The intoxication of destruction: Georges Bataille’s economy of expenditure and sovereignty in visual cultures

Stapleton, Erin Kathleen Loveday (2014) The intoxication of destruction: Georges Bataille’s economy of expenditure and sovereignty in visual cultures. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis traces operations of destruction in visual cultures, describing these operations as they manifest in films and visual art practices. Beginning with Georges Bataille’s general economy of energy, as it appears in The Accursed Share, this thesis deploys the concept of the simulacrum to argue that the operations of destructions in visual cultures produce particular forms of sovereign experience. It argues that while the object of expenditure can only be unique to each site of sovereign experience, appearance of an operation of destruction that produces the possibility of that sovereign experience remains consistent. Bataille’s sovereignty cannot be specified in relation to either the individual or the universal, because, as Bataille demonstrates, sites of sovereign expenditure are temporally, materially and culturally specific, unable to be repeated without differentiation, and unable to be expressed fully after the fact. In order to argue this position, I deploy Bataille’s economics of destruction which operates within the specific realm of visual cultural theory. Orientations derived from Bataille’s work are positioned alongside the work of other theorists, and in particular, Pierre Klossowski and Gilles Deleuze, to produce a unique theoretical basis for the operation of art in culture. The thesis offers a theoretical development in the problem of representation in Bataille’s work in the form of the simulacrum after Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. Each chapter is paired with another in a conceptual inversion that locates destructions in film, screen media and visual art practices. The thesis engages with operations of destruction in architecture, human extinction, identity and communication (through the performance of the artist and community in film), the physicality of destruction in the body and in sexuality, and finally, the order of destruction in the apparent dematerialisation of the image in digital culture.

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