Annie McClanahan, "Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture" (Stanford UP, 2018)


When teaching a public course called “The Age of Debt” this winter break, I had the strange realization that one of the the most successful readings in that course, the one which most clearly explained the 2008 crisis and the financialized economy, was written by an English professor. It was Annie McClanahan’s Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture (Stanford University Press, 2018). The book is a masterful exploration of the cultural politics of the financial crisis and a powerful mediation on how to make sense of an era of unrepayable debts. As a review in the LA Review of Books notes, McClanahan has resurrected and repurposed the rich tradition of Marxist literary criticism which brought us Raymond Williams, analyzing post-crisis literature, photography, and cinema as cultural texts registering “a new ‘crisis subjectivity’ in the wake of the mortgage meltdown’s shattering revelations.” Dead Pledges is a must read. For whom? Well, anyone living in the 21st century, concerned about insurmountable debts, thinking of how culture and the economy transect each other, and striving for a radical politics fit for the mortgaged times in which we live.

Aparna Gopalan is a Ph.D. student in Social Anthropology at Harvard University. Her research focuses on how managing surplus populations and tapping into fortunes at the “bottom-of-the-pyramid” are twin-logics that undergird poverty alleviation projects in rural Rajasthan.

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