Saturday, September 28, 2013

Money Wisdom #212

"This work [Money, that's what I want] is really about how we use these pieces of paper as markers of our passage through time. We spend to live, and live to spend. Each note we hand over gets us a little closer to death…"

Shadcore Money, that's what I want (2010) (link)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Money Wisdom #211

"...the money complex involves more regions of the body than just the anal. Since excrement becomes aliment, the oral region is involved; since money breeds, the genital region is involved. In other words anal eroticism cannot be isolated, and the money complex involves the whole problem of all the sexual organizations and their interrelations - that is, the whole problem of the body. The proper point of departure, in the literature of psychoanalysis, is not Freud's essay of 1908, but his essay of 1916, 'On the Transformation of Instincts with Special Reference to Anal Eroticism.' "

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.288

Money Wisdom #210

" 'Perhaps it is not an accident,' says Keynes in his most profound appraisal of economic behavior, 'that the race which did most to bring the promise of immortality into the heart and essence of our religions has also done the most for the principle of compound interest.' "

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.286

Money Wisdom #209

"The temple buildings which dominate the first cities are monuments of accumulated guilt and expiation. The process of expiation, no longer a totemic communion of persons, has been reified and passes into piles of stone and gold and many other things beside. 'To look at the plan of a great City,' said Frank Lloyd Wright, 'is to look at something like the cross-section of a fibrous tumor.' But guilt is time: 'In the city, time becomes visible,' says Mumford. In monumental form, as money or as the city itself, each generation inherits the ascetic achievements of its ancestors; not, as Joan Robinson says of the gold fund, as a 'free gift from history', but as a debt to be paid by further accumulation of monuments. Through the city the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, every city has a history and a rate of interest."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.283

Money Wisdom #208

"Archaic time is cyclical, periodic, unhistoric: modern time is progressive (historical), continuous, irreversible. [Mircea] Eliade shows that the periodicity of archaic time is based on a religion of periodic redemption, and modern progressive time is based on a religion of ultimate redemption at the end of time, Hebrew in origin and given classic formulation in Christianity. Once again it appears that 'secular rationalism,' in this case the classical rationalist theory of time, is really the prolongation of the basic premises of Christianity, but minus (the crucial point) of Redemption."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.274

Money Wisdom #207

"In 1920 Freud made the mistake of concluding that since time is not in the unconscious, it must be derived from the conscious system: 'Our abstract idea of time seems to be wholly derived from the method of working of the system Perception-Consciousness'; and he proposed to derive it from a certain rhythmic periodicity inherent in the operation of the perpetual system. And then Freud reached a dead end. But in the psychoanalytical map of man there are more domains than just the unconscious and the conscious. Time belongs to the ego indeed, but to the unconscious sector of the ego - that is to say, to those basic structures of reality distortion necessary to sustain and endure repression. What Kant took to be the necessary schemata of rationality are really the necessary schemata of repression."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.275

Money Wisdom #206

"The proverb says that "time is money". In the labor theory of value, value consists of units of labor-time. The result, according to Marx, is that 'time is everything, man is nothing; he is no more than the carcase of time.' Fromm explains, 'Capital, the dead past, employs labor, the living vitality and power of the present.' From that point of view, interest is a tribute levied on present activity by past achievement. From another point of view, the dynamic of capitalism is postponement of enjoyment to the constantly postponed future - in Keynes' words, 'a case of jam tomorrow and never jam today'; in Ruskin's word's, 'bulb issuing in bulb, never in tulip.' The rate of interest has been called 'impatience crystallized into a market rate'; Schumpeter says that in the phenomenon of interest 'time itself becomes in a certain sense an element of cost.' The problem is therefore summarized in Professor Hick's formula, 'The rate of interest is the price of time'.

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.272-273

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Money Wisdom #205

"Archaic man gives because he wants to lose; the psychology is not egoist but self-sacrificial. Hence the intrinsic connection with the sacred. The gods exist to receive gifts, that is to say sacrifices; the gods exist in order to structure the human need for self-sacrifice."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.265

Money Wisdom #204

"...the real essence of money is not disclosed by the labor theory of value but by a theory of ownership - i.e. power. 'But how are gold and silver distinguished form other forms of wealth? Not by the magnitude of their value, for this is determined by the quantity of labor materialized in them; but by the fact that they represent independent incarnations, expressions of the social character of wealth.' The value of money does not lie in the value with which the labor theory of value is concerned. And conversely - this is the crucial point - the labor theory of value does not contain the answer to the problem of power.

