Saturday, October 17, 2020

MoneyWisdom #497

 "As a formative period of early Christian tradition, late antiquity was a setting of great upheaval and social, cultural, political, economic, theological, and symbolic transformation. It established certain parameters within which European civilizations developed and offered a fund of conceptual and practical resources from which to draw, as the West told itself stories about itself, fashioning an identity out of a distant and reconstructed past. As Western societies continue the process of self-examination that is always self-formation, the relations among the monetary economic, the political and theological persist as a deposit whose books and records require auditing. For this reserve has not ceased to generate interest, compounding in the form of theoretical and social returns, paying dividends both productive and destructive, life-giving and death-dealing. This is an inheritance that calls us to account."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.206

Thursday, October 15, 2020

MoneyWisdom #496

 "...many accounts of colonization note the imposition of sovereign currency and tax requirement upon occupied territory. Infusing a colony with new currency achieves many tasks. Ideologically speaking, it circulates the image of the ruling center among the populace. New subjects are gradually conditioned to associate such images the means of payment and acquisition of the basics of life. They are reminded of the lord by whose mark it is they buy and sell. Figuratively speaking, they must prostrate themselves before the image in order to prolong physical life, accepting its terms and regime of value. The imposition also inserts the particular weights and measures established by the power, permeating exchanges relations with certain denominations of wealth. This provides new sovereignly determined methods of categorizing and evaluating reality. Most centrally, perhaps, establishing a new monetary space draws all participants into relations of obligation with the colonizing center. They must now render back to the authority a portion of these circulating tokens, reclaimed in taxes."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.183

MoneyWisdom #495

 "If it is true, as Simmel suggests, that the predominant style of art influences our way of viewing nature, then the quantitative structure of monetary relations, which is superimposed upon qualitative actuality, must greatly influence our viewing of it. The calculating intellect which operates through the money economy receives back from that same money economy some of the mental characteristics in terms of which it dominates modern life. There is an analogy between the mentality which the money economy engenders and the conviction that nothing is real in any ultimate sense if it cannot be measured. This objective and impersonal character of money, indeed its very lack of character, is important in the development of individuality. Money acts, as it were, in a double role: On the one hand it negates the subjective, the unique and qualitative factors, on the other it allows the individual to realize his personal ends by impersonal means."

S. Herbert Frankel Money: Two Philosophies - The Conflict of Trust and Authority (1977) p.25

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

MoneyWisdom #494

 "Counterintuitive as it may seem, to receive money from the sovereign issuing center is to receive a burden, a token of obligation. Reflecting on various historical instances of taxation, Alfred Mitchell Innes observes:

Every time a coin or certificate is issued a solemn obligation is laid on the people of the country. A credit on the public treasury is opened, a public debt incurred. It is true that a coin does not purport to convey an obligation, there is no law which imposes an obligation, and the fact is not generally recognized. It is nevertheless the simple truth. A credit, it cannot be too often or too emphatically stated, is the right to 'satisfaction.' This right depends on no statute, but on common or customary law. It is inherent in the very nature of credit throughout the world.

The issuance of currency betrays the imposition of debt by a governing power. The burden is shared and passed around to all of the governed, who labor and exchange under the mark of the king. Recognition is given that the power center has rightful claim to determine the weights and measures for transaction, and tacit thanks and honor are rendered to the one whose image is on the circulating tokens. Like Gregory of Nyssa, Innes asserts that the right or justice on monetary obligation needs no external law or statute. It is justice unto itself. In this case, it is right and just that the one who oversees economy, the one whose image makes possible transaction and resource allocation, should be the ultimate destination of value that is returned through the praises of tribute, tithe and taxes."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.182

quoting Alfred Mitchell Innes The Credit Theory of Money in The Bank Law Journal (1914) p160-161 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

MoneyWisdom #493

"The presence of ransom motifs in many of the patristic accounts [Aulén] summarizes is not happenstance, and these narratives do not merely tell an ancillary tale of divine concern in the midst of victory over the devil. Rather, they fit completely within and function as a central conceptual mechanism for such a story of God's triumph over opposing powers. 

This dynamic of conquest is crucial to recognize because tales of ransom, redemption and sacrifice are often told simply as gestures of divine love and compassion. From humanity's perspective, they certainly are this, but they also serve as so much more. An interpretive framework informed by monetary economy helps to reveal that ransom tales fit into and substantiate claims of divine reign and government. Ransome theory shows the inner workings of the divine oikonomia as it overcomes opposition and moves forward its governance of creation and management of redemption. [...] If ransom is simply told as a tale of divine benevolence without attending to the details of economic struggle at its center, this is analogous, for instance, to endorsing governmental programs in the name of the benefit they purportedly offer the governed without considering the forms of institutionalized, economic violence they might contain."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.173 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

MoneyWisdom #492

 "...for Plato, money is not simply another vice among others but is 'the chief instrument for the gratification of such desires' (Plato, Republic IX.580e). Thus the question of limits and boundlessness with regard to desire in Greek thought often relates to the anxieties around money. Developing Plato, Aristotle claims that the principle threat of money is precisely its capacity to fuel unlimited desire (Aristotle , Politics I:2256-58) Use of money to procure goods to satisfy finite needs is legitimate and, as such, permitted within oikonomia, but unlimited accumulation (chrematistike) of money is illegitimate or unnatural. Partaking of the order not of need but of desire, which knows no bounds, money directly indexes desire, for 'in this art of wealth-getting there is no limit of the end' (Aristotle, Politics I:1257). What is more, as Aristotle observes, money is unique in its capacity as a universal equivalent to define the values of all other goods and pursuits. Money is of a different order and functions as a potential governing framework, both in the register of desire and rational capacity to assess what is good. These monetarily inflected concerns about desire that stem from philosophical critiques of money lurk in the background and make themselves felt in Gregory's ensuing description of satanic entrapment and liberation.

Having recounted both the changeable nature of humankind as well as the potential for deceptive appearances, Gregory proceeds to build a case for the presence of justice in humanity's plight:

[...] the mind, being cheated of its desire for that which is really good, was carried away to what is unreal through the deception of the counsellor and inventor of evil, by having been persuaded that that truly is beautiful, which is the opposite of beautiful. For his guile would have been ineffectual, had not the semblance of the good been spread upon the hook of evil like a bait.

The devil made use of the potential both for malleable human nature to be 'carried away' and for appearances to deceive. Gregory here introduces his famous 'fishhook' and 'bait' metaphor to describe the process. Humanity was lured into a snare just as a fish is led to bite a hook: because the trap was made appealing. 

Despite this deceit, Gregory holds humanity to account: 'Man then was freely involved in this disaster; he had yoked himself to the enemy of life through pleasure'. Driven by desire, humankind opted for bondage and slavery. Humanity is responsible for choosing, just as a fish is responsible for biting the bait. It does not matter that the bait is a deceit. To bite is a free choice, an act without coercion. Mutable humankind followed its own inordinate desires and, failing to distinguish between surface appeal and the true depth of beauty, chased an empty reflection. In doing so, it lost what it already had as gifts of divine grace. The consequences are therefore just. As there is a logic and order to redemption, there is a logic and order to the initial process of enslavement. God's fair measures to counteract this tyranny will match in inverse fashion the steps taken to bind humanity'. 

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.153

MoneyWisdom #491

 "While created in the image of God, humankind is not identical to God, having come from nonbeing into being and thus evincing capacity for change. As a changeable and dynamic form, humanity is always on the move, so to speak. Such processual nature heads towards perfection and the good, or toward its opposite, which is a type of nonexistence, a loss of being. The engine of movement is desire, the goal toward which it strives is beauty, and the mechanism of action is the will, which, Gregory maintains, is free."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.151

Friday, September 25, 2020

MoneyWisdom #490

 "Monetary overtones emerge noticeably in Christian discourse about the Son as a type of currency in the divine exchange that takes place due to the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. In other words, the potential connotations of the Logos as money come to a head in explicit discussion of Christ serving as some form of offering, sacrifice, payment or compensation rendered either to God or, in some cases, the devil. It is because the Son is the originary numismatic stamp and cosmic currency that he can in turn become the incarnate coin and serve as the payment or ransom so central to Christian soteriology. Likening Christ to gold - as the iconoclast Constantine V did - while perhaps meant to indicate the precious nature of the savior, invokes the long tradition of discourse about Christ as payment for sin. Christ is not merely valuable; Christ is value - the central, determinative value in the economy of salvation. As the treasury administrator and lieutenant in the Father's minting process enters the economy as its essential treasure and currency, Christ as the coin of God comes to the fore as the critical means of payment in a redemptive exchange."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.131 

