The Notion of Expenditure  

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La Notion de dépense (Eng: The Notion of Expenditure) is an essay by Georges Bataille written around 1933.

In this essay he set set out the research programme Bataille would develop in The Accursed Share. It was originally published in La critique sociale 7.




"Human activity is not entirely reducible to processes of production and conservation, and consumption must be divided into two distinct parts. The first reducible part is represented by the use of the minimum necessary for the conservation of life and the continuation of the individuals’ productive activity in a given society; it is therefore a question simply of the fundamental condition of productive activity. The second part is represented by so-called unproductive expenditures: luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perverse sexual activity (i.e. deflected from genital finality) - all these represent activities which, at least in primitive circumstances, have no end beyond themselves. Now it is necessary to reserve the use of the word expenditure for the designation of these unproductive forms, and not for the designation of all the modes of consumption that serve as a means to the end of production. Even though it is always possible to set the various forms of expenditure in opposition to each other, they constitute a group characterized by the fact that in each case the accent is placed on a loss that must be as great as possible in order for that activity to take on its true meaning."

On the notion of 'usefulness'

Chaque fois que le sens d’un débat dépend de la valeur fondamentale du mot utile, c’est-à-dire chaque fois qu’une question essentielle touchant la vie des sociétés humaines est abordée, quelles que soient les personnes qui interviennent et quelles que soient les opinions représentées, il est possible d’affirmer que le débat est nécessairement faussé et que la question fondamentale est éludée. Il n’existe en effet aucun moyen correct, étant donné l’ensemble plus ou moins divergent des conceptions actuelles, qui permette de définir ce qui est utile aux hommes.


“Every time the meaning of a discussion depends on the fundamental value of the word useful — in other words, every time the essential question touching on the life of human societies is raised, no matter who intervenes and what opinions are represented — it is possible to affirm that the debate is necessarily warped and that the fundamental question is eluded. In fact, given the more or less divergent collection of present ideas, there is nothing that permits one to define what is useful to man. ”

See also

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