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.251

Money Wisdom #203

"It has long been known that the first markets were sacred markets, the first banks were temples, the first to issue money were priests or priest kings. But these economic institutions have been interpreted as in themselves secular-rational, though originally sponsored by sacred auspices. The crucial point in Laum's argument is that the institutions were in themselves sacred. Laum derives the very idea of equivalence (equal value) from ritual tariffs of atonement, the very idea of a symbol of value from rituals of symbolic substitution, and the very idea of price form the ritual distribution of sacred food. In other words, the money complex, archaic or modern, is inseparable from symbolism; and symbolism is not, as Simmel thought, the mark of rationality but the mark of the sacred."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.246

Money Wisdom #202

"How can there be an animal which represses itself? And to miss the nature of the human disease is also to miss the nature of the cure. If the cause of the trouble were force, to 'expropriate the expropriators' would be enough. But if force did not establish the domination of the master, then perhaps the slave is somehow in love with his own chains. If there is such a deeper psychological malady, then a deeper psychological remedy is needed."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.242

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Money Wisdom #201

"Money remains anchored in the domain of the secular. And since the essence of modern rationalism as a whole is simple autonomy from religion, money as secular is also rational.

But this contrast of the sacred and the secular as mutually exclusive opposites is misleading, because it is undialectical. The secular is the negation of the sacred, and both Freud and Hegel's negation affirms its own opposite. .....Luther had seen in money the essence of the secular, and therefore of the demonic. .... the money complex is... ....the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.240

Money Wisdom #200

"The desire for money takes the place of all genuinely human needs. Thus the apparent accumulation of wealth is really the impoverishment of human nature, and its appropriate morality is the renunciation of human nature and desires - asceticism. The effect is to substitute an abstraction Homo Economicus, for the concrete totality of human nature, and thus to dehumanize human nature. In this dehumanized human nature man loses contact with his own body, more specifically with his senses, with sensuality and with the pleasure-principle. And this dehumanized human nature produces an inhuman consciousness, whose only currency is abstractions divorced from real life - the industrious, coolly rational, economic, prosaic mind. Capitalism has made us so stupid and one-sided that objects exist for us only if we can possess them or if they have utility.

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.238

Money Wisdom #199

In Luther's eyes, "The Papists have made out of God a merchant, who would give the Kingdom of Heaven not freely, out of grace, but for money and human achievement." "Under the Papacy the Devil has established a market in souls," "The Papacy has made an annual market out of the Mass and out of forgiveness of sins."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.229

Money Wisdom #198

"The basic mechanism for producing this desexualization of life, this holding of life at a distance, is, as we have seen, negation; sublimation is life entering consciousness on condition that it is denied. The negative moment in sublimation is plain in the inseparable connection between symbolism (in language, science, religion, and art) and abstraction. Abstraction, as Whitehead has taught us, is in denial of the living organ of experience, the living body as a whole."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.172

Money Wisdom #197

"Sublimations satisfy the instincts in the same way that maps satisfy the desire to travel."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.168

Money Wisdom #196

"Sexual energy is bodily energy, and the desexualised is disembodied energy, or energy made soulful."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.158

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Money Wisdom #195

"In the conflict between the ego, the id, and reality, something has to give. In a neurosis, according to Freud, the ego accepts reality and its energy is directed against the id, but to maintain the repression it must ignore that part of reality associated with the repressed wishes. In a psychosis the ego is overwhelmed by the id, severs its connection with reality, and proceeds to create for itself a new outer and inner world. The healthy reaction, according to Freud, like a neurosis, does not ignore reality; like a psychosis it creates a new world, but, unlike psychosis it creates a new world in the real world; that is, it changes reality."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.154

Money Wisdom #194

"...anxiety is the ego's incapacity to accept death, the sexual organisations were perhaps constructed by the ego in its flight from death, and could be abolished by an ego strong enough to die."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.113

Money Wisdom #193

"More generally, according to Hegel, time is what man makes out of death; the dialectic of history is the dialectic of time, and 'time is the negative element in the sensuous world'; time is negativity, and negativity is extroverted death.

