In the latest issue of Cluster Mag, a “magazine of international popular culture,” writer Jesse Myerson places the asset-stripping drama surrounding Detroit’s bankruptcy against a broader historical context, one that dates to the 13th-century failure of Constantinople. Taking as its launching point the widely circulated November 2013 proclamation that “art is not an essential asset” (uttered on behalf of the Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., a major Detroit creditor last seen organizing a $2 billion offer for the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection), the article presents the specter of municipal bankruptcy as encoded within the “modern financial system,” one with roots in Venice and its financing of the Crusades. “Venice,” Myerson writes,
could be considered the ultimate ruthless creditor, and in the summer of 1204 it transformed the largest, wealthiest, best-fortified city in the Western world, Constantinople, then the seat of the Byzantine Empire, into a smoldering wasteland. It was abandoned by 90 percent of its population, stripped of its assets, and vanquished as a world power in the pursuit of debt service.
What follows is a detailed and fluent account of the financial politics underlying the fall of Constantinople, a narrative that wends its way to Detroit’s contemporary “nihilism of debt.” The piece is an engaging exercise in historical accounting, and it fits well into this fifth edition of Cluster Mag, on the theme of “Islands.” The surrounding material is uniformly intriguing, ranging from an interviews-based profile of Staten Island (New York’s “last gold coast”) by Natalia Linares and Wills Glasspiegel to a smartly elliptical profile of artist Jacolby Satterwhite by Andrew Durbin (at one point Satterwhite’s “island-making practice” is linked to Durbin’s annual Shamrock Shake habit).
The fifth issue of Cluster, edited by Giampaolo Bianconi, Michelle Lhooq, Jesse Myerson, Molly Osberg, and Max Pearl, is available for download as a PDF here; individual articles will be posted online in the coming weeks.
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