MoneyWisdom #489

 "The implicit connotation of the Son as the type and die used to imprint the image of God on the coins of humanity - the Son who became incarnate as the chief coin of the Father - emerges in these various instances of material connection between coinage and Christ. Actual coins carry on the work of incarnation as material symbols making theological claims: they proclaim Justinian's imperial submission to Christ, they distinguish the hypostatic union from the body of the virgin mother, and they serve as ritual objects of iconophilic practice. Significantly, this conceptual connection between Christ and coins emerges in political contexts during declarations of, or struggles for, sovereignty. The implicit idea of Christ as principal coin of the Father's kingdom proves itself repeatedly useful in imperial attempts at consolidation of power."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.129-130

Money Wisdom #488

"A coin reflects the character of its issuer. Just as any individual could look at a coin and determine its originating center, so should one, implies Philo, look to humankind and see the marks of God, the issuing emperor. Therefore, one way to understand the imago Dei is within the register of numismatic imprinting. In fact, a chief term used for the nature or character of a person - charaktêr - is derived from the practices of imprinting or stamping an image upon a coin, wax seal, or other object."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.111

MoneyWisdom #487

"Christian theology [...] bequeathed to the West, as part of its inherited 'governmental machine,' a unified rupture of elements in political power and authority, the aporias of which continually plague the actual praxis of such authority in time and space. The sphere of sovereignty is made manifest with a praxis that executes the laws of the sovereign and manages its space through economy. Such administration makes present the transcendent sovereign, paradoxically making its absence present while permitting its distance to remain."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.38

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Money Wisdom #486

 On the painting of Willem de Kooning...

"The female genital symbolizes creativity and de Kooning, in painting woman, is painting creativity, and when he can no longer paint woman, he loses his creativity, or else goes through the motions of being creative. His postwoman works are pseudocreative rather than authentically creative. 

When the female genital becomes totally manifest - oppressively evident, confronting and overwhelming the viewer with the self-evidently female - the female body has almost completely disappeared: The female figure has itself been almost completely overwhelmed by the sign of itself - the most vital fact of its authenticity, the smallest but most significant part of its femaleness. Totally exhibitionist, the female body dissolves - into its roots, as it were. One can understand this an example of locker-room irony, and there is no doubt such an unflinching disclosure of the usually obscure 'mystery of life,' and even more heroically as a militant, fearless, in-your-face revelation of the unconsciously terrifying intimate reality of the female body. De Kooning is a Perseus who uses painting as a mirror in which to stare at the Medusa - the female genital, surrounded by its snaky roots - and not turn to stone."


Donald Kuspit Venus Unveiled: De Kooning's Melodrama of Vulgarity in
Uncontrollable Beauty - Toward a New Aesthetics Ed Bill Beckley (1998) p.285

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Money Wisdom #485

"Do not neglect or forget the gods. This was the essential commandment of the Hellenic world. We humans were not asked to have faith as with the Christians or to obey the law as with the Hebrews. We were asked not to forget or neglect the gods. Surely this caution has some relation with the role of beauty in Hellenic culture. But how? Perhaps it means that art, as anything else we humans do, remembers the non-human and immortal powers - as the gods were defined in antiquity.

Then, we could lift the repression from beauty by anchoring the mind in nonhuman values. For surely the humanist program is not enough: Social protest and political concern, the exploration of self-expression and the full exploitation of the materials, the reaction of one school or movement to another school or movement, to say nothing of the drive for fame, career, and money, are not satisfactory anchors of the mind's intention in making art. Beauty cannot enter art unless the mind in the work is anchored beyond itself so that in some way the finished work reflects the sacred and the doing of the work, ritual."

James Hillman The Practice of Beauty
in Uncontrollable Beauty - Toward a New Aesthetics (1998) p.273

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Money Wisdom #484

 "...importing monetary and broader economic language into theology informs theological systems in unique and substantive ways. To speak of Christ metaphorically as currency and coin, for instance, is to ascribe to Christ key attributes of monetary economy in ways that establish elements of Christ's identity. These attributes in turn become footholds and bearing points for subsequent theological formulations and expanding networks of doctrinal claims. The monetary metaphor may thus come to inform the logic of the entire system. As a central building block of the broader edifice, the metaphor may even be forgotten or dismissed. This can be seen in the way the metaphor of redemption, used to speak of salvation, can be repeatedly invoked in Christian context without an awareness of its thoroughly economic derivation and sense."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.20

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Money Wisdom #483

 "What might accepting money's influence on theology and theology's shaping of economic order mean for theological projects of personal, communal, and social transformation?"

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.11

Money Wisdom #482

"Medieval philosophers were fascinated by mirrors. They inquired in particular into the nature of the images that appear in them: What is the being, or rather the non-being, of these images?

[...]

Two characteristics are derived from the insubstantial nature of the image. Since the image is not a substance, it does not possess any continuous reality and cannot be described as moving by means of any local movement. Rather, it is generated at every moment according to the movement or the presence of the one who contemplates it: "Just as light is always created anew according to the presence of the illuminator, so do we say that the image in the mirror is generated each time according to the presence of the one who looks." The being of the image is a continuous generation (semper nova generatur), a being [essere] of generation and not of substance. Each moment, it is created anew, like the angels who, according to the Talmud, sing the praises of God and immediately sink into nothingness.

The second characteristic of the image is that it cannot be determined according to the category of quantity; it is not, properly speaking, a form or an image but rather the "aspect of an image or of a form" (species imaginis et formae). In itself, it cannot be described as long or wide, but instead as "having only the aspect of length and width." The dimensions of the image are therefore not measurable quantities but merely aspects or species, modes of being and "habits" (habitus vel dispositiones). This characteristic - being able to refer only to a "habit" or an ethos - is the most interesting signification of the expression "being in a subject." What is in a subject has the form of a species, a usage, a gesture. It is never a thing, but always and only a "kind of thing" [specie di cosa]. 

The Latin term species, which means "appearance," "aspect," or "vision," derives from a root signifying "to look, to see:' This root is also found in speculum (mirror), spectrum (image, ghost), perspicuus (transparent, clearly seen), speciosus (beautiful, giving itself to be seen), specimen (example, sign), and spectaculum (spectacle). In philosophical terminology, species was used to translate the Greek eidos (as genus was used to translate genos); hence the sense the term takes on in natural science (animal or plant species) and in the language of commerce, where the term signifies "commodities" (particularly in the sense of drugs and spices) and, later, money (especes). 

[...]

The mirror is the place where we discover that we have an image and, at the same time, that this image can be separate from us, that our species or imago does not belong to us. Between the perception of the image and the recognition of oneself in it, there is a gap, which the medieval poets called love. In this sense, Narcissus's mirror is the source of love, the fierce and shocking realization that the image is and is not our image. If the gap is eliminated, if one recognizes oneself in the image but without also being misrecognized and loved in it - if only for an instant - it means no longer being able to love; it means believing that we are the masters of our own species and that we coincide with it. If the interval between perception and recognition is indefinitely prolonged, the image becomes internalized as a fantasy and love falls into psychology.

In the Middle Ages, species was also called intentio, intention. The term names the internal tension (intus tensio) of each being, that which pushes it to become an image, to communicate itself. The species is nothing other than the tension, the love with which each being desires itself, desires to persevere in its own being. In the image, being and desire, existence and conatus* coincide perfectly. To love another being means to desire its species, that is, to desire the desire with which it desires to persevere in its being. 

[...]

The transformation of the species into a principle of identity and classification is the original sin of our culture, its most implacable apparatus [disposiuvo]. Something is personalized - is referred to as an identity at the cost of sacrificing its specialness. A being - a face, a gesture, an event - is special when, without resembling any other, it resembles all the others. 

Giorgio Agamben Profanations (2007) p.55-58


* striving - an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself

Money Wisdom #481

"Insights on the nature and function of money afford additional opportunities for conceptual comparison between economy and theology. Money serves as a useful point of entry into such considerations because it brings to the fore questions about the materialization of transcendent value and the role of representation, issues central to debates about God's relation to the world..." 

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.5

Money Wisdom #480

 "It has become commonplace today to speak of a widespread, so-called faith and hope in money and markets. The ubiquitous power and influence of the economy appear to require, or at least inspire, religious language and invocations of the divine. [...] Money is depicted as an object of 'worship', as enthusiastic participants in the global economy prostrate themselves before the 'altars' of capital, seeking economic 'salvation'.

[...]

