Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Review Essay: What's New in the New Economic Criticism

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Review Essay: What's New in the New Economic Criticism

Article excerpt

Fritz Breithaupt, Der Ich-Effekt des Geldes: Zur Geschichte einer Legitimationsfigur. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2008. 318 pp.

RichardT Gray, Money Matters: Economics and the German Cultural Imagination 1770-1850. Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 2008. 476 pp.

Michael North, "Material Delight and the Joy of Living": Cultural Consumption in the Age of Enlightenment in Germany. Trans. Pamela Selwyn. Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. 273 pp.

In 1999, Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen published an anthology of essays entitled The New Economic Criticism.1 The volume marked the first attempt to name a body of scholarship that had been taking shape over the course of roughly the previous two decades, a collection of studies which, though diverse, was nonetheless unified by a focus on the interpénétration of literary, cultural, and economic spheres. While sometimes indebted to the insights of (especially Western) Marxism, scholars working in this vein were less interested in traditionally Marxist categories like class than in the rhetorical and conceptual overlap between these spheres as well as in the ways in which they have co-determined one another historically. Their analyses reflected the renewed focus on context that characterized New Historicism, and, like New Historicism itself, they would have been unthinkable without Foucault, whose notions of episteme and discourse provided a new model for thinking about the perceptual and conceptual unity of historical periods. But it would be a mistake to reduce the New Economic Criticism to a mere variant of New Historicism. On the contrary, as Catherine Gallagher has pointed out in the introduction to her own contribution to the genre, these new economic approaches to culture emerged out of a constellation of diverse theoretical interests dating back to the 1970s.2 One line of descent can be traced back to poststructuralism, which revealed how meaning is created according to an economic logic of linguistic substitution. In addition, these approaches have been shaped by some of the more sophisticated forms of Marxist ideological critique, which challenged the notion that authors and intellectuals, no matter how critical, could ever really stand outside of the dominant ideologies of their day. A final source of inspiration was the work undertaken in the sociology of literature, both in the form of historical analyses of the economics of authorship and in the more theoretically innovative work of Bordieu, who showed how an economic logic defines even those fields of cultural production and reception that had previously been cast in opposition to the economy.

When Woodmansee and Osteen's volume appeared, the idea of a New Economic Criticism was arguably even less well-known in German Studies circles than among the scholars of British and French culture who contributed the bulk of the essays to their collection. This is not to say that scholars of German literature and culture had no interest in economic questions. With a few notable exceptions, however, such as Martha Woodmansee's own The Author, Art and the Market (1994), Jochen Hörisch's Kopf oder Zahl (1996), or Daniel Purdy's The Tyranny of Elegance (1998), those who worked on economic topics tended to stake out claims within a terrain defined by the familiar Marxist categories of class and alienation. Much has changed in the past ten years, and one can now identify a growing group of German studies scholars interested in the dialogue between culture and economics. Moreover, the transformative years between 1750 and 1850, famously designated by Koselleck as the Sattelzeit, have served as a focal point for many of these analyses. The three volumes under consideration here represent some of the most exciting work currently being done in this area.3To be sure, they differ fairly dramatically in scope and method. Gray presents a series of fine-grained textual analyses that map the interface between literary and political-economic discourse in the decades between 1770 and 1850. …

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