Freud does not have that concept of historicity which is Hegel's strength: Hegel, although trying to grasp the psychological premises of man's historicity, has only only an intuitive psychology. And yet Hegel may help us understand death. Hegel needs reformulation in the light of the psychoanalytical doctrine of repression and the unconscious. It is not the consciousness of death that is transformed in to aggression, but the unconscious death instinct; the unconscious death instinct is that negativity or nothingness which is extroverted into the action of negating nature and other men. Freud himself... .... derived affirmation from Eros and negation from its instinctual opposite. On the other hand, Hegel's doctrine of the connection between negation and time is essential if psychoanalysis is to make the breakthrough... a psychoanalytical theory of time."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.103

A review of Life Against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History by Norman O Brown

This review appears on amazon here. If you're submissive by nature GO THERE NOW AND CLICK THE LIKE BUTTON. If you're dominant then you have it within your immense power to bring me the greatest of joy by the smallest of your actions; I beg of you, please click the button.


An extraordinary, unique and thought provoking work

"Life Against Death is an extraordinary work. I recently saw it described as an attempt 'to fashion a reconciliation of Freud and Marx' (Weschler). I suppose it is in a way - it attempts to blend Marx's dialectics with Freud's dualism and implicit is the idea that man must create his own history from within given circumstances (or the son is the father of the man). But Brown's scope is so much larger than this. He believes that (with a little tweaking) psychoanalytical theory opens up the possibility of a new form of consciousness; a blissful and eternal one where we are conscious of what is now unconscious.

If that makes it sound a bit flaky/spiritual its not meant to. Make no mistake, Brown is a serious thinker and this is a hugely intelligent work drawing from psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and history. You can tell that from the quality of the reviews its attracted on here. Personally, I would recommend reading it - I seriously doubt you'll have read another book like it. But for a solid criticism this 2-star review makes some strong points.

However, more generally the gripe of the nay-sayers seems to be based on Brown's disregard for psychoanalytical practice in favour of psychoanalytical theory. If that's a problem for you, you probably won't enjoy this book. I was always far more interested in Freud's theoretical writings. Its easy to forget the subtitle is 'The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History' and I found the exploration of psychoanalytical theories of time particularly fascinating (albeit not necessarily convincing).

The reason I gave this four stars instead of five relates, in part, to the weaknesses in part five 'Studies in Anality'. This section was of particular interest to me as my main area of interest is Money. Money as feces and as related to, or a product of the Death Instinct, didn't really chime with me. I recently read William H Desmonde's Magic, Myth and Money (another rare psychoanalytical take on Money) and that seemed to me, although far less rigorous than Brown's treatment, more willing to think about Money in its own right; Brown tends to see Money exclusively as a product of psychology. Whether you agree with that idea or not, it does limit the scope of your inquiry. Hence Brown exposes just one side of the Money coin.

The other reason my review is 4 star is because Brown creates too solid a psychological boundary between human and animal. Other reviewers have noted this. It seems to contradictory to a central part of his (and psychoanalysis's) thesis.

Overall though, they don't write 'em like this anymore. Brown doesn't hold back. Its challenging and massively thought provoking. How it missed out being on any of my university reading lists, I don't know."

Money Wisdom #192

"The psychoanalytical theory of time, as Freud saw, must take as its point of departure Kant's doctrine that time does not pertain to things in themselves out there but is a form of perception of the human mind. This Copernican revolution makes time a psychological, not an ontological, problem, and therefore a problem for psychoanalysis. It also, as Schopenhauer saw, 'opens up the possibility of man's emancipation from the tyranny of time......

...... 'In the id there is nothing corresponding to the idea of time'. If therefore, we go beyond Freud, and speculate seriously on the possibility of a consciousness not based on repression but conscious of what now is unconscious, then its follows a priori that such a consciousness would not be in time but in eternity.'

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.94

Money Wisdom #191

"Hence the Freudian critique of Jung's monistic theory of the libido centers on the argument that it undermines the theory of repression. Secondly, the Freudian 'instinct' is a boderland concept between the mental and the biological, because Freud is seeking an explanation of man as neurotic or repressed in terms which would relate man's specifically human characteristic (repression) to his animal (bodily) nature. Hence he defines an instinct as 'both the mental representative of the stimuli emanating from within the organism and penetrating to the mind, and at the same time a measure of the demand made upon the energy of the latter in consequence of its connection with the body.' "

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.79

Money Wisdom #190

"Men sang out their feelings long before they were able to speak their thoughts."

