Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Ramble on Life Against Death by Norman O Brown & Money and Time

I've put up more money wisdom quotes from this book than any other. And yet in my review I give it only four stars. I feel bad about that. But a book has to work within its own terms for me to give it the full five. Norman's book didn't quite do that (I talk about the problems with it in my review). However, if I were to 'score' it on the basis of how thought provoking it is, it would get a zillion stars. Mind blowing isn't hyperbole, it's an accurate description.

I was fortunate in managing to 'save up' Norman's book for my holiday. I read the bulk of it overlooking Cardigan Bay with Snowdon visible in the far distance. My only interruption was replenishing the cafetiere. It was as close to perfect reading conditions as I've ever experienced.

The section of Norman's book that contains his ideas about Money (or the Money complex as he sometimes refers to it) is Part Five Studies in Anality. I read that bit at home on my return from Wales. I'd considered reading only this part of the book. I'd seen it heavily referenced by Lawrence Weschler in his Bogg's book as being particularly interesting on Money. It was an odd coincidence that I read Lawrence's book directly before I read Norman's because I couldn't remember seeing Norman's book mentioned directly in relation to Money in anything else.

Subsequently I've checked the bibliographies of a few of my most relevant books and seen Norman listed in Chris Badcock's The Psychoanalysis of Culture (although he's only mentioned very briefly) and most tellingly in Marc Shell's Money, Language and Thought and that's about it. Shell, brilliant and insightful as ever, hands over the concluding paragraphs of Appendix III to Norman. You might remember, I said I hadn't paid proper attention to Money, Language and Thought. I can find no mention of Norman in Loaded Subjects - Psychoanalysis, Money and the Global Financial Crises. Therapeutic psychoanalysis hates Norman.

Anyway, not reading all of Norman's book would have been a grave error. I adhered to my preferred method of reading out loud in my head. For me, its this kind of immersive reading that yields the best results. It requires the optimistic belief that a lifetime of thought and years work have gone into honest writing - which is not always the case - but when it is, I find the rewards of immersive reading immense. Its how I read Freud. I was duly rewarded by Freud. And I've been duly rewarded by Norman, too.

The description of Money that guides all my rambles;
Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and enumerates certain relations through currency.
is worth restating so you know where I'm coming form. That description, Pirsig's conception of VALUE and Freud's map of mental life form my reality tunnel, as Robert Anton Wilson might like to say. As I explained in my On the Metaphysics of Freud  I find this to be an adequate description of reality. I'm happy to work with these thoughts - with this 'trinity' of descriptions/explanations - and let all the floaty-hard stuff, all the maths and matter form around it.

At the end of my last ramble I noted - not for the first time - that I was tending to end up in the same spot; namely Money&Currency. So, allowing myself to be guided by the wisdom of Keynes who said;
'The importance of money essentially flows from its being a link between the present and the future'
I promised that in this, the next ramble, I'd head over into Time territory. Well it appears that the good Lord Keynes moves in mysterious ways. I had no idea when I wrote the last ramble that it was to be Norman who'd take me there.

The subtitle of Norman's book is The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History which seems like its going to be historical events viewed from a psychoanalytical perspective; Luther conceiving of the Reformation while he was having a shit (yes its true, he did) - those sorts of things. Well, they're in there, but what Norman explores is something far more exciting - mind blowing, in fact. Norman attempts to build a psychoanalytical theory of TIME itself.

Now I should say that there is more than one theme to Norman's book. For example he explores how dialectics relates to psychoanalysis and Freud's dualism (he sees the death instinct as related to negation); and related to this there's a lot of Kant Vs Hegel; and then there's all the stuff on the pleasure-principle and the reality-principle; and a ton of other stuff too. But, although I'm inevitably going to wander off in different directions as I tend to on these rambles, I want to at least try to stay in the general vicinity of Time and Money. So please excuse me if I pay scant (or no) attention to these other areas.

