Currency and Mythos


If one accepts the posit that western civilization is and always has been essentially greco-roman, then the gods of the greco-roman pantheon are the primordial gods of our civilizations, not the god of the abrahamic religions. The first supreme god of Hellenic civilization was Chaos. Chaos is unrepresentable, not as with later gods such as Yahweh, from commandment, but intrinsically. As infinite, constant exchange nothing can be fixed or determined, as the most primordial sublime Chaos is “the night where all cows are black”. Beyond unrepresentable, Chaos was not even properly thinkable within the developing rationality of Greek culture.

The last god of the greco-roman pantheon, Janus, is a god the Romans claimed as exclusively their own, which is correct in a sense. As the god of currency, ports, trade etc. Though Janus is also a transformation of Chaos and simultaneously a substantialization, almost a conceptualization, but not as restrictive as a rational concept. There was also a Greek transformation of Chaos, who took the place at the table of the Olympians formerly occupied by the goddess of home and hearth, Dionysius. As god of wine and currency (the temples were the Greek and Roman mints, among other things, and wine was a common early currency) Dionysius is related to Janus, but thought in a Greek and not Roman way.

The full substantialization of currency and its essence as the god arose via technology, one borrowed from another local civilization. That technology was the touchstone, and it had an importance in the Greek city-state model that it hadn’t had with the more hierarchical Hittites. It allowed a relative value to be fully determined, and gave rise to the notion of currency having “intrinsic” value and substance.

At the birth of Imperial Rome the god was itself exchanged for a man, Caesar, whose imprint replaced Janus on Roman currency. As the Roman empire began to wane, an isomorphic exchange of god for man, the mythos of Christianity, concealed the original exchange, and the Roman empire temporarily reinstated the blessed and therefore valuable determination to its currency, as the Roman empire transformed into the Holy Roman empire.

The means of exchange was substituted for exchange itself, and this exchange hidden behind a further exchange of the god for a man. This double concealment has allowed currency to retain its basic assumed mythos virtually unquestioned up to the modern age. However technology, which allowed the substantialization to begin, has recently reverted the substantialization to such a degree that many in the west rarely touch any representation of currency,. This lack of immediacy weakens the basic trust in the mythos.

“The gods of Greece and their supreme god, if they ever come, will return only transformed to a world whose overthrow is grounded in the land of the gods of ancient Greece.” (italics mine)

Martin Heidegger, Sojourns, translated by John Panteleimon Manoussakis (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005)

The notion that the overthrow of the ‘world’, the basic mythos that structures reality for man, the symbolic order in Zizek’s formulation, is grounded in the land of the gods of ancient Greece is at first sight peculiar. Heidegger is not saying that the overthrow, if it ever occurs, is grounded in the gods themselves but in the land from which they originated. This potential overthrow is what Heidegger terms “the last god”. The last god is not an entity even in the sense of the other greco-roman gods because it is the essence of non-entity itself. It can only appear in any sense as its own passing-away, as its exposure as insubstantial. Currency is a measure,but unlike other measures, it doesn’t measure an entity but only the differencing of entities, which can never itself be an entity.

The possibility of another beginning of Western history must occur as the passing and passing-away of the last god, not merely of its presencing or appearing, though it must appear as a hint in order to pass-away. This passing occurs in a stillness that is likewise the most intense motion as absolute tension, a trembling that gathers coming-to-be and passing-away in the decision of a moment (Augenblick).

The passing of the last god occurs from utmost refusal, the most originary “not” of be-ing out of which alone the hint of the last god can manifest. The last god is not an end but rather the beginning as it sways back into itself. The last god sways as not granting, i.e., utmost refusal as the farthest going ahead. Being is itself insubstantial, what determines a thing insofar as that and what it is is precisely (ex)change itself, a thing is always an (ex)change from something else. As such, like theo in its originary form, Be-ing is purely verbal.

Be-ing, as (ex)change, was usurped by its measure, currency, in the first beginning, which as such became the concealed last god of greco-roman history, Janus, a stand in for Chaos, a concealing of Chaos itself concealed by the Christ figure as a stand-in for Janus. The idolatry of Janus is itself concealed by its transformation as Christianity.

Currency can only sway into its ownmost not-being by the utmost refusal to (ex)change via currency and thus exposing its lack of substantiality, it’s lack of even being a measure of (ex)change. By the not-granting of refusal, the last god passes, and another beginning becomes possible. This other must, as a recoil of the first beginning, be fundamentally a granting, the freeing claim that the essence of technology, properly responded to, brings us into the vicinity of.

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