O Jespersen Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin (1922)
quoted in Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.70

Money Wisdom #189

"The child 'has no anxiety about losing things.' Everything the child has sensed passes through his love, and is illuminated by it: 'And whatever has once been lit up in love remains as an image, never to be lost, and the image is possession; that is why children are so rich.' (Rilke's thought is complimented by Freud's remark on happiness: 'Happiness is the deferred fulfillment of a prehistoric wish. That is why wealth brings so little happiness; money is not an infantile wish.')

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.67

Money Wisdom #188

"Art seduces us into the struggle against repression."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.64

Monday, September 23, 2013

Money Wisdom #187

"But while psychoanalysis tries to reach the unconscious by extending the conscious, art represents an irruption from the unconscious into the conscious. Art has to assert itself against the hostility of the reality principle and of reason, which is enslaved to the reality-principle. Hence its aim, in Freud's words, is the veiled presentation of a deeper truth; hence it wears a mask, a disguise which confuses and fascinates our reason. The mask which seduces us is derived from the play of the primary process."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.62

Money Wisdom #186

"At the mother's breast, in Freudian language, the child experiences that primal condition, forever after idealized, 'in which object-libido and ego-libido cannot be distinguished'; in philosophic language, the subject-object dualism does not corrupt the blissful experience of the child at the mother's breast."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.51-52

Money Wisdom #185

"Perhaps primitive economies can be distinguished from civilized economies as that pattern of economic behavior in which play and the pleasure-principle have primacy over the ostensibly rational calculus of maximum gains - that is to say, over the reality-principle. Perhaps, more generally, the two levels of culture which sociology has distinguished under various labels - primitive and civilized, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, folk and urban - can be distinguished psychoanalytically. Primitive is that level of culture in which the rhythm of what Freud calls the primary process - the rhythm of dreams and childhood play - is predominant. Civilized is that level of culture which effectively represses the rhythm of the primary process in favor of rationality and the reality-principle." [emphasis my own]

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.37

Money Wisdom #184

"Adult sexuality, in so far as it is restricted by rules designed to maintain the institution of the family and in so far as the desire for sexual satisfaction is diverted and exploited for the purpose of maintaining a socially useful institution, is a clear instance of that subordination of the pleasure-principle to the reality-principle which is repression; as such it is rejected by the unconscious essence of the human being and therefore leads to neurosis."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.24

Money Wisdom #183

"Man's sexual organization and his social organization are so deeply interconnected that we cannot say which came first, but can only assume a simultaneous evolution (whether sudden or gradual) of both."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.24

Money Wisdom #182

"The discontented animal is the neurotic animal, the animal with desires given in his nature which are not satisfied by culture. From the psychoanalytical point of view, these unsatisfied and repressed but immortal desires sustain the historical process. History is shaped, beyond our conscious wills, not by the cunning of Reason, but by the cunning of Desire."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.16

Money Wisdom #181

"Dreams and neurotic symptoms show that the frustrations of reality cannot destroy the desires which are the essence of our being: the unconscious is the unsubdued and indestructible element in the human soul. The whole world may be against it, but still man holds fast to the deep-rooted, passionate striving for a positive fulfillment of happiness."

Norman O Brown Life against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959) p.8

A Review of Boggs - A Comedy of Values by Lawrence Weschler

Here is my review of the Boggs book by Lawrence Weschler. Do head on over to amazon and click the thumbs up if my review creates a fizzing sensation in the bit between your rectum and your genitals.

Well researched exposition on Money and Art wrapped up in a fascinating narrative about the adventures of JSG Boggs - 5 stars

"This is a short illustrated book that looks at the life and work of JSG Boggs and considers the questions that Bogg's art asks about money and value. The book builds around a narrative of Weschler's various meetings with Boggs over the years. This is interspersed with some brief but excellent expositions of a few well chosen theories on the nature of money, some fascinating insights into the history of Money in Art, and of course the back-story of Boggs himself. Much of the book, especially of the final third, is concerned with the various court cases brought against Boggs by the authorities.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Weschler's academic abilities in dealing with the tricky subject of the nature of money are matched by his gift of story telling. It felt like I was reading a novel. My subject is Money rather than Art, so I found Weschler's brief history of Money in C20th Art a huge help in putting Bogg's work into context. I did come to the book already admiring Boggs, and I'm grateful to Weschler for helping me get to better acquainted with Boggs and his art. Its excellent. I recommend it."

