Sunday, 15 February 2009

Phenomenology of money

We have been reading, in the Aesthetics course, Heidegger’s comments on the work of art. Yesterday we read his amazing phenomenology of a pair of peasant shoes, with the help of a painting by Van Gogh. Today we hope to read his phenomenology of the Greek temple. Where shoes relate earth and the world of the peasant, the temple sets up, founds, a world…

In a dream of the morning, a phenomenology of money: money which is almost totally constituted by meaning.

What kind of world does a 50 rupee note set up?

A 50 rupee note does not get used up, the way a pair of shoes gets used up. When a pair of shoes is used up, it becomes useless, and is reduced to stuff. But when a 50 rupee note is torn, I can ‘redeem’ its ‘value’ through a bank. The wear and tear on its material is immaterial to its value. It is only incidentally material.

So money is different from a pair of shoes. It is an element of society and social arrangements. It has little to do directly with earth, sky, water, air. Or it has to do ultimately with these things, with food for my table, with clothing, with shelter, with roti-kapda-makaan, but as a means. It is part of the division of labour set up by all communities except the most primitive. It is what makes Heidegger possible, for it sets Heidegger free for the task of thinking. Heidegger does not have to plough the ground, wait for the harvest, gather the grain, take it to the mill, knead the flour, bake the bread.

And what might we make of Jesus’ reply, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s?”

Does he not imply that, since the Pharisees possess a coin with Caesar’s image, they have accepted to be part of the world which that coin sets up? And is not his reply deliciously ambiguous? For what really is Caesar’s, that has not been given to Caesar by God? “You would not have power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

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