Sunday, June 24, 2007

the moronic inferno, pt 319

Jail Bush Not Paris T-shirts, on sale, in a store in my neighbourhood

is this like the bite-size version of the “foreshortened critique of capitalism” critique of paris-haters that some on the left are wasting their breath with?

i mean i dunno I thought the inheritance of wealth was one of the ways the class system perpetuated itself

(of course Bush is as much a dynastic heir in his way as PH so there's an equivalence secreted within the inane slogan)

anyway it occurred to me that the only truly convincing and coherent defence of Hilton would be one that based itself on Bataille's ideas*, a case based entirely on the celebration of her as a figure of pure excess, non-productivity, wastefulness (e.g. the carbon footprint of her UK promo trip, massive entourage including three tour managers for no actual tour, all flying first class). Paris as a solar anus of expenditure-sans-return. Indeed precisely through not having earned the money she spends, she is all the more “sovereign”--sovereignty defined in Bataille's value system by the distance one has from the “servile” and profane realm of production. The sovereign, according to Bataille’s mystical economic theory as outlined in the Accursed Share * * never does but only is. Which is precisely what the Paris-haters complain--"she doesn't do anything!". She does get paid for "work" admittedly--modelling, appearing at parties--but that's as close to publically "just being" as you can get, and the beyond-handsome pay is way out of proportion to the effort so therefore as little like work-work as is imaginable. (The comedy of The Simple Life was placing the two heiresses in adjacence to production at its most gross and earthy and abjectly profane -- manure, the engorged and varicose udders of dairy cows, etc)

Talking of “sovereignty” and chiming back to Krystal’s “royalty to me” comment re. the Hilton dynasty, there is a good line in Tina Brown’s Diana book (not read it,of course, just seen it quoted in the New York profile of TB), about how public relations-savvy Diana twigged that “the aristocracy of birth” had been supplanted by “the aristocracy of exposure”. Which would make Paris our age’s Lady Di, icon of the new aristocracy sans the old blue-blooded one's noblesse oblige (philanthropic works, charity, hanging out in hospices etc) or decorum and tasteful restraint re. flaunting of one’s wealth and parasitism.

Di and Paris had/have a similar sheen about them, this sort of refulgent (solar anus-y)incandescence... the skin, the hair, the clothes, they all seem to be made of gold (the sovereign metal, perhaps because it is like condensed sun-stuff -- and Bataille has a bit of a thing about the sun, going about a will to glory in us that would have us live like suns, shining for the sheer aimless splendor and cosmic bling of it).

* Bataille with a bit of Baudrillard, maybe some Nik Cohn folded in, and a pinch of Camille Paglia

* * here's an old review i did of The Accursed Share

The Accursed Share, Volumes II and III
by Georges Bataille, translated by Robert Hurley
Zone Books

"The Accursed Share", written in the twilight of his life, was Bataille's
attempt to pull together all his ideas and obsessions, and construct a coherent
theory of human civilisation. Volume I (also published by Zone) focussed on the
problem of economic surplus. In Bataille's view, what distinguishes cultures are
the different ways they have of spending this 'accursed share': these range from
Aztec sacrifice, to Native American potlatch (ritualised, ruinous gift-giving,
in a society where rank was determined by the ability to squander resources), to
Tibet (where excess wealth was absorbed by a large 'parasitic' class of monks
devoted to non-productive contemplation). Bataille's positing of a fundamental
human drive towards expenditure without return, challenges capitalist ideas
about the psychological motivations that govern economic activity. And while his
contention that humanity's real problems concern luxury rather than scarcity
would seem to be contradicted by our current reality of global poverty and
imminent ecological catastrophe, Bataille saw no inconsistency. The current
crisis is the result of capitalism's break with pre-Modern methods of disposing
of economic surplus, in favour of accumulation, investment and runaway economic

With the following volumes of "The Accursed Share", Bataille attempted to
integrate this provocative, if rather sketchily substantiated,
economic theory with the rest of his thought. Volume II, 'The History Of
Eroticism", is, for the most part, a rather ponderous and convoluted reprise of
the theory of sexuality previously explored in 'Erotism: Death and Sensuality'.
Bataille distinguishes between profane life (secular, bourgeois, productive) and
sacred life. Profane life is based on the denial of man's animalism, a refusal
of the animal's subjection to sexual drives and to death. All the labour and
achievement of profane existence is a futile denial of mortality, that
paradoxically condemns the profane individual to a living death, forever living
for the future rather than in the present. But sacred life is a repudiation of
the profane world's values of utility and productivity. Bataille is clearly on
the side of the beasts and the angels, rather than the bourgeoisie.

