Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Banking as Conceptual Art

From the life-imitating-art department

The BBC is currently running a dramatization of Little Dorrit, which contains perhaps the most vile portrayal in literature of a corrupt and corrupting banker: Mr Merdle. News arrives from America of an outrageous fraud by a modern Mr Merdle: one Bernard Madoff who (as it now turns out) had been running his hedge fund as some kind of Ponzi scheme [BBC News, 16 December 2008].

Emperor's new clothes

Born into a wealthy Japanese banking family, Yoko Ono moved to New York to become a conceptual artist, with the help of LeMonte Young and John Cage. In one of her best-known early performances, she sat on a stage while members of the audience cut away pieces of her clothing until she was naked. This can be seen as a prophetic metaphor for the current banking crisis.

Use your illusions

In an article for the London Review of Books (November 2008), Slavoj Žižek compares the perceived urgency of the banking crisis with the talk-and-no-trousers of our dear leaders in the face of other crises (saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children, . . .)

"The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?"

When Žižek talks about the Real, he presumably uses this term in the Lacanian sense. [See Slavoj Žižek Key Ideas. For further comment see Jodi Dean. and Long Sunday.]

Spending all that money as a symbolic act, in order to prop up some non-existent wealth? I am sure Lacan says something somewhere about the ritual destruction of assets. Is that what they call a potlatch?

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