I'd only vaguely been aware of psychoanalysis's ideas about Time. Perhaps its just one of those issues like Money, where psychoanalysis gets such a slapping down that it has to keep quiet. You know how it works; Economists claim Money as their own, Physicists claim Time as theirs. Maths looks on like a proud, supportive but ineffectual parent. Science can safely ignore Philosophy as (in their eyes) its still spinning in the same 2000 year old circles repeatedly asking 'Why?'. But the young upstart Psychoanalysis? Asking questions about and proposing theories to explain the nature of reality? That's beyond the pale. To stay in the science family - albeit, locked safely in the attic - psychoanalysis had to sit by its couch and be quiet.

Norman, of course refused to do as he was told. As a consequence his work is largely disregarded, not only the broader community, but also by his peers in psychoanalysis. They're quite happy in the attic. They've accepted the idea that psychoanalysis is therapy. Well, I needn't worry that. Nor need I worry about Economists or Physicists. I'll happily take Norman's ideas (and his exposition of the ideas of others) and run with them.

The psychoanalytical theory of Time suggests that the flow of time is created by the mind. Norman suggests that the Death instinct (or d-force as I'll refer to it henceforth) splits apart the 'now-ness' of reality. (That's very much my way of explaining it). For Norman's actual words see for example Money Wisdom #182 or this;
"Not only does Freud represent a breakthrough to the 'noumenal' self, but he also lays the basis  for an attack on the Kantian equation of the time-schema with rationality. There are psychoanalytical theorems, which we can discuss only in a later chapter, anatomizing time-consciousness as a diseased consciousness and tending toward the conclusion that what Kant took to be the schemata of rationality are really the schemata of repression. It is true that Freud fails to gather the insights of psychoanalysis together to make a frontal assault on the concept of time: in fact, he recognizes his failure when toward the end of his life he writes, "It is constantly being borne in upon us that we have made far too little use for our theory of the indubitable fact that the repressed remains unaltered by time. This seems to offer us the possibility of an approach to some really profound truths. But I myself have made no further progress here.' In particular, Freud does not seem to have envisaged the mutability of the time-schema, much less its abolition (along with the abolition of repression)." p.94-95
or;
"... to complete this survey of the psychoanalytical investigation of time, there must be a connection between time and the death instinct. If the death instinct deserves its name, it must have something to do with time. Freud specifically postulated some special connection between the death instinct and the repetition compulsion; repetition compulsion like the defense mechanism of undoing, like Freud's postulated rhythmic periodicity in perception, is a temporal structure. Separation - the decisive act in the defense mechanism of isolation - is also a manifestation of the death instinct. The connection between time and the death instinct has suffered the general neglect of the death instinct in psychoanalytical literature." p.277

The later chapter he refers to in the first quote is Time is Money (actually, its a section of the chapter Filthy Lucre; page p.272 to 287) [There's a preview of the section here albeit with p.275 missing - you have to click through the pages to get to it]

Odd as 'splitting apart the now-ness of reality' might sound, its not really in opposition to what physicists say about time. Most physics explanations of reality work on the theory of 'Block Time' - the idea that all points in time are equally 'real'. There's no generally accepted explanation of how block time is 'converted' into flow time - if indeed, that's how it happens at all. In fact, physics tends to regard the way we experience reality - the way we perceive time to flow from the past, through the present and to the future - as illusory. The laws of physics work as well going backwards in time as they do going forwards.

Anyway, let's not get into all that floaty-hard stuff, entropy and the like. This ramble is about the nature of Time as it relates to my description of Money - in particular the idea that 'Money mediates Value'. I'm going to suggest that Time - both as we experience it and as we understand it - is explicable from the idea that Money mediates Value.

Unlike Norman I don't specifically ascribe 'time-flow creation' capacity to d-force (the Death Instinct). Like Money, Time has opposing qualities; fundamentally it has separateness and oneness, it has past/future and now, it can divide events as well as link them. I went through a similar thought process when considering Money in terms of l-force and d-force. The temptation was to think about Money's corrosive capacity and perceive it as a manifestation of d-force. I've recalled in my On the Metaphysics of Freud post how this was a stumbling block in my conception of Money for many years.

