Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Carthage the Indestructible

The Empty Marquee Tent in the Woods (on land occupied by the house at its edge)

The melancholy of an empty white marquee.  The long table, the hired chairs with their chrome frames and red upholstery give the whole scene the appearance of a red cross tent waiting to receive the victims of a natural or artificial catastrophe.  In other words – already a camp.  A temporary habitation in the woods cannot possibly have a festive purpose – it can only be a station or secret meeting place to plot disasters elsewhere.  The victims are the absent guests at this wedding.  A hospital tent run by Wilis – with a ‘mattress grave’ reserved for Heine. 

The Rainy Season

“…three nectarines on a plate…
the skin is painted yellow and red
like the Ashikaga silk they sell in the capital
but one nectarine is so light
it must be hollow
only a demon could enter
without marring the surface.
the ferns and vines break
through the floor of the crumbling
the moon lights up the mulberries
rotting against the white wall
black grapes hang through the thorns of the snaking rose
the night lies in wait for the foxes.”

The moral: A fruit can betray your hopes like a silk merchant.
Any woman could be a lamia – but not any snake.

Horkheimer is mistaken about the “New Testament”.  It is not the Book of Love.
1.  It is the Book of the Cross and the death by the cross.  At the end there is a Body.
2.  “The Old Testament” has countless love stories – in particular the Song of Songs.  But even the story of Adam and Eve is about love.  It is the first love.  Adam sacrificed eternal life for love.  He sinned for Eve so she would not be alone in the banishment.  The “Old Testament” is also the book of seduction.

First comes haunting, then the melody.

The emotion dies in the thought, cire perdu.  So if you can explain your love – it’s gone.  That’s why Adorno says in Minima Moralia – if you say “I am happy” you aren’t.  The most you can say is “I was happy” – the happiness of the lost hours.

First have a Method then interrupt it too soon.

Not-Here-ness is for space what Not-Yet-ness is for time.  Something which is not here in space is distant in another way than something not yet in time.  More elusive in its presence-absence thus concrete – possibly hidden.  Something not yet in time can arouse only a minimal affect.  One only can long for what one knows is not-here but somewhere.  How can one long for what one does not know at all?  That Heidegger dubbed the existent Dasein – being-here shows that he saw being as having a lesser hold in time than in space.  Otherwise it should have been known as Da-Zeit - here-time.

The essence of a philosophy of hope is not hopeful in the same way that Heidegger declares “(…)the essence of technology is by no means anything technological.” (M. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, online)  One probably could extend this formula endlessly – although Novalis, Romantic poet, metaphysician and scientist, holds a contrary view - “the performance of mathematics must be mathematical”.  If not – a dubious hiatus arises between form and content.  But the identity of form and content is an artistic principle of the Romantic; it is style (showing not saying) – not needed in philosophy.  Although such identity is volatile – it can reverse itself into non-identity at any moment.  The work of art is identical with its non-identical aspects in the sense that it is its own method of interpretation, which it also constantly resists.  It is thought and its own unthought, dissembling (semblance) and error, all its ‘fake’ forms  - the unavoidable, which as Derrida suggests is there long before the work but is never its subject or ‘essence’.  Is Heidegger’s essence of technology mimetic or anti-mimetic?

Why does something have to come into being before it can decay?  The universal law of decline or entropy applies in all the tenses – also the futurum.  Even redemption is subject to decay.  Decaying redemption.  Especially if it is endlessly deferred.  It gets shopworn.  Hope is very similar to postponement in other words disappointment (“make them live in hope”, Marlowe).  The law of entropy determines the future to be already obsolete or antiquated – this is especially true of technology.  That which is ‘coming’ will in its turn be passing – the indefinite expectation of a future ‘rescue’ projects a simulacrum of openness onto an imaginary temporal plane.  Hegel calls it the “bad infinity”.  How can one associate hope with the indefinite ‘flowing’ of time into the future – contemplating time in its ceaseless motion, its ever ‘not-yetness’ would rather lead to ‘chronophobia’ such as that which pervades every line of Baudelaire:

“Et le Temps m’engloutit minute par minute,
Comme la neige immense un corps pris de roideur;
Je contemple d’en haut le globe en sa rondeur
Et je n’y cherche plus abri d’une cahute.”
(“And time swallows me minute by minute,
Like an immense body of rigid snow;
I contemplate from above the globe and its roundness
And look no more for the shelter of a hut.” Baudelaire, “Le Gout du Néant” The Taste of Nothing in: Les Fleurs du Mal, no LXXX)

For Baudelaire time is the avalanche coming towards him in its fall not the future toward which he is moving (advancing).
 “Avalanche, veux-tu m’emporter dans ta chute?”
(Avalanche, do you want to take me with in your fall?, ibid.)

