In the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, my uncle worked as a trader on Wall Street. I never took a particular interest in his work. Once, though, when I was a graduate student, he suggested that I visit the floor of the New York Stock Exchange – if only as an anthropological field trip. My uncle worked with a broker who worked on the floor itself, and he tasked his colleague with being my guide.
So one day I entered the New York Stock Exchange. It felt, somewhat unexpectedly, like descending into Dante’s inferno: dark and claustrophobic, with too many screens and too little natural light. But the surrealism lay less in the Dantean aesthetics than in the ungraspable volume of buying and selling; the dizzying fluttering of prices; the inconceivably large amounts of money flitting about the world in seconds. Yet nothing tangible was changing hands. The objects being bought and sold had transcended the realm of the physical. It was Hegelian dialectics, the sublation – Hegel’s Aufhebung – of materialism: the material consummated itself in the imaginary. There was no more thing, no more product, no material object there anymore. Materialism taken to its highest power negated itself; it became immaterial. […]
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Marci Shore is Associate Professor of History at Yale University and a recurrent Visting Fellow at the IWM.