It is also possible, I suppose, to see Time in psychoanalytical terms as some sort of manifestation of l-force and d-force. And although I see this as a more reasonable explanation than Norman's focus on d-force I don't find it hugely helpful. (Again, I faced the same problem with Money).

Its not helpful because you end up left with a choice - and it does become a matter of choice - between Monism and Dualism/Pluralism. You're faced with the return of the problem of 'The One and the Many'. In a sense my examination of Value and Money is my attempt at an answer. I did a brief post a short while back on the little aphorism I came up with that 'Money is the and between the One and the Many.

Anyway, before we get lost and short of breath in the high ground, let me try to pose the problem in a more down to earth way. If you believe, as I do, that Value is the primary reality, how does Value bifurcate into the yin and yang of l-force and d-force, or time and space, or subject and object, or whatever dualism it is by which we connect to the primary reality?

My answer of course, is through Money.

For me, Money describes the totality of the states of attraction and repulsion, expansion and contraction, chaos and order. So in a sense I'm working the other way around to Norman (and Freud). He starts with the idea of bodily (sexual) energies and suggests a process by which (through Mind) they create reality. I start with the idea that Value is reality and manifests itself through Money. Money is logically anterior to the mental and bodily energies of living organisms (l-force and d-force) and it
"reconciles the monism of Value and the dualism of human experience through the medium of Mind""
(the third part of my description of Money - I'm not entirely satisfied with my formulation of this, but it'll do for the moment).

Hence my conception of time would be that Money mediates Value creating the capacity for the Mind to perceive both Block-time and Flow-time. So in my conception l-force and d-force don't create time as the psychoanalytical theories of time (broadly) suggest, instead Time (and Space) are created from Money's mediation of Value. Mind (and body) are logically posterior to this mediation. Put another way, both Block-time and Flow-time are real. We consciously perceive Flow-time, and we are unconsciously aware of Block-time - intellectually we can conceive of both.

Let me see if I can make my point clearer.

For a rock, its experience of time, is from when it is formed of molten lava, or sedimentary deposits, or whatever, through to when it turns to dust. This process make take thousands and thousands of years. But for the rock all those years are 'Now'. You might claim that a rock doesn't 'experience' time. I'd argue that it does. That experience may be very different from ours but its formation and dissolution are the markers to its existence. The point is that a rock does not require Mind (or Body) to have a relation with Time. What the Rock needs is for its atoms and molecules to Value their form 'as a Rock' more than the form they had prior to 'being a Rock'. The special capacity that the living organism has over the rock is that it can divide up its experience of Now-ness until eventually the perception of Flow-time goes from life-cycles to seconds.

And as I say, I think the primary process here is Money's mediation of Value. This process creates phenomena - Time, Space, currency - which seem to share some essence. Physicists have tried to reveal the essence of the Time & Space, Economists have focused their attention, by and large, on Time and currency (or more precisely on changes in currency over time). Psychoanalysis has pointed out that these phenomena are accessed by Minds formed of unconscious forces; the order of objectivity is created from the chaos of subjectivity.

My focus on Money means that I see the objective order of reality as susceptible to an analysis that uses currency as a proxy for our Mind's relationship with Money. Currency is the mechanism that converts the chaos of subjectivity into number. If we can understand better how currency correlates with Money we'll uncover a new, deeper story about ourselves.

Norman approaches these sorts of ideas in his book. For him though both Money and Time are related to d-force. He sees both as, in essence, the products of repression. In relation to Time, he explains that early civilisations saw it as cyclical. Whereas for the last two thousand years or so in Western civilisation we see time as linear. Time has 'tightened' from epochs, to lifespans, to years, to seasons, to months, to days, to hours, etc until it appears as a series of dots rather than a giant circle. For Norman the link between Time and Money is religion. This is very much in-line with Freud, Laum etc; as the human sacrifice became the totemic sacrifice, so in turn the totem animal became the votive offering, and the votive offering became currency. Death, the ultimate measure of life, is subsumed (sublimated in psychoanalytical terms) to create a measurable universe, or indeed a universe of measure. Religion gave rhythm to life.

