Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Money Wisdom #360

"What could it possibly mean to “owe” one’s life to the Absolute, or to be able to “pay” the Divine, the source of all Being, anything back through sacrifice? How would one possibly imagine paying off one’s debts to God? The absurdity of the situation was of course not lost on Nietzsche, who like Walter Benjamin and Norman O. Brown later concluded that the Christian idea of a God that offered to pay back himself, in the end, for debts we supposedly owe him, was simply the hysterical logical conclusion of a neurotic subject that craves its own domination and is incapable of living its life without servitude and subjection, and so projects a divine being who lives and dies in the same pathetic way (hence both the absurdity and the genius of this sacrificial myth)."

Joshua Ramey Indebted to Blackness (2105) (link)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Review of 'Love's Body' by Norman O Brown

I went straight from Bataille to Brown. I finished reading Love's Body a couple of weeks back. So just giving it time to sink in. Everything I read now seems a bit pedestrian after the Dionysian boys. Anyway, if my review makes you drunk with the joy of life do head on over to Amazon and ritually click the 'Was this review helpful to you? YES!' button like a madman.

"A wondrous exploration of the silent language of the unconscious

This is a stunning and unique work. Built around sixteen themes Brown provides no central narrative, but instead through relatively short sections averaging, I'd guess, between 100 and 200 words he creates a transcendental effect. A review on the US site rather aptly describes it as 'Philosophy as a fever dream'. It's philosophy laced with poetry; psychomagic invocation of the intellect.

I'd love to able to say that any reader should jump straight into it, but I'm not sure that'd be great advice. Certainly I'd recommend reading Life Against Death prior to Love's Body if you're not too sure of your psychoanalysis and philosophy. I would love to be wrong about this. There is a mystical element to the work that perhaps some readers might be able to connect to regardless. But generally, if you're approaching it on an intellectual level, work your way up to it. I think if you can approach it with a degree of intellectual confidence - and an open mind - you'll be more likely to enjoy the experience. At it's best I found it simultaneously profound and hypnotic.

Don't confuse this description of my reading experience with Brown's academic credibility, though. He is a very serious scholar (and hugely overlooked in my view). Even though Love's Body has this dream-like quality, I still find more solid ground in it than in much European postmodern writing. The full expression and exploration of psychoanalytical ideas (Freud, Klein, Ferenczi - Jung is not mentioned) would certainly put off anyone grounded in a materialist ontology. They even made me grimace at points. But somehow the totality of the work gets across that these uncomfortable words, about how polymorphous perversity develops into sexual desire directed by familial relations, are an attempt to reach toward a kind of silent language that mediates unconscious processes. And moreover, that its not just the flows of sexual energy but its also the silent language, that's real.

I came to appreciate that, more through reading this work than any other. And I suspect that has less to do with intellectual journey and more to do with what is somehow invoked by it's other more magical qualities of tone and tempo and rhythm and structure. I'm never going to convince any skeptical materialists of this, nor of the value of psychoanalytical thought and existentialist philosophy generally and how it offers a rich and meaningful understanding of what it is to be. But hey, fuck 'em. I loved it."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Review of What Money Wants by Noam Yuran

Here you go then. As ever if my review does provoke the desire, make sure it doesn't take away the performance and do click the like button here . (I don't remember that many Shakespeare quotes but I can remember one related to booze and erectile dysfunction - its from the Scottish play as my theatrical friends would say).

Putting desire at the heart of some exciting original - but not wholly unique - ideas about money

"When Noam sits at home watching crap TV, I bet he keeps pencil and paper handy and excitedly scribbles down notes about how some beer advert, or an episode of Sex in the City, mirrors the socio-economic circumstances through which we create our history.

It's great that books like this are being published these days. The heady mix of ontology, psychoanalysis, social theory and money doesn't make Yuran's efforts to elucidate his 'economy of desire' all that easy to understand. However, because he occasionally grounds it in mundane examples he manages to take the reader with him as he explores some difficult and contradictory territory. All those hours watching crap TV weren't wasted. I'll come back to waste'. It's an important idea for Yuran.

There are indeed many difficulties in understanding Yuran's thesis. First up is his concept of desire. Bravely, and I think rightly, he chooses not to define the term too tightly. But the effect of this is to make his overall metaphysical picture hard to get hold of. To compensate Yuran subsumes us in talk of subject and object with desire as seemingly able to flit between these two poles. And then - somehow - the poles themselves are able to fold into one another so that an object has a kernel of subjective desire. I'm sure if you're used to talking in these terms - as Yuran plainly is - understanding the nuances of his theory is made easier by his use of subject/object metaphysics. And - as Simmel understood - money and value seem to have a special relationship to the subjective and the objective. Yuran's focus on them, and use of them, is fair enough then. But certainly for me personally, I found those sections the hardest going. He cites Žižek quite a bit.