Friday, September 13, 2013

JSG Boggs' Four Rules

I got my Boggs book the other day.

Boggs is an artist who for many years has been making drawings of money and then using those drawings to pay for goods and services. He has been arrested and prosecuted (in the UK) for counterfeiting but was found not guilty. 

He has four rules about his money art.

1. He will not sell his unspent drawings of currency

2. He will only spend his drawings of currency at face value (getting a receipt and change).

3. He will not tell anyone where he has spent a drawing for 24 hours.

4. He will sell the receipt and change from the transaction.

So what he does, is spend the drawing. Waits 24 hours. Then sells the changes and receipt to a collector. The onus is on the collector to track down and negotiate a price with the person who got the drawing in the original transaction.

Here's a video of Boggs in action.

I think Boggs is brilliant/

A Ramble on James Buchan's Frozen Desire

My rave review is here.

What a marvelous book. If you're a money freak what are you waiting for? Go get it. There's stories you'll already know but upon which Buchan puts a literary twist. What was really unusual was the chapter Floating World on Japanese ideas about money. And the piece on Terezin (the WW2 concentration camp) was very moving.

Anyway, to a short ramble.

In surveying Buchan's money mindscape, a problem is immediately apparent. There is no solid ground. It's a metaphysical morass. Is frozen desire a metaphor? Or does it describe something real. I'm not sure. And I don't think Buchan is.

But let's walk out anyway. Albeit carefully. We'll take the final chapter, his most heartfelt and passionate, Money: A Valediction as a map to Buchan's mindscape. Here we find what looks like firm ground. Buchan believes that money was born of humanity. It hasn't existed, he says, for all eternity. You'll know that I disagree with that.

But let's push on. Buchan has a solid understanding of Money's amorality. He considers on many occasions throughout the book that thorny subject of the relation between money and sex. He points out that sex was right there at the birth of currency. The first written words known about money mention it, in its relation to the prostitutes of Lydia. My impression is that paying for sex, and being paid for sex, is something Buchan has thought about deeply. Good. Its FUCKING important.

And then there's War. Buchan understands the reflexive way that political power can manipulate currency to create an image of itself. And whilst this process goes on in peacetime too, it is more exposed in the time of war, and in the death throes of States. Buchan says that in such times money is destroyed and then born again. Here I find being literal helps. It is currency that dies and is born again.

In Buchan's mindscape the eternal aspect - that I ascribe to money and he denies - is pushed instead wholly into his conception of Value. He claims that money has skewed our understanding of Value. The final few pages of his book could have been written by Pirsig if he'd turned his mind properly to money.
"We need to break the compulsory nature of money and make possible a future in which we are not at permanent war with nature and with one another.
For that we must seek values, not in any moralistic or censorious set of meanings, let alone in the Russian dolls of the economists; but values that cannot fit on the monetary scale; that record objects and sensations that are priceless in the sense of both precious and beyond a price in money; that are set above the yapping jaws of money like a pie left to cool on a high kitchen shelf. Those values have nothing to do with either utility or price."
Religion, claims Buchan, has been the traditional home to these non-monetary values and he believes that in some guise or another religion will be restored in the West. Like Pirsig's Zen.

Of course, no-one disagrees with Buchan's feelings about Value.

But for me, what Buchan (and Pirsig) do is extract the eternal from Money. For Buchan Value is as old as humanity (for Pirsig Value is beyond time itself), whereas (for both Buchan & Pirsig) money is born of humanity.

Our coins, notes and 0s&1s are seen as evidence that we created money. They are of course, evidence of currency rather than money. Even so, an echo of the eternal still remains in the crystalisation of money as currency. It's right there in the numbers. The numbers we use to describe the universe we can see, and predict the universe we cannot.

To get over this stumbling block of 'money as an invention of an earlier time' - a view expressed by the ancient Greeks as well as Buchan - we need to flip around the conception that number created money. It didn't. Money created and creates number - even today. (Check out the work of Joel Kaye and Tim Johnson for an examination of the money/number nexus).

There is an oddness to this. Number is abstract and yet it seems to form our reality. It is the measure of our physical world. That hard reality reflects back onto number, and so we crown it as the King of truth. We assume that money's power as a measure - its truth - stems from number. The real and the unreal seem to twist around each other.