Particular early Christian theological ideas incorporate and retain traces of monetary economy. Monetary language, concepts and practices prove useful in clarifying and formalizing certain emerging and central  theological claims. This infusion of monetary thought and practice into core Christian doctrine means that Christian ideas, practices and traditions help to convey this theological and economic combination into new social and political formations and legitimate evolving customs and institutions of monetary economy. If money lends its logic to the structuring of theology, God-talk repays by offering its prestige and sacred power to the world of exchange."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p1-2

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Money Wisdom #479

What [Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics by Robert Skidelsky] reveals is an endless war between two broad theoretical perspectives in which the same side always seems to win—for reasons that rarely have anything to do with either theoretical sophistication or greater predictive power. The crux of the argument always seems to turn on the nature of money. Is money best conceived of as a physical commodity, a precious substance used to facilitate exchange, or is it better to see money primarily as a credit, a bookkeeping method or circulating IOU—in any case, a social arrangement? This is an argument that has been going on in some form for thousands of years. What we call “money” is always a mixture of both, and, as I myself noted in Debt (2011), the center of gravity between the two tends to shift back and forth over time. 

(my emphasis)

David Graeber Against Economics (2019) 

A Review of Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics by Robert Skidelsky

in The New York Review of Books (link)

Friday, September 4, 2020

Money Wisdom #478

"Eusebius's reflection on coinage under Constantine highlights his awareness of the role money plays in a system of rule an administration. Money is communicative and proclamatory , declaring the nature and values of the sovereign. It draws upon the imperial image, sharing in and augmenting its authority. Money is itself a critical image of the nature of sovereign character, a representation reaching out into the governed sphere."

Devin Singh Divine Currency (2018) p.93

Friday, August 28, 2020

Money Wisdom #477

In Latin, Genius was the name used for the god who becomes each man's guardian at the moment of birth. The etymology is transparent and remains visible linguistically in the very proximity appearing between genius and generation. That Genius is related to generation is evident in any case due to the fact that in Latin, the "genial" object par excellence was the bed, the lectus genialis, because it is in bed that the act of generation is accomplished. Birthdays are sacred to Genius, and for that reason we still use the adjective genetliaco (birthday) in Italian.

[...]

"He is called my Genius, because he generated me (Genius meus nominatur, quia me genuit)." But that is not all. Genius was not only the personification of sexual energy. Certainly, every man had his Genius and every woman her Juno, both of which manifested the fertility that generates and perpetuates life. But as the term ingenium - that is, the sum of physical and moral qualities innate in the one who is born - indicates, Genius was, in a certain way, the divinization of the person, the principle that governed and expressed his entire existence. For this reason, it was not the pubis but the forehead that was associated with Genius; the gesture of bringing the hand to the forehead - which we enact almost without realizing it in moments of confusion and disorientation, when we seem almost to have forgotten ourselves - recalls the ritual gesture of the cult of Genius (unde venerantes deum tangimus frontem). And since this god is, in a sense, what is most intimate and most our own, he must be placated and his favor maintained in every aspect and at every moment of life. 

[...]

But this most intimate and personal god is also that which is most impersonal in us; it is the personalization of what, in us, goes beyond and exceeds us. "Genius is our life not insofar as it was originated by us, but rather insofar as we originate from it." If it seems to be identified with us, it is only in order to reveal itself immediately afterward as more than us, and to show us that we are more and less than ourselves. Comprehending the conception of man implicit in Genius means understanding that man is not only an ego and an individual consciousness, but rather that from birth to death he is accompanied by an impersonal, preindividual element. Man is thus a single being with two phases; he is a being that results from the complex dialectic between a part that has yet to be individuated and lived and another part that is marked by fate and individual experience. But the impersonal, nonindividual part is not a past we have left behind once and for all and that we may eventually recall in memory; it is still present in us, still with us, near to us and inseparable from us, for both good and ill. Genius' youthful face and long, fluttering wings signify that he does not know time, that we feel him quivering as closely within us as he did when we were children, breathing and beating in our feverish temples like an immemorial present. That is why a birthday cannot be the commemoration of a past day but, like every true celebration, must be an abolition of time - the epiphany and presence of Genius. This inescapable presence prevents us from enclosing ourselves within a substantial identity and shatters the ego's pretension to be sufficient unto itself. 

[...]

It has been said that spirituality is above all an awareness that the individuated being is not completely individuated but still contains a certain nonindividuated share of reality, which must be not only preserved but also respected and, in a way, even honored, as one honors one's debts. But Genius is not merely spirituality and is not just concerned with the things that we customarily regard as higher and more noble. Everything in us that is impersonal is genial. The force that pushes the blood through our veins or that plunges us into sleep, the unknown power in our body that gently regulates and distributes its warmth or that relaxes or contracts the fibers of our muscles - that too is genial. It is Genius that we obscurely sense in the intimacy of our physiological life, in which what is most one's own is also strange and impersonal, and in which what is nearest somehow remains distant and escapes mastery. If we did not abandon ourselves to Genius, if we were only ego and consciousness, we would not even be able to urinate. Living with Genius means, in this sense, living in the intimacy of a strange being, remaining constantly in relation to a zone of nonconsciousness. But this zone of nonconsciousness is not repression; it does not shift or displace an experience from consciousness to the unconscious, where this experience would be sedimented as a troubling past, waiting to resurface in symptoms and neuroses. This intimacy with a zone of nonconsciousness is an everyday mystical practice, in which the ego, in a sort of special, joyous esoterism, looks on with a smile at its own undoing and, whether it's a matter of digesting food or illuminating the mind, testifies incredulously to its own incessant dissolution and disappearance. Genius is our life insofar as it does not belong to us. 

We must therefore consider the subject as a force field of tensions whose antithetical poles are Genius and Ego. This field is traversed by two conjoined but opposed forces: one that moves from the individual to the impersonal and another that moves from the impersonal to the individual. The two forces coexist, intersect, separate, but can neither emancipate themselves completely from each other nor identify with each other perfectly. 

Giorgio Agamben Profanations (2007) pp9-13

Monday, August 10, 2020

A Ramble around Money as Desire and 'History in Financial Times' by Amin Samman


I recently finished Amin Samman's History in Financial Times. It's an excellent book (142 pages) which has been shortlisted by the British International Studies Association (BISA) for the International Political Economy Working Group's (IPEG) Book Prize 2019.

Ideally, I'd do a 'proper' review but lack of time forbids. If you've read my academic book reviews though, you'll know how they tend to go; after a cursory summary I waffle on about how the author needs to give a clearer description of their metaphysical and conceptual commitments around money. I will talk a little about those themes in respect of Amin's book, shortly.

If you do feel in need of a proper review, though, the brilliant Noam Yuran has written a fantastic one which you should check out. 

Noam concludes "History in Financial Times is a valuable addition to the growing interest in the critical studies of finance. It is rich and full of insight. Its explorations of pragmatic narrations of crisis open a new territory for research into the historical consciousness of financial capitalism." Suffice to say, I concur and strongly recommend Amin's book to you.
_____________________________

I think this 'ramble' is even more of a wild ride than normal. 

I should apologize upfront to Amin - and those of you who've read History in Financial Times - because you may well dispute the fanciful claim that this piece circumambulates the two themes mentioned in the title. In truth, my thoughts have been all over the place lately; around things like 'the reality of money', 'our longing to belong', 'language as sublimated sexuality' and a whole lot of other stuff. It all seems related inside my mind but is likely to appear disparate and random when written down. What I can honestly claim is that whilst my mind has been on it's weird little trip, Amin's words have been making their way into my head through my eyes.

To start relatively gently then, let's talk about Amin's book, money and metaphysics.
____________________

I was lucky enough to be present for a panel review of History in Financial Times at the Finance and Society Conference in Dec 2019. I remember a couple of the comments made (it was actually during that session that Joshua Ramey's Politics of Divination was recommended to me [review | ramble]).

The first comment was about psychoanalysis. The panel wondered whether Amin considered going 'all in' on a psychoanalytical take. I had this feeling too when reading. What are (I would argue) fundamentally psychoanalytical ideas are used throughout the book; most especially perhaps in Repetition and Revelation where Freud's name is invoked explicitly and notions of 'trauma' are considered as correspondent with 'financial crisis'. You'll know from elsewhere that I'm a huge fan of using a pared-back psychoanalysis as a means to understand economy and money*. 

[ *You'll need to dig but find the conversation with my brother in my Barefoot in Bollingen piece. ]

As I see it, there are a couple of problems - one practical, one existential - with using psychoanalysis as a methodology in respect of an analysis of History and Finance.

The practical problem is that the vast majority of people who think seriously about money regard psychoanalysis as a talking cure suited to a clinical environment, rather than a mode of thinking with immense possibilities. Digging into the themes of History and Finance within an explicitly psychoanalytical framework inevitably limits one's audience. Even in communities/disciplines which have an affinity for the psychoanalytical mode of thinking - like Critical and Social Theory, for example -  psychoanalysis is still something that is 'referred to' rather than given prominence as 'explicitly constitutive' of a mode of thought underpinning the analysis.

