After Acéphale: Politics & Poetics of Assemblage in the Decapitated Economy

A seminar (panel) for the American Comparative Literature Association annual conference. Seattle, Washington, March 26-29, 2015.

Co-organized with Etienne Turpin

After Acéphale: Politics & Poetics of Assemblage in the Decapitated Economy

             Human life is exhausted from serving as the head of, or the reason for,

            the universe. To the extent that it becomes this head and this reason,

            to the extent that it becomes necessary to the universe, it accepts servitude.

— Georges Bataille

With Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s book The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, the early-21st-century species of “indebted man” as outlined by Maurizio Lazzarato, and the severed heads that are the iconic and accursed remnants in Julia Kirsteva’s meditation on “capital visions,” leading theorists of political economy have articulated the inextricable relations between language and capital, sovereignty and guilt, representation and instrumental reason, insurrection and occupation.

In light of these developments, and in the city where the anti-globalization movement was launched into public consciousness fifteen years ago, this seminar seeks to draw upon lessons that we might still take from one of the major philosophical and literary precursors: Georges Bataille’s general economy of excess expenditure and waste, and his phantasmology of sovereignty without debt or servitude, as presented in La Part Maudite (1967, The Accursed Share), and in such literary works as Madame Edwarda (1956), Le Coupable (1944; Guilty), and La Tombe de Louis XXX (various dates).

In doing so, this panel explores the links that Bataille made between non-knowledge and rebellion (as in his eponymous lecture from 1952), and draws out from close readings of Bataille, the image of an acéphalic body of the general intellect, and its political and poetic assemblage. To acquit ourselves of the rational servitude that Bataille correctly identified as endemic to capitalist economies, we may need, finally, to lose our heads and pursue what might be properly called “acephalic reason” in pleasure, literature, philosophy, and politics.

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