When Water Is Money

2022-12-17 ☼ cultureliteratureblog

Why is water so often a metaphor for money?” Eula Biss wonders in Having and Being Had. We use terms like affluence and trickle-down economics, she suggests, because conceptualising money as a natural phenomenon is a convenient kind of consolation: Maybe the movement of money feels inevitable if you imagine it as water, with only blameless gravity participating in the accumulation of wealth.”

When money is water, human culpability is skimmed away, and we can observe its flow from a position of detachment. In Ezra Pound’s Proposition”, Robert Hass zooms out from the moment in which an underage prostitute makes her own proposition (“How about a party, big guy?”) and, over the course of one flowing sentence of a stanza, describes how the financial institutions of the world funded the dam that flooded her village and forced her here, to the street outside the Bangkok Shangri-La, where the hives of shimmering silver” now generate the electricity to throw that bluish throb of light / Across her cheekbones and her lovely skin.” The speaker of the poem is studiously neutral, turning the same cold, aestheticising gaze towards the beautifully tooled” turbines and the lovely skin” of the girl. Here is more or less how it works,” he tells us, simultaneously asserting the authority of his description and belittling its object (the destruction does not merit more precision than more or less”). Violence — the violent appropriation of nature’s power, the violent disruption of lives — is left off the page, metaphorically smoothed out into village daughters who melt into the teeming streets”.

Water is money on the planet of Aldhani in Andor, where a stash of imperial credits is housed in a base that draws its power from a dam. Forced to relocate from their ancestral home, the indigenous population of nomadic herders is permitted to return to the valley only once every three years, in dwindling numbers, to watch exploding crystalline meteors washing across the sky. This celestial phenomenon, known as The Eye”, provides the distraction for the rebel heist. The imperial occupiers watch the skies, enjoying beauty from a position of comfort and arrogance, but they are looking the wrong way. They are looking the wrong way: throughout the season, Cassian keeps telling anyone who will listen that the Empire are not looking at him, or any of the characters at his level, because they have become too complacent to regard them as a meaningful threat. They can’t imagine, he says, that anyone like him would ever get inside their house, walk their floors, spit in their food, take their gear.” The water in the reservoir provides a stillness that contrasts with the horizontal movement of meteorites and TIE fighters streaking across the sky. Wealth, here, is less important than power: the money stolen is no more than a drop in the Imperial finances, but the effect of this defiant act will ripple throughout the galaxy.

But the most explicit connection between water and money is made by the one character whose storyline is yet to intersect with Cassian’s. Mon Mothma, a moderate imperial senator in public, has secretly been siphoning cash from her family trust fund to finance the nascent rebellion. She echoes Eula Biss when trying to explain her actions:

It was so easy, I did it myself. Set up a stream of accounts, it was like water running downhill. I’d empty the bottom and it would just flow. No one the wiser.

We can choose to look away, when water is money, but the flood of consequences can only be held back for so long.

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