Fiction, Finance, and the Postmodern: William Gaddis’s JR
William Gaddis’ JR tells the story of 11-year-old JR Vansant, a Long Island boy who, operating from a school phone booth, trades penny stocks in route to building a corporate empire, nearly toppling the global economy in the process. In documenting the rise of young JR and the fall of those around him—hapless artists, helpless teachers, and scheming local power brokers of all kinds—the novel indexes the anarchy and abstraction of financial capitalism, as well as its acid touch on individual and collective life, from urban living to sex and marriage to art. JR is not simply a satire of capitalism; it’s a depiction of the condition of postmodernity. How do we find value—and of what kind?—in a world given over to entropy, amidst “a chaos of disconnections, a blizzard of noise”?
In this course, we will read JR in its entirety, situating the work alongside contemporaneous developments within the local (New York), national, and global economy. What can this novel—any novel—tell us about the experience of living through the financialization of capitalism? How does JR, and in particular its experimental form, capture and comment upon the then-emergent economic regime of neoliberalism—a regime premised upon, among other things, the deregulation of existing markets, the relaxation of capital flows, the use of state power for private development, and the increasingly prevalent discourse of individual responsibility? What is the relationship between this novel’s famously funny but difficult form—JR is composed almost entirely of unattributed dialogue—and the lived experience of financialized capitalism? How do economic developments in general, and neoliberal developments in particular, impact the way we think and speak about the world? To help us think about this economic and geographic history, we will pair our reading of the novel with short works by Grace Blakeley, Robert Caro, David Harvey, and Fredric Jameson.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 09 — June 30, 2021