Norman is not alone in putting Money and Time at the center of the story of mankind's journey to modernity. I have a vivid memory of a rare Anthony Giddens' lecture at the L.S.E. when he suggested that the invention and adoption of the pocket watch (later the wrist watch) was the most important driver to modernity. Giddens believes that the most defining property of modernity is that we are disembedded from time (and space). So the town clock, then the watch, disconnected us from nature (cyclical time) and transported us into modernity (linear time).

There are nuances to the 'disembedding' arguments, in terms of 'what' does the disembedding and 'what it is' that we are disembedded from. I can't claim to remember them. It was Polanyi's The Great Transformation that made the case most strongly to me. For him it was Money (and the pursuit of it) that disembedded markets from society. In terms of the argument I'm making here, 'disembedding' is really about focusing on the action of d-force and its capacity for disruption; its tendency to split things apart.

And its the one-sidedness of the 'disembedding' story that makes me skeptical about its explanatory power. So, while I'm happy to place Money central to the story of change, I don't think about it in terms of mankind becoming disembedded from Time, Space, Social Unity, the Products of Labour or whatever - and neither do I think about it as Money (or the pocket watch, or the Model T Ford) being an agent of those changes. Rather, I see Money itself  becoming more 'embedded' in Mind. Or more precisely, I define human progress as our mind's increasing capacity to experience Value mediated through Money.

