restricted access Money I
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57 Money I What is money? Many things. It is, of course, the coins and notes rattling in our pockets, as well as the piles of real and virtual stuff lying in banks, or the smart money that tends towards disappearance and increasing immateriality, being shuffled electronically along the vectors of the financial networks. This might serve as an empirical definition, but what is the logic of the concept of money? The core of money is trust and promise, ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …’ on the British Pound, the ‘In God we trust’ of the US Dollar, the BCE-ECB-EZB-EKT-EKP of the European Central Bank that runs like a Franco-Anglo-GermanoGreco -Finno-Joycean cipher across the top of every Euro note. In other words, the legitimacy of money is based on a sovereign act, or a sovereign guarantee that the money is good, that it is not counterfeit. 58 Money has a promissory structure, with an entirely self-referential logic: the money promises that the money is good; the acceptance of the promise is the acceptance of a specific monetary ethos, a specific, yet often flexible monetary geography. This ethos, this circular ‘money promising that the money is good’ is underwritten by sovereign power as its transcendent guarantee. It is essential that we believe in this power, that the sovereign power of the bank inspires belief, that the ‘Fed’ has ‘cred’ as it were. Credit can only operate on the basis of credence and credibility, of an act of fidelity and faith, of con-fid-ence. The transcendent core of money is an act of faith, of belief. One can even speak of a sort of monetary civil religion or patriotism, which is particularly evident in attitudes in the US to the Dollar, particularly to the sheer materiality of the bill, and in the UK’s opposition to the Euro and to the strange cultural need for money marked with the Queen’s head. In a deep sense, money is not. It exists empirically, but it is not essentially there at all. All money is what the French call escroquerie, swindling, it is a virtual or at best conceptual object. It is, in the strictest Platonic definitional sense, a simulacrum, something that materializes an absence, an image for something 59 that doesn’t exist. Money is delusionary and faith in money is a kind of collective psychosis. In the godless wasteland of global capitalism, money is our only metaphysics, the only transcendent substance in which we truly must have faith. It is this faith that we celebrate, we venerate, in commodity fetishism. Adorno makes the point powerfully, ‘Marx defines the fetish-character of the commodity as the veneration of the thing made by oneself which, as exchange value, simultaneously alienates itself from producer to consumer …. This is the real secret of success. It is the mere reflection of what one pays in the market for the product. The consumer is really worshipping the money that he himself has paid for the ticket to the Toscanini concert. He has literally ‘made’ the success which he reifies and accepts as an objective criterion, without recognising himself in it. But he has not ‘made’ it by liking the concert, but rather by buying the ticket.’ It is a commonplace misunderstanding of capitalism to declare that its materialism consists in a voracious desire for things. It is rather that we love the money that enables us to buy those things for it reaffirms 60 our faith and restores the only metaphysical basis for our trust in the world. For us, here and now, money has no outside, there is no pure form of economy, no barter system, somehow unsullied by money’s circulation. You are always already locked into a monetary ethos, part of a contour line upon a financial cartography. There is only the sully of money. All money is dirty. From a Freudian perspective, money is deeply anal, it is shit rather than bread, you can use it to buy shit, and a general obsession with money is perhaps why people talk so much shit. For the infant, the little Freudian child, shit is money, which is why it is so proud of its soft, smelly currency. In the protoLockean world of anal-sadism, shit is the first form of property ownership; the labour theory of value begins in your diapers. Let’s not forget, Freud is a kind of anti-Midas...