And so Buchan's book leaves us in this same quandary. Our Values - our feelings, justice, the unpriced - are what we want of our reality; Buchan says, 'A father's kiss is real, precisely because it is not priced'. And so, our actual reality - the world of property, possession, wealth - becomes, in some sense, unreal. Money for Buchan is a mundane reality that we must transcend. Through this transcendence we can achieve connection to a deeper (or perhaps, higher) reality. At the centre of Buchan's money mindscape is a metaphysical paradox. Does money create our reality, or does it prevent us from realising it?

This is something we all experience everyday.


My solution to this paradox has been to place Money between Value and Mind. I've arrived at this idea through reading Pirsig which allowed me to place Value outside Subject Object metaphysics. But also through burning money; this visceral act has made me think about the difference between Money and currency.

I know we keep coming back to the same place on these rambles - Money&currency. I'm trying to find a way out of the maze. Buchan's money map provides us with a clue. A fundamental difference between currency and Money (at least with Money as I describe it) is the aspect of time. Currency exists within the time-frame of human existence, Money does not. To quote Grierson (without looking it up) 'behind coinage lies money'.

Near the end of his book Buchan quotes the famous Keynes line 'The importance of money essentially flows from its being a link between the present and the future'. I'll head over into that territory soon, armed with my description of money, and see if I can get a new view.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A review of Frozen Desire by James Buchan

This review appears on Amazon here. Please head on over and click that like button if this review flicks your bean of value or pulls at your protuberance of persuade-ability.

5 stars - A truly unique and brilliant work that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of money

"Previous reviewers have had trouble catagorising this 1997 book. The loose consensus seems to be around it being a history of money. I think though, its better described as a biography of money, or perhaps money's memoirs.

Broadly speaking, the book does proceed chronologically, but it focuses in on money's most memorable moments; the birth of coinage in Lydia, Judas's betrayal of Christ for thirty pieces of silver, Columbus and the Gold of the Americas, John Law (the best portrait of the man I've read), etc. All the while Buchan draws on a quite staggering knowledge of literature and history to create a rich narrative for money which he grounds in a few carefully chosen vignettes detailing some of his own experience with money.

In terms of other writing about money it sits somewhere between Marc Shell and Glyn Davies (admittedly a big space). Although it's not an academic work per se, it lacks none of the rigor or detail of academia but the writing is less economical. Indeed, it can be a little too flowery for my taste at times. Also, Buchan has the habit - which tended to grate with me - of splitting up sentences with hyphens, making the reading of the book harder than it needed to be.

However, these are minor points against what is a truly unique and brilliant work. I'd give it six stars if I could. Whilst I'm not convinced by Buchan's central thesis, that money is frozen desire, I am deeply impressed by his knowledge, I was enthralled by the telling of money's story, and believe this book to be a significant contribution to our understanding of money."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Money Wisdom #180

"It was a closed system sealed without a chink against reality. The [Nazi Germany] state's debts were converted into banknotes: the currency in circulation rose from about 11 billion Reichsmarks at the outbreak of war to about 70 billion at the fall of Berlin. The Germans, all employed, all earning, received wages in banknotes that they couldn't spend; so they deposited the money into banks; but the banks couldn't lend it, except to the government; so they bought the government's paper, which was converted into more banknotes; and round and round and round."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.255

Money Wisdom #179

"Any project to label money as to its legally prescribed holder is doomed by the nature of money; and hampers commerce and infringes the privacy not only of criminals but of the law-abiding."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.245

Money Wisdom #178

"The theory [of efficient markets] cannot withstand even a moment's thought. You buy or sell a security, say the common stock of Netscape Inc., not because you know it will go up or come down or stay the same, but because you want it to do one of those things. What is condensed in a price is the residue not of knowledge but of embedded desire, which may respond to new information and may not. At the time of writing, Netscape is priced in the stock market at 270 years' profits, a multiple that implies a 50 per cent rise in its reported earnings every year for eternity: such a price belongs outside the realm of knowledge. The efficient-markets doctrine is merely another attempt to apply rational laws to an arena that is self-evidently irrational. A market cannot operate by laws, for the laws would be discovered, and it would cease to be a market."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.240

Money Wisdom #177

"American bourgeois life consists of a series of circularities, which deliver no public satisfaction. Work is for money, money is for display, display is for work."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.236

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Money Wisdom #176

"Though the economists had manifestly failed to find their gravity, they proceeded as if they had. They became like drunkards who have lost their house keys, and search under the street-lamp, not because they dropped the keys there, but because the street-lamp casts a faint artificial light."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.180