Psychoanalysis must bear its share of the blame for this - its clinical application created, saved and sustained it but also holds it prisoner. And I guess that any newly burgeoning academic enthusiasm for it is quickly stymied by the failure to create an effective synthesis of Marx and Freud in the 1950/60s

And there's something else. Whilst I would (and do) cherish most psychoanalytical critiques of finance, I only ever want the most basic concepts employed; Ambivalence, Repression (and its return) and a Topology of mind (especially a distinction between the unconscious and the conscious). A 'descent into detail' - such as offered by Freud himself in his essay on Moses of Michelangelo - is unhelpful, in my view. I like a model that builds lightly and sympathetically on the basic concepts. I like a psychoanalysis that remembers it is offering a reasonable and reasoned 'humanistic' narrative, rather than determining cause and effect. (I think this relates very much to Amin's point about 'narrative' and 'conjuring up a persuasive reality'.)

[ Of course, Noam Yuran's What Money Wants is the exception that proves the rule - a great example of an often explicitly psychoanalytical take on money. I also have Loaded Subjects - edited by David Bennet which throughout offers an explicitly psychoanalytical take on the financial crisis of 2008. There are some good pieces, including a contribution from Jean-Joseph Goux. But overall there is also, for me, the problem of a 'descent into detail'. And perhaps even more significantly there is a general dis-junction between mind and economy; what I mean by this is that psychoanalysis tends to pathologize money and economy rather than create a 'totalizing' picture of mind and money in order to understand economy. And then of course there is the problem of psychoanalysis's metaphysics which I'll discuss now. ]  

The existential problem for psychoanalysis is even worse. If you take it seriously - if you're enchanted by its central tenets and you're not too securely anchored in a scientific/materialist worldview - psychoanalysis works like spit on candy-floss reality. Science, History and even Time itself can all disappear. Ask Norman O Brown! [review of Life Against Death | ramble on Life Against Death | review of the utterly magnificent Love's Body [ important! read Life Against Death first!]. All that was left for Norman in the end, was poetry. 

Go with it all the way and psychoanalysis will set you adrift so you end up confronted with huge metaphysical problems. We begin to 'take our desires for reality because we believe in the reality of our desires'; that which was real becomes unreal and that which was unreal is uncovered as our true material reality. A great book on where you can go philosophically and metaphysically with psychoanalysis is Albert Tauber's Freud - The Reluctant Philosopher. The title is instructive. Freud was pretty coy about the metaphysical/philosophical stuff because he was so committed to the idea of 'psychoanalysis as science'. [review | huge chunk in this Intent and Intentionality essay about Tauber's work ]

The second thing I remember from the panel for Amin's book was a comment I made; I asked Amin 'Is there any money in it?'

He answered, 'No'. But I'm not sure that's quite right (not according to my reading, anyway).

When I'm lucky enough to be allowed into academic conferences I'm usually the one bothering the speakers about money. 'What does your analysis say about money?' 'How do you conceptualize money?' 'What sort of view of money does your theory suppose?' That sort of thing.

I am a bit of a one-trick pony. But I think the trick is worth repeating because (do I really need to say this?) money is important to finance and economy.

I don't know if the following is accurate but it is my impression from the outside of what goes on inside;

There is a major financial crises > 
Academics wonder what this money stuff is anyway and why we are so ruled by something which seems to be a product of the social imaginary > 
They begin thinking, talking and writing about money a lot > 
A definition of money proves elusive and so eventually they settle on a vague idea about whatever it is and move 'up' to the financial system, the economy, geopolitics etc because - at the end of the day -  that's the stuff that really matters> 
There is a major financial crisis > 
Academics wonder what this money stuff is anyway and why ...etc, etc, etc.>>>>>>.
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I have this weird recurrent dream-like image (it may even possibly have started as a dream, I don't know). I've had it for years and years. I'm deep deep down in a mine. I've been there for a lifetime and I'm just stood staring at one spot on the wall. I'm sure I've seen something there. Other folks walk by occasionally and say their friendly 'hellos'. They are concerned with their own spots on other walls. 'You still staring at that spot?,' they ask. 'Yep', I say. 'I'm sure there's something here.'
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Money itself isn't mentioned in History in Financial Times until near the end of the book and then its only briefly.

But even so, for my reading, it still presents itself as fundamental and I think by the way he chooses to conceptualize and contextualize money, Amin really nails it. 

He uses Noam Yuran's description of money as carrying 'an empty negative desire' and relates this to the portrayal of Jordan Belfort in (the film) The Wolf of Wall Street. One scene to which Amin specifically refers is when Belfort asks the viewer 'You want to know what money sounds like? "Fuck this, shit that, cunt, cock, asshole." When I first saw that scene I jumped to my feet, fist-pumped the air and shouted "Yes! Yes! That is exactly what money sounds like!*" 

[ * I didn't actually. I watched Wolf of Wall Street with my then 84 year-old Mother which made for uncomfortable viewing at times. But that scene did make me want to jump to my feet, for sure. ]

Amin has a Batailleian take on the Belfort that is created (or enhanced?) by the movie. He says:

"The name 'Belfort' diagrams a drive not to differential acquisition but to absolute expenditure - a drive to talk wealth out of its purely financial circulations and sink it instead into physical ones with the fury of pure abandon." (p.129)

My own definition of currency is as a (non-local) psycho-sexual event. (Ignoring my distinction between money and currency) I think my conception of currency, and Noam's description of money (as carrying 'empty negative desire'), aren't too far apart. 

At the risk then of conflating or substituting Noam's conception with my own, and at the risk of a very subjective reading of Amin's book, here is the picture conjured up by History in Financial Times - as a whole - when it's seen through the lens of Noam's money and then filtered through my mind.

The strange loops of finance and history swirl and intermingle in hyper-complex ways. Profane attempts to unravel them - whether they be by reason, logic, or any mode of thought that excludes the possibility of alterity - are met by failure. The magic of money will have its day. Radical uncertainty is ever present. 
 
We must conceptualize a cosmos that can fully hold the vast and intricate movements of History and Finance, a cosmos within which all activity can take place. When doing so we should be wary of the seductive power of cause and effect and the arrow of time. These must exist within our cosmology; they cannot be external powers acting upon it.

A conceptualization of money as carrying 'an empty negative desire' demands a universe constituted by an omnipresent psycho-sexual event; a gravity well of desire. It both emits and receives - like watching from outside space and time as a black hole simultaneously consumes and spews forth matter. 

This primordial collective habitus is in tune with psychoanalysis. It's all about sex, of course

Human economy is born of Money incarnate as currency. Currency is a psycho-sexual event which manifests as desire and in doing so it constitutes the 'space and time' in which History and Finance continually fold into one another.

We desire God and we are desired by God. Origin is merely a trick of the eye. 

I was reminded of the Walter Benjamin quote while reading Amin's book (and continue to be reminded as I get into my next book Devin Singh's Divine Currency

"Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming, and in its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis." [Money Wisdom #341]

Within the empty negative desire inheres the false possibility of redemption. It's like a reversal of the Holy Grail (which offers redemption [healing] through abundance). As we pour our desires into currency - as they are acted upon by the gravity well of desire - we suppose that satisfaction is almost within our grasp, that the empty space will be filled. We are, after all, viewing this from our bodies in a material world where resources are limited. 

But of course, there is no redemption. Satisfaction always remains just out of reach and empty  negative desire, is limitless. Even when incarnate as material currency, money remains infinite and eternal. Money gives currency its infinite insatiability and thus ensures we live a life of anticipation. Money is the eternal now.

[ This is where there would be a link to a ramble on Lisa Adkins' work - if I'd written it! Lisa set me thinking about the relations between money, anticipation and time - and sex. The notion of 'anticipation' inheres within desire - or at least within our material experience of desire - and so is intimately related to the time of money (the title of Lisa's book!) 'Anticipation' inscribes the future into the present. Lisa uses the phrase of Bourdieu "the body is snatched by the forthcoming of the world". I wanted to explore an idea that anticipation is inseparable from sex and that it is Benjamin's 'secret connection' linking money to time' - keep reading for that quote!] 

I think institutions and organisations of capitalism mimic this active and insatiable empty negative desire that is constitutive of currency. They operate within the material world as 'negative pressure rooms' drawing in desire whilst simultaneously transmitting a kind of seduction - an active desire to be desired

Hence the largest, richest institutions - the ones we imagine carry massive resources with 'vaults full of gold' (so to speak) and a seemingly limitless capacity to manifest value - are in fact the most 'empty'. They contain the greatest distance between, on the one hand, society's appraisal of their material worth through the market, and on the other, their current capacity for real liquid value. Their magical ability is to make us believe that they have the power of complete transubstantiation between perceived and actionable value. A power that, in reality, is manifestly limited. 
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A bank exists in folk-narrative as a space where currency is collected and safely secured, a fortress to the material and finite nature of currency. And yet a Bank also exists in a narrative for the techno-scientific econo-realists (and for bankers themselves) as a place that pulls in massive flows of cash and pushes out even more - exponentially more - debt.
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One text that always springs to mind when there is talk of 'money as desire', is James Buchan's Frozen Desire. He first outlines his thoughts like this...

