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The Financial Imaginary

Economic Mystification and the Limits of Realist Fiction

2017
Author:

Alison Shonkwiler

The Financial Imaginary

Exploring how contemporary realist fiction confronts the challenges of financial abstraction and the return to Gilded Age levels of inequality

Drawing a connection from historical and theoretical accounts of financialization to the formal contours of contemporary fiction, The Financial Imaginary examines the persistent yet vexed relationship between financial representation and the demands of literary realism. Alison Shonkwiler argues that the novel is essential to understanding our relation to the mystifications of abstraction past and present.

A brilliant intervention into several vital conversations about contemporary American literature and culture, The Financial Imaginary offers a swift, compelling, and sharply analytic account of the processes characterizing finance capitalism. Alison Shonkwiler makes her case forcefully and advances many daringly original interpretations.

Caren Irr, Brandeis University

As the world has been reshaped since the 1970s by neoliberalism and globalization, increasing financial abstraction has presented a new political urgency for contemporary writers. Globalized finance, the return to Gilded Age levels of inequality, and the emergence of new technologies pose a similar challenge to the one faced by American social realists a century ago: making the virtualization of capitalism legible within the conventions of the realist novel. In The Financial Imaginary, Alison Shonkwiler reads texts by Richard Powers, Don DeLillo, Jane Smiley, Teddy Wayne, and Mohsin Hamid to examine how fiction confronts the formal and representational mystifications of the economic.

As Shonkwiler shows, these contemporary writers navigate the social, moral, and class preoccupations of American “economic fiction” (as shaped by such writers as William Dean Howells, Henry James, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser), even as they probe the novel’s inadequacies to tell the story of an increasingly abstract world system. Drawing a connection from historical and theoretical accounts of financialization to the formal contours of contemporary fiction, The Financial Imaginary examines the persistent yet vexed relationship between financial representation and the demands of literary realism. It argues that the novel is essential to understanding our relation to the mystifications of abstraction past and present.

The Financial Imaginary

Alison Shonkwiler is associate professor of English at Rhode Island College and coeditor of Reading Capitalist Realism.

The Financial Imaginary

A brilliant intervention into several vital conversations about contemporary American literature and culture, The Financial Imaginary offers a swift, compelling, and sharply analytic account of the processes characterizing finance capitalism. Alison Shonkwiler makes her case forcefully and advances many daringly original interpretations.

Caren Irr, Brandeis University

The Financial Imaginary

Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Representing Financial Abstraction in Fiction
1. Virtue Unrewarded: Financial Character in the Economic Novel
2. Reagonomic Realisms: Real Estate, Character, and Crisis in Jane Smiley’s Good Faith
3. Epic Compensations: Corporate Totality in Frank Norris’s The Octopus and Richard Powers’s Gain
4. Financial Sublime: Virtual Capitalism in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis
5. Liquid Realisms: Global Asymmetry and Mediation in Teddy Wayne’s Kapitoil and Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
Epilogue: Literary Realism and Finance Capital
Notes
Index