Another element in Yuran's work is how he thinks about history and 'the truth' of history and facts. This is important not only in and of itself - he contrasts Marx's dialectical history with Veblen's evolutionary history - but because it directly relates to his conceptualization of money as desire. Money as desire is that which has persisted through change. And persistence through change is what constitutes history - when we seek the historical narrative, we are looking for something immovable within the flux of time. In this sense then, Money is outside time.

Yuran is very critical of the notion of utility. There is he says 'something fundamentally wrong with it'. He also ties this in to criticism of behavioral economics and the general way that economics tends to refract everything it observes through its own particular set of cosmological conceptions. I was cheering at this point. There were a few mentions of money's relation to secrecy and invisibility that I found very interesting and I wish he'd expanded on. Often academics cite Marc Shell's brilliant work on this, but although Yuran does cite Shell a few times its not so much in relation to these themes.

I'd give this book 4.5 stars if I could. I settled on four because, although there is some original thought and clear writing, there were points when it was struggling to maintain 3 stars for me. Yuran cites Zelizer (I gave her 'The Social Meaning of Money' an overly harsh review) but he fails to follow through Zelizer's work. Some ten years or so after The Social Meaning of Money was published, Zelizer was an early protagonist in an important debate about how the terms money and currency should be distinguished within academia. Yuran fails to make any distinction between them, nor does he mention the debate. This is a pity because I think doing so might have allowed him to separate out the idea of money from the empirical reality of currency. Alternatively, he might have drawn on Deleuze and Guattari's distinction between payment and finance money. This would been particularly appropriate given that desire is so central to their work. Whichever distinction he'd chosen and however basic it was, applying it would have enabled Yuran to tell his story more easily, I think. It certainly would have helped me.

The other author that I kept expecting to see pop up, but who never did, was James Buchan. He wrote 'Frozen Desire - The Meaning of Money' back in 1997. Oddly Buchan's book was mentioned in the most glowing terms by Keith Hart in Money in an Unequal World; Hart wrote the forward to Yuran's book. But again, Yuran doesn't mention it. I said that not defining 'desire' too tightly was a fair thing to do but it might have helped me understand a little better if Yuran had put Buchan, Deleuze and Guattri in his picture. Yuran seems to have unnecessarily isolated his work. It is original, but not wholly unique.

I'm beginning to sound like one of those annoying types that scrawls in the margins of essays in red ink 'why didn't you consider so and so'. Really though, I just wanted to enjoy the book a little more than I did. It was - at times - a little too much like hard work. Fair enough. It's for an academic audience. But with his crap TV examples, Yuran so nearly nailed it and produced something that was both readable and deep.

As a final word I'll make one more annoying suggestion. I said I'd come back to 'waste'. Yuran must read Bataille. He is merrily skipping along in Bataille's footsteps seemingly completely unaware that he's doing so. There is absolutely no shame in this. In fact, that Yuran seems to have got so far along Bataille's path without being aware of him, is cause to celebrate. Bataille is not that well known. I hadn't heard of him until a year ago, and I've only recently read him. But, for me, Bataille is where many of Yuran's arguments are heading. Bataille's themes are very much aligned with Yuran's work. Not least with the idea of 'waste'; and not to mention utility, the erotic, sacred logic, servility etc, etc. Yuran even plays around with nothing and no-thing which is a motif Bataille uses. But what Bataille does in his work is give us a clear idea about sovereignty. And this was missing from Yuran's work. Some conception of sovereignty - some mention maybe of the Nietzschean Ubermensch - would have helped ground desire in a solid form. As a reader it would have helped me understand the relation between desire, money and being. By focusing on desire I felt caught up a little in its flow around different concepts so I think a clearer idea of 'being' - or an idea of what it is to fully be - would have stopped some of the giddiness I felt when I tried to get inside Yuran's idea of desire. To be fair, he did approach these themes obliquely by mentioning movements towards perfections and pure forms but I didn't get a proper sense of how they relate to desire.

But overall its exciting to read a contemporary book that considers these sorts of ideas. I look forward to his next one very much."

Money Wisdom #358

"What sustains money in its unique position is its mysterious nature, which is a code name for the way it traverses time without an explanation for its unique position - that its persistence is entailed with its absence of past."

Noam Yuran What Money Wants (2014) p.247

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Money Wisdom #357

"[Money] is a genuine historical object in the sense that it can be really perceived only through the change in its form.
This movement strictly mirrors the Freudian conception of the course of human sexual development."

