Sunday, December 29, 2013

This Morning We Shall Spend a Few Minutes Upon the Study of Symbolism, Which Is Basic to the Nature of Money, or: Born Ninety-One Years Ago Today

Even though I should have known from The Recognitions that the world was not waiting breathlessly for my message, that it already knew, and was quite happy to live with all these false values, I’d always been intrigued by the charade of the so-called free market, so-called free enterprise system, the stock market conceived of as what was called a “people’s capitalism” where you “owned a part of the company” and so forth. All of which is true; you own shares in a company, so you literally do own part of the assets. But if you own a hundred shares out of six or sixty or six hundred million, you’re not going to influence things very much. Also, the fact that people buy securities—the very word in this context is comic—not because they are excited by the product—often you don’t know what the company makes—but simply for profit: The stock looks good and you buy it. The moment it looks bad you sell it. What had actually happened in the company is not your concern. In many ways I thought . . . the childishness of all this. Because JR himself, which is why he is eleven years old, is motivated only by good-natured greed. JR was, in other words, to be a commentary on this free enterprise system running out of control. Looking around us now with a two-trillion-dollar federal deficit and billions of private debt and the banks, the farms, basic industry all in serious trouble, it seems to have been rather prophetic.

 - William Gaddis in a 1986 interview.

  • RIP Walter McCabe. Rake, fraud, friend.
  • Today's Maqroll precept: Hawks screaming above the precipices and circling as they hunt their prey are the only image I can think of to evoke the men who judge, legislate, govern. Damn them.
  • Maggie's weekly links.
  • { feuilleton }'s weekly links.
  • Jon Swift Memorial Blog Round-Up. Jon Smith did me many Kinds. Many of my long-time regulars (thank you) found me via Jon Smith.
  • A reminder: if you are Kinding me but me not you, please let me know.
  • The least marketable skills in America.

Howard Nemerov
This morning we shall spend a few minutes   
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic   
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.   
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison   
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate   
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in   
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean   
An indeterminately large number of things   
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on   
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel   
There is the profile of a man with long hair   
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know   
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and   
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent   
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears   
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian   
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;   
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.   
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,   
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of   
A collectors’ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,   
The representative American Indian was destroyed   
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants’   
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations,   
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,   
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated   
Ode on a Grecian Urn.
                               Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked   
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of the coin,   
Can never see each other; (b) they are looking   
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian’s feathers, the Indian past
The bison’s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face   
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon.
I hope that our studies today will have shown you   
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized.


  1. Replies
    1. No no no. It's best intro in a rock song, not shittiest song ever by overrated guitarist backed by Gordon Fucking Sumner.

  2. i quite enjoyed the song you guys are talking about the first twenty times i heard it on the radio, but it's still in pretty heavy rotation on the dino rock station i have on the button in the car, and when it comes along i usually switch to something else

    on the other hand, one of my favorite knopfler songs, that i have yet to get tired of - and i really like the organ part, by the way - is Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms Mandela Live 1988

    i find it full of 'substance of we feeling'