Imagine a river flowing swiftly down its channel, filled with people briskly rowing, chatting and shouting, from time to time stopping to exchange goods. Call the river Society. Now picture a group of industrious, if slightly mechanical personages arriving on the river's banks. Let's call them the Political Economists. They set up their equipment and in orderly fashion begin shoveling dirt and throwing boulders into the middle of the river. By the time they retire, the river has been divided into two separate channels by a pile of rocks and debris. Soon another group appears on the scene. Although these folks—let's call them the Poet/Humanists—are much less efficient, spending a great deal of time arguing, smoking cigarettes and exchanging papers, at length they too manage to throw a few shovelfuls onto the growing mound. What year is it? Here our picture grows cloudy: some old-timers, sucking on their pipes, recall that a Scot named Adam Smith hefted the first stone into the stream in 1776; other sages go back even further, claiming that the channels were first divided by a notorious gambler and Francophile named John Law back around 1720. But if we must give a date, let us pinpoint 1817, the year that David Ricardo published his Principles of Political Economy, which inaugurated the modern science of economics. Back to our picture. After Ricardo, more and more economists (they've dropped the word “political”) contribute stones and bricks to the wall. The barrier is finally finished when W. S. Jevons constructs his theory of marginal utility in 1871. Since that day, the river has been split into two streams: on one side runs the current called Economics; on the other, the stream called Culture.
This is the picture painted by a number of recent books in economic literary criticism and literary economic criticism. The books continue: as the wall grew higher and thicker, each stream developed its own currents and eddies. Yet these disciplines, as they have come to be called, have not just blithely run in their separate channels, but have picked up and discarded more debris along the way, multiplying, creating more streams, channels and crosscurrents. The wall, however, has enabled those floating on the stream of Economics—all of them, of course, eminently rational, entirely self-interested, and utterly isolated—to ignore Culture; indeed, many regard it with barely disguised disdain. The Culture types—usually found paddling together in schools like loquacious lungfish—have at times looked longingly at the wall, wishing that theirstream carried the force of Economics, but at other times have sniffed in contempt at its crassness. 1 In recent years, however, iconoclasts on both sides have been chipping away at the wall, aiming to bring the streams together again: on one side, the Critical Economics movement hammers at the rigid assumptions of neoclassicism; on the other, literary and cultural critics (the group that Martha Woodmansee and I dubbed New Economic Critics) throw lines over the barrier, fishing for tropes and paradigms to enrich their stream. 2
Indeed, as Aram Veeser hasnoted, many literary critics believe that one of their primary tasks is to “dismantle the dichotomy of the economic and the non-economic” (xiv). Of course, this enterprise presents its own set of challenges and problems, such as how to draw energy and material from the other channel without turning Culture into a tributary of Economics.
This opening sketch also needs some coloring in. For the purposes of our panel, it's important to record the SCE's role in dismantling the wall. And where did the phrase New Economic Criticism come from, anyway? It was coined in 1991 at a hotel bar while Martha Woodmansee, economist Deirdre McCloskey and I were enjoying a post-panel drink. That chat inspired us to begin planning a conference—which eventually took place at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland in October, 1994. But while McCloskey seemed quite confident that Critical Economics (which McCloskey was instrumental in initiating) was a significant counter-disciplinary movement, Martha and I were proceeding at least partly on faith: we'd read Marc Shell's, Jean-Joseph Goux's and Kurt Heinzelman's groundbreaking books; we'd been doing research in related areas (Martha in intellectual property; myself in a variety of economic arenas pertaining to James Joyce's works) and felt that there were paradigms and concepts that we shared with other like-minded critics. But frankly we weren't entirely sure there even was such a thing as New Economic Criticism.
