Marginal Cost: The Business Novel and the Invention of Modern Economics
Douglas, Jason G
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My dissertation begins with the possibility and implications of identifying a body of literature that is in some essential way, economic literature. In particular, I examine the history of business novels and the businessman as our most common and overt ways of representing the economy in literature. Looking beyond the traditional friction between aesthetic and commercial systems of value, I seek to identify the ways in which the features of business novels that so often lead to their status as minor novel arise from tension between the constructed nature of narrative and theories of the economy as spontaneously ordered. In “The Emergence of the Businessman in the American Novel” I argue that literary representations of the businessman developed in parallel, during the second-half of the nineteenth century, with the transformation and expansion of the concept of work to include professional management as a potential but contested form of productive labor. Identifying the early use of business management as a potential solution to problems of debt repayment and labor pricing, I examine the way that scarcity become a driving tension for business novels. In “A Romance of Scarcity” I describe the dual tendency of business novels to produce their plot in terms of managing scarcity and also to retreat from such problems in order to arrive at the kind of resolution conventional to novels of the era. During the post-Gilded Age era, when businessmen became primarily characterized as captains of industry, I argue that the misidentification of determinist economic theories hampers our ability to understand naturalistic accounts of the economy as a way of representing the economy as non-deterministic. “Literary Naturalism and Economic Calculability” suggests that early twentieth-century theories about the impossibility of economic calculation outline some of the same beliefs and conditions described in literature as giving rise to the economy as unknowable and unpredictable. Examining the way that current discourses on class difference and inequality tend to overwrite older accounts that figure industrial poverty in terms of constraints. “From Phelps to Piketty” outlines the way in which certain literary representations of beliefs about the relationship between capital and labor are better explained by a certain kind of marginal thinking rather than the consolidation of class interests. Finally, in “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” I argue that anti-formalist economic arguments about the impossibly of economic expertise are part of the essential, conceptual context for understanding the way that some post WWII business novels problematically resist the notion of heroism in business and yet do so using enough conventional tropes of business success stories to make that resistance difficult to identify. Ultimately, I suggest that combining literary and economic notions of marginality can help explain the simultaneous affinity and tension within narrative representations of the economy.
Subjecteconomic criticism, economic theory, economics, literature, business novel, theory of the novel, marginal novel, economic narrative, business stories
Date available in INDIGO2017-11-01T14:34:40Z
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