Thursday, January 20, 2011

Topics in Lit Cultures: Money and Other Modern Fictions

Draper has a number of interesting Topics class on offer this spring, some of which we've been highlighting over the last few months. One in particular that we'd like to call attention to is "Topics in Literary Cultures: Money and Other Modern Fictions" taught by Prof. Rebecca Colesworthy. The class will be held on Thursdays from 6:20 - 8:20 in the Draper Map room. A description of the course is below; please contact Draper directly at 212.998.8070 or via email at if you are interested in enrolling.

Topics in Literary Cultures:
Money and Other Modern Fictions

The thing that differentiates man from animals is money.

-Gertrude Stein, “All About Money” (1936)

This course will explore various connections between economics and literature in creative and critical texts since the mid-19th century, with a strong focus on modernist and early 20th-century writings. For years, modernism was characterized as an assemblage of movements and figures united in their hostility to the market if in nothing else. In recent years, a host of critics—especially feminist and materialist critics—have challenged this view. We will approach the question of the relationship between modern art and commerce from a somewhat different angle, examining how writers across disciplines suggest that language and literature are like money and that money is like language and literature.

Questions to be addressed include: how are we to conceptualize the relationship between art and the everyday realities of modern life? How do literary and economic genres distinguish themselves from one another? At the same time, what are the effects of events in economic history and financial crises on literature and intellectual production more generally—for example, on theories of language, subjectivity, authority, community and so on? If we treat money as a “fiction,” then what becomes of oppositions such as those between “real” and “fake,” “true” and “false,” “material” and “textual”? How are literary and monetary forms (not only coins, but paper money, checks, credit cards) similar? What is the relevance of economic notions such as “credit,” “value,” and “exchange” to literary studies? Why might it be appealing or useful to cast money and other economic phenomena as “fictions”? Why in turn are metaphors of “economy” appealing or useful for conceptualizing literature and other systems of representation? What are the stakes and limitations of these interdisciplinary appropriations and comparisons?

Readings will include:

Edgar Allan Poe (“The Goldbug,” “The Purloined Letter”)

Charles Baudelaire (prose poems from Paris Spleen)

André Gide (The Counterfeiters)

Gertrude Stein (Tender Buttons)

John Dos Passos (Manhattan Transfer)

Virginia Woolf (Three Guineas)

Karl Marx (excerpts from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and Capital, vol. 1)

Sigmund Freud (The case history of The Rat Man and assorted short essays)

Georg Simmel (“The Metropolis and Mental Life” and excerpts from The Philosophy of Money)

Jean-Joseph Goux (“Numismatics” and excerpts from The Coiners of Language)

Jacques Derrida (Given Time I: Counterfeit Money)

Marc Shell (excerpts from Art and Money)

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