As the conference plans evolved, we soon grasped that we had given a name to a enormously varied set of cross-disciplinary approaches that included neo-Marxist and semiotic work on homologies between money and language; a wide range of new research on authorial production and its economic contexts; scholarship on copyright, plagiarism, forgery, and related problems of originality; the history of economic writing, among many others. Behind this broad interdisciplinary sweep, however, we had a relatively modest aim: to bring together economists and literary folks to learn from each other. McCloskey enlisted a motley assortment of heterodox economists—feminists, neo-Marxists, neo-institutionalists—while Martha and I fielded proposals from well over a hundred scholars, who included everyone from rhetoricians and classicists to lawyers and literary accountants. Despite their diversity, this latter assemblage, we felt, shared a number of values and presuppositions, which we attempted to summarize in the introduction to The New Economic Criticism , the 1999 volume taken from the conference yielded.
The conference did expose some common ground (for example, a shared sense that economics was a fiction), but also revealed the strength of the disciplinary barriers that stood between us. For example, we literary types were astonished to discover how many obstacles unorthodox economists faced within their discipline: a suspicion of anything that can't be quantified; an implicit sexism that marginalized sub-disciplines such as the economics of caregiving and family by dubbing them “women's” concerns; a politics well to the right of most humanist's. Economics, we felt, was about thirty years behind the times politically. For their part, the economists were appalled at the cavalier manner in which the humanists employedeconomic terms such as “interest,” “investment”—even the term “economy” itself—often without even a rudimentary understanding of how economists used the terms. Nevertheless, we believed the conference and the volume would prompt further interdisciplinary collaborations that would enable both camps to refine and refresh their scholarship. In our introduction to the conference volume, we also called for further research in a number of areas that seemed underrepresented and potentially fruitful: authorship and intellectual property; gift theory; consumption and consumerism; economics and narrative, among others.
The call was soon heeded: in 1998, the Culture and Economics conference, organized by Exeter University's Regenia Gagnier and John Dupré (who had attended the ‘94 Case conference and collaborated on two essays in the conference collection), convened in the UK. Though somewhat smaller than the ‘94 conference, this one also bore valuable intellectual fruit. A special issue of New Literary History entitled “Production, Consumption and Value,” edited by Gagnier, appeared in 2000. That conference's sole panel on the gift inspired an SCE panel at MLA, and eventually led to a volume that I edited, The Question of the Gift , which incorporated scholarship not only from literary scholars and economists, but also from anthropologists, lawyers, and philosophers. In my view, these publications are models of the sort of wide-ranging interdisciplinary projects that the SCE should continue to sponsor.
Though no further SCE collaborations between economists and literary theorists have ensued, economic criticism has flourished—on our side of the wall, at least. 3 Not surprisingly, several of these studies issued from scholars who attended one or both of the SCE's conferences. To suggest what directions these New Economic Critics have taken, I offer the following brief and necessarily reductive history of the division between economics and culture as told by a number of recent books in economic literary criticism. I concentrate on works appearing since 1999, when The New Economic Criticism was published. As a scholar of English and American literature, I focus mostly on works in this field and,in passing, map a few of the currents of contemporary economic literary criticism. I end by suggesting where their currency lies and what they promise for the future of this enterprise.
A dominant strain of New Economic Criticism traces links between political economy and literature. This current—which we might label “macroeconomic criticism”—seeks to discover and explicate relationships between texts and broad contemporaneous economic conditions and discourses. These works are strongly historicist, though not really Marxist; most authors place themselves midstream, between the pull of New Historicism and the eddy of formalism. 4 restricted ourselves to middle-of-the-road ideologies or approaches. Tworecent works treating English literature antedating the economics/culture split will give us a sense of how these studies operate. Blair Hoxby's Mammon's Music analyzes “how economic discourse made literary history swerve in the seventeenth century—how, by posing new moral and aesthetic problems for authors, it pressed them to innovate formally and to reimagine such basic notions as self, community, and empire” (1-2) and such basic words as “commodity” (6). In Hoxby's readings, works by Milton, Pope, Dryden, and others probe the “shadowy interstice of economic force, representation, and selfhood” (14). In contrast to Hoxby's studied objectivity, David Hawkes, author of Idols of the Marketplace , a econocritical study of English literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, grinds an ideological axe using the whetstone of “idolatry.” He employs this term to refer to the era's habitual association between money and diverse violations of “natural teleology,” for example, usury, which Aristotle defined as “unnatural” because it created money from money itself. In our own day, Hawkes asserts, this “idolatry” has “achieved a triumph so complete as to render itself imperceptible” (6), and Hawkes apparently wishes to turn the clock back to an allegedly utopian era of organic wholeness. Why? Because the dominance of economic science over culture has, he alleges, brought with it an instrumentalist and rationalist understanding of human functioning that has remade human beings in its image.
