Posted by: HAT | April 3, 2008

Money, Women, Exchange

 Fredric Jameson comments that the absence of money characterizes the classical 19th century utopian fictions, the utopian socialists, and to a significant degree, also the science fiction works he considers in Archaeologies of the Future.  But I would add – and maybe I should check to see whether he does this, too, but if he does I don’t think he emphasizes it as much as it needs to be emphasized – reflections on the status and occupations of women are also universal. 

Now, stop and think about this for a minute.  What do money and women have to do with one another?  Why would the two perdurant features of utopian speculation be the absence of money and the transformation of women’s condition?

Well, I wonder whether it doesn’t have something to do with the notion of medium of exchange.  (Remembering Levi-Strauss and Gayle Rubin of “The Traffic in Women” and Paige & Paige of The Politics of Reproductive Ritual.)  That one of the characteristics of utopia as envisioned from here, wherever here is, is that money ceases to be the medium of exchange of stuff, and women cease to be the medium of exchange of status and privilege and relationships among men.  What this would mean about utopia I have yet to think through well enough.

But here’s a little idea of what it might mean about religion and art.  One of the reasons we can understand for why it is wrong to exchange people (as if they were “stuff”) is that it violates their human integrity.  People, human beings, have a kind of innate integrity that is violated when they are treated as things that can just be traded, as if they were all the same.  But we have a tendency to say here (along with Kant, whether or not we know it) that the wrong here is treating persons as things.  But suppose that is not a good way to think about it, suppose things, too, have their own specific integrity, which can be violated or honored?  Suppose there are some uses to which things can be put – relatively unresisting, things have even less personal agency than people do, though they too can resist – that really violate their integrity, while other uses honor and glorify these particular things.  So that art (possibly) has something to do with working with things, collaborating, cooperating, honoring the integrity of things, bringing out/making manifest the beauty and the significance of things . . . as religion has something to do with bringing out/making manifest/cultivating the beauty and the significance of people, in the context of the divine.


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