Listening to a tape recording of Paul de Man’s Cornell Messenger Lectures on a ride from Paris to Strasbourg, the author found himself unable to determine if de Man was saying “debt” or “death.” This confusion, and Walter Benjamin’s sketch, “Capitalism as Religion,” together provide the point of departure for rethinking recent economic developments in light of what might be called an “economic theology” that allows both debt and death to be seen as symptoms of a persistent cultural incapacity to acknowledge finitude.

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