When truth is historical it is exposed to all the feebleness and ephemerality of the historical – it rises and falls.  All such philosophy attributes an extraordinary causality or revelatory power to time itself – “(…)as if Kant had never been, using TIME as a determinate of the thing in itself(…)” (“Denn alle solche historische Philosophie, (…)nimmt, als wäre Kant nie dagewesen, DIE ZEIT für eine Bestimmung der Dinge an sich (…)”  Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band I, Zürich, 1988, p. 360).  Such philosophy stands still at that which Kant calls appearance and Plato “the becoming, never existing, as opposed to the existing, never becoming (…)” (“das Werdende, nie Seyende, im Gegensatz des Seyenden, nie Werdenden”, ibid.)
As if anticipating Heidegger’s concept of ‘aletheia’ or truth as an unconcealing, a revealing (this is how Heidegger defines technology as well) – Schopenhauer characterizes such historical philosophizing when “(…) driven to its last resort (as) a doctrine of constant becoming, sprouting from, arising, bringing forth to the light from darkness, from the murky ground, Ur-ground, unground and similar nonsense/gibberish (…)” (“Solches HISTORISCHES PHILOSOPHIREN liefert (…)auf den letzten Weg getrieben, (…) eine Lehre vom steten Werden, Entsprießen, Entstehen, Hervortreten ans Licht aus dem Dunkeln, dem finstern Grund, Urgrund, Ungrund und was dergleichen Gefasels mehr ist (…)”, ibid.)

Perhaps this time-fetish is just a bad leftover from the Christian ‘calendar of hope’ or oikonomia – whence the grammatical tenses (temporality itself), modelled on the passion of Christ, are deduced – birth, life, death, resurrection, salvation, the coming.  Did Wittgenstein have this timetable in mind when he remarked enigmatically in paragraph 374 of The Philosophical Investigations “Welche Art von Gegenstand etwas ist, sagt die Grammatik. (Theologie als Grammatik.)” (Grammar tells you what sort of object something is. (Theology as Grammar.))

When Bloch comments at the beginning of his “Principle of Hope” (Das Prinzip Hoffnung) “Denken heißt überschreiten.” (Thinking is overstepping.), repeating it several times like a mantra – does that mean we overstep ourselves beyond our body or physical being in thought? Is it only thought, idea or mind which are moving, overstepping?  Do we overstep affect or will?  G. Richter translates “überschreiten” as “transgression” (see “Can Hope Be Disappointed? Contextualizing a Blochian Question in Symploke, Vol. 14, Nos. 1-2 (2006) pp. 42-54) – which suggests that body or affect are involved in this act of thinking.  Perhaps a mental affair?  With Oneself?  Or are mind, body and affect separated in this thinking act of exceeding the limit?  Does will have anything to do with Blochian hope?  Or is it just thinking? 

The question of ‘future’ is the question of metamorphosis or more generally of uncertainty.  The imagination can transpose freely in any direction or order – unlike memory – similarly the passions.  Hence says Hume imagination is central to his system of passions. 
The future exists only in thought – like risk.  Once it is more than thought it is no longer future.  Hence the mind races along towards itself.  But these thoughts are not spontaneously self-generating – they thrive on impressions, which have already been left by past experiences or sensations – and they are retarded by the immense inertia of the unconscious.  Anticipation is itself a memory of anticipation.  And disappointment – another word for fulfilment.  
Bloch appeals to Heraclites as a guarantor of his idea of hope residing in the future – “Whoever does not hope for the unexpected cannot find it” leaving out the second part of this gnomic wisdom – “it is untraceable and remote (unapproachable)” suggesting that whatever it is which is hoped for is not of the future but something which is present and could be looked for now.  It would seem the Greeks did not have such a euphoric animistic idea of the future as in the Christian West.  One recognizes the same synchronistic thinking in an anecdote from the end of Book Nine of The Republic quoted by Badiou of a conversation between Socrates and his young interlocutors about his political models.
“ ‘What you tell us about politics is all well and good, but it is impossible.  You cannot put it into practice.’  And Socrates replies: ‘Yes, in the city where we are born it is perhaps impossible.  But perhaps it will be possible in another city.’” (Alain Badiou, The Meaning of Sarkozy, London, 2008, p. 69)  How easy it would have been for Socrates to locate the possibility of his political ‘utopia’ in a world to come – in the coming community?  But rather as Badiou concludes he implies that “every genuine politics presupposes expatriation, exile, foreignness.” (ibid.)  The Chassidic perspective varies this theme slightly, transcendentally – “Chiliastic redemption was a local rumour, possibly true in the next town, never in one’s own.” ( see “Chassidic Planets” Faust Series Opus 9, 11th May 2010) 


