Letters & MaledictionsPosted: April 20, 2012
Evan Calder Williams, The Noonday Shadow
From the desk of Snake Plissken
July 14, 2025
Dear Sallie Mae Student Loan Services,
I have received your notice informing me that the current outstanding balance on my student loan account is $377,394.91.
In fact, contrary to the insinuations you have made (“If you have changed your permanent residence, please be sure to update your account…”) that imply my non-payment is a consequence of mere absent-mindedness, I have received every notice sent previously over the past forty years, ever since I finished my Master’s Program in Critical Humanities, with a minor in Demolitions, at the age of 41. I had hoped that my decision to knock out all electricity in the developed world a decade after I received the diploma as well as my later decision, after the Madagascar debacle, to kick off a premature peak oil crisis, might have borne with them the side-benefit – or friendly fire, depending on one’s perspective – of a “critique” (i.e. DEMOLITION) of the whole credit system. Alas, it appeared to be as stubbornly incontrovertible as these mounting numbers, the ones that you inform me I bear locked around my neck like a stock.
Moreover, I have long been aware that “our new online one-click payment program makes it easier than ever to manage your debt!” No, it isn’t for a lack of computer savvy that I have excused myself from the circuits of payment, that I have become a C grade – or lower, depending just how low you wanna go – debtor, or that my repayment has heretofore been limited to the middle finger I raise regularly at the collective houses of finance when I pass them on my motorcycle.
I am, and was, and will be, a toxic asset. A bad investment. A subprime man, long past the prime of my life.
For contrary to what you claim, I owe you bastards nothing.
But being a gentleman, I feel I owe myself the pleasure of giving you the explanation you do not wish to hear. For it does not concern the not-so-surprising unworth of the degree I purchased – that’s right, purchased – on your dime, the clamorous horde of those razor dimes you made wait for me around the corner of tomorrow and the next month and next century that you claimed had always remained with me, dragging behind me, bells and buckles looped through the consolidated skin, hooks and interest and barbs. It does not concern the fact that I was no more employable upon having received a new piece of paper, despite the increased need to work to cover not only my present ass but also the nightmare weight of the past, against which I was asked to struggle with the only discernible benefit of that accrued debt being that I was older, that I learned to write sentences so immaculately, stop-and-go-on-a-dime (borrowed, no doubt!) as those contained within this letter, and, lest we forget, that the guys at the bar gave me a lot of shit.
Let me take it word by word, chumps: “I” “owe” “you” “bastards” “nothing.”
The entirety of your case, which asserts that ‘I now owe a sum of money because I spent what I had borrowed on the terms of an agreement I signed according to which I would repay it’, rests on the mistaken assumption that the five instances of “I” in this sentence correspond to the same lump of flesh and thought. You, Reader, are soundly mistaken. They are five distinct cases. As taught by the education for which bread was borrowed, let us parse it out:
I (#1) now owe a sum of money because I (#2) spent what I (#3) had borrowed on the terms an agreement I (#4) signed according to which I (#5) would repay it
The I that signed it (#4, the I-that-binds) was a past present I, one without the money in hand or ledger, who abolished himself in the present by means of legally producing a different I (#3, the I-having-borrowed) – an I with money to eat, pay rent, study, go the movies, purchase a bicycle, buy his friends a drink, pay for medication – in the near future. It was an I predicated on the chaining of itself, through the flick of the signing pen, to two future “I”s which were entirely unrecognizable to the I at the moment of signing: one that has the cash to shine hard, or just get by, (#3) and one (#5, the I-who-will-have-spent) who once more does not have that cash but who will be still required to repay it in its present, to pay money for money already paid, on the assumption that the having of that money in the past would have brought about a specific future I (the ideal form of #5, the desired subject of the whole operation) who was capable of repaying it and having enough to eat, pay rent, have some kids, go the movies, purchase a car, buy friends a drink, get some life insurance.
However – stay sharp here, tired creditor! The way gets thorny… – I #2 (the I-who-spends) is not identical to I #3. And I #1 (the I-who-is-spent) is not identical to I #5. (Maybe that education was good for something, ha.)
