Klossowski’s Living Currency

It has recently come to my attention that a quasi-economic study by Pierre Klossowski entitled Living Currency (La Monnaie Vivante) is in the process of being translated by Reena Spaulings, to be published by Reena Spaulings Fine Art. This is particularly noteworthy due to its author’s influence in the history of theory: Pierre Bal-Blanc praises the text for providing the missing link from Bataille to Baudrillard and from Lacan to Foucault and Deleuze. Living Currency was originally published in 1970, only two years prior to the publication of Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and four years prior to the publication of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy (in which the work of Klossowski plays a key role), so it will be most interesting to compare and contrast these authors’ respective theories of political economy.

Bal-Blanc (who has hosted a long-running art exhibition of the same name as the text) summarizes Living Currency as follows:

The book’s introduction posits very simply the initial perversion as the first manifestation in a human being of the distinction between reproductive instincts and voluptuous emotion. This first perversion distinguishes human from mechanism, and will later be found to be the definition of human thought. Then, ideology appropriates perversion as “false or foul thinking”—the industrial and capitalist system, in organizing the production processes towards specific and policed ends, closes them down in the same gesture as it expels everything that overruns for being perverse. For example, a tool is used for doing only one thing. It is perverse to exceed, to overrun. This is the limitation at the foundation of the capitalist division of labor. Thus the drive behind the “open form” or the “open work” becomes to explode and dismiss these limits, to multiply possibility. These practices, so typical of the 1970s, work to invert or reverse the industrial system, which borders on perversion, instrumentalizing it. One can also go back to Charles Fourier,…who tried to offer a theory of impulses be [sic] distributed in another organism, taking into account their necessary variety….

Likewise, the online poetry zine The Claudius Appbriefly describes the book in the following terms:

A magisterially paranoiac and prescient investigation of libidinal economy and economies of affect, Living Currency updates Fourier for a post-Fordist era: a para-cybernetic flowchart by Sade’s “neighbor” linking the processes and products of art and industry through their human, all too human medium of exchange. From the trade in bathos to spot-priced simulacra and the orgasms they unfailingly blow out like O-rings: enjoying your symptom means pricing your fantasm. Raise a glass with Juliette, to the open market—may it never close its legs.

The same zine has published the two last sections of the English translation, the latter excerpt serving as part of its introduction. (See above for the link.) It may be worthy of note that for the rest of his life following the publication of Living Currency, Klossowski’s efforts were near-exclusively devoted to painting, his artwork having since achieved some renown in the art world.

What is perhaps most striking about Klossowski’s paintings (which primarily depict scenes from his novels) is the artist’s blatant lack of mastery in his subject: just as musicians and athletes must start their craft while very young in order to attain full mastery of their craft—drawing, no doubt, from the linguists’ well-known ‘universal grammar’, in a process remarkably parallel to the acquisition of a language—so Klossowski’s work is accented by this late start, inscribed with the rote learning necessary to reach his subpar artistry, as opposed to the child’s ‘natural’ assimilation of the artist’s technique. (This also may account for the astounding difference in timbre when one of his paintings is rendered in sculptural form, the former seeming to be a mere sketch in preparation for the latter.)

This is in stark contrast to Klossowski’s writing: as John Taylor remarks in his essay “Reading Pierre Klossowski:”

One must think in Latin when reading Klossowski. […] The author’s intimacy with Latin, and with Latin literature, cannot be overemphasized. So strong was his attachment that it clearly affected his French syntax and diction, as if the dead language had somehow survived in him—a second mother tongue, both nourishing and competing with a first one. Possessing an antiquarian atmosphere all its own (especially in The Baphomet), Klossowski’s style disorients readers unaware of this linguistic background (which includes, moreover, his consorting with liturgical and biblical Latin during his World War II years spent as a Dominican novitiate). May it be said that Klossowski’s meticulously quaint style is itself a simulacrum of sorts, a conscious transposition into French of the spirit of Latin, a modern-day linguistic specter of a once-vital source that has been lost and in this way “recovered”? 

In both his fiction and non-fictional studies, Klossowski is clearly a master in his craft, his Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle and Sade, My Neighbor being still hailed as brilliant and original renditions of oft-misunderstood personages. In order to do justice to his muses, however, it may be expected that Klossowski is not an easy read: his Sade, My Neighbor unsubtly presupposes that the reader has likewise read Sade, and he proceeds to reveal the systematicity of Sade’s thought, as opaque to the casual reader of Sade as is Klossowski’s own prose to the non-reader of Sade.