World In.  World Out.

The City of London has little to do with the State.  It is a state in the state.  It finances bodies which resemble it – homeopathic magic is essential for the secret world economy or the world economy of secrets.  These bodies and cartographies are mostly oriental – they exist in the mythical Orient of the ancient cities of finance like Tyre, Carthage and in the modern era – Genoa and Venice.  The irresistible affinity between England or rather the City of London (the most ancient consolidated part of London) and the Orient is not cultural or sentimental, or only secondarily – the appetency for the Orient is financial in the old alchemical sense.  But the Idea has some faint imperfect reflection in the Real – the City’s corresponding bodies are in the Middle East – in South Lebanon, parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc.  The legendary wealth of the Orient which sloshes around the City is called today ‘jihadi’ finance capital – but its origin and nature is the same as it was at the time of the telling of “Tale of the Two Dreamers” – in the reign of the caliph al-Ma’mun (A.D. 786-833)  A man of great wealth from Cairo lost everything he had except his father’s house.  He had to work with his hands for a living.  One night exhausted he fell asleep under the fig tree in his garden and dreamt that a great fortune awaited him in Persia, in Isfahan.  He set off on the dangerous and long journey – encountering pirates, idolators, wild beasts, torrentious rivers – finally arriving in Isfahan.  He fell asleep in the courtyard of a mosque.  On exactly that night a band of robbers were attempting to rob a neighbouring house.  The family woke up and sounded alarm.  The robbers escaped, but the man from Cairo was discovered and arrested.  The captain of the police whipped him with a bamboo lash until he was almost dead.  When he finally woke up in jail the captain sent for him and asked whom he was.  The man told him his reason for coming to Isfahan.  The captain laughed at his gullibility – believing in his dream.  He said: “O man of little wit, thrice have I dreamed of a house in Cairo in whose yard is a garden, at the lower end of which is a sundial and beyond the sundial a fig tree and beyond the fig tree a fountain and beneath the fountain a great sum of money.  Yet I have not paid the least heed to this lie; but you, offspring of a mule and a devil, have journeyed from place to place on the faith of dream.” (from the Thousand and One Nights, No. 351 quoted in Jorge Luis Borges, “A Universal History of Infamy”, London, 1975, pp. 112-3)  The captain gave him a few coins for his return journey – as soon as he came home he went to his fountain and dug up the great treasure seen in the captain’s dream.  “And thus Allah brought abundant blessing upon him and rewarded him and exalted him.  Allah is the Beneficient, the Unseen.” (ibid.)
The Chassidim of the School of Pshiskhe tell a similar story.  Except the cities are not Cairo and Isfahan – but Cracow and Prague.  The time is the beginning of the 19th century or late 18th century – during the epoch of revolutionary upheaval in Europe. The Chassidic Jews in their isolation invented a story which transports the Orient and its miraculous treasure hunting of dreams to the cities of Eastern Europe.  The story revolves about a poor man – not one who first lost his wealth.  He is debt-ridden and worries constantly.  Worries and prays.  Nothing happens for a long while.  “And then, one night, he had a strange dream:  he saw himself swept away into a distant kingdom, inside its capital, under a bridge, in the shadow of an immense palace.  