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New Translation of Living Currency Is Now Available

To my great excitement, Jordan Levinson has just posted an independent translation of Pierre Klossowski’s Living Currency (La Monnaie Vivante) on his website, available for perusal and download.

To those who have not read my recent (p)review of the text, Living Currency has been praised by Foucault as “the greatest book of our times” and is purported to provide the missing link from Bataille to Baudrillard and from Lacan to Foucault and Deleuze. It also played a key rôle in Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, and doubtless (though less explicitly) in Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.

If anyone is interested but finds Klossowski’s style of writing too abstruse, I intend to engage in a close reading of the text, delineating Klossowski’s thought in more accessible language, in addition to tying it in with other theoretical accounts of political economy (such as those of the authors mentioned above, plus the more contemporary For a New Critique of Political Economy by Bernard Stiegler). Optimally, I hope to figure out the text’s implications for the way we think about the economy & economics in general, and to incorporate these into my honors thesis on the work of Piero Sraffa (which you’ll hear more about in the near future).

(For the record, Levinson’s translation is unaffiliated with the translation by Reena Spaulings which I mention in my review.)

Structuralism: An Extremely Short Introduction

[These are my notes for a presentation I made on Structuralism a couple years ago for an assignment on schools of thought related to literature, though I admittedly don’t dwell on literature at all. The presentation is about as accessible as I could make it, though many of my classmates found it overly complicated. Most of the material is from the book European Intellectual History Since 1789 by N. Roland Stromberg, the “Structuralism” entry in the Colliers Encyclopedia, and some websites that I have since forgotten. For a magnificent & extremely accessible comparison of structuralism to poststructuralism (the best I have read on the topic), I direct the reader to John Lye’s essay Some Post-Structural Assumptions here.]

What Is Structuralism?

  • Philosophy/Sociology/Anthropology movement rising to prominence in the late 1950s-early 1960s (especially in France), reaching a peak in the later 1960s.
  • Successor to existentialism as a fashion in French ideas. Provided a cool, detached, objective, antihistorical view.
  • Specialized in the linguistic analysis of social ‘codes’, versus the frenetic subjectivism & romanticism of the existentialists.
  • Though roots were in linguistics, it became a mode/method of thought that could be used almost anywhere, thus transcending specialization.
  • Applied to such fields as anthropology (myth, kinship systems), literary criticism, sociology, & psychology.

How Does It Work?

  1. Analysis of patterns in language & media, taking into account the structure + the human faculties of comprehension.
  2. Antihumanism: the abolishment of the individual. The boundaries of language force speakers to think in certain ways, thus is it so irrational to assume that these boundaries affect action as well?
  3. Determinism: People are prisoners of language and cannot escape, no more than a physicist can find an observation point outside of nature.
  4. Consideration of clothing, etiquette, myth, gesture, etc., as ‘languages’; less focus on content, more on patterns & structure.
  5. However, offered a new principle of certainty, a “science of the permanent” (Claude Lévi-Strauss).
  6. Johannes Weissinger marked this as one of the most extraordinary of modern intellectual trends, describing it as “the penetration of mathematics, mathematical methods, and above all the mathematical way of thinking, into areas which previously appeared to be closed to it.”

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Max Stirner: The Problem of Realism & The Heuristic Response

“Ich hab’ Mein’ Sach’ auf Nichts gestellt.”

[I have set my course on nothing.] 

~Stirner, quoting Goethe’s poem “Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas!”