"...money is incarnate desire. Money takes wishes, however vague or trivial or atrocious, and broadcasts them to the world, like the Mayday of a ship in difficulties. Unlike the Mayday, it appeals not to sensations of individual benevolence or common humanity (which the philosophers since Machiavelli have anyway attempted to deny); but offers a reward that is not in any sense fixed or finite - there is no objective or invariable value in money - but that every person is free to imagine in the realm of their own desires." (p.19)

I also think of Ole Bjerg's Making Money. The theme of desire is not quite as upfront in Ole's book as it is in Noam's or James Buchan's - but it is most definitely present because, of course, Ole's analysis draws on Zizek who in turn draws on Lacan so the presence of desire and 'lack' as themes is no surprise. 

"Subjectivity emerges not as we identify with our social roles. Nor is subjectivity something which we may eventually discover beyond our social roles. Subjectivity is nothing but the constant insistence on being 'more that that', and it emerges in the very process of shuffling through the social order in search of 'who I really am'. 
    This insistence is what propels the desire of the subject. Desire is the perpetual projection of an ontological 'lack of Being' onto different objects in the world that might resolve the lack." (Making Money p.28)

- its worth stating that of course money is that which connects all those 'objects in the world' - even and especially those objects that cannot be bought! 

[ I'm reminded here of the insight of Noam Yuran in What Money Wants p. 256. Talking about Jaguar using a glamorous girl to market their car, Noam suggests an interpretation that says: 'rather than signifying buy the car and you will get the girl, the women in the commercial signify even if you buy the car you cannot really have it.'  In the first signification, money relates car to girl through its dominion over both of them as objects, in the second money relates car to girl through its absence and so makes sacred what was profane and makes car and girl subjects. - Here is the actual ad! And here is a great paper by Noam 

Finance and Prostitution: on the Libidinal Economy of Capitalism which I reread during the course of writing this - it considers The Wolf of Wall Street too.]

Of course, it is reasonable to conceptualise Money Burning as an exploration of ideas of 'lack'. I certainly talk about it in terms of connecting to 'nothingness'. I like to stress the paradoxical notion of doing nothing which equates to an active lacking. I would also add that merely to conceptualize doing nothing is not enough. Thinking about or imagining what it means to 'lack' creates its own 'empty negative space' - it expresses a desire (to know). (I would argue that) it is only when our mental worlds are combined with 'action' that the full richness of meaning (or, of non-meaning) of 'lack' is revealed to the subject. 

[ I think the notions of anticipation vs spontaneity play into Money Burning, too. The problem with anticipation, or the problem with an expectation of nothingness, is that it hardens 'nothing' into a sort of 'object'. So within Ritual I always try to load in as much spontaneity and 'freedom not to burn' as is possible in order to mitigate against our tendency to subsume every action within the logic of capital and it relentless drive to understand everything as first cause then effect. ] 
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In Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value David Graeber says:

[ Considering the work of Nancy Munn ] Value emerges in action: it is the process by which a person's invisible 'potency' - their capacity to act - is transformed into concrete, perceptible forms. (p.45)

Both theorists [ Bourdieu and Lacan ] pose action and reflection as different aspects of the self, so that experience becomes a continual swinging back and forth between them." (p.97)
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There was a thread on Social Media that came up as I was writing this. It's quite a rabbit hole(!) but it does show how tricky and fascinating the idea of 'lack' really is. The argument and my response can be summarized as follows: 

A 'hole' can be regarded as ontologically parasitic of material reality (because the hole depends upon the object within which it resides, for its existence). But equally, from the hole's perspective, it is the 'material reality' that is parasitic to its existence. So maybe all that can be said is that a hole, and the material within which it resides, exist in an undetermined parasitic relation to one another, ontologically speaking.
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I need to make a note about 'exchange' and its relation to currency. I have a tendency to get drawn in to an ontological discourse on the nature of money that ends up somewhat detached from exchange. I don't mean for this to happen and I certainly concur with Simmel that 'exchange' - in the very broadest possible definition of the word - is somehow constitutive of currency. Or, at least - and perhaps more precisely - constitutive of the context in which currency is able to manifest

This socializing aspect needs to be noted not least because it is often the atomizing, individuating aspect of money that tends to be given emphasis within critical work. 

The apparently opposing dynamics of objectification and intimacy are in fact dichotomous. In origin, they are wrapped within one another. Exchange, sex and (most famously in Simmel's view) money are the creators and over-comers of distance within a community; objectification and intimacy are one way of talking about how this process manifests in human relations.

[ Put in a way to counter our tendency to judge intimacy as good, objectification as bad - objectification describes the countervailing dynamic to the subsumption of individuals into an inescapable intimacy. ]

[ I suppose one could say that either; a) sex is a type of exchange, or, b) exchange is a type of sex. But obviously for me and my psychodynamic perspective, it's b) ! But, more important to my argument here is that whether it's exchange or sex, some sociality - some form of community or communion - must exist simultaneously with currency. Currency would seem to be impossible at either 100% intimacy (our most intimate relations remain steadfastly unmonetized) or 100% objectification (where an atomised, individuated cosmos prohibits the possibility of currency emerging . ]

(As I stated earlier) My other criticism of academic work on money is that there is often failure to specify the author's metaphysical commitments. I felt this keenly when reading Lisa Adkins' brilliant The Time of Money even though - or perhaps because - she did get quite close to doing so. I really wanted to know what she thought, for example, when talking about Bourdieu's idea that 'practice makes time'. 

[ Perhaps you can see why I think delineating our conceptions of 'money' from 'currency' assists with this task of specifying an author's metaphysical commitments? - delineation supposes that a resolution between the oppositions of the sacred and the profane, between mind and matter, is somehow extant or 'captured' between the two terms 'money' and 'currency'. Making the distinction allows us to pin our metaphysical baggage to money, whilst letting currency tumble down our bodies freely into the material world.  ]

Of course, any 'explicit specification' of one's metaphysics is (or at least can be) actually the exposure of something very dear and intimate. It is, more or less, God-talk '...and the page tends to become a confessional without walls where our most intimate thoughts and unthoughts stand revealed for all to see and hear.' (Mark C Taylor, About Religion p.30-31)

[ I know Zizek has had a lot to say about Sex recently but I've only read snippets so can't comment.]
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Lisa and Amin's books of course both consider (in different ways) the relationship between 'time and money'. I'm reminded of another Walter Benjamin quote. I opened The Money Burner's Manual (TMBM) with it; 

'Beyond doubt: a secret connection exists between the measure of goods and the measure of life, which is to say between money and time.

In TMBM I steer an uncompromising, unapologetic course for the immaterial. I embrace (and continue to embrace) notions of magic and 'living magically'. Apart from when I'm crossing a busy road, I tend to believe that what is outside of space and time is the ultimate reality. 

There are probably good practical reasons why academics might avoid stating their metaphysical commitments too explicitly. Firstly, their metaphysical commitments might not be that explicit. My own 'faith' is in permanent flux and a healthy mind - and functioning in the real world - seems to require a degree of philosophical pragmatism. And secondly, whether we like it or not, there is a sense that reason itself is built on a certain set of metaphysical commitments; to build an argument, to state cause then effect, is to subsume oneself to a certain view of time and progression. As Amin said to me of his book (something to the effect of), 'even the words on the page are a problem. You're already working within a certain spacetime structure because you start top left and then continue to bottom right. There is no escape.'

[ This, incidentally, is why I think Norman O Brown's Love's Body is such a masterpiece. He doesn't escape the prison of words but he does get up to the bars and take a look out the window. ]

While History in Financial Times doesn't completely expose Amin's metaphysical commitments, he does give us a good flash. On page 111 (111 is a very significant number for me btw, magically speaking!)

'No one, of course, is supposed to see the trick behind the magic, but once we do, the normative question becomes whether to abandon the discourse of crisis altogether. This would be a grave mistake. The crisis event may well be a 'metaphysical fiction' but abandoning the worlds of fiction will do nothing to strip them of their magic. History too has a metaphysics that cannot be divorced from fiction, and crisis remains deeply inscribed within the historical imagination of our times. The task of critique must therefore be to somehow navigate this knotting up of crisis, history and fiction.'

