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Trash Culture

Objects and Obsolescence in Cultural Perspective


Edited By Gillian Pye

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, concerns about the environment and the future of global capitalism have dominated political and social agendas worldwide. The culture of excess underlying these concerns is particularly evident in the issue of trash, which for environmentalists has been a negative category, heavily implicated in the destruction of the natural world. However, in the context of the arts, trash has long been seen as a rich aesthetic resource and, more recently, particularly under the influence of anthropology and archaeology, it has been explored as a form of material culture that articulates modes of identity construction.
In the context of such shifting, often ambiguous attitudes to the obsolete and the discarded, this book offers a timely insight into their significance for representations of social and personal identity. The essays in the book build on scholarship in cultural theory, sociology and anthropology that suggests that social and personal experience is embedded in material culture, but they also focus on the significance of trash as an aesthetic resource. The volume illuminates some of the ways in which our relationship to trash has influenced and is influenced by cultural products including art, architecture, literature, film and museum culture.


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Douglas Smith - Scrapbooks: Recycling the Lumpen in Benjamin and Bataille 113


Douglas Smith Scrapbooks: Recycling the Lumpen in Benjamin and Bataille This chapter sets out to examine the question of recycling in aesthetics and politics on the basis of an exploration of the contrast between the work of Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille. Throughout the 1930s, Benjamin worked on an untidy overspilling manuscript about recuperating trash, The Arcades Project, while in 1949 Bataille published a neatly organised book in praise of waste, The Accursed Share.1 The Arcades Project is essentially a scrapbook of materials relating to nineteenth-century Paris, a collection of diverse notes and quotations organised loosely under a number of headings. As assembler of the scrapbook, Benjamin implicitly follows Baudelaire in casting himself as a chif fonnier or Lumpensammler or ragpicker, someone who recycles waste or discarded materials and so exists outside the utilitar- ian world of bourgeois capitalist production and consumption. The Arcades Project took shape through the 1930s, the same period in which Georges Bataille was developing a dif ferent approach to the themes of waste and value that would culminate in the publication of The Accursed Share in 1949. According to Bataille, all human societies generate an economic surplus that needs to be expended or ‘wasted’ in sacred activities, if social turmoil is to be avoided. For Bataille, in contrast to Benjamin, the aim of culture is to waste what has been saved, not save what has been wasted. Rags are not recycled but torn to (further) shreds. To Benjamin’s scrapbook, then, Bataille opposes a book about...

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