Writing (for) the Market

Narratives of Global Economy

by Franziska Jekel (Volume editor) Anna-Katharina Krüger (Volume editor) Myriam-Naomi Walburg (Volume editor)
Conference proceedings 246 Pages


The volume offers an overview of the economic, political and cultural factors that influence the production of literature. By bringing together the research areas of literary criticism and book history, the volume focuses on narrative strategies, metaphors and tropes that reflect the market as a network of multi-conglomerates, authors, translators and readers. The global scope of the different contributions unites analyses of German, English, Spanish, French, Scandinavian, Indian and South African literature. The contributors attend carefully to the economic contexts of the literary production while simultaneously addressing the market’s influence on content and form. Thoughts on poetological reflections of economic phenomena complement studies concerning the means of production and vice versa.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Writing (for) the Market: Narratives of the Global Economy
  • Section I: Writing About the Market
  • Precarious Ontology: Contemporary Financial Markets in Literature (Nina Peter)
  • Narrating the Market in Nadine Gordimer’s The Lying Days: Apartheid, Racial Capitalism, and the World-System (David Firth)
  • On the Turntable: Scandinavian Authors and the Global Market (Annegret Heitmann)
  • Marketing the Crisis: Figurations of Aesthetics and Economy in Marlene Streeruwitz’s Novels Nachkommen. and Die Reise einer jungen Anarchistin in Griechenland. (Franziska Jekel)
  • Section II: Dealing with the Market
  • “The avant-garde jesters of capitalism”: Tristesse Royale and the Representation of Economism in German Pop Literature of the 1990s (Tobias Unterhuber)
  • Writing for a Change: Authorship and Activism in Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative (Anna-Katharina Krüger)
  • “The battle is to validate the material”: Eunice de Souza’s Career as a Poet and Editor of Indian Women’s Literature (Melony Bethala)
  • The Scene of Global Literary Commerce (Andrew Patten)
  • Children’s Book Publishing in Spain: Genesis and Structure of a National Subfield (Delia Guijarro Arribas)
  • Literary Awards as Identity Politics: The Example of the Adalbert von Chamisso Prize (Myriam-Naomi Walburg)
  • Series index

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Writing (for) the Market: Narratives
of the Global Economy

Authors write for, against or about the market; they praise, disdain or pretend to ignore the market, but it is almost impossible for them not to consider what has recently been termed the global economy. The famous song from the musical Cabaret gets to the heart of this connection: “Money makes the world go around – It makes the world go ’round. – A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound – Is all that makes the world go around” (Kander and Ebb). This applies not only to the world as a whole but also to the world of literature and to worlds within literature. The market is always present: explicitly or implicitly when it comes to writing, publishing and selling literary texts; it even appears as a trope or a motive within them. This collective volume contributes to framing, narrating and recording some of the many ways in which literary studies approaches the ambivalences of literature and the global economy. It has two main, interrelated focus points: the economic market that influences the production and circulation of literary texts, but also the market as a trope within narratives. As the brackets in the title suggest, we particularly stress the interconnection between these two critical approaches.

The intricate connection between writing and economics can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia roughly 5000 years ago (Graeber 21; Wegmann, “Markt” 10). This relationship underwent shifts and alterations throughout history; it, for example, gained a new intensification in the 16th century, when, as Benedict Anderson states, the emergence of new modes of distribution as well as new structures of commerce brought about “print-capitalism” (52). Anderson describes book-publishing as “one of the earlier forms of capitalist enterprise” (53). The shift from household economy to capitalist pursuit of self-interest and profit, which took place in the 16th century, has been thematized by stage authors like Thomas Middleton and William Shakespeare, as Anne Enderwitz has shown regarding the early modern English drama (“Bildung”). The 18th century brought about further changes in the relation between writing and the market: The invention of copyright laws and mass-market literature ←7 | 8→changed the mode of production immensely. The increasing globalization of the economic market, furthered by colonialism and the expansion of trade routes, not only effected the literary market itself but triggered new perspectives on the relevance and value of literature. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe famously coined the notion of ‘world literature’ by assessing the new forms and possibilities of global literary exchange (Eckermann). The production for a growing market, a thriving translation business and the idea of ‘world literature’ have prefigured the global book market as it exists today.

