Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Few Words on Money, Language & Thought by Marc Shell

What to say about this book?

It's tricky. First up some background and practical details. I had three must-read money books for the first six months of this year (it's August so I've overrun), namely Money and the early Greek Mind by Richard Seaford, Economy and Nature in the C14th by Joel Kaye and this one, Money, Language & Thought by Marc Shell. If there is a central theme to all of these books its the relationship between Money and Thought. A pretty big subject.

Shell's book is the earliest of them. He wrote it in 1982. His wiki page is here and his Havard uni page is here. I guess he'd have been in his early to mid thirties when he wrote it. Not that it's of great significance. It's just one of the things I sensed about the book was that it was written by someone with something to prove. I maybe projecting my own feelings onto the text, but Shell seems really believe in the significance of his project and has decided to use - and show - the full breadth of his knowledge and depth of his understanding as means to convince the reader.

Well, I was already a convert. So the complexities of Shell's expression - he uses the cumbersome word ventriloquistly several times - served to slow me down. In fact, this combined with the London Olympics, work and general life, meant that I completed it over the course of two months. It's not that long (under 200 pages), so I think I did the book a disservice by dipping in and out of it rather than reading it in a few sessions. There is also the fact that I haven't read all the texts he examines in the book. The chapter on Faust - which I've read most recently - was more enjoyable and meaningful for me than the one on The Gold Bug (by Poe) which I don't know at all (although I have since downloaded it!).

All of this is really a way of saying that I don't think it's entirely Marc Shell's fault that I wasn't gripped by his book, all the time. I did have moments. There's some great stuff on the tales of the Holy Grail. My head was buzzing with that. I can't do it justice here, but think about the Holy Grail being a source of plenitude - a blank cheque as Shell puts it. My own mind was fired up by the connection I saw between the Grail and Pirsigian Quality - the source of all things.

I did have the same problem with Shell as I had with Kaye and Seaford. There are points of despair for me. This notion of 'intrinsic value' when talking about coins. Sentence two; "The exchange value of the earliest coins derived wholly from the material substance of the ingots....." Kaye and Seaford say very similar things early in their texts. This is fundamentally wrong. One day, I'll find a way of explaining why.

Another thing for me is that I have some trouble getting on with Literary Theory. If I could be sure no Literary Theorists are listening, my complaint would be that they always seem to circle around meaning; prodding and poking it. What I want them to do is stand in the middle of it, and shout, Look ! It's Here ! Of course, I could say the same thing about Anthropology, Philosophy and many other 'ologies'. Literary Theory though, seems more adept than any other methodology at this dance around meaning.

Then again, Literary Theory - with Marc Shell as a forerunner - has lead to a movement dubbed 'New Economic Criticism'. Dierdre McCloskey, whose article I linked to in my previous post, is also part of this movement. Any advance from the head-against-a-brick-wall debates of economics is very welcome. And really needed. So the fault with Literary Criticism may just be my own aversion to nuance. I must have been a Yorkshireman in a past life.

Look. Read this book. But do yourself a favour and brush up on the texts Shell discusses first. Put some work in and you'll be rewarded. I'm not sure when I'm going to do it, but once I've read the Gold Bug, caught the Merchant of Venice again, and read something on the Mythology of the Holy Grail, I'll come back to this little book and appreciate it's value anew. I'll also do an amazon-postable review of it.

I feel less alone in my weird views about Money having read these three books. It's nice.


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