The Fictions of Finance | Dissent Magazine

In this sense, the finance novel carries a second pervading irony: for all the information it provides, its ultimate achievement is to draw a circle around our ignorance. Yes, it makes much of the raw data of experience, but only in order to direct our attention to the full range of our illiteracy. Hans is dazzled by his Caribbean friend’s argot, a card game called wapi, the all-fours club, roti and doubles, the language of the street. The narrator of Rahman’s novel reminds us that bankers have their own names for these new money-making equations, but only to preserve the “mystique of the priesthood.” Lanchester calls this reversification, the process by which language evolves over time to indicate its very opposite, in the way that a hedge is a border or boundary, but hedge funds are often unregulated investment opportunities that are literally “unhedged.” The first obstacle, says Lanchester, is “the words themselves.” Language is the mystical foil that preserves the aura of the expert, the native, he who is in the know. It is a form of denial, too, that shields the trader from his own guilt: as Lanchester reminds us, quoting Martin Amis, “Denial was the best thing. Denial was even better than smoking.”

To whom do we distribute the tedious work of tearing away the veil? In the face of the “boring” and the “complex,” where is the intellectual vanguard? Novelists like Dreiser and Zola were committed socialists, and naturalism was a political project as much as an aesthetic one. Who are their counterparts today?

In the interim, there are projects like Occupy Finance, an e-book put out by the Alternative Banking Group and available for free download, on the principle that “you do not need a PhD in economics to understand what is happening.” The labor of reconfiguring the imagination, that imagination so strained by the abstractions of financial crisis, and of drawing other worlds, has been left to projects like them. The finance novel, participating as it does in what has been called capitalist realism—an ideological inability to imagine any kind of rupture to the political and economic systems of the present—is just catching up. But little by little, it punctures the aura of the specialist, for the long age ahead.

via The Fictions of Finance | Dissent Magazine.