From Libidinal Economy to General Economy

06/02/2021

A decisive question has been asked of me by my friend Andrew Nover: “Why do you side with Georges Bataille’s theory of the general economy and not Sigmund Freud’s libidinal economy which Jean-François Lyotard further developed?”. This is a question which I have strained to answer for over half a year but I must now answer it.

In the book Peak Libido: Sex, Ecology, and the Collapse of Desire, Dominic Pettman says that Bataille “widens the frame of Freud’s tautology — ‘libidinal economy’ — to include the entire cosmos”.[1] The general economy is not an economy or too economic like Jean Baudrillard says it is. Rather the general economy is nothing more than the universe itself. Expenditure is the universe’s tendency. All things within the universe also have this tendency as we are derivative of it. The libidinal economy looking at libidinal energies doesn’t move beyond those things which are nothing more than libidinal intensities.

I want to argue that there is a parallel between Bataille’s conception of the subject as a limit, and Lyotard’s conception of dispositifs. These set-ups which exist atop the libidinal band are dispositifs, they are structures that essentially channel libidinal energy. Think of the nuclear family, for example. But when the libidinal band becomes white hot, and intensity is reaching its limit, these dispositifs break down, they are dissolved. Does this not reflect the subject’s dissolution at the limit of experience, where erotic intensity is at its greatest?

It must also be noted that, for Bataille, “eroticism is not the manifestation of (Freudian) drives but has a fundamentally social dimension, related to the taboo/transgression pairing”.[2] This is an important distinction because for Lyotard, Deleuze, and Guattari desire is at its most intense state when it is unrestricted, whereas for Bataille and Baurdillard, restriction (taboo) and its transgression allows for greater intensity.[3] To divert our attention for one moment, we should note that Deleuze and Guattari “lack a theory of expenditure since all energies, all intensities tend to be relocated or reinvested”.[4] I would say that this restricted economic perspective held by Deleuze and Guattari is also held by Lyotard: the libidinal economy never stops moving, the libidinal band may have no limit, we could never know as we cannot know the event.

Bibliography

Pawlett, William. “Thinking Excess: The Radical Sociology of Bataille and Baudrillard,” 1999.

Pettman, Dominic. Peak Libido: Sex, Ecology, and the Collapse of Desire. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2021.

References

[1]: Dominic Pettman, Peak Libido, Sex, Ecology, and the Collapse of Desire (Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2021), 16.

[2]: William Pawlett (1999), 260.

[3]: Ibid., 44.

[4]: Ibid., 253.

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Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille