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When Francis Fukuyama announced “the end of history” as the Cold War ended, he suggested that the teleology of historical progression had passed and that Western-style liberal democracy had prevailed. Postmodern American novelists, however, have portrayed not history’s end but its rebirth as a form of interrogation and reinvention. Recognizing that new technologies for instant representation (radio, television, the internet) have altered both our sense of history and the practice of history, postmodern writers treat history as something happening and being created in the present moment. Like currency, history becomes fungible. Consequently, received versions of history no longer have the same power. They are subject to exchange. It is not precisely that history has always been lies but rather fictions in which people may choose to believe. Writers such as Toni Morrison or Joan Didion write alternative versions of history that critique received exceptionalist, racist American ones. On the other hand, in the era of climate change, the “end of history” has taken on an apocalyptic valence as writers such as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Kurt Vonnegut portray the end of history as the beginning of the Anthropocene era: truly the end of history.
This chapter explores cultural and literary representations of the ending of the gold standard, the so-called Nixon shock of the early 1970s. It focuses on the ways in which this move to floating exchange rates was represented through a nationalist, often militarised, language and argues that this discourse functioned as a paradoxical alibi for the increased ascendancy of private capital that was actually occurring in this moment. It explores the rhetorical move from crisis to discipline as it was simultaneously appearing in political, economic and popular literary genres of the early 1970s. The first two sections contrast the difference between a political and an economic use of the language of discipline, emphasising the ascendancy of a neoliberal definition of the ‘real’ of the money economy. The final two sections examine the ways in which genre writers deployed the twinning of a military and economic crisis to explore the ironies of this moment. It specifically focuses on the work of Don DeLillo and traces the shift in his own ironical sense of the efficacy of genre itself.
Taking its cue from Raymond Federman’s programmatically titled essay “The Last Stand of Literature,” the chapter briefly reviews the critical debate about the increasing convergence of literary and television culture. Rather than seeing the influx of TV aesthetics into American literature as causing a demise of literary culture, the chapter argues that the texts by Coover, Wallace, and DeLillo imaginatively reframe TV culture and turn the reflection on visual media into a source of literary innovation. They acknowledge TV as a central force in postmodern culture, rework televisual immediacy effects, and describe TV images and their reception, but they do so in self-reflexive narratives that probe the contributions literature can make to a culture shaped by TV and the commodification of art and experience.
The chapter analyzes how Don DeLillo’s novel Mao II critically refracts TV’s immediacy effects to explore the cultural function that literature performs within the increasingly commodified market dynamics of mass media communication. The chapter argues that DeLillo accomplishes a paradoxical feat: he tells the story of a retrograde writer who loses his life in a futile attempt to resist the commercialization of his work; yet DeLillo suffuses this allegorical tale about the death of an author in the age of mass media and consumer culture with detailed ekphrastic descriptions of TV news footage, photographs, and pop art that ultimately confirm the capacity of literature to respond in innovative ways to the predominance of visual media, the misapprehension of televisual images as real, and the increasing commodification of literature and art. Published as American culture was turning digital, the novel provides an apt terminus for my study of how American writers reworked the immediacy effects of analog new visual media to renew literary culture.
This chapter argues that the big, brainy, intricately structured American novel that goes by the name of the “encyclopedic” or “systems” novel is shaped by an ambivalent relation to the correspondingly capacious, complex, and informationally rich sphere of the financial markets. It begins by tracing the idea of the all-knowing market from Adam Smith to the “efficient market hypothesis” that continues to dominate the discipline of financial economics today, and shows how this intellectual history has intersected with the history of the novel. The chapter challenges the critical consensus that reads the contemporary "big novel" as defined by the determinism of conspiracy plotting, and argues that it is more closely aligned with the contingent – yet collectively synchronized – dynamics of the classically “efficient” market. The latter portion of the chapter shows how major encyclopedic or systems texts – by Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Garth Risk Hallberg – position the omniscient financial market as performing both a redemptive mapping and an oppressive (and aggressively masculine) surveilling of the social totality.
This chapter devotes extended attention to two novels from either end of the “efficient market era” – Don DeLillo’s Players (1977) and Hari Kunzru’s Gods Without Men (2011) – that model their narrative forms on the information-crunching prowess of the financial markets’ price mechanisms, only to leave absences in the textual fabric that defy a totalitarian logic of epistemological capture. The juxtaposition of these two novels highlights how changing technological instantiations of efficient market theory have elicited shifting formal responses, and underscores both why the ideology of the efficient market has retained a hold over the imaginations of novelists, and why that hold is subject to increasing self-critique. The chapter argues, moreover, that Kunzru overtly presents his novel’s lack of conclusiveness as opposed not only to the market epistemology of contemporary finance, but also to the norms of the literary marketplace, with its own preference for narrative closure and transparency.
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