The Fatal Mistake of Arkady Plotnitsky’s Interpretation of Georges Bataille
[NOTE: Though I don’t agree with a lot of what I wrote in this essay, Plotnistsky’s interpretation is nonetheless a fatal mistake]
In his book Reconfigurations: Critical Theory and General Economy, Arkady Plotnitsky argues that when looking at the general economy, one must look at both sides: production, growth, etc. and expenditure, loss, etc. He says we must do this because the general economy is a system which puts its contained restricted economies (terms) in a relation of complementarity. He puts forward the argument early on in his book that in real life, within the possible, both “purely productive” expenditure or “purely unproductive expenditure” are not possible, in fact, he says that Bataille “points out the impossibility” [emphasis mine] of those pure forms of negation and affirmation respectively. I take issue with this because Plotnitsky says this from the position of restricted economy. Let me explain.
In The Infinite Conversation, Maurice Blanchot correctly says that “it must be understood that possibility is not the sole dimension of our existence”. The dimension or axis of the possible is conceptually analogous to the restricted economy, whereas the dimension or axis of the impossible is conceptually analogous to general economy.
Bataille is giving a latent hint. Yes, production requires things such as the expenditure of labor, but I don’t think that this really means anything. Production could still be pure even with the expenditure of labor as fundamental to it, and this is because, in this case, labor and its expenditure is pure heterogeneity. But let’s put this aside. When Bataille tells us that these things are purely something, do not think pure in the way I just used it, because expenditure is never pure but not because it is contaminated with production as it is not contaminated with production. But this hint that he gives us is: “Yes, it is impossible to achieve these things, but that is the point”. Of course Bataille holds that it is impossible! But it is our desire to reach the impossible! It is only when “life lives in death,” and goes beyond “the real world,” beyond “real life,” does it reach the impossible. Purly (not in the sense of ideal or high; expenditure cannot be idealist because talking about this concept is always a misrepresentation as expenditure exceeds discourse) unproductive expenditure undoes the subject which constitutes the restricted economy, but note, at the same time, the restricted economy (the profane; the world of prohibitions and production) constitutes the human being as an individual and discontinuous subject.
Plotnitsky holds that “one cannot unconditionally establish the difference between restricted and general economies” unless we suspend the “unconditional privileging” of general economy. Bataille does NOT privilege general economy over restricted economy. Privileging implies elevation, Bataille does no such thing. If anything, restricted economy is what is privileged because it is an “idealist system”. All Bataille does is recongize the facts: that the restricted economy is subject to the laws of general economy. Privileging implies preference; Bataille doesn’t make any prescriptions that we ought to view things from the perspective of the general economy, rather, it is inevitable that we do because the truth of the restricted economy is general economy.
Plotnitsky also says that “[a] general economy is always, by definition, the economy of the unconscious”. Does this not give the general economy and the restricted economy a definitive border? Is this not a contradiction? Plotnitsky leaves no room for interpretation, he says, “[t]he movement from a restricted to a general economy is thus always a movement from consciousness to the unconscious”. Looking at this we realize the huge contradiction Plotnitsky has just succumbed to. The unconscious influences consciousness by way of, for example, drives. Consciousness does not influence the unconscious. General economy influences restricted economy by way of, for example, laws of general economy. Restricted economy does not influence general economy. In this light, it is clear that there is no relation of complementarity between terms (not to mention the fact that Plotnitsky forgets the third term of the subconscious which is similar to pure heterogeneity).
Blanchot, Maurice. The Infinite Conversation. Translated by Susan Hanson. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Plotnitsky, Arkady. Reconfigurations: Critical Thought and General Economy. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993.
: Arkady Plotnitsky, Reconfigurations: Critical Thought and General Economy (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993), 25.
: Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis, MNL University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 207.
: Arkady Plotnitsky, Reconfigurations: Critical Thought and General Economy (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993), 26.
: Ibid., 28.
: Ibid., 21.