Economics and literary criticism are far from mutually uncomprehending strangers.
In David Lodge's 1988 campus novel Nice Work, the protagonist, Robyn, comes across her literary theorist boyfriend, Charles, reading a book that appears, on the face of it, to be a far cry from his usual fare of Derrida and Lacan. Spotting the title, The Financial Revolution Robyn expresses surprise that Charles "could ever get interested in business." He replies: "This isn't business … It’s not about buying and selling real commodities. It’s all on paper, or computer screens. It’s abstract. It has its own rather seductive jargon—arbitrageur, deferred futures, floating rate. It’s like literary theory”. Charles is planning “an article about what’s going on in the City”; later, he will succumb to the lure of London’s financial district and take a job as a strategist at an investment bank.
A “literarity-inflected” sensibility might be well placed to offer some genuine analytical traction on the world of finance.
Lodge’s novel points, then, to a certain—all-too-ready—affinity between the practice and rhetoric of high finance and the theoretical discourses central to the study of literature. In positing the “seductiveness” of finance for the literary theorist, Nice Work anticipates recent critiques by the likes of Joshua Clover and Annie McClanahan (themselves literary critics and, in Clover’s case, a poet) of what Clover calls “literarity-inflected economics." For Clover, McClanahan, and others, approaches to contemporary finance informed by the concerns of literary studies are liable merely to reproduce the ideology of their object of study, rhapsodizing over the weightlessness, opacity, and abstraction of a new “economy of signs,” and occluding the resolutely material processes that continue to underlie the financial system and place limits on its expansion.