There is also elsewhere in the book (I can't find it, at the time of writing and hope I haven't just imagined it!) a description of how vast social structuring directs and marshals our behaviors in ways that we can be unaware of (at a conscious level); like (perhaps?) the Jungian collective unconscious and archetypes that inhabit it (or Bourdieu's habitus?). I have seen this description (or something like it) in other work, too. I like it because I think its true, but it also gets us past a temptation to place 'blame' on particular actors and moves us toward deeper understanding of social life - (and it allows for the unconscious!) I'm always reminded of Rupert Sheldrake's notion of Morphic Fields and the idea of 'genetic assimilation' in terms of chreodes (see The Presence of The Past p.207) - these are 'canalized pathways of development' that don't direct or energise outcomes, but instead create thresholds and which in turn give rise to a sort of structural stability. (In this way, a crisis would perhaps be equivalent to a genetic mutation that crosses a threshold?). 

[ So much of this is really about the idea of Platonic forms.]

To return to Freud and Tauber's critique momentarily... Tauber claims that entire project of psychoanalysis depends, in the first instance, upon Freud's metaphysical commitment to the unconscious. I think this is uncontroversial. However, I would like to see the unconscious explored more explicitly in works of Social and Critical Theory. A firm commitment to the unconscious opens up a very important space. In Tauber's words... it requires us to look for 'reasons' rather than 'causes'. In other words, supposing the unconscious facilitates a mode of thinking where the logical progression of a coherent argument is an insufficient (and potentially even a 'false positive') determinate of truth. The language of the body (as Norman O Brown referred to it) is not one of number, word or the rational. It's one of affect, feeling and emotion. 

I think a failure to argue explicitly for the existence of the unconscious costs Social and Critical Theory in terms of their effectiveness. The techno-scientific econo-realists who currently rule the social enactment of our conception of money and help structure the financial networks around it, don't need the unconscious. Some of them disavow it - either denying its existence or denying that it can be accessed or understood in any meaningful way. Life is just so much easier for those techno-scientific econo-realists if everything can be framed within equations and captured as data. And yet at the same time the narratives that arise from their data and which are are required to 'make sense' of their 'insights' - and which in turn feedback into their data choices, models and equations - are supposed to describe deep processes that concern an idea of 'collective intentionality'* - 'shared intentional states such as beliefs, desires, and intentions'  (Searle, 1995 p.23). In other words, while it may be disavowed within the techno-scientific econo-realist worldview, the world's 'financial unconscious' is the very thing they are trying to model and understand.

(* this notion of collective intentionality is very important [even though IMO it's very wrong-headed] because it underscores Ingham's view of how the Unit of Account function of money is established. Which ever way you cut them, State Theories of money (well, ALL decent theories of money) require some explanatory mechanism for general adoption of unit of account. Collective intentionality really doesn't work for me.)

The existence (or otherwise) of the unconscious is a weak point for any techno-scientific econo-realist explanation of money, finance and economy and I think Social and Critical Theory would do well expose it. That the general public believe in the unconscious is the great success story of psychoanalysis. This advantage should be pressed home when critiquing 'hard science' perspectives on economy, society and money.
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Sorry... I meant to talk there about Amin's great writing on 'narrative' and also about the importance of 'poetry' or poetics. I do just want to mention this quote which I loved:

"...the work of rhetoric is not simply to persuade but rather to conjure up a persuasive reality."

Amin attributes it genesis to Giambattista Vico. Vico figured quite extensively in Joshua Ramey's work and along with James Joyce he is the subject of Norman O Brown's Closing Time where Brown opens with idea of Vico's New Science and Joyce's Finnegans Wake getting 'on top of each other and becoming sexual'. God, I love Nobby! 
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I did a podcast for the BlockChain Socialist a couple of weeks back and in thinking about the subjects we'd discuss I got a little hooked into an inconsistency in the conceptualization of money and how that is worked up within (or sits within) wider notions of economy and society (and moral economy). I guess it relates to the inconsistencies I'm talking about in the previous sections; so many folks seem to determined to write-out the magic, the mystical, and the unconscious within their conceptualization of money but nevertheless still wish to engage in mystical acts of Divination, Financial Forecasting and Techno-Futurism or are determined to make moral proclamations which make no sense within the terms in which they operate. Let me try to explain....
For most, money exists as a set of functions mediating value and price. Money is 'really nothing'; or money is an unreal 'thing'. Over millennia money's materiality has inhered within humankind's experience of it as a phenomena. But many who claim prescience and wisdom with regard to money argue that it's essence is immaterial and we're barreling toward a future which is inevitably cashless.

They tell us that money is what money does. Nothing more. The near future will reveal that 'true dematerialized essence' to all; the veil of materiality will be lifted and the lie of money's groundedness in the real will be exposed.

I've always taken issue with the notion that money's not 'real'. I mean, however you define 'real', every object around you right now that you would count 'as real', sits in a direct relation to money. A decade or so ago I described money as 'an aspect of reality'. But that wasn't enough. I've upgraded it now to 'an aspect of being'. For me, money is 'prima materia'.

If you take on board our 'lived experience' of money, I can't see how its possible for anyone to conceptualize it as 'unreal'. Even if you can't quite stomach my commitment to money as real in itself, as deeply and fundamentally entwined with what it is to be, then surely we all have to accept that money is - at the very leasta first order product of reality.

Martijn Konings explores a closely related idea in 'The Paradox of Economism' when talking about money as both fact and fiction in Noam Yuran's What Money Wants:

"...we end up with a rich psychoanalytical perspective on how money works as both fiction and fact. Even though money is merely an “object […] constituted by desire”, at the same time “from the financial point of view things are epiphenomena of money” (Yuran, 2014: 37) 

Or, put yet still another way... Dave Birch's livelihood depends on money. He writes about it, thinks about it, considers the technologies built upon it. And yet his definition of money is as a 'generalized means of exchange' (Identity is The New Money p.6). Effectively for Dave money is a 'payments technology' - a set of procedures and processes around the exchange of data. It ain't real. And yet paradoxically it can still be wasted - cash machines can be a 'waste of money'. 

Now whilst it's acceptable and reasonable to point up that a difference exists between materiality and reality - that just because money has taken material form doesn't mean it is fundamentally 'real' - it is wrong to dismiss money's connection to the real simply because of the way its been (and continues to be) conceptualized by economists and the techno-scientific mode of thinking generally. To disregard money's material form as archaic and inconsequential is to deny the consequences of its material presence in the history of humankind. [ See Joachim Kalka's brilliant essay 'Money as We Knew It'. ]

I wonder if all this is a reaction against the paradox that resides in money? A paradox that is the cause of so much political strife and even, maybe, of politics, itself? The paradox is simply that money is simultaneously both finite and infinite. And the logical dis-junctions this throws off are the base materials of politico-economic discourse; Infinite money can be spent and invested freely, whereas finite money demands asceticism and austerity. 

[ I've written about this theme in my Ramble on Joshua Ramey's book 'The Politics of Divination' and in a piece 'Money is a Paradox, not a Lie' on Ben Bernanke's statement that money (for government spending) is created on a balance sheet (rather than through taxes) ]

Although irresolvable, the paradox is illuminating. The idea of 'waste' is the light that emanates from it and that's what hit me when I read Dave's tweet. 

When money is conceptualized as finite and real, 'wasting' money is easily comprehended as 'sin'. It's finiteness, and therefore its direct connection to 'real' resources, are what forms the social and moral context within which money operates. This expands upward and outward to give justification to the politics of austerity. Dave Birch's tweet above captures (what I perceive as) the misplaced, perverse puritanism of the techno-scientific view - 'waste' is a sin because it signals 'inefficiency'. Inefficiency stands in opposition to Capitalism, and must be eliminated! The hard justification for this puritanism is that all excess money can and should be used to make more money. The softer justification is that 'the value and claim on resources that the money represents, can and should be put to best use in order to help those worse off or whatever. 

[ Writing this I'm immediately reminded of the Gay Byrne/Bill Drummond interview about loaves of bread, apples and burning of a million quid. ]

At the same time as making 'efficiency' sacred and declaring 'waste' a sin, the techno-scientific mindset demands that we regard money as nothing more than a set of functions. It's 'just' a payments technology. It's just (as Mervyn King once said) 'bits of paper, really'. For the techno-scientific view money isn't 'real' in any meaningful sense. Its relation to the material resources of the world is mediated through financial institutions, the state, technology etc etc. Money is just numbers, really. 

And its here that the logical dis-junction is exposed. How can something that is fundamentally and essentially 'infinite' and not 'real' be - in any meaningful sense - wasted? How does a techno-scientific view of money facilitate a moral context where a 'waste' of money is regarded as morally reprehensible? It makes no sense. 

[ By the way, I'm not having a go at Dave Birch here. He was just making a quick comment rather than giving exposition to his metaphysical or philosophical commitments in respect of money. But his comment does - for me - reveal a moral attitude combined with logical contradiction that I witness repeatedly, as a money burner. I'm made acutely aware of the morality of 'wasting money' by my critics - so its something I think about quite deeply. ]

So the logically consistent positions as far as I can see would be:

a) IF money is infinite THEN 'wasting money' is impossible. 
b) IF money is finite THEN 'wasting money' is possible. 

