Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 August 2019
“The Artist as Clerk” moves from the reinvention of national debt under John Maynard Keynes to examine the role of debt, literary and financial, in the high modernist work of T. S. Eliot. As a young bank clerk at Lloyds of London, Eliot’s assignment was to parse the German debts adjudicated by the Versailles Treaty’s terms. It briefly recalls the structural role of debt in the liberal crises of interwar Europe, then connects those crises to the unbearable material and poetic debts that burden Eliot’s poetic line. Debt work makes its way to the very heart of his major postwar poetry, in the arid indemnities of “Gerontion” and in the conjunction of clerk, desk, and typist at the heart of The Waste Land. In Eliot’s interwar essays we see a parallel confrontation with economic and political liberalism, an interest dramatized in the incomplete Coriolan sequence.