The contributions gathered in this issue of differences were, for the most part, presented at the Narratives of Debt conference that Emmanuel Bouju and I organized at Brown University on April 5 and 6, 2019. The conference was the inaugural event of the Economies of Aesthetics initiative that I currently direct at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown.
In the program for these two days, we announced our intention to examine “the various ways of narrating—witnessing—the condition of being indebted and the historical rise of indebtedness as a mode of governance (each narrative entailing decisions about justice, ethics, politics).” Debt, then, was to be the explicit topic or theme of the narratives we would auscultate (they range from literary genres like “finance fiction” to legal practice, from philosophy and theory to insurance in the context of the Atlantic slave trade). But beyond this obverse side, there was another question, the reverse (the “tails”) side of the same coin: “Debt itself will also be considered as a narrative, that is, a performative fiction that organizes time by linking past, present, and future in a diegetic chain. Money, if we define it with Deleuze and Guattari as ‘the means for rendering the debt infinite,’ constitutes the backdrop of this economic narratology.” Our discussions during these two days revolved in various ways around the node where debt and narrative are intertwined (as they perhaps always are).
To the revised versions of the talks presented at the conference, this issue adds two unexpected and most welcome punctuations. French novelist Vincent Message wrote and contributed an original short story, “And Suddenly I Owed Nothing,” translated by Cole Swensen. From among Silvia Federici’s papers deposited in the Pembroke Center’s archives, Arlen Austin chose and presented some unpublished fragments on debt that she wrote in Nigeria during the 1980s in the midst of what was often called at the time “the third world debt crisis.”
To all the contributors to this issue of differences, I would like to express my deepest gratitude.