Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dead Pledges

In his review of Annie McClanahan’s book about the “culture of debt,” Dead Pledges (TLS, 7/14/17) David Hawkes makes the following comment, “Capitalism makes a commodity of labour, but usury makes a commodity of consumption, putting a price on people’s appetites and desires, on the likelihood of their being able to fulfil them, and on the consequences of their failure to do so.” Hawkes also brilliantly introduces the word “prosopopoeia,” “in which a thing is represented as a person or vice versa” into the discussion. The review cites a number of novels in which the concept of debt underlines the portrait of “homo economicus,” though Hawkes curiously omits The Merchant of Venice. What better metaphor for the human consequences of borrowing than “a pound of flesh?” John Lancaster’s The Debt to Pleasure might have deserved mention for its title alone. Yet those who stagger under the weight of debt could do worse than watch the advertisements for Credit Karma on TV. If you're in doubt about your prospects and “credit worthiness” as a human entity or being, you have only hit the Credit Karma app on your smartphone and you will either be happily disabused of a false self-conception or disappointed by an imminent and threatening reality—both depending on how your past, as a borrower, has caught up with you.

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