As in "Erotism", Bataille explores the affinities between sexual desire and
mysticism. Both are fuelled by a longing for total fusion, an incandescent,
immolatory merger of the self with the cosmos. The mystic and the lover desire
total consumption, pure expenditure without return; "their life is aflame and
they consume it" . Love's real object isn't the beloved, but what the
Situationists called "the lost totality" and what Bataille calls "a lost
intimacy": an end to alienation, union with the universe. And of course, utopian
thought has always aspired to this ideal state of being, sometimes locating it
in a lost golden age, sometimes at 'the end of history'. The psychological
origin of this notion of heaven-on-earth is most likely our dim memories of the
blissful inertia and kingly indolence of life in the womb.

In Volume III, Bataille defines this state of pure being as "sovereignty".
Historically, the sovereign was defined by the consumption of wealth, rather
than its production (which in Bataille's view is always servile and alienated).
Bataille expands this particular meaning of sovereignty to include any form of
existence that isn't subordinated to utility, that doesn't involve the
employment of the present for the sake of the future. It's the old utopian
and/or mystical dream of living in the now. Since knowledge is always in some
sense instrumental and thus subordinate to useful ends, sovereignty is a state
of unknowingness, accessible only in moments. These occur only when strong
emotions disrupt the chains of thought. Bataille's inventory of sovereign
"effusions" - laughter, tears, intoxication, play, festivity, sexual
ectasy, sacred terror - are all privileged moments that allow human beings to
live in the present.

Haughtily contemptuous of bourgeois values (deferment of gratification,
accumulation, providence) Bataille's own table of virtues are aristocratic.
Historically, the aristocracy have been the class of humans most able to devote
their lives and resources to prodigality (dandyism, combat, gambling, 'perverse'
sexuality). Appropriately, the society that's most antithetical to Bataille's
notion of sovereignty is Soviet Communism, which was created in reaction to an
obscenely wasteful feudalism. Impelled by the need to make the industrial
revolution happen in less than a decade, Stalin's economics turned bourgeois
accumlation into national policy. The result was state capitalism: a society in
which the individual's access to extravagant consumption was totally
subordinated to the goal of increasing national productivity. The ultimate goal
of Communism was an end to alienation (after the dictatorship of the proletariat
had withered away, Marx envisioned a society based around aesthetic, sovereign
activity). But in the mean time, Soviet Communism increased alienation, creating
a society whose inhabitants were less and less able to live in the present
moment. For Bataille, the real problem with Communism is its inability to
conceive of life in terms of play, only in terms of work.

Where Marxism mirrored the economicism of the bourgeois worldview, Nietzche
and de Sade are Bataille's ancestors and prophets of sovereignty.
Both were aristocrats, opposed equally to capitalist values and Christian/Socialist
philanthropy (hence their usefulness to fascism); both felt that solidarity
with other human beings debilitated them in their quest to become their own
gods. Borrowing Sartre's distinction between the rebel and the revolutionary,
Bataille recognises the reactionary nature of de Sade, Nietzche and even his own
thought. The revolutionary wants to replace a bad (because dysfuctional) order
with a good (because better-functioning) system. But the rebel only wants to
break the rules, and is secretly complicit with the order he revolts against.
His trangressions are unconstructive and childish. But because he's disciplined
and self-sacrificing on behalf of the future, the revolutionary rules out for
himself the bliss of wicked, wasteful behaviour. The rebel alone has access to
sovereignty and jouissance. "Pleasure, unjustified by any utility, is sovereign
insofar as it denies to the point of ecstasy a world that is infinitely
deserving of respect." **

Bataille's sovereignty is a sterile splendour, the unconstructive waste of
energy into the void. Chiming with in with the mystical tradition that stretches
from Taoism through the Gnostics' 'cloud of unknowing' to the philosophy of
Norman O. Brown, Bataille's final paradox is that the sovereign's last word is
"I am NOTHING". So perhaps the ultimate modern of form of sovereignty is heroin
addiction: a return to the invulnerable, solipsistic self-sufficiency of life-
in-the-womb, a total escape from the servile ignominy of the productive world,
the purest form of wasting your life. But perhaps even Bataille would have
blanched at the idea that the junkie knew how to live like a king.

** compare with "Pop or a better world--the choice is yours", the clarion call-like sign-off (more ambivalent than it sounds)to "Indecency", an old thinkpiece penned by me and David Stubbs in 1986, which no less an expert on these matters than Tim Finney has described as a perfect statement of Pop(tim)ist principles (Certainly "rock" figures as a dirty--or more exactly, an anorgasmically dull-and-worthy--word in that piece, which takes a sudden swerve towards the ecological towards the end, basically aligning pop's jouissance with the resource-squandering ruination of the planet).

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