I'm not completely alone in my take on the 'disembedding' story. It is something of a Romantic illusion; a yearning for a primal unity. (I think that we'd be much better off to attach those romantic sentiments to Money itself. In particular, we should ascribe Money an eternal aspect - because this truly reflects its nature.) To support my case that it is Money itself that has created this Utopian vision of a past unified in both social relations and with nature I'm going to quote at length from James Buchan's Frozen Desire. I'm not claiming that Buchan completely agrees with me, but I do think we share some common ground.
"Who has not sat at a Victorian railway station, anxious or delayed, and felt overpowered by the yearning in the architecture? For, in reality, those buildings are acts of worship. They celebrate, in awe and fear, the God-like power of money to bring together so many distant and estranged impulses at a single point of space and history.
It is in the reproduction of wilderness - that is, of the world that cannot even conceive of money - that the romantic artists feel most painfully the presence of money; and that feeling has, if anything, increased in intensity in our lifetimes. Whereas at school I was taught the feudal system of medieval Europe till it came out of my ears, as if to inculcate in me a Carlylean longing for social relations unmediated by money, my children are fed the rain forest or what still remains of it. Education, it seems, is in a condition of permanent homesickness for a vanished world.
The wilderness, as an object of Romantic contemplation, was invented in December 1777, when... ...Goethe was twenty-eight and residing at Weimar in Thuringia, where he was employed as a sort of economic consultant by the little local court at a salary of 1200 talers a year. A hunt had been ordered, so as to deal with some wild boar that were annoying the villagers in the Eisenach region, and as the court train [of horse-drawn carriages] rumbles and jingles through the soft countryside, in the damp early-winter air, something extraordinary happens. It was captured by Goethe in a poem of great beauty and precision, the 'Harzreise im Winter' ('Winter Journey in the Harz Mountains'). The prince's coach, as it bounces over the turf, is suddenly transfigured into Fortune's car, which we recognise without effort from the print's of Law's scheme and the Haarlem tulips and sixteenth century Antwerp:
Leicht ist's, folgen dem Wagen,
Den Fortuna Fuhrt
Wie der gemachliche Tross
Auf gebesserten Wegen
Hinter des Fursten inzug
[It's easy enough to follow Fortune's car, like the gaggle of hunt followers that trip down the trails blazed for the Prince's progress]
and then, as if he cannot control himself, and yet so self-consciously that he writes not of his feelings but of those watching him, Goethe turns off, leaves the ride, vanishes into the thicket, falls out of the world. 
Hinter ihm schlagen
Die Strauche zusammen
Das Gras steht wieder auf
Die Ode verschlingt ihn
[Behind him, the bushes whip back together. The grass stands up again. The waste engulfs him.]
These verses, set to music later by Brahms and eventually recorded by the doomed British contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, are the quintessence of the Romantic sentiment in its heroic phase.
Up to that moment, as Goethe rides off on his own and sees an eagle soaring above a hill top, the wilderness has been a place waiting for exploitation. It is seen as a value, but one that is still hidden or imprisoned until it can be released by agriculture, grazing, metallurgy, and all those economic activities that Goethe, pre-eminently among the great Romantic artists, had mastered and understood. In other words, it was waiting for conversion into money. What Goethe sees in the wilderness is not explicitly stated, except that it isn't money: a more precise definition becomes, as it were, the Romantic task or project. In the 'Harzreise' it is God's unpredictable but ever-present mercy; for Wordsworth in the 'Ode' on immortality, it is the painful residue of childish states of consciousness; while in the landscape paintings of Casper David Friedrich, it appears to be nothing less than intensity itself as a quality. These sensations arise and draw their creative and destructive power - and I don't believe this has been said elsewhere - from an agonising contradiction within the psychology of money.
The distinctive aesthetic experience of nature - what we used to call Romantic and now term environmentalist - begins at a great remove from nature. The farmer ploughs a stony field, or stays up all night on Christmas Eve to keep his new-born lambs from freezing, does not generally regard nature with a contemplative eye or feel that soft sorrow, that sense of estrangement from a lost paradise that we think of as the proper Romantic or envirionmental response to nature. He welcomes the by-pass is it will speed his journey to market. He'll grow trailers in his fields as happily as soybeans. The song 'Summertime' is a celebration not of the beauty of the cotton bush but of the strength of the market for it; the living is easy because  the price is high.
The portraiture of natural landscape, for some interior value rather than as an arena or background to human activity - a village wedding, a madonna among lillies, and English duke before a window opening on owned acres - presupposes a distance from it and a break in our ancient or ideal unity with it. It is the expression not of a rural existence but of an urban yearning; and the ghastly perversity of it all is, as Georg Simmel well noted, that only the possession of money permits us to take flight into nature. Simmel did not merely mean that money allows us to pass from city to wilderness, from Oxford Street to the Himalays; it is money that makes us need to do so!
James Buchan Frozen Desire - The Meaning of Money (1997) p. 187-189

So whereas Giddens & Polanyi see human progress marked by a disembedding of man from nature and natural relations, Buchan and Simmel see nature (or at least our romantic appreciation of it) as created by money itself. I'm more in tune with Buchan and Simmel here. Although I don't draw the same conclusions as Buchan. In his chapter Money: A Valediction he wants us to re-discover or recognise Values that are outside of the world of Money. Human progress will have have no worth if people 'are not sorry when they die, to think that they shall no longer be an expense to themselves' (says Buchan quoting Hazlitt p281).

I certainly agree with Buchan's sentiment - as we all do. But because I see human progress in terms of the capacity of our mind to comprehend and synthesise changes in the relationship of Money to Value, I think progress will entail a reformation of our relations with currency. In other words, the changes in conceptions and experiences of Time & Space in our history reflect the changes in our understanding of Money and Value. The proximal measure we have to this 'understanding of Money and Value' is currency. So its important to know what the hell currency, has to do with Money.

Bugger. Back at the same spot. Well, at least we took a different route this time.

Wherever you go on these little thought rambles you can pretty much guarantee that somebody will have been there before you. Maybe not seeing the same things you see, or at least not seeing them in the same way as you, but they've been there, all the same. And its always the artist that gets there before the thinker. I happened across this work by @shardcore  prior to writing this post. His description of the work says "This work 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…"







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