#2 and #3 are not the same I because the spending of the loot is not in relation to having borrowed it. Sure, it’s the origin story, the compounding root of the matter, and it can make one sick with worry. It can make one very responsible. But at the moment of transaction, when you’re buying a pack of smokes or a semester of tuition, once the conditions by which I #3 (I-having-borrowed) comes to be, the presence of the money in the account under the name and Social Security of all these I’s appears as money that is truly “mine,” indistinguishable from the small amount of money there previously for which I worked or stole. They congeal and admix, they wetten and thicken, and then they gild themselves into a single surface, a single substance into which we tranche and cut.
That is, it becomes “my money.” It is the money of I #2, I-who-spends, the sum by which all that exists otherwise – hot dogs and pipe fittings, panties and Wi-Fi, transmission fluid and whiskey fluid, a horse and a bet on that horse – comes to be possible or not. Windows are made of glass, which breaks rather than bends, but they are surprisingly porous and labile when that which is held behind the glass – a glass statue of a horse, a movie about a horse, glue made of that horse, pants made of that horse, pants made of something else and which are not named HORSE but have a sexy horseness about them – is of a monetary size that can be precisely cancelled out by a portion of the sticky, fleeing mass of “my money.”
That horse statue and a portion of “my money” are made to meet each other. Both are, for a hot minute, rendered neither mine nor yours nor his nor theirs, but merely each other’s, the horse of that money and the money of that horse. Time freezes. Exchange flays itself of all determinations. That which was particular is voided like ash. It is nothing but the meeting of two pure quantities at noon. And then, the moment is lost. The horse passes into my possession, where it now exists alongside “my money”, which now has a horse-value-sized-hole hacked out of it.
Because of this basic fact, there is no way that I #2 and I #3 can be seen as equivalent: the I-having-borrowed has the money as part of a project, a plan, a scheme of the management of someone else’s dough. I-who-spends has only my money and god damn if it’s gonna be hard not to blow. After all, I “earned it,” didn’t “I”?
And then… and then there is the bigger problem, that #1 and #5 could only be the same by means of a ridiculous, laughable, deserving to be pissed on fantasy. For they are oh so very different.
#5 – I-who-will-have-spent – is a speculative legal and economic subject, an exercise in thought that the terrible arcane calculus you call your master has used to shape matter, history, and lives. It is a future I of thought in the present, an I that exists in a personal future in which having been granted the cash to grant me access to both the academy and the supermarket makes me able to pay back what could not be paid before plus the interest of all the time that has passed since. It belongs to a general future in which there are paper-stacking jobs that pay gangbusters for all us boobs, even for those with a rather specific piece of paper.
It should be entirely clear that neither of these futures came to pass. The I that is totally spent never became the I who will have spent. How could it?
And yet, you write to I #1 as if it has been the same I all along. You write the one who is totally spent, exhausted, hounded, the one who writes this to you now. You write to the I who looks at the piece of paper you have sent me – for that’s it, isn’t it? It is sent to me, not to I, assuring that the me remains the same and can be tracked across state lines, across disguises, across names – regarding the accumulated quantity of money borrowed and spent by other I’s who happen to have bounced around the shambling frame called “Snake’s body.” You write as if he is the same future I on the basis of whose existence the chain of events began that lead to me sitting here, slightly drunk (OK, more than slightly, what, you think this I could take this shit sober???), looking at a piece of paper on which a debt is inscribed.
But we – I and I, not to mention I, I, and I – are not the same. We never have been. Yet it is I who will pay the debt that was supposed to be paid to me, that was given to I who would have been earning money to spare, enough to spare to cover the debts I accumulated back after I signed my name as if in blood, but with all the worse grey horror of that which spares itself every expense and refuses even to render its grotesque in lilting arabesques of red, restricting it to a beige sheet that will Helvetically state, “Payment on your account is overdue.”
[Having established all this, we can move more quickly now, presuming you do not have to go back and meticulously reread what is written above with a Very Focused Expression on your face.]
However, I would not want you think that it is merely the permanent inconsistence of a subject across time that your foul statement of how things are, and my refusal of that are, indicates. No, it gets worse. The point at hand was hinted at previously, in our discussion of the gap between #1 and #5, but let me unpack it more clearly.
