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Showing posts from November 21, 2010

Simmel on money and the devil

In early modern Europe, money was the determining factor in creating the literary and moral character types of the spendthrift and the miser. Characters are not vocations, but vocations can accord with or be in discord with characters – and evidently the miser was the character type drawn to middleman professions, ones in which the circulation of commodities, or money itself, is privileged at the expense of production. Misers are also associated with age – whereas the spendthrift was associated with, on the one hand, disdain for a profession – a sort of aristocratic pretence – and youth. Simmel’s essay on the avaricious, the spendthrift and the poor takes its bearings from the social meaning of money as a medium of exchange – as a means – which is why he also includes the poor, a group “in its purest and most specific appearance” defined by “the measurements of the money economy.” Simmel comes at the problem from the perspective of philosophical anthropology: man is a purposive –

as astronomers to the stars, are economists to the economy.

We can easily imagine DNA replicating itself without molecular biologists, and the planets revolving around the sun without astronomers. But can we imagine capitalism without economists? On the one hand, we are always identifying proto-forms of capitalism without contemporaries making a formal theory of it. On the other hand, would the kind of capitalism we know, that which appears in the 17th and 18th century in Europe and America, have developed as it did without the appearance, at the same time, of the political economists? And as political economists developed their discourse – as economics began to regard itself as a science – was capitalism merely a parallel development, one that they studied, or was it a development in which they played a role? Marx, in the Grundrisse, working in the shadow of the disputes in Germany about theory and ‘materialism’, wrote: daß die einfachre Kategorie herrschende Verhältnisse eines unentwickeltern Ganzen oder untergeordnete Verhältnisse eines

the miser to the egotist

This morning I am finishing up my query letter on the book. I’m going to blog a lot of my work in progress, naturally. I’ve been thinking, over the last couple weeks, about misers. To this end, I’ve been reading Moliere’s L’avare and watching Louis de Funès version of it – which is quite funny . I was interested in seeing how Funès would make it funny, as, if you go by the play’s critical interpretation, it is a play in which the unfortunate spectator is put in the grip of an unrelievedly horrible monster, the miser Harpagon. Marcel Gutwirth begins his 1961 essay on the play – perhaps the best essay in English – like this: “L'AVARE is probably Moliere's harshest play. Scheming love suits, openly rebellious chil-dren, an unloving father, a sordid theme hardly leave our sympathies any acceptable resting-place. Harpagon, moreover, is a monster who, unlike Tartuffe, is firmly anchored to the center of the stage. No jail, not even an omniscient King can rid the unhappy family of