I very rarely have the cause or inclination to browse to the Financial Times, but was glad to have done so today. The immediate reasoning was to check for news on the troubled bank of which I am, unfortunately, an account holder. No particular joy there, but instead I stumbled upon an extract from Margaret Atwood’s forthcoming study on debt Payback.
In a provocative extract, using Shakespeare’s Shylock as a diving board, she ponders what the world would have looked like had George Bush not steadfastly demanded a pound-of-flesh post 9/11. It’s an interesting piece, and can be found here.
Another novelist who has written an interesting non-fiction book about debt and metaphysics is Tim Parks, whose Medici Money is a wonderful read, and more than a little appropriate in these days of collateralized mortgage obligations, sub prime loans, and investment vehicles. Parks goes back to the start of the Italian banking system, examining the prickly thorn of how money could be created from money without invoking the deadly sin of usury.
“How mysterious these imaginary currencies must have seemed to the uninitiated in a world where everything but the Holy Ghost was visible. Technology had not yet removed the ordinary things of life from view. Piss did not stream into clear water to be sucked away beneath gleaming porcelain. Shit steamed into the pan. If you were a florin sort of person, you could pay a picciolo person to take it away for you and empty it elswhere. In a back alley, perhaps. The plague victim did not die in starched sheets, nor was his agony alleviated by analgesics. Where there was a perfume, that was because an unpleasant smell was lurking beneath. Your mortality was ever present. People died young.
But there were good smells too. Packaging hadn’t stretched its shiny film over meats and vegetables, wools and silks. Since windows of oiled cotton didn’t let in much light, the weavers took their looms to the door. The cobblers and saddlers worked their goods in the street. By the Gora canal, men are washing the raw wool that will soon be on someone’s back. The fishermen come in from the country with carp in their buckets. They pass the barber shaving customers at a corner. The apothecary is grinding nutmeg for cough relief. There are onions for your piles. Everything is present. Every task is clear. That is the natural order: people getting by with the sweat of their brows, as God commanded. Even the feudal lord in the country keeps an army and hires it out, governs his lands. That is understandable. Even the priest helps your soul to paradise when the solid flesh finally melts and the breath rattles its last. Who would deny the need for a church? But what on earth are these bankers doing counting in coins that don’t exist?”
[Pg37-38 Medici Money. Banking Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth Century Florence – Tim Parks