reason, we need not worry about our dependence on finite (depletable) energy sources. The Accursed Share for this reason presents us with a strange amalgam of awareness of the central role energy plays in relation to economics (not to mention life in general) and a willful ignorance concerning the social-technological modes of energy delivery and use, which are far more than mere technical details. We might posit that the origin of this oversight in Bataille's thought is to be found in the economic theory, and ultimately philosophy, both bourgeois and Marxist, of the modern period, where energy resources and raw materials do not enter into economic (or philosophical) calculations, since they are taken for granted: the earth makes human activity possible, and in a sense we give the earth meaning, dignity, by using resources that otherwise would remain inert, unknown, insignificant (one thinks of Sartre's "in-itself" here). Value has its origin, in this view, not in the "natural" raw materials or energy used to produce things, but in human activity itself. Bataille merely revises this model by characterizing human activity—in other words, production—as primarily involving gift giving and wasting, rather than production and accumulation. We can argue, then, that solar energy is indeed always produced, always in excess (at least in relation to the limited life spans of individuals, and even species): but it is fossil fuels that best conserve this energy and deliver it in a rich form that we humans can effectively use. Unfortunately; these fuels can be depleted, indeed, are in the process of being depleted. Why is this important in the context of Bataille? For a very simple reason: if Bataille does not worry about energy cost and depletion, he need not worry about energy conservation. Virtually every contemporary commentator on energy use sees only one short-term solution: conservation. Since fossil fuels are not easily replaceable by renewable sources of energy, our only option is to institute radical plans for energy conservation—or risk the complete collapse of our civilization when, in the near future, oil, coal, and natural gas production declines, and the price of fuel necessarily skyrockets.11 Indeed, some commentators, foreseeing the eventual complete depletion of Fossil energy stores, predict a return to feudalism (Perelman 1981), or simply a quasi-Neolithic state of human culture, with a radically reduced global population (Price 1995). Without a theory of depletion, then, Bataille can afford to ignore conservation in all senses: not only of resources and energy, but also in labor, wealth, and so on. He can also ignore (perhaps alarmist) models of cultural decline. In Bataille's view, energy will always reproduce itself with a surplus: thus, the core problem of our civilization is how we waste this excess. We need never question the existence of the "energy slaves" that make this squandering of the products of human labor, and of our own time and effort, possible. Nor will there need to he any consideration of the fact that these virtual energy slaves may very well, in the not-so-distant future, have to be replaced by real human slaves. (Who or what else would do the work?)


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