Searching for Metaphors

The brief post yesterday was, I suppose, a stab at thinking about Main Street and Wall Street as metaphors. This isn't to say that they don't have a material reality, nor is it to say that they don't exist in physical fact; it's simply to suggest that the two terms, the two tropes, stand in for something much larger.

Perhaps more properly, the rhetorical term is synechdoche, though thinking about it again, that's not quite right either. While Main Street might be taken as a part standing in for the whole of small town America, it doesn't quite work, because I don't think Main Street is imagined as a part. It's imagined as a kind of discrete location, topic, place, reservoir, reserve, what have you. By the same token, while Wall Street might be termed one part of a larger global financial system, I think its rhetorical force stems precisely from the way it is imagined as a discrete place.

This question of metaphor (even though I think it's the wrong word there) came to mind when reading through something in the New York Times this afternoon. In a broad description of the problems in the financial markets, David Leonhardt writes:
The same thing is happening now. Financial markets are global, not local, today, so the problem isn't that the failure of any single bank locks individuals or businesses out of the credit markets. Instead, the nasty surprises of the last 13 months - the sort of turmoil that once would have been unthinkable - have caused an effective breakdown in informational capital. Bankers now look at longtime customers and think of that old refrain from a failed marriage: I feel like I don't even know you.
Now marriage enters the picture. My interest, I suppose, isn't so much in whether or not Leonhardt is right as it is the way in which we deploy these terms: Wall Street, Main Street, contagion, marriage, in such a way as to make sense of ourselves to other people.


Jordan M said…
We're all married to each other these days, like the kings and queens of old:

Simply, the system's scale is far beyond the ability of nation-states, or a community of nation-states, to manage when it suffers a breakdown. In the case of the current financial collapse, the global shadow banking system (a globally inter-networked collection of unregulated financial products) is approximately $450 trillion, as compared to a US GDP of $15 trillion or a global GDP of ~$60 trillion. Put another way, the financial liabilities of the highly leveraged Deutsche Bank are 80% of Germany's GDP and Barclay's liabilities are 100% of the UK's GDP. As the leverage underlying the shadow banking system unwinds and more banks fail, the scale of the loses experienced will rapidly exceed nation-state budgets.
Timur said…
honestly, i'm not much a fan of sites like that. i don't feel like they tell me anything useful about my life, though they sometimes come up with alarming statements.

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