Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weekly quotes: On debt

“A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790

“The borrower is a slave to the lender, and the debtor to the creditor, disdain the chain, preserve your freedom; and maintain your independency: be industrious and free; be frugal and free.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” – William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, Hamlet (Act I, Scene II, 75-77).

“Without memory, there is no debt. Put another way: Without story, there is no debt.

“A story is a string of actions occurring over time—one damn thing after another, as we glibly say in creative writing classes—and debt happens as a result of actions occurring over time. Therefore, any debt involves a plot line: how you got into debt, what you did, said, and thought while you were in there, and then—depending on whether the ending is to be happy or sad—how you got out of debt, or else how you got further and further into it until you became overwhelmed by it, and sank from view.

“The hidden metaphors are revealing: we get ‘into’ debt, as if into a prison, swamp, or well, or possibly a bed; we get “out” of it, as if coming into the open air or climbing out of a hole. If we are 'overwhelmed' by debt, the image is possibly that of a foundering ship, with the sea and the waves pouring inexorably in on top of us as we flail and choke. All of this sounds dramatic, with much physical activity: jumping in, leaping or clambering out, thrashing around, drowning. Metaphorically, the debt plot line is a far cry from the glum actuality, in which the debtor sits at a desk fiddling around with numbers on a screen, or shuffles past-due bills in the hope that they will go away, or paces the room wondering how he can possibly extricate himself from the fiscal molasses.

“In our minds - as reflected in our language - debt is a mental or spiritual non-place, like the Hell described by Christopher Marlowe's Mephistopheles when Faust asks him why he's not in Hell but right there in the same room as Faust. ‘Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it,’ says Mephistopheles. He carries Hell around with him like a private climate: he's in it and it's in him. Substitute 'debt' and you can see that in the way we talk about it, it's the same kind of placeless place. ‘Why, this is Debt, nor am I out of it,’ the beleaguered debtor might similarly declaim.   

“Which makes the whole idea of debt—especially massive and hopeless debtsound brave and noble and interesting rather than merely squalid, and gives it a larger-than-life tragic air. Could it be that some people get into debt because, like speeding on a motorbike, it adds an adrenalin hit to their otherwise humdrum lives?

“Scientists tell us that rats, if deprived of toys and fellow rats, will give themselves painful electric shocks rather than endure prolonged boredom. Even this electric shock self-torture can provide some pleasure, it seems: the anticipation of torment is exciting in itself, and then there's the thrill that accompanies risky behaviour. But more importantly, rats will do almost anything to create events for themselves in an otherwise eventless time-space. So will people: we not only like our plots, we need our plots, and to some extent we are our plots. A story-of-my-life without a story is not a life.” – Margaret Atwood, Payback, 1939-

1 comment:

Ash said...

Excellent quotes which I plan to post on my fridge someday as a reminder:)