In keeping with our look at the effect of capitalism over our modern world, see the False Consciousness series for more, we present the work of Georgios Papadopoulos. In his book Notes Toward a Critique of Money Papadopoulos, through prose and artwork from many contributing artists, ‘highlights the functions of money both in the organization of the capitalist symbolic order and in the constitution of subjectivity in the market’.
Here we present an excerpt of the book.
Money, value, and price are equivalent to the trinity of signification, referring to the signifier, the signified and the sign. If we juxtapose the structure of signification to the structure of commodification, we will be able to recognize isomorphisms that can illuminate the structural principle behind the production of meaning in capitalism. The signifier, the form of the sign, whether phonic or graphic, makes the circulation of language possible. Prices are also signs, always expressed by money, the master signifier of economic value, and related to specific commodities; they regulate the production, distribution and consumption of commodities. The process of signification, both through language and through prices, structures meaning in the relationship of signifier to signified and of prices to commodities, constituting signs and ultimately referring to the world. The external relation of reference to the world is nonetheless illusory; the signified stands in, as it were, as ‘meaning’ constructing the external world as an independent reference, while the signifier serves as form, backing up the system that underlies the movement of the signs. Social reality emerges as a symbolic order comprised of signifiers that constitute a chain of equivalences.
Capitalism abstracts symbolic material into signs on the basis of a bifurcation, which puts on one side money and signifier and on the other commodity and signified. Money legitimizes commodities and their supposed value (this is the logic of the system of prices) and the signifier communicates and constructs the signified (this is the structure of signification), but most importantly the logic of the price and the logic of signification adhere to the same structural form. The structural principle of the organization of the symbolic order is contained in the form of the sign and the price; their isomorphism lies in the centre of the production of meaning that feeds the process of social constitution, effectively creating social reality. The fundamental form that they both constitute and share constructs an illusory reference to an ‘outside’ that allows for the alibi of an objective meaning; prices of commodities communicate need, utility and desire, while the sign indicates a reference to an independent external reality. The constitution of social reality does not depend to an external relation of reference to the world; it is rather build upon a structural relation to the socio-symbolic form. The circulation is the ultimate meaning of signifiers and of money.
Neoliberal discourse, succeeds because it addresses the object cause of desire, because therein lies the secret of enjoyment and the mystery of profit. The different representations of this ever-elusive object give rise to different formations of economic discourse. Economic science organizes production culminating in the biopolitics of work, transforming living labor into industrial production and profit. The object cause of desire in industry encapsulates surplus value, the inseparable and therefore unaccounted for input in the productive process. In work, desire is regulated through waste; waste of energy, of time and of creativity, which brings about the alienating effect of work, the feeling of malaise that defines employment and transforms living labor into an abstract commodity. In consumption the economic discourse speaks the language of marketing and advertising that tries to invest commodities with the aura of surplus enjoyment. The object cause of desire has to be attached to products in order to animate our desire for them; a surplus enjoyment that fuels consumerism.
Becoming a subject in capitalism is a process of symbolic castration mediated by the market where the individual assumes a position as a producer as well as a consumer. The choice is supposedly free, the responsibility of the individual is to actualize itself in a setting free from constrains and full of possibilities. The fundamental myth of the dominant economic discourse is a universalized version of the ‘American dream’, which is nothing more than the ideological wrapping of the symbolic mandate that the market has in store for the subject. The subject may feel free to choose, only as long as it makes the right, the rational, economically consistent choice.
Employment is nothing more than the acceptance of the symbolic mandate of the market, the constitution of the subject as worker and its recognition as a worker by the Other. Labor becomes nothing more than a gesture of obedience towards the symbolic order, a sign of integration and acceptance in the hyperreality of non-work and non-production. Work, even creative or affective labor, becomes meaningful only if it is recognized by the symbolic order via the sacrament of wage, only if it becomes employment. Employment turns into a sign, which is demanded and consumed by the subject at the same time as the relation between wage and work is being effectively inverted.
The identity of the consumer and the reciprocity between the imaginary self-perception and the symbolic dimension of consumption are becoming an increasingly important determinant relative to its contribution in the market as a producer. The interplay between the constitution of an imaginary subjectivity and the drive to articulate and satisfy individual desire “constitutes the mechanism by means of which the subject is integrated into a given socio-symbolic field ” (Žižek 1989, 110). Desire looks for its object in commodities and in spectacles, while enjoyment is regulated in their pursuit and consumption. All other types of connection to the world are substituted for consumption and the world becomes a system of prices, experienced as signs of forthcoming enjoyment. Social relations are inescapably consumed and consummated in a series of commodities that represent them; the aim is complete commodification of all relations to the external world and total representation of the world by a self-constituting and consistent system of signs.
The radical transformation of society should aim for a new channeling of desire outside the ideological order through the affective reinvestment into a revolutionary potential that defies all pre-existing representations, and not in a rational critique that feeds the symbolic order and reinserts the subject into the price system through the affirmation of economic ideology; an absolute de-territorialization of theoretical critique could resist momentarily the fate of re-territorialization by the system of semiotic reproduction.
Notes Toward a Critique of Money is published by Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, NL and can be ordered here. The text is published under a creative commons licence and is available free to download, for example at aaaaarg.org
Artwork by Société Réaliste.