Money Wisdom #175

"In a world of parity between the sexes on the field of money - which is, of course, quite blind to gender - either prostitution will evaporate or all relations between the sexes will come down onto a monetary footing."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.172

Money Wisdom #174

"In the earliest discussion of money, there is also a mention of prostitution. Prostitution is therefore, truly, an old profession, if not the oldest; not because it is as old as Eve, but because it is as old as money."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.170

Money Wisdom #173

"With the defeat of Bonaparte at Waterloo, the gold standard became a legal concept. In a period that lasted from the aftermath of Waterloo to the preparations for Mons - that is, from 1821 to 1914 - the English authorised an autonomous control for the impulses conveyed by money, what Freud might have called a monetary Super-Ego."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.163

Money Wisdom #172

"Man's great inventions are, as we have seen, words and money, and words about money are therefore of double interest to us. The word I have in mind is the word 'millionaire,' a word of some importance in the history of money. Its coinage can be dated and placed quite precisely....
....The word 'millionaire,' which is French and means celui qui possede un million d'argent, was invented in the open air in a little street near what's now the Centre Beaubourg in Paris known as the Rue Quincampoix or Quincenpoix in the autumn of 1719."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.127

Or, this was where the word 'millionaire' was invented in the Autumn of 1719.

Friday, September 6, 2013

About the Image

The wonderful image that adorns my blog is by the American illustrator/artist James Spanfeller.

I first encountered the image called "Psychedelic Bank Note" in black and white in Marc Shell's magnificent book 'Art and Money'. I eventually found a colour version of it online displayed in this tumblr. I downloaded the image I use from there. I cleaned-up the white space and removed the name.

The image was originally featured in the third edition of Avant Garde magazine in 1968 as part of a commission called 'Revaluation of the Dollar' involving nineteen artists. I managed to find the magazine and so purchased my own copy for about £20 plus shipping from the US. Here is the front cover.

And a couple of other images I liked.

Anyway, the James Spanfeller image really appealed to me. I like the way he blends the juxtaposition of the natural and the economic (as does Lionel Kalish in the image directly above). 

A search online revealed (what I hope) is Mr Spanfeller's address. So I've written him a note telling how much I like his image and that I've used it on my blog. I'll update you if I get a reply. 

Money Wisdom #171

"Marx... in the third volume of Capital... ascribes to Law the psychological ambiguity of all great financiers: 'the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet.' "

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.132

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Money Wisdom #170

"The French theorists of dandyism in the 1840's, including Barbey d'Aurevilly and Baudelaire, were able to locate the dandies' origins in time (heirs to the beaux of the Restoration) and place (Covent Garden, that is, equidistant between the City and the West End) but were unable, being French, even to begin to understand their economics."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.117

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Money Wisdom #169

"Even counting has its limits. When counting bananas, for example, at some point the number of bananas will be so large that the gravitational pull of all the bananas draws them into a black hole. At some point, we can no longer rely on numbers to count.

And what about the concept of integers in the first place? That is, where does one banana end and the next begin? While we think we know visually, we do not have a formal mathematical definition. To take this to its logical extreme, if humans were not solid but gaseous and lived in the clouds, counting discrete objects would not be so obvious. Thus axioms based on the notion of simple counting are not innate to our universe, but are a human construct. There is then no guarantee that the mathematical descriptions we create will be universally applicable."

Lisa Zyga Is mathematics an effective way to describe the world? (2013) (link
An article based on a paper by Derek Abbott

Money Wisdom #168

"Calvin had once told a questioner in 1545, 'If we wholly condemn usury, we impose tighter fetters on the conscience than God himself,' and that would never do. Once that is believed - and already by 1612, with Bacon's great essay On Usuary, the problem is of high interest, of expediency not sin - all manner of avenues open to the ingenuity."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.113

Money Wisdom #167

"The delusion lies in the conception of time. The great stock-market bull seeks to condense the future into a few days, to discount the long march of history, and capture present value of all future riches. It is in his strident demand for everything right now - to own the future in money right now - that cannot tolerate even the notion of futurity - that dissolves the speculator into the psychopath."

James Buchan Frozen Desire (1997) p.110-111

Money Wisdom #166

"Since economics offers little in the way of practical insight, managers and entrepreneurs depend on their own business acumen, personal judgment, and rules of thumb in making decisions. In times of crisis, when business leaders lose their self-confidence, they often look to political power to fill the void. Government is increasingly seen as the ultimate solution to tough economic problems, from innovation to employment.

