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Debt Sentences: The Poetics and Politics of Credit Culture in India, Italy, and the Inland Empire, 1930-Present


Through the cultural lens of California’s Inland Empire, India, and Italy, this dissertation explores how creditor-debtor relationships translate into literature, film, media, and space. Raising key questions about the moral and monetary values that shape creditor-debtor relationships, I discuss in detail the histories and processes that shape and inform both creditors and debtors. I argue that from the emphasis on the debtor’s guilt and punishment in previous scholarly investigations of the creditor-debtor relationship, debtors have taken on the burden of unethical credit schemes manufactured on behalf of the free market’s health. Divided into five chapters, this project addresses different aspects of the creditor-debtor relationship. With an analysis of student debt the preface and the introduction illustrate how the creditor-debtor relationship is shaped by the sovereignty of the economy such that the health of the economy becomes more significant than the well-being of people and the environment. The introduction also exposes the creditor’s fear of the potential capitalist and the limitations that the industrial-complex imposes on the creditor-debtor relationship. ‘Geographies of Debt’ focuses on California’s prison industrial complex in order to examine how the capitalist’s debt that develops from surplus-value is negated through prison labor and the southern trope. “Dancing to Debt” investigates how Bollywood’s investment in making Pakistanis the guilty and punishable subject has developed alongside various modes of accumulation by dispossession that seemingly favor a Hindu nationalist political agenda, but have, in turn, made all brown bodies vulnerable to the terrorist trope and the military industrial complex. “Protesting Moral Debt” illustrates how the farmer suicides that have plagued India’s agrarian community for the last two decades are indicative of their moral debts to the land, the perennial creditor, and not, as popular media suggests, their monetary debts to various moneylenders, which debunks the authority of market fundamentalist discourse. Lastly, through an analysis of Italian neorealist cinema, “The Pleasure of Debt” reveals the effects of the pleasure creditor’s take in imposing suffering on the debtor and, likewise, the pleasure poor communities take in witnessing the decadence of elite culture.

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