Both studies demonstrate how political economy and culture influenced each other in the early modern period. But after Smith, and certainly after Ricardo, came the deluge. By the time that Jevons, in Theory of Political Economy , propounded the notion of marginal utility—a measure of the difference between the utility a person gains from purchasing a commodity versus the utility he or she would have in keeping the money—he had cast the foundation of twentieth-century economics. As Claudia Klaver (a1994 conference attendee ) writes in her recent book on nineteenth-century economics and literature, for Jevons “all human economic action . . . is a direct manifestation of the mind's comparative measurement of its own feelings” (177). More importantly, Jevons declares that “every mind is inscrutable to every other mind.” Thus, the argument goes, Marginalism and its neoclassical descendants have thrown out the babies of psychology, sociability, ethics, altruism—indeed, every form of human behavior that cannot be quantified—with the bathwater of politics, sentimentality and imprecision. For these critics Jevons assassinated political economy, using its discarded parts to fashion what Regenia Gagnier describes as a “hedonic calculus” whereby every person always chooses the apparently greater personal good ( Insatiability 43, 44). In shifting from production to consumption, economists gave birth to the idol they named Max U: a hungry, self-centered child—a Frankenstein monster—who goes about the world seeking to satisfy his insatiable desires by maximizing utility. 5
Or so goes one version of the story. However, in his recent book, Gordon Bigelow (another1994 conferee ) traces Max's gestation to an even earlier period—the Romantic era (which explains the presence of the scruffy poets in my opening picture). Bigelow argues that the concept of the romantic subject, of “the artist who makes an internal quest to strip away the layers of acculturation and find his most natural responses and desires, and then represents them inlanguage, corresponds exactly” to Jevons's theory, where “the desire of the individual economic agent is assumed to be inherent in the individual . . . [and] finds its objective representation in the commodity” (72). One may question whether the Romantics believed that humans were inscrutable to each other; nevertheless, Bigelow here exposes the individualism shared by Romanticism and modern economics, an ideology that glorifies the integrity of the perceiving subject and his or her desires . For Bigelow, then, homo economicus is just homo romanticus with his work clothes on.
But if these theorists disagree on the precise origins of modern economics, they concur about the outcome of its emergence: a model of “autonomous, calculating, and self-interested human nature” that has remolded human values and swept in with it all manner of toxic effluvia, such as advertising and rampant commodification. This tide has, they suggest, threatened to drown out any voices calling for alternate modes of understanding social life (Klaver 178). And yet, these critics assert, Culture did not take this inundation lying down. Nineteenth-century aesthetes such as Ruskin criticized, in Unto This Last and other works, this economic discourse for its inability to account for irrational impulses and unquantifiable values such as affection and quality of life (see Klaver 164). Novelists like Dickens and Dostoevsky advanced scathing critiques of the ideology of self-interest in works such as Bleak House and Notes from Underground . And ordinary people resisted colonization by Max U's minions. As Margot Finn argues in her detailed recent study of the emergence of the credit economy in England, people stubbornly clung to gift rituals and other forms of exchange that preserved age-old social networks (12). Still, according to Klaver, in the academy Jevons built a “barrier of specialization and expertise that most non-university-trained economic thinkers could not cross” (Klaver 182).
