This seminar is designed to survey economic approaches to the novel that have emerged in literary studies since the 1990s, with units centering on concepts like debt, value, growth, financialization, world-systems theory, neoliberalism, and the global division of labor. We’ll begin by surveying classic models of literary criticism rooted in economic keywords such as base, superstructure, fetish, commodity, alienation – or in key concepts such as “libidinal economy,” “symbolic economy,” and the “economy of character.”
We will aim to keep our attention focused on fiction as our primary object of study rather than on methodological and theoretical debate in its own right. To strike that balance, there will be 3-4 novels (spanning the 18th-20th centuries: probably Defoe’s Crusoe, Eliot’s Deronda, Larsen’s Quicksand, andConrad’s Nostromo) assigned as anchor texts. Students will also develop their own working lists of 3-4 core texts in (or close to) their fields of interest, chosen to serve as reference points and case studies.
Assignments will include two shorter pieces of writing (a book review and a close reading exercise, 1000 words each) and a 5000-word essay in novel analysis.