Ranging from the distribution of slave narratives to South Africa’s system of apartheid, from the invention of anthologies in the 18th century to today’s book market, the contributions to this volume shed light on different aspects of the long history of writing for and about the market. They discuss how literary texts display economic shifts while often at the same time meta-reflexively referring to their own involvement in economic developments. Therefore, this volume addresses the effects of the market on its literary goods as well as the representations and narrations of the global market in literary texts. Today as well as in the history of writing and publishing, the interaction between literature and the market brings about political questions of equality, exploitation, subjectivity and representation, as many of our contributions show.

As Franco Moretti has pointed out, the increasing global exchange of literature has also led to the mutual influence of different local literary traditions. The very same global literary market that enables contact and exchange influences literary genres, forms and tropes. However, Moretti describes this system as “one and unequal” (56), since these forms and motives do not travel democratically, but primarily originate in a dominant core and influence the more peripheral regions from there. Gisèle Sapiro elaborates on these modes of distribution and publishing, which constitute this uneven structure. She states that the globalization of the book market led to a “unification of a global market” (423) in the commercial sector with English as the predominant language and the United States as the core source, while in the upmarket, “cultural diversity has been reinforced by globalization” (430). To understand the structure of this market, according to Sapiro, it is crucial to look at its “economic, political and cultural factors. These different logics are incarnated by ←8 | 9→various categories of agents (e.g. authors, translators, shareholders, marketing managers …)” (425).

This volume contributes to the examination of these factors. It does not, however, aim to define or specify the notion of the market employing the analytical means of financial studies and economics. Instead, it highlights how literary products, texts and authors alike have always been invested in the dynamics of the market, simultaneously observing it and taking part in it. Therefore, this collection brings together thoughts on poetological reflections of economic phenomena and studies concerning the means of production, thereby combining the research areas of literary criticism and book history. The scope of the different investigations is not limited by languages or ‘literary nations’, but unites analyses of German and English, Spanish and French, Indian and South African literature; it is itself a globalized project.

Does the global distribution of (some) texts enable access to a broad variety of unique literary artifacts from around the world or do we deal with the predominance of bestselling genres and ‘blockbuster’ phenomena that sell successfully everywhere and are similar in content and style? What role do publishers, agents and business companies, translators and literary prizes play when it comes to making visible authors and their texts? How do literary texts discuss their own status as commodities? How do authors react to the fact that their names circulate like brand names? These are only some of the questions the contributions to this volume raise and try to answer.

1 Writing About the Market – Representations of the Economy

When analyzing market phenomena and their impact on literature, it is crucial to take a closer look at the term ‘the market’ itself. What exactly do we mean when we talk about the market? Since the last European Financial Crisis in 2008/09, it has become a commonplace to hint to the general misleading use of the term in phrases like “the market reacts to…” or “the market’s anxieties”, because they imply agency and will to the financial sector as a whole (cf. Lenk and Maring 147). The term ‘market’ is applied to describe a variety of different phenomena, ranging ←9 | 10→from the medieval bazar to the current stock market system and referring even to capitalism as such. ‘Market’ is thus characterized by what Thomas Wegmann calls a “semantische Vielschichtigkeit” (a ‘semantic complexity’) (Wegmann, “Liebe”), which implies the potential for discursive polarizations. What is more, recent analyses of the market point to its interconnectedness with other domains of social life such as politics, the sciences and religion (cf. Schmidt 19). This insight has been taken up and further developed by Sapiro, who describes markets in line with Pierre Bourdieu as “social constructions, which are not independent from cultural and political factors” (424). Since the market is constituted by discursive and cultural phenomena, literature can play a part in describing and explaining it, thereby shedding light on the semiotic and ontological problems that arise from the structures of the current economic system.

