Debt: The Sublimated Object of Capital

Matthew Flisfeder


In psychoanalysis, a ‘sublime object’ is one that signifies the transformation of a condition of impossibility into one of possibility. On the one hand, it represents a moment of internalized prohibition that transforms an impossibility into some- thing possible: the sublime object turns the impossible sexual object, for example, into something that is prohibited, and therefore possible. On the other hand, a sublime object represents the objectification of a lack. Or, in other words, it is lack in object form; it is the objective correlative of nothingness itself. What better definition might we have for the role played by debt in capital, particularly in its financial stage?

Debt is the sublimated object of capital in the sense that it is, itself, a pure noth- ing that attains object form. It is in its object form that this pure nothing makes possible the global expansion of capital and the class interests that pertain to the latter. Debt operates similarly to the Lacanian the sublime object as the ‘object- cause of desire’. If we subtract this object from capitalist system we lose the system itself. Debt is in this sense the object that, on the other side of its ‘normal’, everyday operation contains both a nugget of the truth of the system itself and the mecha- nism by which the capitalist system may be overthrown. Debt is the lack in the capitalist system that overlaps with the lack that is the exploited subject.

In my paper, I use the Lacanian concept of the sublime object to demonstrate how debt represents the sublimated object of capital; and, as such, it is the central, universal cause that has the potential to open up a space for the interpellation of radical revolutionary subjectivity.

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