Copycats on CBC radio, Saturday Nov. 27

Sook-Yin Lee took a stroll with me through Chinatown to discuss copying for her radio show DNTO, which airs this Saturday, November 27, 2 p.m., on CBC Radio 1. You can listen to the podcast here.  We did a whole section of the interview live in a TD Bank ATM booth, watching people taking out cash, and trying to think through what that weirdest of copies, money, is really about. While it’s quite clear to me that paper money is literally a copy, the question “what is money a copy of?” is a very difficult one. Best response for me is found in George Simmel’s remarkable 1907 book The Philosophy of Money, which I notice Arjun Appadurai is also a fan of. Money is very close to the unstable plasticity of mimesis itself. It represents, i.e. imitates, value, but again, what does that really mean? For Marx, value itself could be a kind of hallucination whose effects were nonetheless very real … something that the current financial crises confirm. Money proliferates, it’s a great example of the contagiousness of mimesis, and it was a pleasure to watch people taking  small stacks of bills from the ATM, one after another — a very orderly proliferation.  But as a copy, money is also unstable and disappears, as those that bought subprime mortgage instruments in the belief that they represented something, now know.  Simmel struggles with this paradox: that money is supposed to be a guarantee of value, of the stability of the system of valuing, but is nonetheless in practice highly unstable.  But isn’t the enormous national and international financial apparatus, from the World Bank to academic economics to governmental monetary policy an indication of how much work it is to maintain the stability of the “original” of monetary value, and stop it from turning into a “mere”, “worthless”, “copy”?

When I was working on In Praise of Copying, someone told me, or perhaps I read somewhere that the Canadian visual art group General Idea had written that “money was the first multiple”, i.e. the first mass produced art object a la Marcel Duchamp.  I tried to verify the statement, or find a source, but I was never able to do so.  I guess that would make it a counterfeit statement about counterfeiting? Buyer beware …

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