Correspondence

Killing Money

Letter From London

“I simply find it hard to believe,” a Moscow friend of mine yells into the telephone a respectable number of minutes before asking me to lend him some trifling sum just this once, “that, with everything going on in London, roulette is all you can write about!”  He is young, an actor, insubstantially hopeful as young actors are.  “What about the theater?  The books?  The movies?”  Calm yourself, my beloved Yegor.  As I write these lines, the receipt from Western Union is in the breast pocket of my Caraceni overcoat.

But the question remains, and the answer is not a trivial one.  Greatly abridged, it is that the poet player takes to the casinos out of epochal frustration, a kind of sadomasochistic yearning whose object is his contemporary civilization, which he regards as fundamentally alien, and particularly its culture, which he wants to reject before it inevitably rejects him.  Gambling is thus akin to prostitution, as in both cases what the sociopathic loner pays for is the chance to abase, strike out against, or laugh at the power of money, and, by extension, the society that establishes its supposedly objective value.  Killing money is the gambler’s aim and way of life, just as the killing of time can be imagined to be the sole preoccupation of a prisoner on death row.

Writing of the French aristocracy under Louis XIV in...

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