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Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form

Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form

Anna Kornbluh
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form
    Book Description:

    During a tumultuous period when financial speculation began rapidly to outpace industrial production and consumption, Victorian financial journalists commonly explained the instability of finance by criticizing its inherent artifice drawing persistent attention to what they called "fictitious capital." In a shift that naturalized this artifice, this critique of fictitious capital virtually disappeared by the 1860s, being replaced by notions of fickle investor psychology and mental equilibrium encapsulated in the fascinating metaphor of "psychic economy." In close rhetorical readings of financial journalism, political economy, and the works of Dickens, Eliot, and Trollope, Kornbluh examines the psychological framing of economics, one of the nineteenth century's most enduring legacies, reminding us that the current dominant paradigm for understanding financial crisis has a history of its own. She shows how novels illuminate this displacement and ironize ideological metaphors linking psychology and economics, thus demonstrating literature's unique facility for evaluating ideas in process. Inheritors of this novelistic project, Marx and Freud each advance a critique of psychic economy that refuses to naturalize capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5500-9
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction. “A Case of Metaphysics”: Realizing Capital
    (pp. 1-20)

    “To realize capital” is no mean feat. When Dickens’s narrator glumly appraises the dim financial prospects of his naïve enterprising friend, the simple indicative clause “I put my hands into my pockets” effectuates a contrast between the materiality of hands and the ideality of vision, the physical gesture and the metaphysical realization. Beside the worldly difficulties ofacquiringcapital, such a contrast underscores, stand the philosophical difficulties ofrealizingcapital, securing the status of “real” for something evidently ethereal. Ambitious naïfs and their generous friends—and every other player in the mid-Victorian economy—found themselves beset by these difficulties of...

  2. 1. Fictitious Capital/Real Psyche: Metalepsis, Psychologism, and the Grounds of Finance
    (pp. 21-44)

    In 1859 David Morier Evans, London’s premier financial journalist, published a book of “History” promising to “link” the country’s most recent financial crisis, in 1857 and 1858, to “the several similar dread visitations which have occurred since the remarkable epoch of 1825.”¹ Evans, whom contemporary scholars regularly regard as the primary source par-excellence for Victorian thought about finance, edited theBanker’s Magazineand published several books on the financial economy that found wide popular readership.² By the time of this 1859 “History,” Evans’s copious output could, he unabashedly declared, “afford more combined information in relation to financial and commercial progress...

  3. 2. Investor Ironies in Great Expectations
    (pp. 45-64)

    This book began with a sentence fromGreat Expectations, a novel published in 1860, and now that we have established the “case of metaphysics” posed by realizing capital from the 1840s through the 1860s, we can do no better than return to that novel and to that sentence: “As we contemplated the fire, and as I thought what a difficult vision to realize Capital sometimes was, I put my hands into my pockets.”¹ The rhythm of the sentence encloses the difficult metaphysical vision of realizing capital between two markedly simple physical images: the fire and the hands. Fire and hands,...

  4. 3. The Economic Problem of Sympathy: Parabasis and Interest in Middlemarch
    (pp. 65-88)

    Thoughts entangled in metaphors. Of all the indelible adages inMiddlemarch, that paragon of nineteenth-century novels, this one may be the most cherished. Critics love its reverence for the powers of literary language, its awe before metaphor’s fatalities. For this book the lure of this line comes not from its generality, but its specificity, the precise example it furnishes of perilously entangling metaphors: psychic economy, the conflation of financial instruments and affective states. Casaubon imagines that his transactions with the world will repay his psychic savings with pleasurable returns—that his affections will appear to others as creditable windfalls. In...

  5. 4. “Money Expects Money”: Satiric Credit in The Way We Live Now
    (pp. 89-112)

    For over 150 years the aggressively pruned realism of Anthony Trollope’s mechanically manufactured forty-seven novels has been appraised as almost clinical in the “stringent,” “photographic,” and “copious” manner of its “anatomization.”¹ None have been more definitive than Henry James: “Trollope, from the first, went in, as they say, for having as little form as possible.”² Whether the bottom line of such appraisals is amused or damning, Trollope’s readers from his own century up through ours have broadly shared this account of his deficit of form. In “On Novels and the Art of Writing Them” and elsewhere, Trollope himself would seem...

  6. 5. London, Nineteenth Century, Capital of Realism: On Marx’s Victorian Novel
    (pp. 113-136)

    Marx is not part of the family, but one should not send him back. There is of late no more popular way to trivialize and exoticize Karl Marx than to dismiss his insuperable masterpiece of critical political economy as “a Victorian melodrama or a gothic novel … a picaresque odyssey through the realms of higher nonsense … a shaggy-dog story.”¹ The intent of such claims is clearly to send him back, to bury Marx definitively in the nineteenth century, shrouded in a contempt as great for Victorian novels as for his own achievements. In Chapter 1 I argued that Marx’s...

  7. 6. Psychic Economy and Its Vicissitudes: Freud’s Economic Hypothesis
    (pp. 137-155)

    Psychic economy: a notion so ubiquitous, a conceit so familiar, it ranks as one of modernity’s reigning tropes. Within the languages of psychoanalysis and psychology, “psychic economy” is first among proper names for substantifying the workings of desire, sexuality, the psyche, and even the conscious mind, finally designating the foundational structure of psychosocial life. Alongside these proprietary discourses of the psyche, other disciplines—from sociology to education, economics to literature—pepper their frameworks with assured references to this foundation. “Economy,” this casual ubiquity evinces, warrants no explanation; it aptly encapsulates the structure of subjectivity and opportunely portends the structural continuity...

  8. Epilogue: The Psychic Life of Finance
    (pp. 156-158)

    Although this book focuses on Victorian thought in the past, Victorianism remains alive in the present. In our epoch of global financial turmoil, we have not only to reckon with collateralized debt obligations, toxic assets, and zombie banks, but also with the obfuscating din of economic discourses that explain away the contradictions of capital as merely psychological phenomena. When Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke testified before the United States Congress about the causes of the economic meltdown of 2008, he pled lack of expertise: “Senator, you asked me my opinion as an economist,” he said with a smile, “but unfortunately...