The Currency of Desire

Libidinal Economy, Psychoanalysis and Sexual Revolution



ISBN: 9781907103575 Categories: ,

Format: Paperback

Publication date: October 1, 2016

Page extent: 314

4 in stock

‘David Bennett’s ambitious survey of the political, economic and psychic currency of desire – whether for physical pleasure or, its substitute, money – is a masterpiece of historical and psychoanalytic scholarship. Always eloquent and accessible, The Currency of Desire take us on a truly transdisciplinary journey …’

Professor Lynne Segal, Birkbeck, University of London

Metaphors of money have shaped theories of sexual psychology ever since Enlightenment doctors explained the mind-body as an ‘animal economy’ whose currency was desire, figured as a liquid form of energy that could be spent or saved, profitably invested or pleasurably squandered.

In this erudite and groundbreaking book, David Bennett explores the power of economic language to mould both scientific and popular thinking about desire from the eighteenth century to the present, on topics as disparate as onanism and advertising, psychoanalysis and shopping, Christianity and communism, prostitution and revolution.

The Currency of Desire combines intellectual history with modern critical theory to shed new light on the interactions between money and desire, homo oeconomicus and homo psychologicus.

1. Introduction: Libidinal Economy before and after Freud
2. Consumer Culture and the Sovereign Spender: Sade, Freud, Bataille and Lawrence
3. The Libidinal Economy of Advertising: Psychoanalysis and the Invention of the Consumer Unconscious
4. Compulsive Spending and the Trope of the Prostitute as Proto-Revolutionary: Parent-Duchâtelet, Reich, Bataille, Marcuse, Marx and Lyotard
5. ‘Revolution is the orgasm of history’: Two Theories of Revolutionary Libidinal Economy
6. Libidinal Communists and Sexual Revolutionaries, Part I: The Oneida Community (1848-1880), with a digression on electrifying sex
7. Libidinal Communists and Sexual Revolutionaries, Part II: The Friedrichshof Commune (1972-1990), with a reflection on Keynesianism
8. Psychoanalysis, Post-Communism and the Black Economy

‘As copiously erudite as it is intellectually ambitious, The Currency of Desire explores the long history of the “libidinal economy” as a potent, figurative force that plays at the intersection between economic rationality and psychic life – interest and identity, profit and loss, saving and spending. Metaphors are “symptoms” of survival, Bennett lucidly argues, in a striking narrative that explores the on-going struggle between economic rationality and erotic energy.’
Professor Homi K. Bhabha, Director of the Humanities Centre, Harvard University


‘It is an irresistible coupling: money and sex. David Bennett’s new book displays his extraordinary erudition, which he presents with both eloquence and punch. A great read!’
Professor Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck, University of London


‘Love or money, lust or labour power – what is it that makes the world go round? In The Currency of Desire, David Bennett offers a rich history of experiments in thinking and living according to models of monetary or libidinal circulation – from Marx to Freud, and from the early Soviet Union to nineteenth-century New England. If sexuality is like a primum mobile for the movements of subjective life, then how is this related to broader urges to spend or save, to put out or hold back, for individuals and for larger societies of every kind? Highly charged reading.’
Professor Rachel Bowlby, University College London, author of Everyday Stories


‘David Bennett’s ambitious survey of the political, economic and psychic currency of desire – whether for physical pleasure or, its substitute, money – is a masterpiece of historical and psychoanalytic scholarship. Always eloquent and accessible, The Currency of Desire take us on a truly transdisciplinary journey, critically analysing every theoretical bump and twist in the economies of desire over the last 300 years of European history, taking us right up to the present moments of libidinally invested “saving”, “investing” and “spending”, now increasingly divorced from guilt, shame and, some might say, pleasure. A quite remarkable endeavour.’
Professor Lynne Segal, Birkbeck, University of London, author of Out of Time (2013)

“Erudite, engaging, and sometimes drily funny, The Currency of Desire combines political seriousness with an admirably scrupulous regard for what sometimes seems, to us now, the absurdities and delusions of the past.”

– Dougal McNeill, New Formations 89/90: Death and the contemporary


“In using an economic vocabulary to describe desire, Bennett implies, writers since the Enlightenment have done more to repress the truth of money than to liberate or free sexuality. Moving at a fast clip, Bennett tracks metaphors of libidinal “economy” from Enlightenment writings on the dangers of masturbation through Victorian pornography, and then into the works of Freud, the Frankfurt School, and their followers […] One of the book’s most cogent discussions focuses on Ernest Dichter, a Viennese would-be psychoanalyst who had a remarkable career in the United States as the founder of “Motivational Research” – an approach to marketing based on the idea that consumers could be unconsciously tricked (“motivated”) into buying things they did not need. This proposition seems utterly banal today, but Bennett shows how revolutionary it was in the 1930s and 40s…”

– Rebecca L. Sprang, The Times Literary Supplement


“Bennett’s book presents a compelling account of the symbolic language of money, erotic flows, and the system of economic rationality, which demonstrates clearly how the language of desire has been shaped by the language of money and exchange. The book draws out the importance of the underlying psychic state of any economy by detailing attempts to create new economies through the moulding of the language of desire.”

 – David Hancock, Journal of Cultural Economy