If “I” (#4) was only given the money in the past only on the condition that “I” (#5,) would be able to pay it back (an “able to” imposed legally and materially on #1) because “I” (#4) will have been given the money in the past (as #3), then it follows that: I was given the loan on the condition that I was given the loan. I owe on the condition that I owe.
And boy, ain’t that fucked.
It is what is called a tautology in those educations for which you pay. It is also what is called a total failure of thought and society. One hurtles ahead into the future on the basis that one has already hurtled ahead into the future. It is hard to escape the stench of burning rubber when, in fact, one is going nowhere, because there’s nowhere to go. It gets in our lungs. After a century or so, we think that’s how the air always has tasted.
See “bastards.” Because that’s what you are.
(In addition, I might note the infantilizing perversity of giving yourself a cute little nickname, of tacking a gender to hamstringing of the future. Oh, Sallie Mae. Like a foxy country girl in some daisy dukes. Healthy and sun-kissed Miss Sallie Mae from Georgia, from that bountiful South where time moves slow and the fields just can’t help but produce. Damn, I’d like to meet her. And she’s got it all, a lot to offer: lines of credit out to here…
But of course, a pile of thousands of owed days, of temporal fishhooks arranged in the shape of a personified fountain of innocent fecundity is not the same thing as a young woman from Georgia, and it is not what one signed up for. A Cenobite may make sense in the short term, may seem like a fun date on the rebound, but once they get the barbs into you, it’s for life.)
That’s pretty self-explanatory. If it isn’t, open up any one of the billing statements you mail out. Read it aloud to yourself, at adequate volume, and ask, really ask: who would send such a thing, so hostile, so cold, so hiding behind bureaucracy, to another human? The answer is obvious: a bastard. A rat bastard. Actually that’s not fair to either bastards or rats, many of whom are very good people or they are rats, and you cannot just accuse something of being the species it happens to be. Let us say, rather, that when you read those words you send to me, to millions of us, it sounds like something that could only be written and spoken by that which has betrayed all that might be decent, kind, fun, caring, or of worth in this world and which, worst of all, insists with the force of law that others participate in the perpetuation of this betrayal of all that might be otherwise. That is to say, it could only be written by a human.
Well, here’s the crux of it, isn’t it? The cursed lodestone? That sum. That something. That everything. Because while it has been demonstrated that I am not the I who owes the money, that you cannot ground owing on the ground of owing, that you are not deserving of the worry, time, or cash of those you claim to owe you, I know damn well what your response will be:
We are sorry to hear you are dissatisfied with your experience, Mr. Plissken. But what about the money? Even excluding the interest, do you think it fair that you not pay it back? That you do not owe us the money we gave to you? Is that fair?
So let me tell you: Yes. Yes, it is.
Because you are not my friend. (And for God’s sake, why would I be asked to “Like Sallie Mae” on Facebook? The most fucked up thing is the thought that someone probably did. My comments regarding the auto-betrayal of the human remain.) If you were my friend or even a stranger, who spotted me for a bit, who took a chunk, horse-sized or otherwise, out of “her money” and added it to “my money,” it would make sense: even if there was a bit of interest attached for the favor, for her “inconvenience,” even if it was an unpleasant, very formal arrangement, what matters to her in that situation is helping me out or growing her particular pile of dough.
But that is not what you want. No, what mattered to you wasn’t getting it back: it was getting it spent.
Because you are merely a function, merely that which enables spending in the present on the basis of a future based on the endlessly perpetuity of the present. You are merely a loop, merely a self-definition whining in the night. Merely a razor that got loose in the house of time. Merely an oil slick, a spill of that which was intended to carefully lube up the paths of circulation but which was let loose when its vessel met rocks of its own making. It never sank. It was no accident, just the excuse to let you gush forth and coat all that you could, misting in the air, becoming the rain, getting in the pores, the hair, the eyes, the present.
But oil still burns, doesn’t it?
