English 250

Research Seminar: Capitalist Crisis and Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2016 Gonzalez, Marcial
M 3-6 205 Wheeler

Book List

Carchedi, G.: Behind the Crisis: Marx’s Dialectics of Value and Knowledge; Fisher, M.: Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?; Foster, J.B. and Magdoff, F.: The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences; Harman, C.: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx; Kliman, A.: The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession; Mattick, P.: Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism; McNally, D.: Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance; Robinson, W. I. : Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity


Since the global financial crisis of 2007-08 and the onset of the “Great Recession,” a small but growing number of literary scholars have strived to theorize the relation between capitalist crisis and literary studies. Two short articles in the January 2012 issue of PMLA—one each by Christopher Nealon and Joshua Clover, and each entitled “Value|Theory|Crisis”—are prime examples of this kind of innovative research. The purpose of this course will be to test some of the theoretical claims that have been made about the relation between capitalist crisis and literature.

To do this, we’ll read works by Andrew Kliman, Chris Harman, and other Marxist scholars to scrutinize three theoretical claims in particular. One, the recurring economic crises of capitalism should not be understood as anomalies or temporary interruptions in productive continuity; they are rather symptoms of a system in which crisis is the norm, not the exception. Two, since the early 1970s, a period commonly associated with the dominance of neoliberalism, global capitalist production has experienced profound structural stagnation, and the attempts by capitalists to resolve stagnant production with financialization and debt have only prolonged the inevitable and unresolvable recurrence of economic (and hence political) crises. And three, all aspects of social life during the neoliberal period—including literature and cultural production generally—can be understood to one degree or another as formal and/or thematic expressions of capitalist crisis. Sociologist William I. Robinson refers to this third point as “the crisis of humanity.”

Most of the works we’ll read draw on current research in the Marxist theory of value to formulate a critique of economic crisis.  During the last few weeks of the semester, however, we’ll read three novels—John Rechy’s City of Night, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, and Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper—to bridge the divide between theory and literature.  Our purpose will not be to study “literary representations” of economic crisis in these novels, but to trace the determinate relation between capitalism and literary form—that is, to explore the ways that capitalist crises have profoundly influenced the internal logic of the literature.

This section of English 250 will count toward the Critical Theory Designated Emphasis, and it is cross-listed with Critical Theory 290 section 5.

This course satisfies the Group 6 (Non-historical) requirement.

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