Yet the literary and cultural critics I've mentioned (as well as others whom I don't have space to mention) continue to cross that barrier, using a variety of vehicles to make the trip. Some, for example, assert that the shifts from a productionist to a consumerist economics parallel (or are homologous with) changes in aesthetics: thus, for example, Regenia Gagnier argues that Marginalism and the Aestheticism of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde make up two sides of a single coin. An obsession with preferences and desires, she argues, superseded the Romantics' emphasis on the agonies of production. Here we dip into a second current of economic criticism: microeconomic studies of writers in the marketplace, which investigate such phenomena as patronage, copyright and reception patterns to ascertain how individual authors and readers shape and are shaped by economic forces. 6 For instance, Paul Saint-Amour (a former student of Gagnier) details, in The Copywrights, how late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century authors forged a minority discourse that contested the expansion of copyright and the treatment ofcultural artefacts as property. 7 According to Saint-Amour, writers such as Wilde pose a challenge to literary “labor theories of value” by propounding a “readerly hedonics that countenanced plagiarism for the sake of pleasure” (40). 8 Like just about everybody else, he argues, writers were also consumers and thus remained ambivalent about restricting access to works that might give readers pleasure.
Yet despite this widely recognized shift to consumerist economics and the omnipresence of consumerism in the twentieth and twenty-firstcenturies, only a handful of works treating literature and consumerism have been published since the early ‘90s. Critics still seem attached to the tired polarizations of Leftist cultural critics and conservative champions of capitalism. Particularly in light of the trend toward economic globalization, this subdiscipline remains a relatively untapped lode. 9 Thus I repeat the call that we made in the introduction to The New Economic Criticism for more innovative, nuanced and up-to-date analyses of the relations among commodification, consumerism, literature and culture, particularly as they are manifest in the globalized economy of the twenty-first century.
The studies I've cited focus on the literature and culture of the past to shed light on the present. For example, though his ostensible subject is early modern England, Hawkes is really lamenting the apparent triumph of scientism and commodity fetishism in the late twentieth century. Gagnier, Klaver, Bigelow and Finn record the birth of modern economics as means of criticizing its deleterious effects in today's world: an ideology of choice narrowed to shopping preferences; an arrogant and self-satisfied relationship with wealth; a muffling of calls for social responsibility; the marginalizing of other forms of human interaction. Saint-Amour likewise examines Modernist literature to decry the recent expansion of copyright that benefits not creators but multi-national corporations like Disney. In other words, these studies strive for currency, which, they argue, requires coming to terms with the economic past in a way that few economists care to do. Only by investigating how the Economics/Culture divide was created, they suggest,can we knock it down, or at least avoid being swept away by the waves of economism that have followed. 1 0 In short, even if, as Leitch observes, many of these studies focus on the past (117), their concerns are contemporary as well. Nevertheless, the gloomy, nearly apocalyptic tone of these books suggests a lack of confidence in their own projects. Indeed, many of these critics seem caught in a strange contradiction, lamenting the pervasiveness of economic models even as they adopt them: thus economic critics find themselves guilty of helping to create the very circumstances that they excoriate. In short, literary economic critics seem to want it both ways: to use economic paradigms while inveighing against them.