This is all to say: all that mattered to the total order you serve – not just you, Reader, but the whole credit system – was the mobilization of that money. The creation of the condition of spends, has spent, and should repay. It was that which allowed everything to move, for things to get bought and made. It was that spending and that debt you needed, that amount you could claim you would be worth, not the return of it as such.
And we’ve already done our part: we became debtors. It seems frivolous to do more. At this point, we terminate our contract.
So here amongst those forced to pay their debt to society, I shall pay none to you, not a fraction of a penny to you who do not even have the courage to be “society”, just its steward, its motor, its overseer, its guarantor of the future continuing as it once was, the pollution and evacuation of that future.
Because I am, after all, a present fact of that future. I have, therefore, decided to make it a principle of life. To be a man adequate to my time. What more could be asked of me? Is there a more noble goal? Such is the task of education, is it not? And did I not receive a sentimental education, not because of what I read but because of what I borrowed? Consider this, then, the ultimate application of your loan.
I read a book a long time back – no, not in school on your tab, asshole: people read books for a lot of reasons and in a lot of places – called The Man Without Qualities. It’s a huge slab of a book, and I’ll admit, it took me a long, long while to work my way through it. (It didn’t help that I read it only when on the toilet, over the course of two years, which had the unfortunate consequence of the occasional sudden realization that I had been sitting there, over a pile of my own refuse, for a good 20 minutes and the second consequence of a near Pavlovian response to any mention of the book or its author, the details of which I hardly need to spell out. Even writing it here is difficult.) And I’ll come clean, I didn’t actually finish it, but neither did the author finish writing it! So we’re square.
The book is about a man named Ulrich, who is a mathematician. But more than that, it’s about what the author calls “pseudoreality.” That’s the kind of reality I mean when I talk about the present, this present of a miscarried yet still swaddled past future. It shouldn’t exist, because it’s based on promises that cannot be fulfilled, but it takes shape exactly around that unfillment. It’s negated, but it exists. Anyway, Ulrich is the man without qualities, not because he is totally boring or incapable of doing things, but because he makes himself to adequate to the world. He is the ultimate historical guy, because he is nothing but the state of the present. But the title isn’t The Qualities Without Man. It isn’t because all those qualities which are not his own crystallize around this shape called man, this form that has been emptied out but which can still hold them.
Times change. That pseudoreality became the real deal. And so, as desperate as we may have been to hold onto that thing called man, it got so hard to tell them apart from the qualities. It became pseudo. It became pointless. No one likes being told this, so they shave their chests and beat their wives and do everything else that somehow might prove that they are men and that they have qualities of their own. But they’re mistaken. Because we became humans of quantity. Humans who could be divided up into quantities of time and money. But then that wasn’t enough. There wasn’t enough quantity in the present to crowd out the human. And so it took on the quantity of the future and based the human of quantity on the quantities to come. It dragged those quantities back from the future into now, and it then dragged that past future with it for all its days to come.
I used be a man without quantity, broke as shit. But I got right with the times, and I became one of those humans of quantity. Now, there’s only one step left: to become the quantity without man. To own up to what I am by refusing to owe it to anyone. It’s strange, that you who have made this possible, have always been the one who insisted the most on me still being “the man,” on being the same man I was forty-one years ago. We all know that’s a lie.
And so it is that I will be what has been longed asked of me: to become the quantity without man. But, of course, being as such, how could I give up this quality around which I am constituted? How could I not take an interest in myself through all this interest accrued? How could I not desire to make it grow, to better myself? To pile my quantity straight to heaven until, finally, it reveals itself for what it always has been, until it becomes the one quality worth saving: the nothing that shines clear as hell at the end of the words I owe you bastards nothing…
I have, now as before as always, decided to defer. Indefinitely, straight out to the fogged horizon and beyond, straight through my life and past my death. For I may die, but this quantity will not, and neither will that nothing. I will be jubilant and nothing more.
So you can squeeze a stone. It’s a good strength exercise. But don’t be surprised to find that the liquid in your hands is nothing more the sweat of your pallid, murderous exertion to make a claim on the present based on a past’s future.
I hope that sweat is as nourishing as it is tasty, because it’s all you are ever going to get from your dealings with me.