Re-Reading Economics in Literature: A Capitalist Critical Perspective

by Matthew D. Spivey

Institution: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Year: 2015
Keywords: American literature ; capitalism ; criticism ; economics ; Marxism ; theory
Record ID: 2059725
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2069/2261


This dissertation will propose an alternative method of literary criticism to the prevailing form of economic interaction with literature, namely anti-capitalist literary criticism. Economic criticism implies any form of literary criticism in which economic principles are addressed and elucidated and, additionally, seeks a correlation of economic processes with the creation, dissemination, and reception of literature. In contrast to the tenets of economic collectivism and social determinism that characterize anti-capitalist literary criticism, I will present an economic literary criticism founded upon the Austrian economics tradition, which is more commonly designated as free-market and capitalistic. Within this paradigm, I will supplement traditional readings of well-known texts by employing fundamental principles of Austrian economic thought, namely that the function of "human action" guides all social and cultural experience, both in the real world and in fictional texts. Therefore, we must examine literature from the standpoint of the individual while we analyze social constructions; provide evidence for any perspective that is based on economic premises; and acknowledge the unstable condition of humanity and reconcile the critic's and the author's desire for control over a text. In its relationship to literature, Austrian economic criticism entails a methodology that embraces the following: 1) an analytical reading that promotes both the individual artist as the creator of literature and the individual reader as the consumer of literature; 2) an understanding of the entrepreneurial quality of literature, that capitalism is a system that embraces creativity and evolution in the marketplace; and 3) a recognition of subjective value as fundamental to human choice and action, both in art and in the real world. In addition to the study of the individual, the concepts of business cycles, government intervention, social dynamics, and technological evolution will be incorporated into the remaining chapters of the dissertation, and literary texts from various periods will be discussed to demonstrate the accessibility and consistency of Austrian capitalism. Understanding economic criticism is vital to respecting literary studies and promoting its discourse. Increased awareness of capitalistic principles, as clarified by the Austrian School, will offer an important addition to an already exciting segment of literary studies.