The relation between literature and the market has been described by a wide range of different analytical approaches. In the following section, we will describe some of them with regard to their impact on the present volume and therefore necessarily without claiming to deliver a complete account. Our argument is based on the observation that money and literature, securities and narrations, finances and fictions (as the title of an anthology by Christine Künzel and Dirk Henschel aptly phrases it) have a common element. This analogy has been prominently investigated in the research area of new economic criticism, which bears on earlier studies about the nature of money and language by scholars as Jean-Joseph Goux, Ferdinand de Sauassure, Marc Shell and Jacques Derrida (cf. Gernalzick). Studies in this research area reveal that changes in the economic sector cannot exhaustively be explained by economics, using statistical analyses, but also contain fictional elements which call for the expertise of literary scholars. According to Künzel, it has eventually become a commonplace to state the involvement of fictions in the economic sector at the latest since the last European financial crisis (143). Just as readers willingly suspend their doubts regarding the ‘truth’ of fictional literature when reading, paper money and stock papers are attributed with a fictive value that has no connection to their material value – when handling them, people have to believe in their authentication (cf. Künzel 147). This development has been traced back to the increasing abstraction and virtualization of money transactions which came along with the invention of futures and equity ←10 | 11→trading around the 17th century and the establishment of paper money in the 18th century. Wegmann mentions the newly established Amsterdam stock market in 1688 as one of the earliest examples for this development; from then on people were able to deal with fictions in the form of payment obligations, which stayed fictive until they were liquidated (Wegmann, “Wertpapiere” 317). According to Franziska Schößler, another fundamental aspect in the fictionalization of the financial sector was the abolition of the gold standard after World War II, which strongly emphasized the supposedly new arbitrariness and conventionality of value (28). The digitalization of financial transactions has been described as the last step of the detachment of value from its signifiers, leading to the complete “immateriality of money” as, for example, Jochen Hörisch states (81, our translation). This account of the economic development has been criticized and qualified by sociologists like Gunnar Heinsohn (236–240) and Hajo Riese. In line with them, David Graeber pointedly argues that “[w];e did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around. What we now call virtual money came first” (40). Both views on the history of economic development emphasize the fact that “the market is not an everpresent place where goods are exchanged with the help of a standard good” (Heinsohn, Steiger 501), but that market phenomena are also virtual and refer to abstract possibilities more than to a perceived graspable reality.

Literary scholars who investigate the interrelation of finances and fiction posit their ability to investigate events on the market which cannot be explained by only taking into account economic models, arguing that analyzing fiction is one core competence of literature and literary studies. Mark Osteen and Martha Woodmannsee, for example, state that literary texts “both produce and respond to reformulations of the nature of representation and credit embodied in money and in the economic system in general” (4). This approach assumes that the interconnection between economic and literary discourses brings about rich insights for economics as well as for literary studies.

An early field of analysis aimed at the homology of economic and linguistic signs and has been famously explored by Marc Shell, who posits a “tropic interaction between economic and linguistic symbolization and production.” (3–4) This level of inquiry explores the way in which ←11 | 12→“economics provides a ready-made system of tropes and fictions about value, debt, money, and exchange that underpins not only its own practices and texts, but also literary discourses that are less obviously economic” (Woodmannsee and Osteen 11). In his study Of Grammatology, Derrida explores a similar connection by comparing money and writing: “[The] movement of analytic abstraction in the circulation of arbitrary signs is quite parallel to that within which money is constituted. […] In both cases an anonymous supplement is substituted for the thing” (301). In her contribution to this volume, Nina Peter addresses problems concerning semiotics, representation and representability that arise from the currency stock market and the market of asset-backed securities. By analyzing Elfride Jelinek’s plays on referentiality and Don de Lillo’s descriptions of the medialization of trading, Peter points out how the constitution of value and meaning on these markets are reflected by literary texts.

A second approach to the analysis of literature and the market examines the structural similarities between events on the stock market and the modes of literary fiction and also takes into account the various ways in which economic and literary discourses are received and discussed (cf. Vogl). Even if profound doubts remain concerning the comparability of the fictional element of the stock market and the fictive function of literature, these studies nonetheless hint to the impact that changes in the economic system had on literary writing. The increasing abstraction of stock markets around 1900, for example, led to literary and poetological reflections on these developments, further evoking typical modern literary phenomena like self-referentiality and crises of representation (cf. Schößler 13–14). By doing so, literature reacts to the self-referentiality of prices which do not refer to ‘real’ values or production, but only to other prices (cf. Gernalzick 150–152). Joseph Vogl calls this development an autopoietic closure of the system (“autopoietische[…] Schließung des Systems” Vogl 80–81), which enables each payment only under the condition of other payments. Since this kind of self-referentiality, but also the transaction of inconceivably big sums of money and barely comprehensible events like crashes and financial crises are hard to imagine, the events of the contemporary financial sector lead to problems of representation (Vogl 8). This on the one hand seems to call for literary depiction, since literature is traditionally concerned with seemingly incomprehensible or ←12 | 13→irrational phenomena (cf. Hörisch 40). On the other hand, the conventional way of literary representation fails in face of the market, since it seems to be more difficult to narrate volatile economic events in plausible and comprehensible logic than to recount, for instance, a “journey from island to island” (Kluge 254, our translation). The economic crisis is one central motive in Franziska Jekel’s analysis of Marlene Streeruwitz’ novels Nachkommen. and Die Reise einer jungen Anarchistin in Griechenland. As Jekel points out, both novels refer to the book market as well as to the global financial system without offering an exhaustive description of it. Whereas Streeruwitz’ protagonist grapples with her own position on the markets of attention and prestige, she recounts just the kind of journey from island to island whose absence Kluge and Vogl state: In her own novel, the protagonist travels from Crete via Santorini to Athens, using her narration to describe the effects of the financial crisis.

