Tom McCarthy (pictured) and Simon Critchley have published the International Necronautical Society‘s “Interim Report on Recessional Aesthetics” in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine. Here’s a short extract:
There is an anti-monetary tradition in philosophy that extends from Aristotle’s Politics to Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx, wherein money is the principle of corruption of all social relations (an ideal communist society would be one purged of money altogether). Yet there is an opposing tradition, culminating in the thought of Levinas and Derrida, in which money operates, to quote the Bard again, not simply as “Thou common whore of mankind” but also as “Thou visible god,/That solder’st close impossibilities./And mak’st them kiss”—that is, as both ontological and ethical enabler. The INS celebrates this second view and finds its supreme literary expression in Finnegans Wake, which we would urge the president and his aides to keep by their bedsides at all times. Not only is Joyce’s masterpiece suffused with monetary language (“shelenks,” “haypennies” and “dogmarks,” “sylvan coyne” and “ghinees”); it is also mired in the rhetoric of debt: of pawnshops, unpaid loans, “wallstrait” crashes, and what Joyce, theo-neologizing, calls “deblinity.”
The most debt-ridden of the Wake’s characters is Shem, who “lives off loans.” Shem is both an artist and a forger. Perusing other writers’ work, he decides
to study with stolen fruit how cutely to copy all their various styles of signature so as one day to utter an epical forged cheque on the public for his own private profit
—the “cheque” in question being the text itself, the “profit” that ensues being self-evident (Joyce’s work, the most celebrated in the history of prose, not only sells decades after his death but also inspires other writers to write, critics to publish, teachers to teach, and so on). For Joyce, then, the creative act—an act of forgery—translates the negative space of debt into positive, “epic” productivity, returning us to credit. The implication for the president is simple: far from cracking down on counterfeit currency, he should encourage its circulation, since it gives the economy the creative fillip it so badly needs.
First posted: Saturday, May 30th, 2009.