Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis

Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis

Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis

Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis


Finance Fictions takes the measure of what it means to live in a world ruled by high finance by examining the tension between psychosis and realism that plays out in the contemporary finance novel. When the things traded at the center of the economy cease to be things at all, but highly abstracted speculations, how do we come to see the real? What sorts of narrative can accurately approach the actual workings of a neoliberal economy marked by accelerating cycles of market crashes, economic and political crisis, and austerity?

Revisiting such twentieth-century classics of the genre as Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, De Boever argues that the twenty-first century is witnessing the birth of a new kind of realistic novel that can make sense of complex financial instruments like collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and digital algorithms operating at speeds faster than what human beings or computers can record. If in 1989 Wolfe could still urge novelists to work harder to “tame the billion-footed beast of reality,” today’s economic reality confronts us with a difference that is qualitative rather than quantitative: a new financial ontology requiring new modes of thinking and writing.

Mobilizing the philosophical thought of Quentin Meillassoux in the close reading of finance novels by Robert Harris, Michel Houellebecq, Ben Lerner and less well-known works of conceptual writing such as Mathew Timmons’ Credit, Finance Fictions argues that realism is in for a speculative update if it wants to take on the contemporary economy—an “if” whose implications turn out to be deeply political. Part literary study and part philosophical inquiry, Finance Fictions seeks to contribute to a new mindset for creative and critical work on finance in the twenty-first century.


He had recently found himself reading an article on the Web about
hedge funds, absorbed in this subject as thoroughly as if it were literature,
thinking about his own money as he kept reading, wondering whether he
should invest with the charismatic guy who was being profiled— and he
caught himself doing this and was shocked. He’d been lulled and snared
by the pulsing screen and the promise of money begetting more money.
It happened to people all the time; it had happened to him.

—MEG wolitzer, The Interestings

Terror and Finance

If the images of the September 11 terror attacks—of the collapsing Twin Towers— are still with us today, that may be in part because they can be read as the prophetic announcement of the event that triggered this book: the economic collapse of 2008 and the state of economic crisis that it opened up. After all, it was not just the Twin Towers but the World Trade Center that collapsed on 9/11, and the images of the towers falling were arguably an uncanny anticipation of what was to come: not so much the war on terror, but the economic war between the 99 percent and the 1 percent that was produced in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

That very shift from 9/11 to the 2008 financial crisis has featured prominently in a number of con temporary novels. the best example is perhaps Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. Set in 2001, just before the September 11 attacks, but published in 2003 (it was DeLillo’s first novel after the attacks), the . . .

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