I just read an item about a recent book of Margaret Atwood's being slated for translation into documentary film. The subject of this book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, as with most of Atwood's writing, is of great interest to me. Basically, the book was the result of a series of lectures she gave for the CBC. Firstly, Atwood has always been in my top ten, not just because hey, she's an amazing writer, but because of the sheer range and insatiability of her pursuit of understanding, particularly understanding underlying systems. I admire her from much the same angle as I admire Anne Carson, another whirlwind of breadth and intellectual tenacity.

As of yet, I have not listened to the lectures (they are long, but likely well worth it), but I do have a few cursory thoughts which will no doubt be amended once I do listen.

Debt is a culturally universal concept, it seems, but indebtedness seems particularly NATIVE to artists. I speak as an artist (I'd like to think) with LOTS of debt. Carefully collected, nurtured, goverment-financed debt. We do (seemingly) non-essential things with our time. Our supply far out-weighs demand, standards of taste are wildly divergent. Thus, making ends meet for an artist has been an exercise in co-opting other, more culturally acceptable "work" into art-making in order to pay off debt incurred by - what? - living expenses, education - just generally taking up space makes us indebted in some way. Co-opting acceptable work into art-making is simply the idea that once an artist does ANYTHING but simply making art and receiving compensation for that making, s/he is co-opting other work. Writing a blog/self-promoting, teaching, medical transcription, shilling coffee, for example.*

Art in and of itself does not provide enough of a tangible service to merit the forgiveness of debt. (Folks, I feel a lil weepy typing that, but believe in the verity of the notion no less.) So, we invest in ourselves, create and forgive debts to each other, using our art as the primary, if indirect currency (I think this is what the art community is for). This is how we feel worthy in a world of finance and Botox. We shouldn't have to kowtow to this conception of worthiness. After all, we have PRINCIPLES. Unfortunately, though, most of our parents didn't. Or their parents didn't. Or our schoolteachers, our friends, billboards, sandwich boards, radio and TV adverts, talk show hosts didn't. Anyway, we cannot exist in Kant's etherial artworld, and the squeaky wheels get oiled, so we keep up with those ever-loving wheels of commerce.

Also, I think all student loan debt should be immediately forgiven, all of it! If you want me to play pocket pool with the economy, I think you'd better just let me have that extra $400 a month.

*One might argue that these things are off-shoots and thus part and parcel of the art-making, but make no bones about it, there are people who are motivated to blog, teach, transcribe and shill, just as there are people who are motivated to write poems, or paint, or sing. The latter set of motivations does not always necessitate the former, though the former often requires the latter as pre- or co-requisite. How many poetry teachers, for example, do you know who DO NOT write poetry? All of them, you might snicker. Point taken, I might reply.


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