By focusing not only on economics in general, but mainly on the negative outcome of the financial crisis, Streeruwitz touches a third important aspect concerning the analysis of literature and the market: When interpreting (late) capitalism, many literary texts explicitly or implicitly criticize economic developments. They, for example, focus on economic inequality, unequal power structures, market access, exclusion and financial crises. In his contribution about Nadine Gordimer’s novel The Lying Days, David Firth analyzes literature’s engagement with capitalist structures and its involvement in political oppression, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Firth uses Jameson’s concept of cognitive mapping to show how the capitalist world-system is intricately bound to racist segregation and exploitative productive patterns. Whereas Gordimer seems to criticize this interconnection, Streeruwitz goes even further and continually reflects on the fact that literature is itself a commodity on the global market, where it has to sell in order to make its critique heard and to position its political stance. She thereby echoes David Harvey’s assertion that neoliberalism brought about the “[f];inancialization of everything” (24) and Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s conclusion that “there is no outside to the world market” (190). Literary texts that try to criticize the market are at the same time closely bound to the structures of capitalism. This predicament is, as the contributions to this volume show, taken up and explicitly or implicitly discussed by literary texts in various ways. Some of these ←13 | 14→reflections on literature’s status as a commodity are taken into account by Annegret Heitmann’s contribution to this volume. Heitmann maps out themes and motives such as a magical pin, a much noticed sculpture and an extravagant meal that can be interpreted as reflections on the status of literature as an economic product in texts by Hans Christian Andersen, Henrik Ibsen and Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen. By also considering the author’s economic circumstances, Heitmann argues that these literary motives work as metaphors for the authors’ self-promotion, their material gain and their reflections on asceticism.

2 Dealing with the Market – Structures of the Literary Economy

Driven by institutional and political forces authors and their books circulate on what we suggest to call the global market of literary production. While the global book market as a network of multi-conglomerates, authors and readers serves as fertile soil for authorship and creative writing, it also determines how authors present and market themselves and their products. Even though Pierre Bourdieu refers to the dependency of the cultural production on the economy, he fails to investigate the circumstances and conditions in detail. The idea of a globally acting industry, a world-market of literary production, surpasses Bourdieu’s Franco-centric model of the field of literary production in which works of art and literature are caught in a struggle for ascendancy between the two opposing principles of culture and commerce. Therefore, as predominant as Bourdieu’s observations and terminology might be when discussing the field of literary production, we nevertheless agree with Sarah Brouillette, who argues that research has been content to outline the rules of this global literary field, but until now failed to comprehensively focus on the “the broader context of capitalist social relations” (Brouillette “Postcolonial Writers” 82). It is striking that Bourdieu’s analysis of literary production pays little attention to political, or what he terms ‘social art’. Writers who demand from literature to fulfil a social or political function are expelled to a lower position within the literary field, namely to the intersection of the literary with the political field (cf. Davis 124–25). While Bourdieu mainly focuses on the writer’s and agent’s interest in literary esteem or material wealth and ←14 | 15→therefore discounts political claims, the contributions to this volume present literary cases that refute his observations and show the literary field as a complex capitalist market, where aesthetic value does not exclude political involvement.