Given that literary economists seem to be spinning in a maelstrom, perhaps we should look to the other side of the wall for help. When we do, we find that the values of these literary economists correspond closely with many in the so-called Critical Economics movement, which has attacked neoclassicism's suppositions and politics. Three currents have predominated here: first, the “rhetoric of economics” group, spearheaded by McCloskey and Arjo Klamer, have persuasively demonstrated that economists use literary devices such as narrative and metaphor in an unselfconscious way that blinds them to the fictiveness of their models; second, feminist economists (several of whom attended one or both of the SCE conferences) have sharply criticized the sexism in economics and presented alternative paradigms for approaching such areas as labor, family and ethics; third, neo-Marxists such as David Ruccio, Jack Amariglio, and Richard Wolff (also attendees of the New Economic Criticism conference) wield the weapons of Marxism and poststructuralism against what they call the “modernism” of neoclassical economics and its spurious claims to scientific knowledge. These different streams converge in charging that: a) Max U is a stick figure who, despite bearing little resemblance to real humans, encourages economists to treat all humans as Max's avatars, thereby helping to remake us in Max's image; b) that neoclassicism tacitly, if not explicitly, sanctions a reactionary and sexist politics both within and without academia; and c) that subjecting economics to a thorough re-examination will produce both a better economics and a better culture. 1 1
David Throsby's recent book Economics and Culture draws from all three currents in an admirable attempt to assess the conflicts and commonalities between the two larger streams.While both domains, he argues, are obsessed with defining value, their definitions of value are quite different. Unfortunately, Throsby cannot decide whether cultural value is one thing or several things, and inadvertently reveals the difficulties in ascribing cultural value to economic theory when he analyzes the “economics of creativity” through a rational decision model, whereby he presents creativity as a “process of constrained optimization, where the artist is seen as a rational maximizer of individual utility subject to” internal and external constraints (96). The artist's “utility”—that is, her goal—is to create “cultural value,” and he proposes three “differentials” that are determined by weighing desired economic value (i.e., income) against desired cultural value. On one end of the spectrum are artists who desire to create a great deal of cultural value and a minimum of economic value (e.g., avant-garde poets or jazz musicians); in the middle are those who try to balance the two (say, “mid-list” fiction writers); those in the third group are in it mostly for the money (viz Tom Clancy, Diddy). How do we measure such cultural value? Throsby suggests that we use aggregate responses, but that would measure only popularity: by this criterion, for example, the music of the Pussycat Dolls possesses great cultural value. And such assessments always vary over time (does anybody remember The Spice Girls?). Further, while labor time is quantifiable, cultural value does not accrue equally for all creators working for the same amount of time. Hence, the time that I spend on a musical composition will probably not yield the same cultural value as the time, say, Wayne Shorter spends on one. Finally, many creative decisions are made spontaneously, and not all of them are rational; artistic works do not exist fully-formed in the mind just waiting to be given material shape. They are fashioned through a reciprocal process involving improvisation, revision, and so on. One doubts that artists really calculate “cultural value” when they work their way through a novel or painting. To his credit, Throsby finally recognizes the inadequacies of his paradigms, eventually throwing up his hands and admitting that creativity is probably non-rational and beyond the range of economics (107-8). In attempting to cross the barrier between economics and culture, he ends up instead suggesting its impenetrability; though he tries mightily, he cannot slip out from under the crushing weight of Max U.
Economists are hamstrung by their assumptions; literary critics are hampered by suspicion of their imported paradigms. Perhaps these problems have interfered with the interdisciplinary discussion between economists and literary critics, which has been nearly silent in recent years. Where does that leave us? Is the conversation worth resuming? I propose that these obstacles should not deter us from continuing to chip away at the wall. Literary critics and theorists should continue to exploit and modify economic tropes and paradigms, and the SCE should continue to enable them to do so. Why? There are many reasons, among them the richness and complexity of economic tropes and the sheer pervasiveness of economic behavior in social life. Perhaps most important, we should continue to use them in order to avoid being swept away by neoclassical economics, which rules out of disciplinary bounds fascinating and enriching topics such as gift rituals and relations; the history of money as representation; counterfeiting, forgery, and plagiarism (the latter two particularly timely, given the significant work that has emerged on copyright and intellectual property); and even much of the literary and cultural work of its own founders. As we have seen, the work of literary economic critics and critical economists shows that the two streams share many themes. The danger, then, is not in exposing their mutual circulation, but in pretending that there is none. These moves are particularly important now, when the advent of globalization has broadened and complicated the economic spectrum; asLeitch points out, New Economic Criticism has heretofore paid little attention to postmodernity, and to the challenges of global capital (117). One challenge for Newer Economic Criticism will be to develop innovative methods and paradigms with which to explore postmodernity and globalization, while sustaining attention on relatively neglected sub-fields such as gift theory and consumerism. And not only new ones: for example, the insights in Georg Simmel's The Philosophy of Money remain under-appreciated and under-analyzed.
