Capital, Desire, and Neurasthenia

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Arthur BUENO, Universität Erfurt, Germany
This paper reflects on the affective implications of capitalist forms of life by exploring the affinities between Karl Marx’s Capital and Georg Simmel’s writings on money and modern culture. Such an endeavor rests on the assumption that, as stated by a contemporary reviewer of The Philosophy of Money, many of Simmel’s arguments “read like a translation of Marx’s economic discussions into the language of psychology.” In line with this, I suggest that Simmel’s phenomenologically precise description of modern forms of life can be interpreted as a consistent analysis of the affective implications of commodity fetishism. More precisely, this paper develops the idea that money – in particular when it attains the form of capital – is an embodiment of pure, self-referential desire. Contrary to what is often stated regarding the first chapters of The Philosophy of Money, this does not mean that Simmel’s account relies on a merely subjective theory of value, as in orthodox economics. Rather, such a conception of money and capital as pure desire can only be based on a value theory that is at once pre-subjective, subjective, intersubjective and objective. In the context of this systematic reconstruction, some of the most defining features of affective experience in modernity come to appear as expressions of what Simmel, following the psychology of his time, called neurasthenia, i.e. a continuous oscillation between feelings of hyperesthesia and anesthesia.