“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, March 24, 2006

the two bit underground man

As a small timer, a two-bit underground man, LI has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the rich – envy of all that spread. At the same time, however, there is always the eternal mystery of wealth. Not the mystery of how it is accrued – the mystery of why. A mystery best expressed in the immortal dialogue between J. Gittes and Noah Cross in Chinatown:

“Cross: That's what I am doing. If the bond issue passes Tuesday, there'll be eight million dollars to build an aqueduct and reservoir. I'm doing it.
Gittes: Gonna be a lot of irate citizens when they find out that they're paying for water that they're not gonna get.
Cross: Oh, that's all taken care of. You see, Mr. Gits. Either you bring the water to LA or you bring LA to the water.
Gittes: How you gonna do that?
Cross: By incorporating the valley into the city. Simple as that.
Gittes: How much are you worth?
Cross: I've no idea. How much do you want?
Gittes: I just want to know what you're worth. Over ten million?
Cross: Oh my, yes!
Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can't already afford?
Cross: The future, Mr. Gits - the future! Now where's the girl. I want the only daughter I've got left. As you found out, Evelyn was lost to me a long time ago.
Gittes: Who do you blame for that - her?
Cross: I don't blame myself. You see, Mr. Gits. Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time, the right place, they're capable of anything.”

This rather neatly ties together two of the great mysteries of society: the incest prohibition (poor nervous Evelyn) and the desire of certain people to endlessly, endlessly acquire wealth. But let’s not go to Freud just yet. I’ve been, in fact, going to Georg Simmel. The translating job I have has forced me to read a bit of Simmel’s Philosophy of Money. Simmel’s complete works are up on the Net, for those who have the German to read it. For pauvre moi, always a week away from having not a pot to piss in, I’ve been extremely interested in Simmel’s notion of a the connection between money and the its degree of separation from labor. The series of ends, as he calls it, that money has to traverse has an unpredictable impact on money. Anybody who has hung around the rich puzzles over how certain petty expenditures can discombobulate them at the same time that large, gaudy, unbelievable expenditures are so very calmly made that there is a greatness in them. It is the latter quality that F. Scott Fitz was talking about.

So here is a bit from Simmel:

“We can’t deny, on a large enough scale … that there is a proportion between the tempo of earnings and that of expenditure.
Thus, nobody expends money more easily and with less prudence than the gambler, the goldminer and the demi-monde; and the ruinous financial policy of the Spanish since Carlos V can be pinned to the relative lack of work with which America’s noble metal fell to the lot of the Spanish.

This as it comes, so it goes (»wie gewonnen, so zerronnen«) refers not only to the objective structure of the economy, that tends to posit the security of the earned only as a price of a certain solidity of the earning: the professions of particularly easy and quick earning already contains in their objective circumstances the little canals, through which the earned has the tendency and chance to once again drain away.”

Now, for an economist, consumption is just consumption and there is no more mystery in it than the Eucharist holds for a Unitarian. But for LI, always wondering where the fuck my pittance goes to, those little canals are like fate, or the unconscious: the objectified unconscious of being broke. And yet, at a certain point, what can you do with that extra money? The objective circumstances of the rich, to correct F. Scott, are different. LI will return in another post to Simmel’s explanation of that.


New York Pervert said...

Roger-yes, they're different, which also explains why get rich; it alleviates boredom to some degree by changing the focus to getting extremely upset if some bauble is broken or your schedule is interrupted slightly. Also, if you come to a fork in the road with a rich person in it, take it--you'll get rich yourself, better for you.

You may like 'Ask the Dust' too. I'm sure you've read the Fante novel, and this is a good film translation. the novel is slight, no matter what all the brouhaha over Fante at the moment, so the movie is slighter than 'Chinatown' by a long shot; but you've got Towne scripting and directing, so the old Bunker Hill comes to life. Colin Farrell is even good in the part, although either one of the 'Brokeback' guys would have been a little more intense. I've looked at other Fante, and the others were unreadable.

roger said...


I didn't know they'd filmed that! Thanks for the tip. Fante is more interesting to me in terms of his bio, I admit, than his work, but I think I've only read Ask the Dust.