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  • Taking the Maggie:Money, Sovereignty, and Masculinity in British Fiction of the Eighties

Money is a difficult subject to talk about. The proliferation of euphemisms that replace it (bread, lucre, nicker, moolah) and the epithets that precede it (dirty, funny, sound) speak to an anxiety about directly naming something that can't quite be known. For sociologists and economists money is a necessarily abstract and indeterminate phenomenon. Economic definitions focus on money's functions, its role as a unit of exchange and as a unit of storage. Yet the inverse relationship that these two functions have to one another (the things that make money efficient as a unit of exchange are the very things that make it inefficient as a unit of storage) makes such a definition barely workable. Sociological definitions are similarly fraught. These accounts frequently focus on money's ability to abstract the social relations of time and space by removing us from the literal demands of barter. For Georg Simmel, most notably, such an abstraction encapsulates the self-destroying movement of modernity itself. According to Simmel money is a form of community but a community unified by the creation of "new distinctions between people. [Money] is an instrument of freedom and a condition of the extension of the individual personality. But at the same time money constitutes a threat to the moral order" (qtd. in Thrift and Leyshon 36) [End Page 845] .

In Britain in the 1980s a new version of this morally Manichean discourse, in which money both creates and destroys freedom, emerged. As the politics of the market usurped the politics of consensus, the liberating power of money was glorified as never before. The glamour of making, spending, and investing money was viscerally and unabashedly celebrated. As Frederic Jameson noted with astonishment, the "dreariness of business and private property, the dustiness of entrepreneurship, and the well-nigh Dickensian flavor of title and appropriation, coupon-clipping, mergers and investment banking" became "sexy" (Postmodernism 36). This sexual fervor has become one of the period's lasting clichés: this was the "sexygreedy" decade (Churchill 287) and the financial traders who best exploited its possibilities were its "Big Swinging Dicks" (Lewis 52).

Money's censorious counter-discourse unsurprisingly focused on the risks of such liberated behavior. A parody published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1987 conflated the sexually celebratory languages of money with the newly fearful languages of AIDS in articulating a dream about "a deadly new ailment that was transmitted by money. The first people to go down with it were usurers and croupiers and everyone said 'serves them right', PAY PLAGUE: GOD'S PUNISHMENT FOR AVARICE said the headlines; SERVE THE DIRTY BANKERS RIGHT said the graffiti" (Korn 188). In drawing attention to the violent contradiction between the libertarian language of "financial permissiveness and free growth" and the "mediaeval" judgments that accompanied discussions of AIDS, the piece also suggests something of the anxieties about the probity of money that were also becoming apparent during the period (188). Money's most celebrated characteristics—its ability to self-generate, to move rapidly in vast amounts across vast distances, to adapt and mutate to new environments, to shed an identifiable physical form—were being equated with the newly fearsome languages of the viral.

This paper explores the ways in which these contradictory discourses of money predicted a new form of politics. It examines how the triumphalism of money was also constituted as a threat: a literal threat to the integrity and autonomy of the nation state and a symbolic threat to the masculine body that has so often stood in its place. The first half of the paper explores the first half of this equation. It examines the languages given to what economist Susan Strange has dubbed "Casino Capitalism," an unregulated international economy in which money is able to act independently of both the politics of the nation state and the financial verities of the real market (2). From this it draws out two political scenarios for money. These polarized scenarios, in which money is either a prime agent of a deterritorialized sovereign power or a force for good uniquely able to protect us [End...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 845-866
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-08
Open Access
No
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