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Payback

In this CBC Massey Lecture, Margaret Atwood explores the topic of debt.

Margaret Atwood

Legendary poet, novelist, and essayist Margaret Atwood gives us a surprising look at the topic of debt — a timely subject during our current period of economic upheaval, caused by the collapse of a system of interlocking debts. Atwood proposes that debt is like air — something we take for granted until things go wrong.

Payback is not a book about practical debt management or high finance, although it does touch upon these subjects. Rather, it is an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature and the structure of human societies. By investigating how debt has informed our thinking from preliterate times to the present day through the stories we tell each other, through our concepts of balance, revenge and sin, and in the way we form our social relationships, Atwood shows that the idea of what we owe one another — in other words, debt — is built into the human imagination and is one of its most dynamic metaphors. (From House of Anansi)

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From the book

Canadian nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton had an odd bill presented to him on his twenty-first birthday. It was a record kept by his father of all the expenses connected with young Ernest's childhood and youth, including the fee charged by the doctor for delivering him. Even more oddly, Ernest is said to have paid it. I used to think that Mr. Seton Senior was a jerk, but now I'm wondering. What if he was -- in principle -- right? Are we in debt to anyone or anything for the bare fact of our existence? If so, what do we owe, and to whom or to what? And how should we pay?


From Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood ©2008. Published by House of Anansi.

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