Academic journal article New Formations

'The Meaning of Money': Russia, the Ruble, the Dollar and Psychoanalysis

Academic journal article New Formations

'The Meaning of Money': Russia, the Ruble, the Dollar and Psychoanalysis

Article excerpt

In keeping with the psychoanalytical tradition, this essay will be an interpretation of a dream, or rather a series of answers to questions posed in a dream about the meanings of money. The answers touch on the different periods of my life in the Soviet Union and Russia. What was the attitude towards money in the Soviet era? How did it change during perestroika? What happened with the advent of capitalism? But let us slowly come to the dream and its narrative, after first recounting the events that preceded it.


On the morning of 13 February 2010, I found myself in Madrid, where it occurred to me that it was high time to think about what questions I would address in my talk for the Psychoanalysis, Money and the Economy International Conference in London half-a-year later. (1) This thought was immediately displaced or effaced by a multitude of new impressions of Madrid. In the evening, a carnival celebrating cinema began its procession not far from the hotel where we were staying. So, neither in the morning nor the evening of 13 February did this thought about money and psychoanalysis have much chance of resurfacing. When I got back to our room, I thought it wouldn't be amiss for the carnival zombies and vampires to appear to me in my sleep, but my dream had other plans. It decided the matter pragmatically, so to speak, helping me formulate questions about money and psychoanalysis. Here is that dream:

   13/14 February 2010, Madrid: 'The meanings of money' A class at
   school. I am sitting at a pupil's desk. A female teacher's strict
   voice rings out: 'And now Mazin will explain to us the meaning of
   money'. After a slight pause, she complicates the task: 'He will
   explain to us the meaning of money--first, for the married couple,
   a man and woman; second, for the single young man; third, for the

It is clear that all three questions are addressed to me alone--a married man, a single young man, and a psychoanalyst. The three questions are addressed to three versions of me, to the three times of my self. I will have to answer the questions posed by the voice. The scene of the dream is of the auditory type. Notwithstanding its dramatic flair, the dream 'frames' a double absence. On the one hand, the place of my own ego in it is that 'of someone who does not see'; (2) on the other hand, instead of the teacher there is only her strict voice. The voice's autonomy imparts to this scene the character of a mystical revelation. The strict voice asks a question about the meaning of money for different persons--that is, it literally asks about difference.


I am duty bound to respond to my Soviet teacher's voice. I am obliged. The external economy is already inscribed in this inner debt. It is as if I am guilty of something, as if I am in debt to the inner-outer Other. This feeling literally haunted me during my school days. What will happen if I'm finally able to reply? Will my teacher throw herself from a cliff? Will it finally become clear to me that the Other doesn't exist? Will the secret be revealed that her voice is merely a faceless echo?

The oneiro-voice reproduces the text of the law. In the case of the debt-ridden Rat Man, Freud writes that the text of an obsessional command, which in waking life resembles a 'mutilated telegraph message', appears legibly in dreams in the form of speech, although this contradicts the principle according to which 'speeches in dreams are derived from speeches in real life'. (3) The speech of the law comes from text. The first thought I have in connection with this dream is that the meaning of money depends on text, law, discourse. In other words, money is universal 'small change', a means of exchange, but there is no universal money. This thought is of course already present in the oneiro-teacher's question, in the fact that she demands three answers about the meaning of money, each of which I can relate to three different periods. …

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