As a fun little exercise I ran a poll on twitter. Small sample but 81.3% said money was infinite. If my respondents are logically consistent they should support the abandonment austerity programs and never again talk of 'wasting money'. 
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Sex, language and the Absolute. 

I couldn't help myself from reading a bit about the Zizek book I mentioned in parenthesis in an earlier section. I said I'd only read snippets so couldn't comment. But now (in the course of writing this ramble) I've read not only snippets, but also blurb and some comments so I'm going to jump in with both feet!

The title is Sex and The Failed Absolute. Zizek argues (apparently) that “…the description of the intense sexual act as the experience of the highest and most intense unity of Being is simply wrong.” Sex is the enabling path to the Absolute but it ultimately fails in its reach and this failure the key to identity.

Those paying close attention will know (that after Simmel) I regard the Unit of Account function of money as arising from a 'ratio of Absolutes' (Again see my Barefoot in Bollingen piece for my fullest explanation of this to date or just check out Simmel The Philosophy of Money Chapter 2 - The Value of Money as a Substance). The argument is that there can be no objective relative measure of Absolutes. If something is an Absolute it is, by its very nature, beyond comparison (objectively, speaking). However, Absolutes do sit in a form of relation through the subject that perceives them. Our minds conceive of for example, God and Nature, and so their relation is 'measured', so to speak, through us. Simmel proposed that the Unit of Account function arose through an 'unconscious equivalence' between the total amount of goods and the total amount of money. (This chimes somewhat with Benjamin's phrase about Money and Time.)

For Zizek it's sex, and for Simmel it's money, that sit in direct and intimate relation with the Absolute. And for us now, in this ramble, we could talk about Desire being in direct and intimate relation with the Absolute and it would encompass both sex and money. 

The 'warning' with which George Bataille opens the second volume of his The Accursed Share trilogy - The History of Eroticism states:

But I needed to begin by saying that my purpose, to talk about eroticism, could no more be isolated from the reflection of the universe in the mind than the later could be isolated from eroticism; but this implies in the first place that reflection, thought, under these conditions, must be commensurate with its object, and not that my object, eroticism, be commensurate with the traditional thought that established contempt for that object.

[ As it happens Bataille's book on Eroticism is my least favourite of the trilogy. I knew I was going to  have an issue with it when he drew a marked and an ultimately unhelpful distinction between the erotic and the sexual. Sex is the trickiest of all subjects to write about... even if you're a genius like Bataille. ]

The claim that emerged from both mine and Sally's experience of our seven year Naturalsex project (see TMBM or the Bollingen piece) is that 'You can't talk about sex without being sexual'. Or, equally you could say 'To talk about sex, is to have sex.' (There is something Foucaultian about this - the idea that its the sexual that creates the sex).

And even though here we're talking about Desire, rather than sex per se, we should still take these warnings seriously. 

In fact, a thought has been in my mind lately:

'Words are a form of repression and language is sex, sublimated.'

I'm not sure how useful how such an aphorism is (or if this does indeed count as an aphorism) and I'm aware that there is a body of academic work on language, very much larger than that on money. Unfortunately, only having one lifetime, means that in all likelihood, I will remain unfamiliar with it. What very limited knowledge I do possess comes from where studies of linguistics and money intersect. And from those I do know that I find linguistic theories which seek to define some sort of underlying structure (of mental and social life) unsatisfactory. 

In Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value David Graeber specifically critiques Saussare for comparing words to money and exchange:

"I mean, really: what does it mean to say that when you use a word, you are 'exchanging' it for a concept? In what way does this resemble paying a shopkeeper for a loaf of bread? Most of all, what sort of 'comparison' are we really talking about here? After all, when one observes that a loaf of bread costs five francs, and a steak-frites costs twenty, one is not simply observing that the bread and the steak-frites are different. One is more likely to be emphasizing the fact that one is worth more. This is why we can say an element of evaluation is involved. This is also precisely what makes money unique - that it can indicate exactly how much more one is worth than the other - and precisely what Saussarean models cannot account for." (2001) p.15

[ Also worth pointing out that this paragraph also demands an answer to the question of how the Unit of Account function arises. ]

So then, to talk or write about sex and money is problematic. Impossible even. We have earlier seen the difficulties we face in maintaining a moral logic that remains consistent to and coherent with our conception of money. And then combined with that, sex-talk - however, carefully one wraps it up in clinical phrases and academic language - is always bubbling over with subjectivity. And then add further to that the troubles with any discourse on the Absolute - that our metaphysical commitments are  intimate to us. We may be too shy to share them fully and even though they are properly described as 'commitments' our faith in them is always in flux. 

The sub-title to this mini-section then - Sex, language and the Absolute - is, for me, a (near) impossible provocation. There is nothing I can say. 

Instead, I would encourage you to consider the image of Melusine at the start of this piece. (She is cut into the locking mechanism cover-plate of a money chest). And compare it with the stunning photograph below from taken at the recent Portland protests.



[ If I had words they'd talk about this idea of 'empty negative desire', and the provocation of, and desire for, DESIRE itself, about the empty slot of a piggy-bank, and even about the ontology of holes.  But I don't have words. I've never had words that have ever managed to capture and or properly relay any meaning to the relation between sex and money - or at least none that have satisfied me. Indeed, re-reading what I've attempted occasionally to write on the subject has often caused me discomfort and led to abandonment of the piece. ] 

I should recount my story of Melusine for the uninitiated. It appears in TMBM but it's an ongoing adventure. 

The image of Melusine (The Twin-Tailed Mermaid) above - as carved into the cover-plate of a money chest - appeared on the cover of the catalog for the Museum Des Geldes art exhibition in 1978. I wondered why the image had been chosen, so I wrote to one of the curators Horst Kurnitizy. Horst was considering the libidinal aspect of economy back in 1974 and has also written on many of the themes that I'm exploring here (sadly not much of his work has yet been translated from his native German to English). He explained that he thought Melusine was a little like Medusa in that she expresses the potent power of female sexuality and that, used in the money chest, this was a 'warning' to protect what was within. Horst couldn't remember much about the 'real' chest itself, but after some research I managed to track it down to the German National Museum and get some pictures taken (that's where the lead image is from). 

I then of course noticed that Melusine appeared on every High Street (albeit as 'sanitized' motif) in the form of the Starbucks Mermaid. And basically she then started popping up everywhere for me - abundant synchronicity. The strongest of these was when I visited the Bank of England Museum. In a darkened display cabinet, underneath the original founding charter was a money chest. Laying across it were a few surviving tally sticks that weren't burned in the fire that engulfed the old Houses of Parliament (it was the burning of tally sticks that caused the fire). All I can say is that I saw Melusine in that chest at the Bank of England museum. In my correspondence with the Museum they confirmed it's one of the oldest objects they hold and - although its showing as having been at the bank since the beginning - they have no real idea about its history. I managed to get them to send me some pictures. You can decide if you think it's Melusine (I would add that the photo doesn't show the 'scale' markings too well and its possible it's pornographic nature might have been 'tempered' somewhat over the past 300 or 400 years. 
Bank of England Money Chest photograph by Bank of England Museum

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A friend once said to me that 'sex was definitely not a ritual?' She gave it a little upward inflection as she said it which is why I put the question mark. She was considering what was meant by 'ritual', applying that to sex and then questioning her declaration as she made it. 

She certainly made me think. (My response was "er, well, I er, yes, I think, no, maybe....")

In one important sense sex is like ritual. Both actions can be conceived of as a direct, essentially non-linguistic, attempt at communion or an actualization of 'union' with the Divine (or Absolute, or God, or whatever way you refer to 'that which calls us'). 

[ An attempt bound to failure if you're poor old Zizek! ]

However, inevitably - in practice - rituals seem to take on the form of a prescribed and ordered set of actions. 

And I think this was what she was getting at; that there is a sense that 'good sex', at least, requires a spontaneity and uniqueness which we won't find in ritual. Both ritual and sex may share a pattern of repeated actions but within ritual these actions are (eventually) 'consciously' prescribed, whereas in sex they tend to be 'unconsciously' acted out. 

I was reticent to accept this as a distinction between sex and ritual back when having the conversation. I still am now, if I'm honest. For example, take that last statement: 'in sex patterns of repeated actions tend to be 'unconsciously' acted out'. Immediately on writing, I remembered how much fun it is to consciously act out (and perhaps even contemporaneously narrate!) the patterns of repeated actions that comprise sex. Even if talking about sex wasn't already impossible then perversion permanently undermines any and all generalized statements about it.  

I wonder if it may simply be that Sex is the originating form, not only of exchange, but also of Ritual?

