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In Gaddis' JR we encounter a mature example of the form I am calling the economic fiction. This chapter takes a step back in order to provide a fuller frame for its evolution as I will track it in the remainder of this book. My first aim is to explore the desire I believe to animate and to motivate this fiction. This is the desire for an alternative to social relations, and I approach it through three artistic images of madness. In the first part of this chapter, I set up Esther's insanity in Sylvia Plath's Th e Bell Jar (1963) as a rich site to investigate the belief that inter subjectivity is defined by intractable flaws and the corresponding longing for a different mode of relation. In the second part, my examples are the insane Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood and the maniac in Amiri Baraka's 1972 poem “Das Kapital.” I examine how these fi gures reproduce the key features of Esther's insanity, but now locate the alternative to inter subjectivity in the economic. To gain a perspective on this development, in the third part of this chapter I construct a brief intellectual history of the concept of an economic fiction, centering on Karl Polanyi and Hannah Arendt.
For thinkers from Jacques Lacan to Martha Nussbaum, and from Charles Taylor to Gayatri Spivak, the social relation and individual consciousness have a single origin: the look of recognition. The gaze that loops between the self and the other, between the eye and the mirror, binds the human world together.
Frederic Jameson, midway through his study of postwar literature and culture, raises what remains one of the field's most troubling questions. After patiently examining the fall of state socialism, tracing the rise of neoconservative free market ideology, and offering a Marxist analysis of these developments, he suddenly throws up his hands. “None of these things, however,” he writes, “go very far towards explaining the most astonishing feature” of the period. What remains unexplained is “how the dreariness of business and private property, the dustiness of entrepreneurship … should in our time have proved to be so sexy.” Here Jameson confronts the fact that the prospect of a global free market has become an object of nearly universal fascination since the end of the Second World War. By the eighties and nineties, this fascination with the market was ubiquitous, expressed in phenomena as diverse as daytime talk shows, the Contract with America, news features on the New China, movies about the stock market, science-fiction novels, and music videos. Americans were captivated by the impulse to replace relations to governments, to traditions, to cultures, and to communities with a relation to market price. The specter of a purely economic world casts a shadow over the history of this period.
In the preceding chapters I have attempted to show how, in a set of postwar literary works, the aesthetic disembeds the economic from social relations grounded in recognition. Using a variety of techniques, these works remove the economic from what Hannah Arendt calls the “public world,” the social space where visibility confers reality. This removal transforms the market in basic ways. Instead of a social structure facilitating the mutual recognition of individuals, or mediating between the different desires of individuals, the economic becomes a means of shaping and organizing individuals' experience of the world. The economic relations at work in the aesthetic spaces I study present an alternative to the regime of recognition, the regime of the social, the regime of the visible. The fiction of this invisible economy opens the fascinating prospect of a new mode of experience.
In discussing these works, I have been primarily concerned with delineating the internal dynamics of the aesthetic spaces they set up. Sometimes an attention to the cultural and political contexts in which the writers worked has helped to clarify the distinctive shape of these dynamics. But while describing the features of this phenomenon, I have largely bracketed the question of the relation of the economic fiction to existing social and economic conditions. Having completed the description, my conclusion now takes up this question. I address it in two parts. First, I will investigate the hypothesis that economic fictions perform the ideological function of concealing actual economic inequality.
How can a poem be personal? For O'Hara's early critics, the poetry's rigorous orientation towards the trivial, contingent, private details of a particular life presents a unique difficulty. Helen Vendlerremarks of the personal poems, “The wish not to impute significance has rarely been stronger,” and Charles Molesworth writes, “They make ‘confessional’ poetry seem alexandrine or allegorical by comparison.” These writers read the exact dates, particular streets and buildings, and proper names of friends in the poems as tombstones marking the inaccessibility of O'Hara's “particular consciousness,” the “antipoetic weight” from which the “imaginative transformations” of his really poetic lines must be extracted. The particularity of reference in the personal poems, what O'Hara calls their “dailiness,” paradoxically disables the poetic persona by which the literal and particular are presumably controlled, the extraliterary processed as literature. “Mike Kanemitsu,” “a bolt-head that broke off a packing case,” “now when I walk around at lunchtime”: these details stick in the critics' prose, they are both too personal and not personal enough to count as poetry.