As one reviewer bemoans, Klossowski’s prose grants “no respite from…convoluted grammar and impenetrable ramblings.” Yet, as Klossowski himself remarks on his muse (41), “Sade’s text maintains and supports the possibility of the aberrant act, inasmuch as the writing actualizes this act.”  Likewise does that of Klossowski: insofar as the astute reader is required to fill in the text’s lacunae in order to make sense of it, so Klossowski gestures to the affective lacunae of Sade’s texts, which likewise demand to be bridged with whatever material the reader possesses:

“Punishments are always proportionate to the crime, and crimes are always proportionate to the amount of knowledge possessed by the guilty one; the Flood presupposes extraordinary crimes, and these crimes presuppose knowledge infinitely greater than what we possess.” These are Joseph de Maistre’s comments on the subject of original sin. Let us take note of the notion of a knowledge–crime relationship; is it not singularly represented by Sade’s thought, and especially by certain of his heroes? If knowledge ends by becoming a crime, what one calls crime must contain the key to knowledge. Then it is only by extending ever further the sphere of crime that the mind, arriving at these “extraordinary crimes,” will recuperate the lost knowledge, “knowledge infinitely greater than that which we possess.” [84]

Neuroscientists have shown how the brain cannot tell the difference between lived experience and the simulacra expressed in literature; Sade’s texts, then, restructure the libidinal economy of their reader—for what else can be the condition of understanding a text?—even if only briefly, in such a way that the condition of possibility for libertinage is set: the ‘trial purchase’, as the marketers call it, is made, the ‘first hit’ (in the lexicon of those expanders of consciousness, those Stoics of pleasure) inscribing the path for a new addiction. This is, of course, hardly the end of this libidinal restructuring: by means of (pseudo-?)anamnesis, Sade reinscribes the reader’s past (even to its pre-instantiation from a maleficent cosmology), reframing it through the lexicon of vice. Klossowski’s studies are equally affective as they are didactic (in a fine nod to Sade’s schoolmasters of libertinage), and if we must burn Sade, we must burn Klossowski also: those who have foreclosed the possibility of their own libertinage likewise foreclose the condition for understanding Klossowski, and will find nothing in his work if they provide nothing of their own for the text to write upon.

Klossowski’s foray into political economy marks a sojourn into the perversion of capital, where introjection and cathexis loosen their ties from habitus only to interpellate their subject into a vicious paranoiac circle; if (as Proudhon would have it) property is theft, then one is forced to constantly (when one can afford it) steal one’s own body as an instance of the body of capital in a pseudo-transgression which only perpetuates its ouroboric flow. Commodification approaches its infinite limit as the emotion elicited even by bodily presence is counted, measured, copied, faxed—sign, wealth (as non-sign, the condition for signification), and singularity oscillate to and fro, their conceptual disparities dilating and contracting, at times to the point of coalescence as the libidinal band spins white-hot.

For a brief but helpful glossary of some of Klossowski’s terminology (e.g. phantasm, simulacrum), the reader is directed to the translator’s preface to Klossowski’s Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle (available here). If Living Currency is published soon enough, I’d like to perform a close reading of it, the results of which will be published on this blog, preferably rendering its key insights (and practical application) in more intelligible language. 

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About Graham Joncas

I create nothing. I own.

Posted on April 2, 2012, in Economics, Language, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Hello, I translated this book and you can read it now at scribd
    - Jordan

    [Edit 14/03/05: The version on Jordan's website doesn't require signing up. —GJ]

    • Oh excellent! Do I assume correctly that your translation is unaffiliated with the one by Reena Spaulings? Do you have any plans to have your translation published? (I’d like to give credit where it’s due.) Lastly, thank you so much! I’m going to drop everything until I’ve finished it.

      • Hello Graham,
        No, I am simply a translator, and am not associated with any group. As regards publishing this on paper, I invite any interested parties to contact me, but am far more interested in content than in profits. I translated it out of my own interest and desire to share, and only hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
        Thank you for the credit, and happy reading! Please do let me know your thoughts.

  2. On the subject of translation: I have been translating Bernard Stiegler’s manuscripts for his 2012 online seminar and publishing them on my blog:
    Congratulations on your very interesting blog, keep it up!

    • Excellent! I’ve been meaning to write about Stiegler lately—his reliance on Marx’s theory of the falling rate of profit in For a New Critique of Political Economy is extremely problematic because the common consensus among economists is that the theory was proved by Okishio’s theorem to be impossible. However, Andrew Kliman and others have developed a more nuanced interpretation of Marx’s theory which bypasses Okishio’s theorem, but is to a large extent antithetical to Sraffa’s economic theories. I’m curious whether Kliman’s approach contradicts Stiegler’s own reading of Marx, and if so, to what extent Okishio’s theorem obliterates impacts the substance of Stiegler’s arguments.

      Anyway, I’ll be sure to spread the word about your translations! I know plenty of people who will be just as excited to read them as I am.

  3. Hi, would anyone like to start a close reading of this text. Would anyone be interested in some temporal group formation for the engagement with this text?

  1. Pingback: Pierre Klossowski: Living Currency (1970/1998/2012) [French/Spanish/English] at Monoskop Log

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