And a voice told him: “This is Prague, this is the Vltava and over there, the palace of the kings.  Now look and look well, for under this bridge, at the spot where you are standing, there is a treasure; it is waiting for you, it is yours.  Your problems are resolved.” ” (Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire, New York, 1993, pp. 203-4)  In the morning he mocks himself – but that night the dream comes again.  The poor Jew Eizik resisted the dream – it was too far, he had no money, he would rather continue to pray and pray even to have his dreams exorcised.  Then the dream came for a third time asking him – why he hadn’t left yet.  So he started his journey to Prague on foot.  The story varies the Arabian story slightly – he arrives at the prescribed destination, under the bridge, he is too timid to start digging, he prowls around so indecisively, that he is noticed by soldiers and arrested as a spy.  Like in Thousand and One Nights – the man who accuses him of spying is the captain of the guards.  In almost the same apologetic tone of the Arabian story teller, the Chassidic story describes the arrested Jew as too frightened to make up a story.  Instead he tells the ‘truth’ (a truth according to the story) – about his dreams, his worries, the long journey from Cracow.  Instead of having him shot as a liar, the “(…)dangerous captain burst out laughing.  He laughed so hard that tears ran down his cheeks:  “No, is that really why you came from so far away?  You Jews are even more stupid than I thought!  Now look at me, such as you see me here, if I were as stupid as you, if I too listened to voices, do you know where I would be at this very minute?  In Cracow!  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Imagine that for weeks and weeks, there was that voice at night telling me: ‘There is a treasure waiting for you at the house of a Cracow Jew named Eizik, son of Yekel!  Yes, under the stove!  Naturally, half the Jews there are called Eizik and the other half Yekel!  And they all have stoves!  Can you see me going from house to house, tearing down all the stoves, searching for a nonexistent treasure?” ”, (Elie Wiesel, op. cit, p. 205)  The end of the tale in Arabia and in Chassidic Galicia is the same – the traveller rushes home, moves the stove and finds the promised treasure.  He pays his debts, marries off his daughters and in gratitude builds a synagogue which attests to his piety – although he is no longer poor.  One of the Tzaddikim (Chassidic masters) who told this parable was Rebbe Nahman of Bratzlav, who was the author of numerous ‘art’ stories or ‘maayses’.  He replaced Prague with Vienna – explaining “The treasure is at home but the knowledge of it is in Vienna.” (ibid.)  Reb Nahman was himself an Orient traveller – urged by a vision he embarked on a long journey to the land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) on Turkish ships, during which he engaged in mysterious and even forbidden sinful activities before returning several years later to his native Ukraine.  He referred to his spiritual wanderings – as first falling so as to ascend even higher.
Going to one place is always so much more than one place – it is also all the places of which it reminds you.  As you go from place to place you add to a bewildering profusion of such memories.  Memory naturally longs for the past – not because it was better or for reason of indifferent nostalgia, but because one had fewer memories then, hence less bewilderment.  Although memory is by nature limited to the past – it is the organ through which the past endures, so it is not surprising that an ontology based on what is to come – as in all the ‘coming communities’ must find a way to ‘interrupt’ memory.

