parler, c'est agir [to speak is to act]—Abbé d'Aubignac, La Pratique du theater
SINCE THE TURN of the millennium, there has been extensive research on the representation of economic processes in German-language literature. The interdisciplinary dialogue between literary studies and economics was pioneered in the 1980s by the economic historian Deirdre N. McCloskey, who argued that economic science has a “literary character” and that literary criticism can offer economists “a model for self-understanding.” For McCloskey, seeing economics as “rhetorical” does not mean “abandoning mathematics”; it means advocating “the study of how economists actually persuade each other and the world.” Adopting a similar position, Arjo Klamer describes the market as a conversation and views the entrepreneur as a “rhetor”—a person whose business it is to persuade or convince. Such interdisciplinary approaches are sometimes known as “New Economic Criticism,” after two conferences held in the 1990s in the USA. Sometimes research on literature and economics is framed in terms of a particular literary genre, e.g., the Bildungsroman, sometimes in terms of a particular economic category, such as labor, the gift, or inflation. Occasionally, research focuses on the literary marketplace itself. Richard T. Gray's study Money Matters (2008) argues that German literature is deeply implicated in the economic discourse of its time. Gray focuses on the period around 1800, however, and his emphasis on concepts of value and exchange means that he has little to say about performative aspects of business, which is the focus of interest here. The only recent study to consider performance in novels about business is by Christian Kremer, who draws on Judith Butler. Kremer recognizes that doing business is a kind of performance, but he does not connect this notion with classical oratory and rhetoric, which have informed business practice and legal practice for over two thousand years. This is where this present study comes in.
This book explores the representation of business rhetoric in nine German-language novels published between 1901 and 2013.