Introduction Debt and Deconstruction



My working assumption when I began this book was that it might be possible to identify and describe a “culture of usury” in Renaissance England. In one sense that assumption was confirmed in the course of my research, but in another sense it was undermined. There is no doubt that usury, its dramatic rise to power, and its grave implications were prominent preoccupations of early modern English people. It also seems clear that the usury debate helped to mold and shape the minds that spent so much time engaged in it, so that its terms and implications influenced discourses that may appear far removed from what the modern world conceives as the “economic” sphere. Once attuned to the nuances and vocabulary of the issue, it is impossible to avoid noting figurative, illustrative, and allusive deployments of the usury debate in thousands of texts ostensibly devoted to other matters. Usury, in its multifarious incarnations, was far more important to the people of early modern England than one might imagine from a survey of twentieth- or twenty-first-century studies of the period. Perhaps the reason for this neglect is that usury has so successfully remolded postmodern culture in its own image that it has rendered itself, or at least its social and psychological effects, invisible. The fish knows nothing of water.


Seventeenth Century Labor Power Autonomous Reproduction False Friendship Referential Meaning 
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  1. 1.
    Cit. David Bevington (ed.), The Complete Works of Shakespeare (New York: Longman, 1977). Subsequent references to Shakespeare are to this edition.Google Scholar
  2. For an illuminating reading of this passage, see Hugh Grady, Shakespeare’s Universal Wolf: Studies in Early Modern Reification (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. See also Grady’s “Timon of Athens: The Dialectic of Usury, Nihilism and Art,” in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (eds), A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works vol. I (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).Google Scholar
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    See David Hawkes, Ideology (New York: Routledge, 2003).Google Scholar
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    From an interview with National Public Radio, cit. Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (London: Penguin, 2008), 310–11.Google Scholar
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  10. For a reading of the connections between deconstruction and neoclassical economics, see Michael Tratner, “Derrida’s Debt to Milton Friedman,” New Literary History, 34.4, Autumn 2003, 791–806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© David Hawkes 2010

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