Re-establishing the European financial symbolic

15/03/2012 § 2 Comments

In Zizek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, he quotes Jacques-Alain Miller discussing the financial problems of 2008:

The financial universe is an architecture made of fictions and its keystone is what Lacan called a “subject supposed to know”, to know why and how. Who plays this part? The concert of authorities, from where sometimes a voice is detached, Alan Greenspan, for example, in his time. The financial players base their behavior on this. The fictional and hyper-reflexive unit holds by the “belief” in the authorities, i.e. through the transference to the subject supposed to know. If this subject falters, there is a crisis, a falling apart of the foundations, which of course involves effects of panic.

An agreement was reached on Greece’s debt this week. Note the passive construction of that sentence. I’m not really sure who reached the agreement. The troika (a word I always associated with folk dancing) of EC, ECB, and IMF was there; representatives from Greece and other governments were involved. Then there was the ISDA, who had to declare the event ‘an event’ in order to trigger insurance payments on the notes the creditors held. But who really inked the deal, and after which group gave their approval?

Also, the metaphors are again out in full force: a 75% haircut (what is that, a No. 2?), calm seas, turning pages, pulled triggers.

I’ve been wondering why it has taken so long. It was obvious months ago that Greece couldn’t pay, in the sense that there was no way they could raise the case and continue to have a functioning economy. Blood from a stone and all that. I realise there had to be negotiations about who would take the hit and how much, but that just seems such a technocratic question for all the proceedings we’ve witnessed.

This quote from Miller sheds some light on the problem. The agreement on Greece is an attempt to re-establish this subject-supposed-to-know. We thought this subject was firmly enthroned. ‘The markets’ know, ‘the markets’ decide; the judge’s decision is final. The voice of the authorities was the still point.

It wasn’t even the original financial problems in 2009 and 2010 that created this crisis of faith. Hey, stuff happens. Markets rise and markets fall (and you can make money both ways). Sometimes, people panic. That’s alright — we’ll just reset the timer and start again.

But it didn’t take. The original plan wasn’t enough. The smartest guys in the room didn’t pull it off.

I can hear the cry of the supplicant now: ‘Tell us, oh markets, what thou wouldst have us do to appease you!’ But the volcano kept erupting, the rains didn’t come, and Greece wasn’t fixed.

So here’s my metaphor for where we are now: after forty years in the desert, after forty days in the wilderness, trying to understand the will of the markets, we have written down the commandments of the subject-supposed-to-know. We fervently hope that if we abide by this agreement, we will be saved.


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