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This Introduction provides an overview of the key ways in which literature and economics intersect. It firstly considers how literary texts encode economic knowledge in metaphorical – and more broadly tropic – uses of economic vocabulary, and via styles and forms that stand in a “homological” relation to monetary and financial systems. It then explains how critics have understood the ongoing overlaps between literature and economics as “genres” of writing, which have continued to borrow conventions from one another, even as the discipline of economics has become increasingly technical and mathematical. The Introduction next addresses the ways in which literary texts register the economic pressures to which they are most directly exposed: namely, the pressures of literary consumption and the literary marketplace. It closes by showing how social scientists are increasingly turning to literature and literary studies for economic insights, and by highlighting the emergence of the Economic Humanities as an interdisciplinary research field to which the approaches covered in this Cambridge Companion have made defining contributions.
The first half of this chapter explores three ways in which modernist writers responded to the economics of their period. It explores modernism’s engagement with the economic horizons of writing and publication; modernism’s understanding of economic thought, ranging across of the ideas of figures such as John Maynard Keynes, Georg Simmel, Marcel Mauss, and Georges Bataille; and modernism’s responses to shifts in the money form itself, particularly changing attitudes towards the gold standard. The second half of the chapter explores the ways in which these issues were navigated in the work of modernist woman writers, including Jean Rhys, Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf. In revealing and rewriting the relationship between metaphors of femininity and metaphors of money, these writers were able to explore and reimagine the relationship between their own sexual identities and consumer culture; the meanings of race, paternity, and inheritance; and the possibilities of exchange, translation, and a new international order.
In recent years, money, finance, and the economy have emerged as central topics in literary studies. The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Economics explains the innovative critical methods that scholars have developed to explore the economic concerns of texts ranging from the medieval period to the present. Across seventeen chapters by field-leading experts, the book highlights how, throughout literary history, economic matters have intersected with crucial topics including race, gender, sexuality, nation, empire, and the environment. It also explores how researchers in other disciplines are turning to literature and literary theory for insights into economic questions. Combining thorough historical coverage with attention to emerging issues and approaches, this Companion will appeal to literary scholars and to historians and social scientists interested in the literary and cultural dimensions of economics.
This chapter reads the feminist fiction of the 1970s through its interrogation of the relationship between gender and the credit economy. The first section offers a theoretical account of the ways in which the languages of credit have been deeply gendered, in both the anthropological traditions of Mauss and the critical traditions of Marx. The second section explores the ways in which these gendered languages of both money and the gift were played out through liberal and conservative feminism of the 1970s, as women were being trained to understand the limits of their own place in a system of exchange. The final two sections examine how feminist fiction offered a counter-narrative. It explores both the rejection of accounting as strategy of selfhood in the consciousness-raising fiction of the 1970s and the articulation of a more radical alternative in the feminist science fiction of the decade.
This chapter explores the emergence of a new culture of corporate credit in the 1970s, one specifically tied to the corporate self and the practices of financialisation that supported it. It examines the ways in which these cultures were supported by the self-affirming logic of neoliberalism that was capable of rejecting the very possibility of perceiving the world outside of its own terms. It argues that William Gaddis’ novel JR draws on an alternative history of post-war economic thought, one associated with Norbert Weiner rather than Milton Friedman, which offers a critique of the positivist triumphalism of 1970s economic thinking. It reads JR through the potently ambivalent idea of entropic failure – one that suggests an entirely different conceptual trajectory for understanding the meaning of the emerging debt cultures in this decade.
This concluding chapter, which focuses on the work of Thomas Pynchon, returns us to the history of credit across the long twentieth century told in the book’s opening chapter. It argues that Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz functions as a recurring trope for the futility of the quest to discover what lies behind the money form in Pynchon’s work. The first section reads Gravity’s Rainbow and argues that it uses Dorothy from Victor Fleming’s 1939 film as a symbol of a compensatory fantasy. She embodies the false hope that one can return home, a hope that is associated in the novel with Tyrone Slothrop’s discovery that home is itself connected to the state’s violent complicity with the privatisation of money. Against the Day reprises this narrative but turns, instead, to the Dorothy of Baum’s 1900 novella as it seeks to uncover the alternative histories that Fleming’s cinematic adaptation obscures. Dorothy reappears as the daughters of the Traverse and Webb families in a complex narrative that allows Pynchon, finally, to critically explore the gendered language of both money and the gift that run throughout this work as a whole.
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.
This chapter argues that questions over what kinds of money Americans should use, often assumed to be settled by the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913, persisted throughout the twentieth century and in ongoing debates about who should be allowed what kinds of credit. It narrates the cultural forms of this history by combining critical accounts of the key transitions in the credit economy with new readings of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The first section argues that Frank Baum’s 1900 novella is better read through the emergence of retail credit than through the bimetal debates that have dominated its critical reception. The second section reads Victor Fleming’s 1939 film The Wizard of Oz through the debates about the ending of the depression and the shape of New Deal credit and argues that the film’s celebration of this credit obscured its political implications. The final section reads Sidney Lumet’s 1975 The Wiz through the crisis in the New Deal, and the subsequent emergence of neoliberal governance, that the New York financial crisis of the mid-1970s signalled.
This introduction explores a range of theoretical approaches to reading the relationship between literature and credit. It suggests an alternative to the postmodern reading of the ending of the gold standard. It offers a new reading of E. L. Doctorow’s classic postmodern novel Ragtime, one that depends upon neither pastiche nor parody but a return to the varied times of the credit economy.