Noam Yuran What Money Wants (2014) p.201

Saturday, May 9, 2015

My Review of Bataille's The Accursed Share

A few months since I've read it. Man, this book (these books) is/are brilliant. I've got Georges Bataille and Norman O Brown (Love's Body) coursing through my veins at the moment. It makes other reading seem so pedestrian. Very unfair, of course. But these guys give me such a reading high. Anway, if my review burns a flame under your tinfoil releasing an intoxicating vapor then do pop over to amazon and click the like button before you pass out. Ta, my darlings.

Magnificent. Wonderful. Brilliant. 

"It always feels a little awkward writing a review of a book like this. It's a couple of months since I read it and its still resonating very strongly with me. I expect the feeling to last. I was intending only to read volume 1, but was so impressed and entranced that I read straight through volumes 2 and 3.

If, like me, your intellectual groove runs from Nietzsche through Freud to Norman O Brown then you will love Bataille. I would encourage anyone to read him, though. I found him intensely readable. His style is not dry or overly academic, on the other hand there is no sense of it being simplified or anodyne. And yet, he works on the very edge of how it's possible to think.

I came to Bataille from Nigel Dodd's book The Social Life of Money. Money is my thing. I'm particularly interested in explorations of it that revolve around sex and being. Bataille, through an overarching concept of  'general economy', links together sex (which he characterizes as Eroticism, the subject of volume 2) and being (which he characterizes as 'sovereignty', the subject of volume 3). This is not an idea that is easily grasped through an accessible aphorism - but it is one that you become more aware of through your reading of the three volumes. Bataille's famous quote is that by reading the Accursed Share you'll come to know: 'that the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space'.

I expect that quote has put people off. I urge you, not to let it put you off. The key to the riddle is in understanding - or, perhaps it's better said, by reforming in your own mind - the concept of waste. There are psychoanalytical undertones here, of course. But conceptually waste has a moral stickiness. And it's this moral stickiness that Bataille so effectively washes away allowing 'waste' to be contrasted with 'utility' on a level playing field. At another point in the introduction he says that he is trying to answer the question of Keynes' bottles (Keynes' demand side economics in the form of an thought experiment). However much economists pretend otherwise, this question - which basically stated is 'what is economic growth' - has never really been answered.

I'm not sure I'd say Bataille answers it, of course. I have problems with his distinction between the sexual and the erotic and the way in which this then acts as a sort of delineation between human and animal form. If you look at the negative reviews of Norman O Brown's Life Against Death you'll find similar criticisms. I also worry (generally) about where such purity of thought takes us - well, takes me. Bataille says that if he'd followed his line of thought to its conclusion then he ought not to have written the book at all.

I'm glad he did, though. Very glad. He might not have answered the big question of what is economic growth? (and, maybe there is no answer) but he does paint a metaphysical picture that helps us see things afresh. He's right about his famous phrase. You get a new sense 'that the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space' that wasn't there before your reading. It's tricky to put into words what that glimmer of understanding is - but - you become newly aware of limitations. You become aware, for example, of how language itself is subsumed within Bataille's metaphysical picture. He's trying to step outside of all these constraints and contortions that silently refract our view of the universe and show us how we really are.

It's magnificent. "

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Money Wisdom #356

"Whereas the economist thinks of the mystery of money as something that must be solved through historical speculation, Marx conceives of the mystery as the historical substance itself. History is a process through which the mystery becomes explicitly articulated. And it is the mystery that accounts for the narrative's continuity, what is handed down in it through time. In a sense Marx simply takes seriously the notion of the mystery of money: he does not take mystery to be merely an epistemological fault, a mere misunderstanding that must be clarified, but a part of the historical reality of money. In his view, 'the mystical character of gold and silver' is not something to be explained away by history by invoking less mysterious means of exchange."

Noam Yuran What Money Wants (2014) p.106

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Money Wisdom #355

"Rephrasing this ontology [of money] in terms of everyday experience, we can speculate that the fantasies about the things we can do with money are related more to the reality of money than to the actual things we can do with money (which is another way of explaining how money is worth more than anything money can buy). But maybe we can notice this peculiarity also in a plea that Marx sends to Friedrich Engels during his exile in London: 'Never has anyone written about money in general amidst such total lack of money in particular.' In ontological terms, these inversions call for conceiving of the reality of money as intertwining presence and absence. The money that is absent [...] is somehow much more vivid and visible, much more present, than is the dull money that actually exists..."

Noam Yuran What Money Wants (2014) p.74-75

Money Wisdom #354

"By formulating claims of behavioral economics in terms of rationality - an enormously wider concept than utility maximization - it somehow shifts the blame to people: it is people who are not rational. (This is the oldest trick in the book of outdated science: if reality does not conform to theory, then reality must be mistaken.) But this is a preposterously ridiculous claim. It boils down to the meaningless statement that the economic subject, this figment of imagination that has informed economic philosophy for more than one hundred years now, is rational, while people are not.


