domenica 17 aprile 2016

4.4. The birth of money-simulacrum - Pt. XXV - Excerpt from the essay «Money, Revolution and Acceleration in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus», Obsolete Capitalism Free Press/Rizosphere, 2016

The birth of money-simulacrum

The approach described in Lectures of the Will to Know (1971) is very distant from the traditional interpretation of money imposed by mainstream economics, from which not even Marx in The Capital nor Foucault in The Order of Things (1966) could evade. On the one hand, mainstream nineteenth-century economists believed that the mature use of money as a means of exchange started with the birth and development of market economics. On the other hand, the Foucault of The Order of Things argues that the analysis of wealth and money theory can be traced back to the classical era, that is, the period between Cervantes’ Don Quixote and de Sade’s Justine. Alternatively, in 1971 Foucault traces a conception of money according to the eighteenth-century perspectiveoftraditionalpoliticaleconomy: “Commercial, international, market origin of money. Mercantilist interpretation of money restricting it from the start to function of representation and exposing it to that “fetishism” which consists in taking the sign for the thing itself, through a sort of primary and radical philosophical error. In fact, this interpretation may account for some early uses of money in Lydia and Phoenicia. But money was not adopted and used in Greece on the basis of this model” (LWK, 135). To support his argument, Foucault examines two opposite examples of the employment of money in Ancient Greece in the seventh century B.C.: Corinth and Athens. What interests us is in which way the two cities and in particular the two political protagonists, respectively Cypselus and Solon, associate their politics to the introduction of a currency. In both cases, the two options would contribute to cause, and anticipate, relevant
historical effects on Western governance vicissitudes. For Corinth, and its tyrant Cypselus, it was a political operation in which “the rich have been forced to make an economic sacrifice [and] money comes to the fore enabling the preservation of power through the intermediary of the tyrant” (LWK, 159); for Athens, and the legislator Solon, the political choice has the opposite course of that of Corinth because “the rich have been forced to a political sacrifice, [and] eumonia enables them to preserve economic privileges” (LWK,159). It is clear that Foucault points at Solon’s way of managing the nomos as the agenda for Western democracies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century: faced with growing social demands, the wealthiest classes chose to allow substantial power distributions in order to preserve their economic privileges. The refined Corinthian economic choices, to which corresponds a brutal tyrannical one, show an excellent example of monetary measures – i.e. the systemic management of the nomisma – which would be adopted throughout the twentieth century and this first period of the twenty-first. In fact, contemporary money intervenes at the core of an institutional operation in which wealth is redistributed to an already wealthy minority without redistributing power to the majority of the social body. This is because the social sharing of power has reached its boundary – the maximum limit of feasibility for economic oligarchies – within which less wealthy classes participate to liberal democracies. Foucault seems to suggest that there has not been a time in Western history from the seventh century in Greece in which our societies have not struggled between the two poles of distribution, the economical and the political one, with money playing the role of functional membrane manageable between the two antipodes. Returning to the Greek cities: money became money-simulacrum and, at the same time, money-metron, i.e. money as measure. The Corinthian invented money as “the instrument of power which is being shifted, and which, through an interplay of new regulations, ensures the preservation of class domination. At this point, money is no longer a symbol which effectuates and is not yet a representative sign. It should be understood as a fixed series of superimposed substitutions” (LWK, 141). Foucault, indeed, looks at Corinthian money as a series of substitutions: religious, economic, political and social. The game of substitutions and superimpositions between money and effectual reality generates fixation and not representation: “whereas the sign represents, the simulacrum replaces one substitution for another. It is its reality as simulacrum that has enabled money to remain for a long time not only an economic instrument but a thing issuing from and returning to power, by a sort of inner intensity or force: a religiously protected object it would be impious, sacrilegious to adulterate” (LWK, 141). But, with even greater depth, Foucault argues that money is “as simulacrum that is sign: getting it to function as sign in a market economy is an avatar of its real history as simulacrum” (LWK, 142). For money, being a regulatory simulacrum is primary, before entering history as a sign and then as fetish. Actually, the sign is only a moment within the duration of money-simulacrum: it is on such fine edge of strategy, power and substitution that Klossowski’s monnaie vivante intervenes, description of that triangle that dominates us: desire, value and simulacrum (Foucault, personal letter sent to Klossowski, autumn 1970). 


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