Skip to main content


Showing posts from January 30, 2011

on markets and choicemaking

I'm rerunning this post, with some changes, from 2005. I want to pick up Heilbroner's critique of the idea of choice by reviewing the controversy between the young Macaulay and James Mill concerning utilitarianism, which, on the surface, pitted Macaulay's conservatism against Mill's radicalism. The subject of Macaulay and utilitarianism is a confused one, as the older Macaulay used Bentham as a template for undertaking the production, ex nihilo, of a code of laws for the British Raj. A topic around which swirls much scholarly conflict. But on to this post. I stayed for a couple days in Malinalco in 2004 as the guest of a friend of my friend, M. One day, M. wanted to get some tomatoes and some underpants for her little boy. We walked around the cobbled streets. It was late afternoon. M. wanted to complete our task before the sun went down, because after dark, the pedestrian in Malinalco is prone to attack from the packs of dogs that suddenly seem to materialize out of t

treasure hunting - the archaic economy of tomorrow!

Remark, here, on the double aspect of this transaction, at once modern and archaic. The modern aspect is found in the whole question of value: Pons and his fellow experts in bricabracology are commodifying, instead of monumentalizing, the past. About this aspect, I want to say a lot in this essay. I’m more interested, here, in the archaic aspect – that “merchandise of chance” - implicit in the very activity of treasure seeking in what the economists would call a secondary market. What is premodern here – and what, in fact, was never liquidated in modernity – is a way of thinking about treasure, about gifts, about bargaining, and about value. I know about treasure from childhood, and from some vague memories of my grandmother, who was, during part of her life at least, very much the antique collector. In fact, one of my strongest childhood memories is reading in a rattan chair from the Philippines that erected itself, like a queen in shabby exile, on her back porch, during hot summer da

the modern and the archaic in a sale

Continuing the post I put up yesterday. Get used to this, scattered and few readers of LI! … Sylvaine Pons, the ‘poor cousin’ in Balzac’s Cousin Pons, is first seen as an incredibly ugly, elderly man hurrying one afternoon through the streets of Paris, holding a package that evidently contains something fragile. He is dressed in the style of the 1810s and 20s, in the Paris of the 1840s – a fact that leads Balzac to treat him, and in fact the whole Parisian scene, as something ‘archaeologic’. It is a term that resonates throughout the novel, foriIf Pons is a relic, he is also the man with the passion for relics. He is a treasure hunter. His tragedy unfolds within a triangle of wants: 1.) the want of sex, denied to Pons when he was young on account of his ugliness and his lack of prospects; 2. the want of bibelots, objets d’art, in the pursuit of which Pons has become an expert, chasing down the stray treasures of the ancien regime for almost forty years; and 3) the want of the stomach,