Danny Westneat's present column, "Another ‘Manhattan moment’: Seattle’s new $19,265-a-month apartment" concerns an apartment that's at the top of a new Seattle building and, of course, only the super-rich can afford. It costs $19,000 not "per year—the advertised rent is $19,000 per month" (emphasis Westneat's). All of this talk about the battle for the city's soul (represented in the column by Westneat's first apartment, which was on Capitol Hill, had a view of the Sound, and rented in 1985 for $220 per month) is long over. (What most call the soul of a city, the essayist and novelist Jonathan Raban more effectively called "Soft City.") Seattle has entered, according to Westneat, its Manhattan stage of "luxury living."
[T]he inflation in luxury living is remarkable. Just three years ago, the most expensive apartment on the market in Seattle was $6,800 a month, for one of the units in the Belltown luxury building Escala. Recently a penthouse on top of One Lincoln Tower in Bellevue was going for $20,000 a month, but at more than 4,000 square feet it’s a third larger than the apartment at the under construction Kiara building.
But what is luxury exactly? It's a thing that connects with or taps into the infinity of money. For, Noam Yuran, a philosopher of desire and money, this is when a thing "can be endlessly desired"; meaning, desired as if the "thing were money," which, unlike a thing, is limitless. There is no end to money; there is an end to a thing. But a thing of luxury breaks with "the restricted desire for [a] thing" (this is what orthodox economics calls the marginal utility of a thing, and is the foundation for the supply and demand conceptions of the market utopia), and for one reason or other, is sucked into "the limitless desire for money" and thereby is inflated like nothing else. Money is like Borges' mirrors. For Yuran, wristwatches made by Switzerland's Patek Philippe & Co—they can go for $2 million dollars a pop—provide an example of the essence of luxury, which are items that can be desired endlessly. Another object of this kind is, of course, hanging in Seattle Art Museum right at this moment: Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled (1982).
I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece. When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible. バスキア落札しました。アートを好きになってよかった。このペインティングをはじめて見た時、心からそう思いました。みなさんにも見てもらえる機会を作れたらいいなと思っています。 #jeanmichelbasquiat #basquiat #バスキア #ありがとう @sothebys
It was purchased by Yusaku Maezawa, a hip Japanese billionaire (he is into tech, rock, and fashion). He bought this endless object of desire for a staggering $110,000,000. One is not by any means nuts to conclude that it's now even worth much more than its price a year ago (Maezawa purchased the painting in May, 2017). Money cannot stop flying to it, even as it sits doing pretty much nothing in downtown Seattle. It doesn't work. It doesn't grow. It's unproductive. It has achieved the highest level of luxury possible. Its thingness has the thing-lessness of the universal equivalent. A private collector bought this painting for $19,000 around the time Westneat moved into his $220 Capitol Hill studio. Those were the days.