Our discussion suggests considering the opposite view, namely that it is the object rather than the subject that is irrational. Economic objects confront people with crystallized patterns of irrationality regardless of how rational or irrational these people are.


A direct demonstration of how an allegedly irrationally behavior is actually inscribed in economic objects is found in Ariely's work. Ariely wonders why ordinary people might steal small items in certain circumstances - a can of Coke from a refrigerator in a common area, office supplies from their work place, and so on - but would not steal an equivalent sum of money. Ariely conducted a series of experiments to verify that this is indeed the case and to explain 'how does this irrational impulse work?'


The simple explanation is that people are honest, and they would not steal an object of value. Of course, in strict economic terms a $1-pencil is equivalent in its value to a $1-bill. Yet this equivalence is in contrast to the reality of contemporary consumer economy where a $1-pencil is in fact a type of rubbish. The pencil has no economic value whatsoever once it is purchased. It ceases to be an economic thing (i.e. something that can be sold and bought) and enters the untraceable sphere of objects that the consumer economy places at our disposal - some of them more useful, some less, but as a whole comprising a burdening mass we constantly take care of. (Every citizen in a consumer economy gets a sickening feeling from time to time; we simply have far too many things - something we never say of money.) In other words, what Ariely's question fails to notice is Marx's insight about the monetary economy - money is more valuable than any specific thing that money can buy. Ariely's experiments confirm the status of money as an irrational object: a thing that surpasses its equivalents.

Noam Yuran What Money Wants (2014) p.66-67 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Money Wisdom #353

"Money is the embodiment of impersonal economic activity insofar as it enables us to behave as though we are alien to ourselves."

Noam Yuran What Money Wants (2014) p.5

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Money Wisdom #353

"Get nothingness back into words. The aim is words with nothing to them; words that point beyond themselves rather than to themselves; transparencies, empty words. Empty words, corresponding to the void in things.


Admit the void; accept loss forever. Not to admit the void is the trouble with those schizophrenics who treat words as real things. Schizophrenic literalism equates symbol and original object so as to retain the original object, to avoid object-loss. Freedom in the use of symbolism comes from the capacity to experience loss. Wisdom is mourning; blessed are they that mourn.

Kerouac, 'Belief and Techniques for Modern Prose,' 57.
Cf. Segal, 'Symbol Formation,' 395. Roheim, Origin and Function of Culture, 93."

Norman O Brown Love's Body (1966) p.259-260

Money Wisdom #352

"Meaning is not in things but in between; in the iridescence, the interplay: in the interconnections; at the intersections, at the crossroads. Meaning is transitional as it is transitory; in the puns or bridges, the correspondence."

Cf. Richard, Mallarmé, 551. Hartman, The Unmediated Vision, 118.

Norman O Brown Love's Body (1966) p.247

Money Wisdom #351

"Another scheme of time, another scheme of causality. Prefiguration is not preparation. 'When we speak of the relation between a new poetic image and an archetype asleep in the depths of the unconscious, we will have to understand that this relation is not, properly speaking, a causal one.' Archetype as cause, or  Ursachen: Erscheinungen können nicht Ursachen sein. Events are related to other events not by causality, but by analogy and correspondence. In the archetype is exemplary causality, causa exemplaris. In the Medieval system of fourfold causes, that goes with the four-horsed chariot of meaning, events are actualizations of potentialities eternally there - 'their Forms Eternal Exist For-ever.' The potentialities are latent till made patent: asleep till wakened. The events sleep in their causes; the archetypal form is the hidden life of things; awaiting resurrection.

Bachelard, La poétique de l'espace, 1. Nietzsche, Aus dem Nachless, 456. Blake, Milton, pl. 32, l. 38.
Cf Barfield, Saving the Appearences, 88, 151. Daniélou, Lord of History, 130. Smith, J.G. Hamann, 97. Spengler, Decline of the West, I, 3-6.

Norman O Brown Love's Body (1966) p.209

Friday, May 1, 2015

Money Wisdom #350

"A fiery consummation. Not suspense, but end-pleasure; not partial sacrifice (castration), but total holocaust. It is as fire that sex and war and eating and sacrifice are one. 'Woman, verily, O Gautama, is a sacrificial fire. In this case the sexual organ is the fuel: when one invites, the smoke; the vulva, the flame; when one inserts, the coals; the sexual pleasure, the sparks. In this fire the gods offer semen. From this oblation arises the fetus.' Sex and war and the Last Judgement - 'the Loins, the place of the Last Judgement.' The word consummation refers to both the burning world and the sacred marriage.

Chandogya Upanishad, V, viii, 1-2. Blake, Jerusalem, pl. 30, l. 38.
Cf. Frye, Fearful Symmetry, 196. A. Balint, 'Die mexikanische Kriegshieroglyphe.' Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, 51, 59-64.

Norman O Brown Love's Body (1966) p.178