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The history of literature has long been viewed in its relationship to politics. For much of the twentieth century, we were schooled to find the politics of literature not in its acknowledged commitments but as lying deep within its unconsciously ideological structures and forms. The Introduction to the volume, as well as offering succinct summaries of the eighteen essays that make it up, calls for attending to literature’s political surfaces: to recognise that twentieth-century authors wrote in direct response to political movements, ideas, and events, that many were activists for or against them, and that literature and politics over the twentieth century coincided, overlapped, and clashed. Taking its cue from Toni Morrison’s unapologetic mixing of commitment and literature in her 1973 Foreword to Sula, the Introduction argues that several works by twentieth-century individuals were political in specific, open, and direct ways. This is of course not to say that these writers did not question literature’s relationship to politics, nor that they didn’t quiz literature’s ability to effect politics.
Origin stories of the economics discipline give considerable credit not only to philosophy, but also to poetry. And many canonical economists have reputations for polymathy. But interdisciplinary economic inquiry, like that which has become increasingly common since 2008, is often treated as both novel and ill-fated, in part because contemporary orthodox economists lack the commitment to pluralism necessary for fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration. This chapter looks to a 2020 Climate Fiction (“CliFi”) novel, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry For The Future, for models of interdisciplinary collaboration between economists, critical theorists, and climate scientists. In particular, Robinson centers an unlikely pair of Utopian thinkers – British economist John Maynard Keynes and American theorist Fredric Jameson – who at crucial junctures in their careers took seriously what is also the project of Robinson’s titular Ministry: treating future generations as a political constituency deserving of political representation in the present.
This chapter outlines the relationship between finance and postmodernism in the post-1970s United States. After laying out this shared narrative of finance and postmodernism, particularly in regard to the work of Fredric Jameson and in a reading of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991), the chapter then argues that the presumed whiteness of both finance capital and postmodern aesthetics in Jameson and Ellis is decentered by Toni Cade Bambara’s Those Bones Are Not My Child (1999). Bambara’s novel is set in Atlanta in 1979-1981, years during which the city was at once rapidly becoming a global financial capital and was simultaneously also the site of the abduction and murder of anywhere between thirty to one hundred Black children and youths. Bambara’s novel demands that this racialized violence be read as a part of any analysis of Atlanta as a financialized city, and shows us that there is no way of understanding finance and postmodernism without reckoning with the constitutive anti-Blackness of the US economy.
This chapter explores the relationship between the transformations in global capitalism that were taking place at the end of the twentieth century and the rise of postmodernism as, in the words of Fredric Jameson, the ‘cultural logic’ of those transformations. It examines the argument that this postmodern culture of transnational corporatism challenged modern distinctions between economics and politics, and even threatened the sovereignty of the nation-state. Taking three prominent accounts of postmodern culture (by Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard and Jean-François Lyotard) as its central focus, the chapter introduces the key theoretical categories of each and, by reading these in relation to influential literary texts from the period, examines how both theoretical and literary writing responded to and shaped the new economic and political climates of those decades.
Poetry makes nothing happen, except when it does. The sharpness of this barb may derive, strangely, from the fact that poetry keeps pretending to make things happen, keeps availing itself of a didactic, performative, and apostrophic language hailing from a world in which such techniques were for better and worse the very stuff of social reproduction, and where words could kill. Poetry is therefore the literary mode most practically suited to revolution, the literary practice that coincides most clearly with the concerted activity of revolutionaries in the throes of crisis. Resistance, insurgency, and revolution produce their novels after the fact but their poetry, often, right away. Inverting the scales of the systems of genre we inherit from Northrop Frye and Fredric Jameson, poetry’s power turns out to derive from a strange literality.
Chapter 1 advances a redefinition of world literature with specific focus on the periphery. Annotating a politically charged terrain of intellectual history, I maintain that the humanist imagination emerged as a key topic of debates since the early twentieth century, and second, that anti-imperial currents emphasized the role of the imagination in envisioning an alternative conception of the world. As part of this internationalist constellation, the chapter discusses the intertwining histories of Rabindranath Tagore’s pioneering lecture on “World Literature” ‘1907’ and Mao Zedong’s Yenan lectures on art and literature ‘1942’. Such a constellation sheds new light on Fredric Jameson’s much-debated notion of “third world literature as national allegory” ‘1986’, going beyond extant critiques. It further complicates, I argue, the conventional separation between twentieth century anticolonial, postcolonial, and contemporary globalization-era literatures.
Tropes of Indigeneity both conceal and expose the tangle of land, labor, and race in the American southern context. This introduction poses Indian Removal as the underacknowledged historical thunderclap, akin to the Civil War, after which the South struggled permanently to regenerate its self-conception. In the narratives of modern and contemporary white southerners, the story of the southeastern Indian is inextricable from the white South’s story about itself - a structure built on preoccupations with loss, dispossession, sovereignty, and community. The Indian motif marks the passage from the white southern specular self to its socially constituted version, and the maintenance of that self is, in many ways, dependent on the internalization of an elaborate Indigenous fiction. What that narrative both covers over and exposes is haunting in more ways than we have realized: it is, finally, a revelatory model of not just settler colonial extermination but of the vacancies, desires, and horrors of a modernity constructed on the twin phantoms of materialism and racialism.
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 is prompted by recent calls by historians and other scholars for new understandings of history in the Anthropocene; it asks what this might mean for literary realism, invested as it is in the depiction of the passing of time. History in the Anthropocene renders redundant the human-historical, individual-universal dialectic that has long been the hallmark of the realist novel. Following Ian Baucom, this chapter looks to Walter Benjamin’s conceptualisation of history for clues to a new form of literary realism. For Benjamin, a true understanding of history demands the recognition of the ‘image’ of history, a recognition occurring in a moment of ‘arrest’ or stoppage in the flow of time and of thought. This chapter speculates on the emergence in the Anthropocene of a literary realism that performs just such an arrest, taking its reader beyond conventional understandings of (human) history and time.
This chapter outlines the emergence of climate fiction and its key modes. It pays particular attention to the extent to which climate fiction has worked within the established conventions of literary realism, meeting the many representational challenges mounted by climate change. While it considers the extent to which realism is able to render the abstract and intangible phenomenon of climate change visible, it argues that there is also a significant body of writing on the subject which turns to alternative forms and narrative strategies in the effort to represent climate change, and manages to overcome some of the limitations of realism. In other words, where climate fiction meets the challenges of representing climate change, it has the potential to provide a space in which to address the Anthropocene’s emotional, ethical, and practical concerns.
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