Chapter 3: Writing the Investment Bank

Chapter 3 (“Recounting financial objects”) is the first explicitly empirical chapter of The Provoked Economy. It tells what happens in the back office of a large investment bank (referred to as “Thoth Bank”, the same bank that was dealt with here) with attention to the quandaries of description and finalization — the finalization of description.

Why description?

“If one looks at the activities carried out in the trading rooms of large international investment banks, one notices how prevalent the problem of description is. Investment banking is about describing financial products, writing them, checking their terms, re-describing them in different terms, forwarding and verifying these descriptions, making sense (especially financial sense) of them. This is even more visible when one examines the locus of the paperwork: that is, the back office.” (p. 45)

Why finalization?

“What the empirical examination of Thoth Bank reveals, in any case, is that the concern for finalization and its consequences stands almost as the essence of the back office — the banking anus (technically speaking).” (p. 49)

The chapter looks there at several things. One is the mess of coping electronically with a compound of multifarious descriptions. Another one is valuation (e.g. calculating profits) considered as a problem of description (e.g. coping with discrepancies between the descriptions of the value of a “same” product, with emphasis on the ontology of those quotation marks). And another one is the unpacking of the unsettling question of the technocratic power of description of financial objects, and its role in the proliferation of descriptive escalation (or, in order words, financial complication). The chapter quite naturally ends with a comment on Kerviel.