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September 26, 2009, 2:30 PM

Historical Capitalism: Money and Imagination

Participants: Marshall Berman, Simon Critchley, Sandra Sherman

Modern finance requires that people who do not know each other, who may be physically separated by thousands of miles, "invest" each other with substantial trust. The mutual promises that support this system constitute The Market, where promises are sold and resold until someone is finally called upon to perform. The temporal/spatial dimension between promise and performance—that is, the realm of trust—can only exist because we are able to impart value to abstract obligations that may or may not be fulfilled sometime in the future. This ability is based in imagination, a certain visionary attribute of our desire for profit, or at least for a respectable payoff. This roundtable will examine the ways in which our financial structure rests upon various modes of imaginary projection. Is financial credit nothing but "Air-Money," Defoe's trenchant term for obligations that can evaporate overnight? Or is imagination, no matter how prone to risk, still our only refuge from a system tending towards barter? We will ask cultural historians, economists, and literary theorists to elaborate on the real and imagined future of money.

Marshall Berman is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at The City College of New York. Professor Berman has received degrees from Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard Universities. He is a member of the editorial board of Dissent, and has written on cultural history and criticism in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Dissent, The Nation, and New Left Review, among others. His publications include The Politics of Authenticity; All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity; Adventures in Marxism; New York Calling; and On the Town. Professor Berman has also been involved in PBS's History of New York and a History Channel documentary about Times Square.

Simon Critchley is Chair and Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His most recent publication is The Book of Dead Philosophers. He recently published a piece on money in The New York Times: Coin of Praise.

Sandra Sherman is Assistant Director of the Fordham Intellectual Property Conference. Sherman was an attorney for several years in the U.S. Department of Energy, and has held legal positions in the Justice Department and Department of State. Before joining the Institute, she was a professor at the University of Arkansas and Georgia State University, where she specialized in 18th century British literature and culture. Sherman is the author of Finance and Fictionality in the Early Eighteenth Century: Accounting for Defoe and Imagining Poverty: Quantification and the Decline of Paternalism. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. She was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard and a Visiting Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University, and the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. .

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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