Freud famously retells the tale of the devil whose gifts of money turn to excrement upon his leaving. He uses this myth to buttress his findings from analysis which associate anxiety concerning money with an anal stage anxiety over excrement. Thus psychoanalytically speaking, money equals shit. Freud goes further to posit excrement as the child’s first gift to the parents. This arrangement of things has always bothered me, for it is as though the child were congenitally stupid and/or perverse, only gaining a moral sense in the repression of sadistic sexual drives.
Gunter Grass may have posed the anxiety over excrement more clearly in the comical reversal of food and shit in the opening of “The Flounder”, his epic retelling of the Fisherman’s Wife tale. In the first chapter, Grass imagines a primitive society in which food is eaten in private, but people gather in circles to defecate. To further the joke, in this fancied savage society the women circulate among the defecating tribesman to inspect their feces. This comic reversal contains more truth than would first be apparent. The smell of feces is a raw olfactory sign of the health of an individual’s diet. In the wild, when a parent smells the feces of the offspring, it would be in order to check the digestion, diet and general health of the offspring. Thus anxiety over food translates, evolutionarily speaking, into a concern for the composition of the feces. Any “anal stage” gift is an instinctual device for the paternal regulation of diet, and the offspring’s learning of the same. The presentation of feces to a parent is thus better explained by a biological evolutionary hypothesis than it is by a perverse sadistic fixation in the anal stage. Concern for or anxiety over feces implies concern for food.
This does not therefore mean that money equals food: money still equals shit as it is a worthless object that symbolizes food. Without contradicting Freud’s clinical findings concerning money’s associations in the unconscious, we can recover from psychoanalysis the moral object food as the primal gift.