Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Against Bataille

another cut from the Millennium essay

Waste is not a by-product of consumerism: it is integral to it. The resurrection of Georges Bataille's (1988) 'solar economy' of waste and excess is no longer viable as a critical perspective, because we live in a political economy which is more than excessive and wasteful: a system that has become suicidal, premising its inhuman accumulation of wealth and obsessive growth on the demolition of the very planet (and its populations) on which it depends. The popular cinema of eco-apocalypse echoes with Benjamin's early warning,

Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure (Benjamin 2003a: 270)

Films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) or World War Z (2013) instruct us in how to contemplate our species' extinction with something bordering delight; and even a documentary like An Inconvenient Truth can breed a certain perverse joy in watching the destruction finally unleashed, and the guilty pleasure of knowing, as the last lights go out, that we were right all along. The spectacle of annihilation, like that of waste and excess, is alluring. If we refuse to succumb to integral waste, we must either unpack that allure in critique, or create alternatives to it.

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