Archived entries for

Computatio Universalis

“The path to happiness was an exhaustive and inventive method of accounting for time, which Foley elaborated in a series of definitions, postulates, axioms, propositions, and problems. He defined his project in terms of the amount of time fully within an individual subject’s control — that is, the number of uncommitted waking hours a fully rational man (for man it was) could expect to have at his disposal over the course of a normal life. Foley’s definitions of wealth and happiness referred back to this fundamental constraint: wealth, for instance, was what a man was ‘master of’ in this period, while happiness comprised ‘all the ease and satisfactions and pleasures’ he could voluntarily stuff into it. A man was wise or foolish in direct proportion to his resolution to maximize the happiness he could attain within the time allotted, given the resources at hand.

Benjamin Franklin might have stopped there, but Foley realised that concrete solutions required postulating ‘some determinate number of years’ as ‘the age of man’, and ‘some determinate sum of money’ as his estate. Here, the figures Foley supposed brought the intended audience for this moral science much more sharply into focus. First, Foley stipulated an average lifespan of 64. He then subtracted time not under the individual’s control: sleep (estimated at 18 years, 4 months); childhood before the age of reason (9 years); weekly and daily devotions (3 years, 8 months, 15 days and 13 hours); and illness (‘at least’ 11 months, 14 days and 11 hours). This left 32 years, or exactly half a life, as a man’s true ‘time’. As to estate, Foley imagined his evidently landed subject to enjoy ‘an estate of inheritance of £120 per annum’, or — subtracting the expenses of childhood, charity, sickness, food, lodging, and clothes — a total usable estate of £4940. These two figures determined the potential value of this man’s happiness; wisdom was the skill to realize that potential.”

Ted McCormick, Moral geometry in Restoration Ireland: Samuel Foley’s ‘Computatio universalis’ (1684) and the science of colonisation

The Fictions of Finance | Dissent Magazine

In this sense, the finance novel carries a second pervading irony: for all the information it provides, its ultimate achievement is to draw a circle around our ignorance. Yes, it makes much of the raw data of experience, but only in order to direct our attention to the full range of our illiteracy. Hans is dazzled by his Caribbean friend’s argot, a card game called wapi, the all-fours club, roti and doubles, the language of the street. The narrator of Rahman’s novel reminds us that bankers have their own names for these new money-making equations, but only to preserve the “mystique of the priesthood.” Lanchester calls this reversification, the process by which language evolves over time to indicate its very opposite, in the way that a hedge is a border or boundary, but hedge funds are often unregulated investment opportunities that are literally “unhedged.” The first obstacle, says Lanchester, is “the words themselves.” Language is the mystical foil that preserves the aura of the expert, the native, he who is in the know. It is a form of denial, too, that shields the trader from his own guilt: as Lanchester reminds us, quoting Martin Amis, “Denial was the best thing. Denial was even better than smoking.”

To whom do we distribute the tedious work of tearing away the veil? In the face of the “boring” and the “complex,” where is the intellectual vanguard? Novelists like Dreiser and Zola were committed socialists, and naturalism was a political project as much as an aesthetic one. Who are their counterparts today?

In the interim, there are projects like Occupy Finance, an e-book put out by the Alternative Banking Group and available for free download, on the principle that “you do not need a PhD in economics to understand what is happening.” The labor of reconfiguring the imagination, that imagination so strained by the abstractions of financial crisis, and of drawing other worlds, has been left to projects like them. The finance novel, participating as it does in what has been called capitalist realism—an ideological inability to imagine any kind of rupture to the political and economic systems of the present—is just catching up. But little by little, it punctures the aura of the specialist, for the long age ahead.

via The Fictions of Finance | Dissent Magazine.

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