“When you cut into the present the future leaks out. ”
–William S. Burroughs
What are literary experiments? They are, like scientific experiments, repeatable and regularized. But can we speak here of success or failure? At the very least we can expect, both in the experimental text's tendency to thematize its processes, and in the theoretical texts that typically accompany it, accounts of the conditions that would have to obtain in order for the experiment to be successful. The literary experiment (and this is perhaps what makes it “literary”) has a virtual element. It shows us the kind of thing that would regularly happen if the world were different in some particular way. This appears to be especially true of those literary experiments that claim to be mimetic, to represent an aspect of everyday reality. These experiments show us ordinary artifacts suspended in imaginary laws; they show us the everyday processes of a world that manifests a principle of order that is not, or is not yet, recognizable in our own. William S. Burroughs' “cut-up” trilogy of the early 1960s is among the best-known and most influential of postwar experimental works. What happens in the virtual space of those novels has exerted a powerful attraction on the postwar imagination, but the principle of order defining that space remains to be articulated.
I thought that, one day, maybe, there'ld be a human society in a world which is beautiful, a society which wasn't just disgust.
–Kathy Acker (ES 227)
In 1989, as the institutions of an earlier radicalism began to crumble in Eastern Europe, Kathy Acker reflected on her sense of the possibility of a new radical literature. “Perhaps our society is now in a ‘post-cynical’ phase. Certainly, I thought as I started Empire, there's no more need to deconstruct, to take apart perceptual habits, to reveal the frauds on which our society's living. We now have to find somewhere to go, a belief, a myth. Somewhere real.” In that novel, Acker represents this “movement from no to yes” as the transformation of terrorists into pirates. The scene of this transformation is a multinational, posthistorical Paris, a city where forms of domination and oppression from every period, from slavery to a futuristic form of mind control, are wielded by shadowy masters against the alienated and dispossessed multitude. This is a world where “the right-wing owns values and meanings,” where every aspect of society, every form of social relation, has been infiltrated and thoroughly polluted by a malevolent, multiform sovereignty (ES 73). The oppressed masses, represented by Acker as the postcolonial Algerians, turn to terrorism in protest against these conditions, “arrang[ing] for the poisoning of every upper-middle and upper-class apartment in Paris” (ES 77).
The years after World War Two have seen a widespread fascination with the free market. In this book, Michael W. Clune considers this fascination in postwar literature. In the fictional worlds created by works ranging from Frank O'Hara's poetry to nineties gangster rap, the market is transformed, offering an alternative form of life, distinct from both the social visions of the left and the individualist ethos of the right. These ideas also provide an unsettling example of how art takes on social power by offering an escape from society. American Literature and the Free Market presents a new perspective on a number of wide ranging works for readers of American post-war literature.
By the mid-nineties, popular American rap had attained a stable form that persists, though subject to a continuous process of refinement and simplification, practically unchanged in its central features. This form, sometimes described by critics as rap's “formula,” essentially consists of two elements: the description of the speaker's money, and the development of a violently antagonistic relation between the speaker and a general, unnamed “you.” Consider the following examples. “I'll rip your torso, I live the fast life / Come through in the Porsche slow.” “I'd rather bust you and let the cops find you / While I be dippin' in the Range [Rover] all jeweled / like Liberace.” “I know you better not open your mouth when I ride by / And I know you see this Lexus GS on shine.” “Ain't shit changed, except the number after the dot on the Range [Rover] / way niggaz look at me now, kinda strange / I hate you too.” “Nothin' but bling bling in ya face boy.”
This catalogue of the juxtaposition of money with a threatening stance towards “you” could be multiplied by the lyrics from virtually any popular rap album released over the past decade. Indeed, the “street credibility” or “authenticity” widely recognized as essential for a rapper's commercial success is largely a function of her adherence to the form.