All the scholars I've named (on both sides of the wall) circulate a set of beliefs, values and tropes that they hope will function as both a medium of critical exchange and a measure of values—as intellectual currency or money of the mind. What is the nature of this currency? What values underwrite it? First, the belief that something was lost when economics divorced itself from culture—specifically, a richer, fuller and healthier sense of the possibilities of the self and of social life. Second, that there remain discoverable homologies between narrative or poetic strategies and economic models, and that analyzing their workings can both deepen and broaden critical practice. That is, economic criticism believes in the power of metaphor itself. Third, we insist that literature (and film) reflects in concise and powerful ways how economics and culture flow together, and that analyzing this relationship will help us reinject humanity and humility into economics: that attending to the economic aspects of human life and the imaginative aspects of economic life enriches our understanding of both. Fourth, critics on both sides believe that such attention can expose the fictions of economics—its intellectual currencies—while resisting the commodification of everything. And last, these critics hold that economically-informed literary and cultural scholarship can influence the discipline of economics and even actual economic behavior by reminding us of the history and complexity of its interactions with culture.
Economic critics argue that such endeavors carry a current—form of power or momentum—and a currency that will serve as a measure and anchor for values and as a medium to make the world wealthier in non-monetary ways. If, according to neoclassical economics, this currency is counterfeit, that quality may actually constitute much of its value. For, by using this counterfeit money, economic critics may continue to engage not in the conventional, impersonal exchanges of the postmodern cosmopolis, but in the sort where both parties may discard worn-out intellectual currency and knock down obsolete disciplinary structures, on the chance that such exchanges will yield a more valuable and authentic money of the mind. This currency can offer a foundation for the Newer Economic Criticism of the twenty-first century. But to coin (and spend) that currency, both established and emerging literary economists must again reach over the wall to enlist the economists, anthropologists, sociologists, businessmen and -women whose knowledge sometimes clarifies, sometimes contradicts their own. Such interdisciplinary intercourse has been the raison d'etre of the Society for Critical Exchange over the last fifteen years. Without such engagements, economic criticism will cease to be truly economic, and its currency's value will surely decline. More broadly, the SCE must continue to engage other disciplines, with the project involves economists (or to take examples from two other SCE projects that I've headed), clinical psychologists or jazz musicians; for without such engagements, the Society for Critical Exchange can neither be really social, genuinely critical nor even offer true exchanges.
Bigelow, Gordon. Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
Cullenberg, Stephen, Jack Amariglio and David F. Ruccio, eds. Postmodernism, Economics, and Knowledge. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
Delany, Paul. Literature, Authorship and the Market: From Trollope to Amis . Houndsmills and New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Feiner, Susan F. “A Portrait of Homo Economicus as a Young Man.” Woodmansee and Osteen 193-209.
Finn, Margot C. The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.
Gagnier, Regenia. The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society . Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.
—., ed. “Economics and Culture: Production, Consumption and Value.” Special Issue of New Literary History 31.2. Spring 2000.
Goux, Jean-Joseph. “Cash, Check or Charge?” Woodmansee and Osteen 114-27.
—. The Coiners of Language . Trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1994.
—. Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud . Trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.
Hawkes, David. Idols of the Marketplace: Idolatry and Commodity Fetishism in English Literature, 1580-1680. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
Heinzelman, Kurt. The Economics of the Imagination . Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1980.
Hoxby, Blair. Mammon's Music: Literature and Economics in the Age of Milton . New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2002.
Klaver, Claudia C. A/Moral Economics: Classical Political Economy & Cultural Authority in Nineteenth-Century England. Columbus: Ohio St. UP, 2003.
Leitch, Vincent B. Theory Matters . New York: Routledge, 2003.
Osteen, Mark, ed. The Question of the Gift: Essays Across Disciplines . London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
—., and Martha Woodmansee. “Taking Account of the New Economic Criticism.” Woodmansee and Osteen 1-50.
Ruccio, David F., and Jack Amariglio. Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics . Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003.
Saint-Amour, Paul K. The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination . Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003.
Shell, Marc. Art and Money . Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.