On a certain day in Henley on Thames – three people referred to the past.  A fat woman exaggerating the romance of a tawdry carousel on the Henley waterfront park lawn; a fatuous rich bargain hunter in the almost empty shell of a boutique in receivership looking at lacklustre jeans grotesquely overpriced called ‘hipsters’ – “That takes you back”; I’ve forgotten the third person, maybe it was me.  Henley was a bastion of the forces of the King in the English civil war – in a certain shabby cavernous family pub plaques remind you of this allegiance.  Its capacious recesses are as dark as an empty eye socket – the pub could have been a garrison in those days.  Even on the narrow island, there’s always room for the troops.  Not that it helped the King much – it just gives Henley a slight feeling of being a loser town.  Royal Henley is especially narrow – in its historical center.  The one room Almes Houses in the shadow of Henley’s Cathedral  are squat and pale green.  They were built for the poor – a kind of necropolis for ‘mere life’ next to the churchyard – now coveted by rentiers.

If you are loyal to life, you are disloyal to art.

I’m always attracted to the mystique of the bed-sit – like those along Henley’s waterfront.  The only dignified bamboo planting I saw was there.  The grasses hang lugubriously over the grey wall.  Pressed in on both sides by dark bushes.  The entrance is in the shadow of both. Et in arcadia ego.  The sphinx like nature of all places – the fake sphinxes too.
I told the lifeguard at the swimming pool – you lead a double life.  Most people lead double lives.  Double lives are normal, a minimum.  Music leads a double life too – it has the power to cure madness (Orpheus etc) and the power to hypnotize, to induce madness (the devil’s triller). 
I escape the drumming on the hill.  But Fate is inescapable.  I think that my need for physical conditioning is guiding me to a swimming pool.  This is merely rational self-preserving bait that the genius of my destiny holds out in front of me.  As in a Talmudic story, you go to the south because you hear misfortune will come in the north, but it will follow you wherever you go.  There is a north in the south as well.  If only the permanent north on the compass.  Rather just head east like de Nerval with amor fati in your heart.

The French moralist Jouffroy referred to England as a trading power – in the lineage of Carthage.  This is somewhat deceptive – certainly it was traditionally a trading power, but this is synonymous with being a finance power – no romance without finance.  Trade is always about financing future transactions.  Every time one feels hemmed in – the narrowness of the island – the rooms and houses which are too small, the country roads without any footpath for the pedestrian – not even a shoulder of the road – planted with hedgerows, the railroad platforms which are so narrow one is almost swept onto the tracks by the wind and vibrations from a passing train - one has a sense of the suitable topography of a finance power.
Every hedgerow is mimicry of a castle keep built on a sheer mass of rock.  Each country lane a fortress to be defended.  Although the defenders are all invisible.  
T.S. Eliot attests to the metaphysical allegorical nature of the hedgerow in England and as is known he worked in Lloyds Bank.  That alone should show that there is some hidden line between the hedgerow and the financial cosmos (hedge funds?) – or that the hedgerow is a ‘forest of symbols’ for a philosophy of credit and debit, of bankruptcy –
“Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol (…)
(T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding, online)
 The mystery of Quartet no 4 “Little Gidding” owes much to this accountant’s mysticism.  Perhaps all mysticisms are derived from accountancy – the number.
“There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference (…)”

The hedgerow is the street beyond the street – a mimicry of it – it shows the seasons and the lack of season – such as “the unimaginable Zero summer”. The people in their houses are the hedgerow of the hedgerow. The hedgerow blossoms white twice in the year – the snow appearing in the flush of winter and then the white awakening in spring. (Does Eliot echo Proust’s beloved hawthorn purity?)  But in the hedgerow the reveilles if not false are not really to be trusted – what awakens in the hedgerow is only the dead shifting from one past life to another, as if to reinvest the remainder.  The hedgerow in “Little Gidding” is more in the other life than in this one – walking along it at the end of an “interminable night” the poet catches “the sudden look of some dead master” – where they meet is an “intersection time/ Of meeting nowhere (…)”  That the hedgerow is the apparition of nowhere which is also one of the world’s ends is relentlessly affirmed.  The hedges are not a unique world’s end – but they are in England:
“(…)There are other places
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.”
Whatever it is that leads you this way of the hedgerows whether with purpose or without it – by day as a somnambulant wanderer or by night “like a broken king” your purposes will be altered and reversed in the timelessness of the hedgerow, where sense and notion have to be “put off” – “You are here to kneel (…)” but “here” is also “nowhere” – or there where the dead communicate.  The hedgerow in its sameness, its unhidden concealment is
“Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere.  Never and always.”

The hedgerow is a limit.  It is liminal – not architecture, a living wall.  It represents closure – as a principle of the narrow.  It criss-crosses the countryside reminding all who look upon it of the wisdom of limits, of narrowness – the ‘goldilocks zone’ for a national body whose historical greatness was rooted in finance.  This is an age-old doctrine of the trade nation – as Jouffroy notes – security is the first condition for the development of trade.  “All one needs is a good port and a few acres of land which are protected from infringement – this is enough to erect the colossus – it would begin to wobble if it were placed on a broader ground, because it would be difficult to defend it.” (Théodore Jouffroy, Das grüne Heft in: Die französischen Moralisten, Band II, Bremen, 1963, p. 463)  So the Idea of the City – analogous to the City of God – devoted to finance, hermetic and defensible is also in the hedgerow.  Jouffroy studies this topographical constant in the genealogy of such trade and finance cities: “One studies the location of Tyre, Milet, Carthage, Corinth in antiquity.  One looks at Venice, Amalfi, Genoa, England in modern times.”  It seems quite natural for Jouffroy to include England in a list of city-states – for its quintessence was the City.  In the same fashion Ruskin could compare England’s fading grandeur with the Byzantine Gothic decay of Venice – the rest of the country, the bulk of the land, was merely there to feed and raise soldiers to defend the City when necessary.  In all these mercantile entities, the restriction of movement and the situation of being at the ‘world’s end’ predominates – Jouffroy discovers a ‘type’ a morphology of such powers from antiquity to recent history:  “One will always find either a cliff or a spit or an island in the middle of water, or a narrow space, shielded by a wall of mountains or high walls on the shore.” (ibid)

