Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain

Synopsis

How did banking, borrowing, investing, and even losing money- in other words, participating in the modern financial system- come to seem likeroutine activities of everydaylife? Genres of the Credit Economy addressesthis question by examining the history of financial instruments and representations of finance in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.
Chronicling the process by which some of our most important conceptual categories were naturalized, Mary Poovey explores complex relationships among forms of writing that are not usually viewed together, from bills of exchange and bank checks, to realist novels and Romantic poems, to economic theory and financial journalism. Taking up all early forms of financial and monetarywriting, Poovey argues that these genres mediated for early modern Britons the operations of a market system organized around credit and debt. By arguing that genre is a critical tool for historical and theoretical analysis and an agent in the events that formed the modern world, Poovey offers a new way to appreciate the character of the credit economy and demonstrates the contribution historians and literary scholars can make to understanding its operations.
Much more than an exploration of writing on and around money, Genres of the Credit Economy offers startling insights about the evolution of disciplines and the separation of factual and fictional genres.

Excerpt

This book grows out of two questions I could not answer after writing A History of the Modern Fact: If the kind of knowledge that contemporary society values is really the modern fact, then why does the discipline of Literary studies matter? What can Literary scholars do?

I don't know whether I've really answered the first of these questions, for, as the last sections of this book reveal, I continue to worry about the implications of many developments within Literary studies, especially as the discipline is now practiced in U.S. graduate programs. My suggestion about what Literary scholars can do is spelled out most explicitly in the last interchapter and demonstrated in chapter 6, but the entirety of Genres of the Credit Economy is intended to address the issues behind this question. For it has proved impossible for me to see what we might do until I have a better understanding of how this discipline became what it now is. I have tried to write the history of my discipline by understanding it as a particular genre. As a genre, Literary studies was developed to describe and explain another set of genres (Literary writing) as part of a more general process of generic differentiation, the gradual elaboration of sets of conventions and claims about method that were intended to differentiate between kinds of writing. This process of generic differentiation, in turn, belongs to the general history of specialization that we call modernization.

Seeing Literary studies in this way is to ask about the function of the discipline, and, by extension, it has required me to think about the functions that Literary writing played during the last two centuries, as the process of specialization has accelerated. I have come to understand this function in terms of value: at the end of the seventeenth century, one of the functions performed by imaginative writing in general was to mediate value—that is, to help people understand the new credit economy and the market model of . . .

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