New Criticals

The tradition Graeber outlines is a familiar one. It is a tradition of the alleged derivativeness of debt. In Derrida's terms, it's not money that conditions debt; rather, the logic of debt conditions the existence of money. Like writing, which merely imitates speech, debt was thought to serve as money's placeholder. Like writing, it is graphic record. Inorganic, it leaves a trace, a paper trail. This kind of thinking can be carried off in all kinds of interesting directions. Think of the prohibition on interest -- usury framed as a perversion of "natural" monetary exchanges.



Where will these comparisons lead us? Perhaps we can continue to take direction from Derrida’s thoughts on writing. He says that "[t]his arche-writing, although its concept is invoked by the themes of 'the arbitrariness of the sign' and of difference, cannot and can never be recognized as the object of a science.” [9] The undecideable characteristics of arche-writing disorganize the prevailing system. Graeber includes a telling proverb about the nature of our economic system in the epigraph to his book, which reads:

If you owe the bank one hundred thousand dollars, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank one hundred million dollars, you own the bank. [10]

What Graeber is getting at is the extent to which this institutional debt is a structural foundation of our economic pursuits. Debt is immanent; there's no way out. Either you own the bank, or the bank owns you. We cannot conceive of the extinguishing of debt. We accept it as a burden, our original sin, our reluctant inheritance. The lines between collective and individual responsibility become blurred. Forced to share in something that isn't ours, we're the guarantors for an institutional debtor.