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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.
Since the 1960s, structural shifts in the publishing industry and the wider economy – commonly denoted by the term “neoliberal” – have expanded and intensified the commercial pressures on the literary field. This chapter’s first section identifies the specific forms that neoliberalism has taken in the world of publishing and bookselling. The second section examines how recent novels by Kate Zambreno, Eugene Lim, and Jordy Rosenberg self-consciously negotiate the publishing industry’s simultaneous yet conflicting demands for novelty and familiarity, especially as they relate to expectations surrounding representations of femininity, race, ethnicity, and trans identity. The concluding section reads recent fiction by Helen DeWitt and Rachel Cusk as meditations on how, rather than simply decrying, or capitulating to, the growing power of literary marketing and promotion, the “serious” contemporary writer might – at least in principle – utilize that power precisely in order to stimulate consumer appetite for seriousness as a desirable literary quality.
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 argues that market metafiction has emerged as the vanguard fictional style of the post-financial crisis period. It begins by discussing the work of Tao Lin and Chris Kraus. The remainder of the chapter analyses two recent works of market metafiction that exemplify the paradigm, even as they register and contest differing financial and literary market logics. In Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (2014), attempts to deal with risk and uncertainty central to derivatives trading provide models for “hedging” between different forms of literary value, so that underperformance in market terms may be offset against critical approbation. In Teju Cole’s Open City (2011), meanwhile, the depredations of what David Harvey calls “the Wall Street–IMF–Treasury complex” are seen to be of a piece with the global publishing industry’s exploitation of images of African suffering. In his novel, Cole deliberately sidesteps these stereotyped and voyeuristic images, while at the same time acknowledging the privilege that permits him (now a relatively affluent and highly educated New Yorker) to perform precisely such a resistance to market-dictated convention.
The introduction begins by highlighting the novelist Tao Lin's attempt to sell shares in an unwritten novel - an especially striking manifestation of the market logics examined throughout the book. The introduction then maps the historical and conceptual ground of the project. Successive sections trace how the interlocking developments of neoliberalism and financialization since the 1970s have extended what Pierre Bourdieu calls a “pure market logic” to ever-widening domains of social life; how Fredric Jameson’s paradigm-defining theorizations of the contemporary nonetheless go too far in positing postmodernist culture as a straightforward expression of this logic; how the power of market forces in the present elicits a condition of ambivalence among contemporary writers that is neither simply critical nor “postcritical,” but combines the intense affective states of both positions; and, finally, how the publishing industry and book retail business have undergone their own neoliberal and financial revolutions over recent decades, with profound consequences for novelistic practice. The remaining section of the introduction summarizes the arguments of the book’s chapters and Coda.
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 develops the book's argument that the postmodernist novel is defined by equally strongly felt imperatives to propitiate and renounce the market. It makes the case that, under these conditions, a degree of self-consciousness concerning a text’s market positioning – what the book defines as market metafiction – is always liable to arise. The chapter points to a series of examples of novels exhibiting this style of reflexivity, which demonstrate that recent texts in this mode give new visibility to techniques that have been evident in fiction for some decades. In the process, the chapter address four major – roughly historically sequential, though overlapping – tendencies in fiction shaped by the defining postmodernist double bind vis-à-vis the market. These are the "classic" or "high" metafiction of the 1960s and ’70s; the mid-’70s to mid-’90s phenomenon of “Avant-Pop” and related collisions of experimental and popular genre forms; the much-vaunted shift away from experimental postmodernism towards sincerity, “postirony,” and renewed forms of realism since the mid-1990s; and the widely discussed “genre turn” among “advanced” or “serious” novelists over the past decade.
This chapter argues that a logic of fiduciary exchangeability finds its most sustained and versatile expressions in the work of the celebrated London writer Iain Sinclair. Sinclair’s work of the 1990s is both a crucial signal of a deepening intimacy between experimental and genre writing that has become all the more pronounced over the past two decades, and a leading-edge example of the techniques of market metafiction so prevalent today. The chapter reads Sinclair’s novel Downriver (1991), published in the wake of the Thatcherite transformation of the City of London’s financial services sector, as exploring what happens to structures of fiduciary circulation when they are pushed to – and beyond – their limits. The reading of the ostensibly non-fictional Lights Out for the Territory (1997) as an exercise in the “hermeneutics of speculation,” meanwhile, argues for the constitutive roles of faith and belief even in texts that apparently ground themselves in the real and material, in the process challenging the homology between literary realism and precious metal that is a basic premise of much key work in the New Economic Criticism.