Jacques-Alain Miller
The Financial Crisis

Crisis image

Question – As etymology would recall, there exist affinities between the word crisis and the word critical. Crisis calls upon judgment, but it is more than anything a swinging point, like a disease which can lead to death or to the cure. For an analyst, what is the meaning of the word crisis?

Jacques-Alain Miller – The psychoanalyst is “crisis friendly”. To start analysis always constitutes for the subject a critical moment, which responds to a crisis, or unveils one. Only, once started, analysis becomes a hard work. A crisis of tears? You wait until it passes. A crisis of anguish, a panic attack? You defuse them. A crisis of madness? You avoid starting it… Besides, each session is like a small crisis, each one undergoing paroxysm and resolution. In short, there is crisis in the psychoanalytical sense, when speech, discourse, the words, the figures, the rites, the routine, all the symbolic apparatus, prove suddenly impotent to moderate a real which makes as it pleases. A crisis, it is the real unchained, impossible to control. The equivalent, in civilization, of these hurricanes by which nature periodically recalls mankind of its precariousness, of its land frailty.

Q – How do you interpret the fear of losing money, our own money? To hoard money, is it the same for a small saver than for a billionaire?

JAM – I happen to treat during a few weeks a patient who was billionaire, a maniac, who regularly announced me laughing that he had just gained or lost a million dollars that very morning speculating with currencies. The price of the session was for him a kind of tip, a something that did not exist. He ended bankrupted. There are other types of billionaires, more conservative, even miser, and more informed. But if you are really rich, you are rather “unanalysable,” because you cannot pay, you cannot yield anything significant: the analysis slips over you like water on the feathers of a duck. The “small saver”? To save, accumulate; it means to sacrifice desire, or at least to defer it. The Harpagon’s box, it is the jouissance-box, made of cold jouissance. Money is a signifier without signification, which kills all significations. When one is devoted to money, truth loses meaning, one only sees a booby-trap there.

Q – Lure of gain, the will to stack large sums of money such as that they become unreal. Is this thrust to wealth related to the death drive?

JAM – Yes, the thrust to save speculates openly on death, the fear of the disease, the desire to be perpetuated in the offspring. But there is also the thrust to borrow if I may say so, with immediate consumption as the supreme correlative, the unrestrained expenditure. And, then, there is the thrust to money for money sake, the pure pleasure of hoarding it. Death, jouissance, and repetition, these are the three sides of a pyramid which base is given by the unconscious nature of money: and here we are dealing with the anal object. What do we see in this moment of truth about the financial crisis we are in? That it is worthless; that money is like shit! Here is the real which unsettles all discourses. One calls that, politely, “the toxic assets”… Benedict XVI, always sharp, was expeditious in capitalizing on the financial crisis: “This proves,” he said, “that all is vanity, and only the word of God holds out! ”

Q – This crisis contains a strong psychological dimension. What does explain the movements of panic, in particular the jolts in the stocks markets? What does start them, and how can they be alleviated?

JAM – The monetary signifier is one of semblance, which rests on social conventions. 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. However, the financial subject supposed to know was already quite subdued because of deregulation. And this happened because the financial world believed, in its infatuated delusion, to be able to work things out without the function of the subject supposed to know. Firstly, the real state assets become waste. Secondly, gradually shit permeates everything. Thirdly, there is a gigantic negative transfer vis-à-vis the authorities; the electric shock of the Paulson/Bernanke plan angers the public: the crisis is one of trust; and it will last till the subject supposed to know is reconstructed. This will come in the long term by way of a new set of Bretton Woods accords, a council enjoined to speak the truth about the truth.


  1. Tim Themi
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Financial liberalization has effects well beyond the economy. It has long been understood that it is a powerful weapon against democracy. Free capital movement, capital flight, creates what some have called a “virtual parliament” of investors and lenders, who closely monitor government programs and “vote” against them if they are considered irrational: i.e., if they are considered for the benefit of the majority of people, rather than for concentrated private power.
    What Investors and lenders do here is “vote” by capital flight, through attacks on currencies and through other devices offered by financial liberalization. That is one reason why the BRETTON WOODS system established by the United States and Britain after the second World War had then instituted capital controls and regulated currencies.
    The Great Depression and the war had aroused powerful radical democratic currents, ranging from the anti-fascist resistance to working class organization. These pressures made it necessary to permit social democratic policies. The Bretton Woods system was designed in part to create a space for government action responding to public will – for some measure of democracy.
    John Maynard Keynes, the British negotiator, considered the most important achievement of Bretton Woods to be the establishment of the right of governments to restrict capital movement.
    In dramatic contrast, in the neoliberal phase after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in the 1970s, the US treasury now regards free capital mobility as a “fundamental right”, unlike such alleged “rights” as those guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: i.e., those such as health, education, decent employment, security and other rights that the Reagan and Bush administrations have dismissed as “letters to Santa Claus”, “preposterous”, mere “myths”.
    –by Noam Chomsky, MIT Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus), excerpt from “ANTI-DEMOCRATIC NATURE OF US CAPITALISM IS BEING EXPOSED”, posted on Z-Net, 11 Oct 2008, article also appeared first in The Irish Times.

  2. Posted October 26, 2008 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Fortunately for our species, the dreaming biped, there is no truth about truth that will suffice. Despite a Bretton Woods 2 and the US election of a well-crafted Subject-supposed-to-know (desperately embraced) in November, the fetished goal of financialized Capitalism will not regain it’s pretense of rational function: Money stays sh-te. In this debacle, the well-coutured looters have added too many zeros to the astronomical sums accumulating in their hoards for ‘normal’ to appear coherent again.

    This time the bands that won the Battle in Seattle are become globalized millions: Man becomes Man? Will we even recognize him?

  3. Joe!
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Who plays this part? The concert of authorities…

    As Tim’s arrogated voice intimated, it is not only the libidinal economy that is organized around the pursuit of a necessarily exorbitant element- one can clearly recognize the absence of any authority mediating between the dyadic exchange through which two elements become one in economy. Even or especially in the darkest, most banal sense, when it seems out of reach or out of touch, the metaphor of economy will not yield into something greater or less than itself. This metaphor produces.

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