Max Stirner (the penname of Johann Kaspar Schmitt) was a member of the Young Hegelians (of which Marx & Engels were members), which believed that Hegel was a covert atheist, i.e. that his ‘theology’ could be removed from his system with no significant loss. As well, they abided by Marx’s now-clichéd line: “The philosophers have hitherto explained the world. The point is to change it”[1]. Feuerbach in his book The Essence of Christianity & Bruno Bauer in his book Critique of The Gospel History both rejected religion in favor of a humanism which is also evident in Marx’s earlier writings. Stirner worked as a teacher in a girl’s school, a job which he very much cherished, but which he left before publishing his magnum (and for that matter, only) opus, Der Einzige Und Das Eigentum[2] (The Ego & Its Own), in order to prevent scandal when the book’s authorship was traced to him. Indeed, it caused something of a scandal in Germany, and was entirely unexpected by Stirner’s fellow Young Hegelians, as Stirner was one of the most quiet and benign members: the book is a fierce invective toward each of the Young Hegelians, one of his arguments being that Feuerbach & Bauer had merely replaced God with ‘Man’, another hypostatized notion that was hardly better than before. 

Marx himself spent 300 pages arguing against Stirner in The German Ideology (at times in an embarrassingly puerile fashion), before ultimately leaving the book unpublished. Bauer & Feuerbach also countered Stirner, but were refuted in another of his essays, this one under the guise of a university student, called Stirner’s Critics. Bernd Laska and J.L. Walker’s introduction to The Ego & Its Own both argue that Stirner was a founding influence on the thought of Nietzsche, and it is Stirner’s book to which Foucault refers when he asserts that Nietzsche’s writings about the ‘death of God’ were actually obliquely referring to the death of Man. The book was also read by Adorno, who is reported to have said that Stirner “let the cat out of the bag”, as well as by Jürgen Habermas and perhaps Carl Schmitt.

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Defending ‘Human Rationality’

[Edit 17/01/24: This is one of the first posts I made on this blog. I wrote it when I was a freshman. While it’s embarrassing to reread my ‘juvenilia’, to my surprise it’s not nearly as piss as I thought it would be (at least after a few edits). While editing, a link accidentally got posted on my social media accounts. While I’m mortified to think people might actually read this, the post has a charming spontaneity to it that I feel I’ve lost since then.]

Out of all the precepts of economics, that of rational human actors is the one most criticized by laypersons (particularly continental philosophers). However, economists usually find their propositions quite self-evident (we should think of ‘rationality’ as a utilitarian sort):

  • Agents have stable, well-defined preferences and make rational choices that are consistent with these preferences.
  • Whatever their preferences, agents will attempt to maximize their satisfaction subject to the constraints they face.
  • Agents prefer more of what they want to less.
  • Agents will satisfy more urgent needs before less urgent ones.
  • The goal of an action is to remove an uneasiness.

…et cetera.

This problem can be circumvented by separating ‘rationality’ from the set of premisses on which an individual or group bases their reasoning at a given time. In doing so, all of the above propositions can be retained, while ‘irrational’ behaviour can be explained as due to false premises. In this fashion, one can act ‘irrationally’ while still being fully consistent with the above principles of human rationality. Thus, ‘irrational’ behaviour, in logical terminology, can be said to be ‘valid’, but not ‘true’.

In fact, the scope of human action which is outside the range of rationality or our meaning of irrationality is exceptional, as the following examples will endeavor to show. Michel Foucault, in Madness & Civilization[1] (a condensed version of his History of Madness), writes of a man who believes that he is made of glass, and who is subsequently diagnosed as melancholic (in an archaic use of the term) and sent to an asylum. Foucault notes with interest that this man behaves in an entirely rational manner, except for his false premise (a mode of behaviour referred to by early psychologists as ‘melancholia’). That is to say, he behaves exactly as a person would if they actually had become glass. In a similar episode, a man who believes that he is dead is sent to an asylum, where he was entirely docile, but refused to take meals because, after all, dead people do not eat. The head of the asylum, in an experiment, recruits a troupe of volunteers to dress up as dead people, via make-up, et cetera. They are put in a room with the ‘dead’ patient, where a feast is set before them. The ‘dead’ man queries “But I thought that dead people do not eat?” “Of course dead people eat!” replied one of the volunteers. Thereafter, the patient ate heartily, all the while still believing that he was dead. Read the rest of this entry