Seen in this light, the City of London is a relic or fossil from the timeless epoch of such finance cities – what Genoa was for the Mediterranean or even Carthage.  Carthage was a city built up mostly upon money, defended by mercenaries.  Like England during its empire it was a finance ‘city’ with colonies.  All non-Carthaginians owed tribute to Carthage, they had no rights. At its zenith Carthage was known as the “shining city” – ruling 300 cities around the western Mediterranean, thus undisputed master of the Phoenician world.

Throughout antiquity it was persistently rumoured that Carthaginians sacrificed children to Moloch by burning them alive.  Their religion was essentially a ‘cult of the dead’.  The necropolis within the structure of the ancient city was comparable in size and importance to Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof.  Moloch is variously translated as the name of the demon god of death, the brass statue in which sacrifices including human sacrifices were burnt and the form of sacrifice itself. Burckhardt in his history of Greece says Carthage deserved to fall.  Carthage was deeply hated in the Mediterranean – especially in Sicily.  (The romance of the Carthaginian hoard lives on in Flaubert’s Salammbo most realistically.  The novel takes place at a time of a revolt of the mercenaries.  Flaubert spent many years on Salammbo.  Even so he had to allay the doubts of the exacting critic Saint-Beuve regarding his historical accuracy and total realism, even in details such as if one can see the colors of gems by starlight.) 

The sense of ‘owing’ everything for all foreseeable and unforeseeable futures to capital is older than modern capitalism – it is the anthropological ‘genetic memory’ of the abject state of owing tribute to a distant money power.  Capital has inherited that spectral power – but in the case of capital the flow of tribute seems to take place automatically.  Marx refers to this explicitly in his chapter on interest bearing capital in Volume III of Capital:  “In its attribute of interest-bearing capital, all wealth, which can ever be produced belongs to capital and everything which it has received so far is merely an instalment towards its all-engrossing appetite.  According to its inborn laws, all surplus labour, that the human race can deliver belongs to it.  Moloch.” ( “In seiner Eigenschaft als zinstragendes Kapital gehört dem Kapital aller Reichtum, der überhaupt je produziert werden kann, und alles, was es bisher erhalten hat, ist nur Abschlagzahlung an seinem all-engrossing Appetit.  Nach seinen eingebornen Gesetzen gehört ihm alle Surplusarbeit, die das Menschengeschlecht je liefern kann.  Moloch.”  Karl Marx, Das Kapital, MEW, Bd 25, Berlin, 1969, p. 410)            
Although seemingly very powerful and not just seemingly, such money powers are always on the brink of extinction – not because of decline or decay – but due to the founding paradox of their existence:  The need to remain small in their base – not to engage in conquest especially of land and to remain aloof from the wars and conflicts of their age.  That is nearly impossible.  So it is no wonder that amongst the members of this caste a certain nihilistic worldview should develop – one is not concerned with ethics – one leads an aesthetic life – in other words political.

A perfect exemplar of a ‘prince of money’ in the sense of model or type was the long serving governor of the Bank of England Montagu Norman.  His reign traversed a most acute phase in the history of finance in the 20th century – from 1920 until 1944.  He was the bohemian aesthete banker – a dandy in appearance with wide brimmed extravagant hats and the flourish of a Shakespearean actor.  He was a kind of Wyndham Lewis or vorticist of high finance.  Like him he was attracted to fascist dictatorship – which in itself is already an expression of the fragile basis of finance power – the deadly lure of the conquest of space undermining its constitutive need for restriction.  As Jouffrroy writes:  “Every trade (finance) power is destroyed by the acquisition of land.  That is how Carthage ended, Venice and Genoa destroyed themselves in the same way.  In the same way, one saw how England was shaken by its contintental interests.  A finance power should have offices everywhere, never land.” (ibid.)  Norman, a legendary force for disaster, is attributed with the orchestration of the great crash of 1929 together with his American and German counterparts.  This may merely demonstrate his Mephistophelean image as the archetypical diabolical Banker.  Recently Paul Krugman feared that “The curse of Montagu Norman” was infecting the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy. (see New York Times blogs, December 18, 2009)

