I must confess that I feel really guilty about how neglectful I've been to my blog. Without getting into too many details, there has been too many things on my mind and so a lot of aspects of my life were put on the back burner. I was feeling down about more stuff I can't control, when I thought that I would stop my self-pity and write. I recently finished Margaret Atwood's book Payback and I believe it's very pertinent to the holiday season.
As hard as it is to be looking down the barrel at another head-on collision with our consumer culture, Atwood makes me feel better. She wrote this book prior to the economic downturn and there are definitely moments where her work is eerily prophetic. Particularly when she describes how banks in the United States began handing out sub-prime mortgages to those who could not afford them, she shows how an educated person could have predicted some of these issues. Atwood also delves into the language that people use to describe debt and being in debt and how this affects our psyches. She points out how indebtedness is compared with drowning or limbo, and that this negative connotation only furthers the shame many experience when they confront their finances. The book explores these attitudes and how they are rooted within society and connected to our sense of justice and fairness. Though it is hard to reconcile a mortgage with monies owed in ancient times, the origins of debt can be found in early mythologies. Female goddesses involved in justice and death abound in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt and their histories helped in the development of our notions of debt.
Another stretch of history that Atwood believes is instrumental our ideas of debt is the Victorian period. She references Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol a lot to express how deep-seated economics was in that particular society. Most of Dickens' writing contains a dreary picture of the dispossessed who have fallen on hard times in an unforgiving society. Debt and money play a large part in the writings of his contemporaries as well, with Heathcliff using his fortune to manipulate Cathy in Wuthering Heights and the constant reminder of fortune in the background of most Jane Austen novels. Getting back to her study of A Christmas Carol, a portion of it that I particularly enjoyed was her characterization of "Scrooge Nouveau". "Scrooge Nouveau" is the modern-day equivalent of Dickens' character that Atwood creates to illustrate how he translates into today's society. She uses her trademark wry wit to lampoon the overpaid CEO's we're accustomed to and adds a little levity to such a heady subject.
This book is such a good read because it allows the reader to challenge their notions of debt and forces people to delve into why they feel the way they do. Money has a large amount of power in our society which is evidenced with every Christmas list and Canadian Tire flier. I was trying to make a Christmas list for myself and I had a hard time. There isn't anything material that I want, with the exception of a Starfrit collapsible dish rack. I have no space in my tiny kitchen and it has the possibility of making my life easier. Unlike most things I've bought, Margaret Atwood books tend to be regret-free purchases, and Payback is yet another example of her excellent observational skills and dry humour.