—. The Economy of Literature . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
—. Money, Language and Thought: Literary and Philosophic Economies from the Medieval to the Modern Era . Berkeley: U of California P, 1982.
Simmel, Georg. The Philosophy of Money . 1900. Ed. David Frisby. Trans. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby. 2 nd enlarged ed. London and New York: Routledge, 1990.
Throsby, David. Economics and Culture . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.
Turner, Frederick. Shakespeare's Twenty-First-Century Economics . New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
Veeser, Aram. “Introduction.” The New Historicism . London and New York: Routledge, 1989.
Woodmansee, Martha, and Mark Osteen, eds. The New Economic Criticism: Studies at the Intersection of Literature and Economics . London and New York: Routledge, 1999.
1 David Throsby proposes that “the economic impulse is individualistic” while the cultural impulse is “collective” (13): even though many creators work alone, he argues, the aim of their work is to bring people together.
2 Kurt Heinzelman uses different terms for the two movements, distinguishing between “imaginative economics”— which addresses “the way in which economic systems are structured,by means of imagination” upon fictive concepts—and “poetic economics,” which investigates “the way in which literary writers use this fictive economic discourse . . . as an ordering principle in their work” (11-12).
3 A recent library and internet search unearthed more than 35 titles—on the literary side alone—appearing since 1999. New Economic Criticism may no longer be new, but it seems to be thriving.
4 David Hawkes notes that “the precise nature of their departure from Marxism has become a fertile field of debate among new economic critics” (19): for some of us, that is, the “new” in “New Economic Criticism”was meant to indicate that we were freely modifying, if not abandoning, Marxist paradigms and terms. This move does not mean, however, that we
5 For a witty treatment of Max U as a spoiled child, see Feiner.
6 One of these works is Paul Delany's Literature, Money, and the Market , which analyzes how late nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors exploited and depicted economic circumstances. Though Delany's individual readings are sharp, he seems distracted by the perceived crimes of New Historicism to acknowledge his own political biases. Contrary to Vincent Leitch's suggestion that Delany (who contributed to both the ‘94 and ‘98 NEC conferences) typifies New Economic Criticism (116), his politics are actually on the right wing of the economic criticism spectrum.
7 Saint-Amour argues that aesthetics and political economy were “separated at birth,” insofar as early political economists used aesthetic criteria such as beauty and harmony both to judge social organizations and to explain people's willingness to forgo such considerations as simple utility or immediate gratification” (27): he's referring to Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments .
8 Saint-Amour has little to say about the evaluation of literary works. Just as Marginalism provides no way of making interpersonal comparisons about preferences or desires, so his readerly hedonics can neither distinguish between different kinds of pleasure, nor make evaluative judgments, such as whether one poem is better than another, or even whether a work has a value other than giving pleasure. If all pleasures are the same, we should be able to quantify them; but he gives us no way of doing that. And despite Saint-Amour's humorous examples of ways that writers employed the metaphorics of eating to describe reading, he evades the question of whether we really “consume” texts in the same way that we ingest food or “consume” commodities.
9 For a more detailed outline of consumerism in literary criticism, see Osteen and Woodmansee 32-34.
10 A less successful attempt by a literary scholar to generate intellectual currency is that of Frederick Turner who, in Shakespeare's Twenty-First-Century Economics , reads the plays as a guidebook for restoring “economic relations to their proper place in the hierarchy of value-creating bonds” (4). Turner's Shakespeare is really an eighteenth-century Scot, and his market a domain of sweetness and light where nobody is ever exploited. According to his Panglossian view, we should revere the rich because in gaining wealth they have fulfilled their social obligations; indeed, we should be grateful to them for doing so (196). In the future, he forecasts, we will all lead lives filled with “charm” provided by markets, a world where Goux's “bankerization” of reality (126) has generated a bright, clean utopia.
11 Cullenberg, Amariglio and Ruccio's collection of essays incorporates economists from all three movements. For a book-length treatment of postmodernism in economics, see Ruccio and Amariglio.