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Money and affect

Konings (2015) interprets money as icon, as extensively symbolic, even principally symbolic. If money is a symbol, then money in motion is communication, it conveys meaning, and so in this regard the constructions of such meanings may have something in common with writing. I have to clarify immediately that I wish to undermine, to oppose and hopefully subvert, the claims to power of wealth, not to affirm or legitimate them.

I wish to give some life to this possibility by understanding money as a symbol employed in communication, and following the affective character of this communication.

La Berge (2015) sites the narrative-creating force of finance in an analysis committed to the distinctions and perhaps even a disciplinarity. Capital’s realism (Fisher 2009) is for La Berge principally about representation (p. 75).

Probyn (2010), in her essay "Writing Shame," points toward the various interactions of writing, of meaning-making, and the painful and universal social affect of shame. The possibility of meaning-making itself carries the possibility of shame, the shame of trying to speak and failing:

There is a shame in being highly interested in something and unable to convey it to others, to evoke the same degree of interest in them and to convince them that it is warranted. The risk of writing is always that you will fail to interest or engage readers. Disappointment in yourself looms large when you can’t quite get the words right or get the argument across. (Probyn 2010, 72)

One thing that it is hard to miss is the polyvalence of so many of these terms, with shades of meaning in the domain of finance that reveal something about the way that it exists as part of our experience. Interest, to be sure, is an inescapable and central, almost primitive term in finance. It quickly reveals its affective substance, continuous with the affective substance Probyn gives it here. Finance's interest is an ownership interest, a stake, and the payment associated with that stake. A lender, typically having parted with funds according to the terms of the loan, is entitled by contract to a periodic payment in compensation for that interest, thus an interest payment. Conveyance, likewise, has a financial sense, the delivery of ownership, as of securities, from one party to another in satisfaction of the terms of a contract. So what I want to flesh out is the connections between these terms, conveyance and interest, in their symbolic character.

Konings notes that the continuity of identity is a prerequisite for affective interaction, that for one entity to affect another, both must remain intact following the affection. I am reminded of the antinomies of postmodernity of Jameson (1994), though here the question is not of points in time or space that appear and dissipate with no ability to construct an extended place or moment; rather the question is of identities that congeal and vanish as each affect destroys them completely.

For affect to work, the identities of the terms need to be dependent on the ways they are connected, but not quite so dependent that each change would instantly subvert existing identities, merely producing permanent flux. (Konings 2015, 33)

Konings says "for affect to work," but the observation is more general. I suspect that affect has crept in here in its generic, abstract form, and we are missing something of what makes it real. I think Konings is mistaken but I am not yet sure just how.

As I suggested near the beginning, I am wary of seeming to support the claim of the majority in the Citizens United decision: that spending is speaking and that therefore political spending is protected as political speaking. I do not propose that there is a free speech separate from spending that we can restore; rather I think we can observe there that money is involved in conveying meaning in ways other than being spent. And perhaps what I want to argue is that spending of money, the completion of a transaction, is precisely the foreclosure of any possibility of meaning.


  • Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK: Zero Books.

  • Jameson, Fredric. 1994. The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Konings, Martijn. 2015. The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  • La Berge, Leigh Claire. 2015. Scandals and Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Probyn, Elspeth. 2010. “Writing Shame.” In The Affect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, 71–90. Durham: Duke University Press.