Norman’s close friendship with the German central banker Schacht, later Nazi central banker dates from the period of the Crash.  Certainly it is a fact that following Montagu Norman’s tenure as governor of the Bank of England the British Empire began to disappear rapidly – first in India and Palestine, followed by colonies in Africa and the Middle East.  Of course Jouffroy’s view is ideal, almost purist – not pragmatic.  A finance power is never just that – so when England was an ascendant power under Cromwell it sued for war.  The series of the Dutch Wars between England and Holland in the 17th century undermined Dutch hegemony of the seas – which included the principle of ‘mare liberum’ for the Dutch in the “Narrow Seas” (the English Channel and the North Sea).  At this time – Holland, the reigning mercantile power needed peace for its ‘miracle’ to last.  England was the rough competitor with less to lose, who exposed the inevitable paradox of the trading power -  “Any threat to the free movement of Dutch shipping, any constriction of maritime activity, was thus a threat to undermine the whole enormous structure of their commerce and finance, of empire and industry.  War was the probable, perhaps the inevitable response.  Yet here lay the paradox of the Dutch predicament.  Though the country had won life and health and strength by war, war was in fact fatal to it, since war not only interfered with the free movement of ships but exposed them to capture or destruction.” (The Diary of Samuel Pepys, edited by R.C. Latham and W. Matthews, Volume X Companion, London, 1995, p. 111)

As the Grand Pensionary of Holland Pauw foresaw in 1752 after his efforts to avoid war failed: “the English are about to attack a mountain of gold; we are about to attack a mountain of iron.” (quoted in The Diary of Samuel Pepys, op. cit., p. 112)

Siimilar to Nietzsche’s idea of “doing damage with one’s best” – Jouffroy attributes Holland’s demise precisely to its improvement and enlargement of its land mass.  When its territory was covered with water it could arouse little envy and ambition, when it drained its coast and secured its land making itself accessible and desirable, it destroyed the foundation of its power.

Norman true to both character masks – that of a ‘lord of finance’ and a representative of a declining power – the British Empire – was a radical appeaser in the thirties.  Later as war became the ‘ineluctable’ – he devised a fiendish variation of appeasement.  He ‘bought’ into the Nazi bid for world power – as one would advance capital for any worthy venture.  A banker knows how to do this though with other people’s money.  He did so in various ways but mostly conducted via the Bank for International Settlement – a bank in Basel combining the central banks of Europe and Japan.  When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938 Norman together with his banker colleagues in the BIS acceded to the Reichsbank demand – conveyed by his friend Hjalmar Schacht - that Austria’s gold reserves (22 tons) be transferred to the Reich.  Later in 1939 when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia they again demanded the gold reserves.  Czechoslovakia’s gold reserves were however deposited in the Bank of England as a safe haven – but partly in a BIS account.  As governor of the Bank of England Norman personally authorized the transfer of this part of Czechoslovakia’s gold reserves to the Reichsbank (6,000,000 pounds) - continuing the BIS policy of supporting the Third Reich.  One could say that England the finance power (as opposed to England the nation state) bought into the Nazi venture with the gold of the Nazi-occupied countries.  I wonder what happened to this gold after the war.  Austria was a loser – so if it forfeited its gold – that was only par for the course.  But Czechoslovakia?  Did it have its gold reserve restored?  It had changed geopolitical hands in the mean time – belonging to the Soviet bloc.  One could imagine that prudent Western bankers would not be eager to deliver gold to that entity.  Perhaps it just slipped naturally into the coffers or ‘quiet reserves’ of some allied victorious power – whence it came.  One would need the divining talents of a Cagliostro or a Count of St. Germaine to figure that out.  Everywhere in human affairs one is resigned to the elliptical.  But we know all this, as Jean-Luc Nancy would say.


No comments:

Post a Comment