Economics thus becomes a convenient instrument the state uses to manage the economy, rather than a tool the public turns to for enlightenment about how the economy operates."

Ronald Coase Saving Economics from the Economists (2012) (link)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Money Wisdom #165

"Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. For all of my childhood those pennies jangled in my pockets, every one of them starring Britannia. Kings may come and queens may go but Britannia was always there, the constant. She was the Mother to us all. That was until decimalisation in 1971 and then she was gone from our coppers. Ever since, Britain and being British has been on the retreat."

Bill Drummond For Sale - $20,000 (2010) p. 107

Money Wisdom #164

"The poet is usually as innocent as you the reader of the real power of what s/he is putting on paper. Even single words have so many hidden meanings that can never be articulated, internal rhymes that can kick-start urges that have lain dormant since childhood."

Bill Drummond For Sale - $20,000 (2010) p. 89

Money is....

I've been rather absent-minded of late. You may have noticed if you follow me on twitter.
This is not unusual. My kids used rib me about it. I like to think that I'm quite on the ball, but I have to admit that there are times when I make the Robin Williams character in Flubber look like a Grand Master of Memory.

It's usually a sign that something is going on. Fortunately, I don't think it's early onset Alzheimer's. Not this time anyway.

My mind has been preoccupied with the usual things. As always my thoughts have been inspired, in part at least, by my reading. I have two books on the go, Frozen Desire by James Buchan, For Sale $20,000 by Bill Drummond, and I'm doing my usual internet reading, trying to stay up to speed with what's being said about Money. The last piece I looked at online before my thoughts crystallised was +Brett Scott's Riches Beyond Belief. I recently reviewed Brett's book.

There seems to be a whole bunch of people (including @EliGothill of Webisteme whose excellent work I've commented on before) getting together in Brixton and thinking deeply about Money and trying to create something new. I think this is brilliant.

However, I have some fundamental disagreements with Brett and Eli - and everyone else in the whole world (at least it seems that way at times) - about Money. So when I read their stuff the voice in my head is often saying, "Well, yes sort of but not really because....". In a few words, my problem is that they don't distinguish successfully between Money and currency, and they view Money as, in its essence, a technology, a social relation, and unreal.

There is also a tendency to use the phrase "Money is just.....". You should never do that.

David Graeber goes that one step further than all these good folks and says "money has no essence" [Debt (2011) p372]

Rather than argue against other's descriptions and definitions of Money though, I've always thought it's better to try to come up with my own. It's not easy. The description of Money that I've managed to muster thus far is;

"Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and enumerates certain relations through currency."

So where were we? Oh yes. My spell of absent mindedness. 

I was driving on the M25 yesterday, thinking of nothing in particular, when the following popped into my head. 

"Money is the and between the One and the Many."

I did think about punctuating it, or putting some words in italics, but I think its better unformatted.

I've been fascinated for a long while that the word 'Money' contains 'One' and 'M-and-Y'. That just seems amazing to me. It's why when gmail offered me the name jonone100 I snapped it up. (If you're wondering what I'm on about 'the one and the many' is the oldest perhaps most fundamental philosophical puzzle - Is there one thing, or are there many? [see Seaford (2004 p.255) for a fascinating discussion relating this to Money - Is Parmenidean metaphysics influenced by money?]

Anyway, I think it's stretching things to say that 'Money is the and between the One and the Many' defines what money is. Let's see how it sounds? "Money is just the and between the One and the Many" (Even typing 'Money is just....' felt so wrong.) No. It's more like a Money Koan. 

The thing is though, as far as I'm concerned, "Money is the and between the One and the Many" is true. And it does say what Money is. Which makes it close to a definition.

Other random events that have had their influence include this little quiz of wordles of famous literature. The word 'one' features prominently in many of them. I noticed that. And the images of money from the 1968 Avant Garde magazine which I recently purchased, one of which will shortly adorn this blog to replace the picture of me. So many of the images of money have - as you might expect - the word 'One' on them. 

So, in my world, this little Money Koan seems like the resolution to a Dr Who series where certain words keep popping up thorough seemingly unconnected events.

'Cause it's time, it's time in time with your time and its news is captured 
For the queen to use.
Jon Anderson  I've Seen All Good People  (1970)