Considering the corpus of this publication, it is striking that almost all of the contributions examine literature’s involvement with the political sphere, be it the articulation of a self, the emancipation from an oppressive publishing industry or the actual critique of a political system. One of the most prominent political struggles concerning the global literary field is the perception of the market as a battlefield where voices strain to be heard, and where commerce conspires with the needs of self-expression and self-promotion. Since the contributions of ‘peripheral’ or ‘minority’ writers are negotiated differently than those of writers representing the ‘Western core’ of literary production, the market does not allow for all participants to enter in the same way. Rather, separate rules seem to exist which determine the obstacles, but also the chances for ‘peripheral’ writers. In his 1988 study on Emergent Literature and Comparative Literature, Wlad Godzich discusses the literary production of Europe’s margins. Godzich’s view concerns the state of Comparative Literature itself, which is, unlike national philologies, open to a broad variety of different objects of study. This volume shares the understanding that is the task of Comparative Literature Studies to examine and discuss texts which challenge the monumentalizing view of national literatures (cf. 35). Especially the contributions by Myriam-Naomi Walburg and Anna-Katharina Krüger call into question Eurocentric perspectives and hegemonic structures of sociopolitical discourse; they set out to dissolve the binary division of a strong and creative center and the rather less productive periphery. Both articles focus on literary productions that actively challenge Eureocentric theoretical frames by renegotiating set structures of the so-called literary centers and by recognizing the emergence of literatures from Europe’s geographical peripheries. Walburg discusses the institutional protectionism and the identity politics of the Adalbert von Chamisso Prize, a German literary prize that awards and likewise stigmatizes emerging writers as ‘migrant authors’, presenting a group of authors as homogeneous because of their biographical similarities. Walburg questions the prize’s problematic attribution of the notion of inferiority to literature written in a second or third language. ←15 | 16→Walburg’s analysis affects the stability of ‘migrant literature’ as genre description, echoing Gille Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of ‘minor literatures’ (Delueze and Guattari 1975). Similar to ‘migrant literature’, the idea of ‘minor literatures’ suggests a destabilization of the oppression of a dominant language and literature in which the Other authors operate and have to establish themselves. However, Walburg points out that this particular identity politics still holds on to an unbalanced power play set between representation and self-definition. The literary market defines set artificial categories which do not represent poetological choices but reveal the strategies of commerce. The Chamisso Prize aims to include nonnative authors into the national canon of German literature, but in fact achieves the opposite: The authors are identified as other than German, ultimately as the ‘included excluded’.

Processes of identification and representation are still mainly controlled by the center of power of the industry, which is conditionally inviting so-called peripheral literatures to be published. Pascale Casanova’s often disputed La république mondiale des lettres radically re-maps the literary field of production and addresses ways in which writers from the literary periphery have sought to break into the center. Casanova opens the national sphere and recognizes the dynamics of the global literary field. Her concept of the world republic of letters quickly becomes more than a metaphor. It describes a single global system of interlinked national economies, some of which belong the dominant ‘core’ and others to the periphery. Casanova identifies France and England as the core, both hold this position due to their large reserves of literary capital. However, the global literary sphere is a region in constant development, it is growing as nations without literary standing have sought and gained international validation. Looking at the players of the global market, the publishing houses on the one hand and the readership on the other hand, the idea of a world republic of letters, based on the binary system of core and periphery, seems more effective than ever. Precisely because the way into its core is not simply a one-way road – when marginal voices increasingly enter the European and North-American center of literary production, it is because publishers and literary scouts recognize more and more the commercial benefit of attracting and marketing minority ethnic writers for global distribution, and these writers gain valuable social and ←16 | 17→economic capital. Heineman publishing’s effort of introducing ‘African writing’ to a Western audience serves as a well-known example: the printing house opened publishing opportunities for now world-famous authors like Chinua Achebe. Delia Guijarro Arribas adds an important observation to Casanova’s analysis. According to her study about the development of the Spanish market for children’s books, writers at the center are also capable of revolutionary innovation, of changing the field or creating a new field altogether. Guijarro Arribas’ case study describes in detail the origins of publishing houses and author brands, all of which pushed for the autonomization of the ‘sub-field’ of children’s literature. Here, the multilingualism of Spain is addressed as a specific propulsion of the political atmosphere on this sub-market, and the connection to the sphere of global publishing is highlighted. Guijarro Arribas analyzes the relationship between languages, literary circulation and the structure of the global publishing market. The autonomization of children’s literature as a closed literary field is essentially limited to economic and trade issues, rather than language; it depends heavily on the nation state that ultimately defines the borders of the field.

Biographical notes

Franziska Jekel (Volume editor) Anna-Katharina Krüger (Volume editor) Myriam-Naomi Walburg (Volume editor)

Franziska Jekel is a research associate in the Department of German Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Her specific research interest is in literary representations of poverty and in the aesthetics of uncertainty. Anna-Katharina Krüger completed her PhD in Comparative Literature at Ludwig-Maximilans-Universität Munich as a member of the DFG Research Training Group Globalization and Literature. Her main teaching and research interests are in (post)colonial literature. Myriam-Naomi Walburg is an associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at University of Liège, Belgium. Her research focus lies on literary multilinguism, the poetics of translation and Postcolonial Studies.


Title: Writing (for) the Market