[ These are lessons I have taken into Church of Burn where I've tried to allow a ritual structure to 'evolve' from the action of burning money, rather than impose one according to a 'ritual logic'. Keeping alive the possibility of spontaneity and immediacy is something I've very much learned from my dear friends who've given me so much invaluable help in creating the events. And at the 2019 event we included for the first time a Sex Magic Ritual. It was the MOST amazing thing ever. And in witnessing it the audience were transported to a more intimate realm.... perfect for the sacrifice that followed it. We have pictures but you're gonna have to buy the Burning Issue Supplement to see them. Coming soon. ]

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Why does psychoanalysis itself, alongside those who sail in its winds, still have a problem with the death drive? 

Postulating twin, primordial, oppositional dynamic energies as constitutive of mental and social life is hardly a new idea. And yet many thinkers, seduced by logic, reason that the death drive is inimical to our 'survival' instinct. The death drive doesn't work for an approach based in evolutionary psychology which puts brain over mind and in doing so, often without realizing it, metaphysically commits to an ideology that thought was born from matter. 

[ Cue my favourite Mark Shell quote: Those discourse are ideological that argue or assume that matter is ontologically prior to thought. ]

There is little point in arguing with such wrong-headedness. Conversion to a righteous path requires actions over words. It requires Sacrifice!

20 years ago, I made quite a strong metaphysical commitment to Freud's Life and Death Instincts/Drives. I wouldn't say it's weakened since then but my other metaphysical commitments have strengthened even more. So that my 'belief' in l-force and d-force - as I then termed them - has become subsumed within the conception of 'ambivalence'. In a sense, it doesn't really matter what the primordial twin drives are called, it doesn't matter how we think they are constituted, because our experience of them is always mediated. It's not possible to capture and bottle pure 'death drive' or pure 'life force' - but it is possible to suppose that each psycho-sexual event contains an opposition. Postulating twin dynamics may not represent the reality of the interplay of - what may be - multi-various forces, but it does create a map of the territory that we can read. 

In a sense Freud's Life and Death Instincts are a key narrative element in psychoanalysis that help cut through and marshal the disparate elements into a form of coherence - they are akin to Amin's Black Mirror

Lets face it, we all love eros, libido, the Life Instinct, we don't need to be persuaded of its existence nor do we rail against its direction of our lives. But the Death Instinct? Well, one of the things I found seductive about that was when Freud suggested that it represented an urge to return to the inorganic state from which life emerged. This seemed to me to capture something profound - a kind of reversing of time, or eternal return. However, after having spent a long while trying and failing to imagine and attribute different qualities to each of the two drives and model their interactions( within a Freudian id-ego-superego topology of mind) I'm now very reticent think about them in a reductive or functional way.

I guess the appropriate metaphor is to say that the death and life instincts are two sides of the same coin. And that coin is ambivalence. I think the concept of ambivalence is itself is the best bet we have to understand ourselves, our society and our economy. It is natural to seek some essential, primordial, originating conflict that constitutes it - but we must remain cognizant of how that desire to seek stems from ambivalence, itself. 

Ultimately, mental, social and economic life are created by a dynamic process unfolding as actions in the material world. The pure instinct, drives, or energy as we imagine them to be in their ideal form are an interesting academic abstraction but they are only ever directly accessible to us in a diluted and mediated form.

'At the heart of creation stands not purity, but purification' (Walter Benjamin). 
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"The fusion Bataille theorized and sought was not aimed toward eternity, homogeneity, and power—the power that makes things of others—but rather to a fleeting experience of union, a dissolution expressed and experienced in the ecstatic embrace of time, and predicated on, sparked by, exposure to alterity. Community thus experienced is a desired abandonment unto time, an operation that counters that “tenacious concern with the lastingness” of our enclosed, individual selves. It is the assent to life in the form of a risk undertaken in passion [ I love this line! - Jon emphasis my own ]. Never an imposition of power, community is a union without unity, without transcendence into an eternalized totality, sameness, or oneness.This is the sacrificial community that Bataille confers to us—a community in which all are, and want to be, victims with no executioner except the ecstasy that awaits at the end of eternity."

Jeremy Biles The End of Eternity:Georges Bataille’s Sacrificial Community (link)


Simmel contrasts the ‘perfect society’ with the ‘perfect society’. The former contains what he calls a conceptual perfection, whereby each member of a society has a unique place within it. The latter consists of ethical perfection, wherein everyone is treated the same (Simmel, 2009: 51). To each form of perfection corresponds a form of equality: the ‘perfect society’ favours individualism, the ‘perfect society’ favours socialism.

Nigel Dodd Nietzsche’s Money (2012) (link)

I always have trouble bringing these rambles to an end. Well. Maybe not an end - after all, all that is required for that is to stop writing - but I have trouble bringing them to some sort of conclusion, at least. 

I even went to the bother of defining this ramble as an 'Off-Piste' one, when I first started writing it, and so gave myself extra latitude to just jump off a cliff whenever I like. Nevertheless, I still feel the pressure of an anticipated climax. The pull of narrative seems stronger when we try to escape it - so much so that I had to go back and remove my 'Off-Piste' disclaimer.

Fortunately, Phil Ford and JF Martel have come to the rescue this time. Phil and JF host the Weird Studies Podcast - I really can't recommend it highly enough (esp the episodes on McLuhan, Diviner's Time, and Beauty - although there are so many great sessions). They have kept me sane - or perhaps, more accurately stopped me going completely insane - during Covid-19.

The title of their latest offering Love, Death and the Dream Life sounds like it could be about what I've been talking about in this ramble. It's not. Not really. Except that the idea (from Norman Mailer) of the Dream Life seemed to talk about not the subjects I've been discussing - not money, currency, sex, Life and Death Instincts, psychoanalysis, etc - but rather the thing as a whole; the idea of writing a 'ramble' rather than an essay.

Near the end of the podcast (at about 50 mins) JF says (roughly speaking):

(Talking about Phil's idea of 'rifts' in artforms) "You're finding these moments that stick out. You're seeing new potential. It's like a metaphor that doesn't quite work and so you take it out and a whole other world opens from it. It opens onto these depths that would have been unfathomed if the original surface had been too smooth. You need these little contradictions, these moments of friction, these fissures. They invite you into the medium. They invite you to participate." 

And therein lies my hope for these rambles. 

They are in some sense just as much of a pain in the arse (if not more so) than writing an essay. But hopefully they also loosen the grip of intent. (As JF goes onto suggest) it doesn't really matter what my intent was - whether or not I manage to explain precisely an idea of say, my conceptual distinction between money and currency and how that relates to desire and how in turn these relate to time and consciousness - what matters is what is created. And of course, your reaction to it. 

One of the reasons rambles are a pain in the arse to write is because when I re-read them in the course of writing them I disagree with myself. I could pretend that I hone them until they conform to a version of the 'truth' that I'm prepared to stand by. But actually what happens is that my life doesn't stop and I eventually reach the point where I just have to say 'fuck it' > Publish.

That time is now. 

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Huge thanks to Amin for writing a marvelous and inspiring book.

And my deepest thanks to the academic 'money' community - if I can refer to you that way. I can't express how important and rewarding it is to me to attend the Finance and Society Conference and Critical Finance Conferences (and the other money/art conferences like #ArtMoneyCrisis, MoneyLab, Furtherfield, Consensus etc) and how profoundly grateful I am to have the opportunity of engaging with both the academic and artistic communities. 

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Little bit of synchro-magic as an afterword. 

I mentioned that 111 was a number of magical significance for me.

As the various writings I consider pop into my head, a pile of books appears on my desk. And a lot of the time it takes to write a ramble is actually spent reading, or re-reading, them. I hadn't opened Loaded Subjects for a while. So I spent some time on it. I promise you, I didn't head straight to page 111... in fact, I first noticed the title of the chapter 'What a Waste of Money' (likely read it before, but can't remember it) because it relates to what I was saying about Dave Birch and the 'reality' of money. I then noticed that about 1/3 way down there was mention of £111 million pounds (What A Waste of Money for Damien Hirst "Art") - and then of course I noticed it was on page 111. A double 111!

One magical 'rule' I've come to respect more and more is to never ignore a synchronicity even if its meaning isn't immediately apparent to you. It might be the 'rough' bit, in the 'smooth' surface, that opens up the depths for someone else. 



After afterward...

The weird studies podcast ends up talking about Finnegans Wake - as an example of an artform that exposes an 'undergirding' of history, a dream life, or what's really going on in the background. Robert Anton Wilson is the reason for my connection to the number 111. He was also a massive Finnegans Wake fan. He died on 11th January. So that's 11/1.  Now turn to page 111 in the Faber edition of Finnegans Wake: "peraw raw raw puteters out of Now Sealand in spignt of the purplepatch of the massacre, a dual a duel to die to day...."

Spooky, eh?

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- ENDS -