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Neoliberalism and Contemporary Literary Culture

, 344 pages

1 map, 11 graphs

August 2017



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Neoliberalism and Contemporary Literary Culture


Neoliberalism has been a buzzword in literary studies for well over a decade, but its meaning remains ambiguous and its salience contentious. In Neoliberalism and Contemporary Literary Culture, Mitchum Huehls and Rachel Greenwald Smith offer a wide-ranging exploration of contemporary literature through the lens of neoliberalism’s economic, social, and cultural ascendance. Bringing together accessible and provocative essays from top literary scholars, this innovative collection examines neoliberalism’s influence on literary theory and methodology, literary form, literary representation, and literary institutions.

A four-phase approach to the historical emergence of neoliberalism from the early 1970s to the present helps to clarify the complexity of the relationship between neoliberalism and literary culture. Layering that history over the diverse changes in a US-Anglo literary field that has moved away from postmodern forms and sensibilities, the book argues that many literary developments—including the return to realism, the rise of the memoir, the embrace of New Materialist theory, and the pursuit of aesthetic autonomy—make more coherent sense when viewed in light of neoliberalism’s ever-increasing expansion into the cultural sphere.

The essays gathered here engage a diverse range of theorists, including Michel Foucault, Wendy Brown, Giorgio Agamben, Bruno Latour, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gary Becker, and Eve Sedgwick to address the reciprocal relationship between neoliberalism and conceptual fields such as biopolitics, affect, phenomenology, ecology, and new materialist ontology. These theoretical perspectives are complemented by innovative readings of contemporary works of literature by writers such as Jennifer Egan, Ben Lerner, Gillian Flynn, Teju Cole, Jonathan Franzen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Salvador Plascencia, E. L. James, Lisa Robertson, Kenneth Goldsmith, and many others. Neoliberalism and Contemporary Literary Culture is essential reading for anyone invested in the ever-changing state of literary culture.

Mitchum Huehls is an associate adjunct professor of English at the University of California–Los Angeles. He is the author of After Critique: Twenty-First-Century Fiction in a Neoliberal Age. Rachel Greenwald Smith is an associate professor of English at St. Louis University. She is the author of Affect and American Literature in the Age of Neoliberalism.

"A necessary, timely, and insightful intervention into the scholarly conversation about the relationship of literature (and other arts) to neoliberalism. Huehls and Smith have assembled a uniformly superb collection."

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