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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11515/the-poetics-of-spontaneous-order-austrian-economics-and-literary-criticism/

The Poetics of Spontaneous Order: Austrian Economics and Literary Criticism

January 22, 2010 by

The standard recipe for economic criticism of literature is as follows: mix quasi-Marxism with vanguard Marxism, and add just a soupçon of fashionable French thought (structuralist or poststructuralist) to give it flavor. FULL ARTICLE by Paul Cantor

{ 9 comments }

Vanmind January 23, 2010 at 3:24 am

Every human’s taste is always perfect.

Russ January 23, 2010 at 8:11 am

Vanmind wrote:

“Every human’s taste is always perfect.”

I agree that art is just a matter of taste. But there are two kinds of taste; good and bad.

To get back on topic, I do wonder why we need any sort of economic criticism of literature or other art, whether Marxist or Austrian. I think this is one case where those who cry “economic imperialism” may be onto something. How about literature critics stick to criticizing *literature*, not the culture the author belonged to, or the culture represented in the literature?

rob January 23, 2010 at 9:46 am

Henry Hazlitt wrote about the importance of criticism.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán January 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I just got this book through the mail, and I am truly blown away.

B.K. Marcus January 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Russ writes, “I do wonder why we need any sort of economic criticism of literature or other art, whether Marxist or Austrian.”

Cantor does address this question in his essay:

Of course, someone might object that this alternative simply swings from one extreme to another, substituting a promarket ideology for an antimarket ideology. One might prefer simply to reject economic approaches to literature entirely, and try to maintain the esthetic purity of the realm of literature by keeping it strictly divorced from the sordid, mercenary considerations of the economic realm. In view of the crudeness of many Marxist analyses of literature, one can sympathize with the impulse to keep the realms of literature and economics separate. And yet for all the high-mindedness of this approach, it amounts to a refusal to confront the entrenched position of Marxist and quasi-Marxist literary critics in the academy, thus abandoning any attempt to undo the damage they may have done to our understanding of literature. Marxist literary criticism shows no signs of going away, and it cannot effectively be countered by simply denying that economics has any application to literature. We need to put something in its place. Marxist literary critics deserve at least this much credit: they have made a plausible and even a persuasive case for the relevance of economics to literature and literary activity. Economics is a central realm of human activity, and to the extent that literature attempts to deal with human life, it must inevitably come to terms with economic issues. And however idealistic a view one holds of the creation of literature, at some level it does seem to be bound up with economic activity as ordinarily understood. If we need to raise economic questions in order to achieve a fuller understanding of literature, we should take care that we are being guided by sound economic principles, not by an outdated and discredited ideology. Those who have been repelled by Marxist literary criticism may find that it was not an economic approach to literature as such that bothered them, but only the use of the wrong brand of economics. A more humane form of economics — one that grants a central place to the human element in economic activity — may turn out to be more applicable than Marxism in the realm of the humanities. The most effective way to counter the negative effects of Marxist literary criticism is not to deny that economics has any relevance to literature, but to substitute sound economics for unsound, to offer a positive alternative to Marxism for relating literature and economics.

Artisan January 24, 2010 at 9:55 am

Chinese, Soviet or even Nazi propaganda depict this contradiction between “cause” and “quality” very well : their best art is a pure “product” of the State ideology. Its artistic quality is to be measured to the adequateness to that ideology. It’s perfectly irrelevant to mention one dislikes Nazi art because one dislikes concentration camps thus…

On the other hand, there’s bad allegorical art representing such universal value as “courage” for instance because the means that were used are not mastered. The fact that courage might subjectively be valued very much make a bias to judge the more objective quality of the artwork.

Hitler was not considered the best Nazi artist though he used to be a painter.

To judge the quality of art in a critique thus (if that’s necessary at all) it might still be important to know better to which “cause” the author eventually identifies himself.

In that sense I’m looking forward to read that book.

Russ January 24, 2010 at 5:55 pm

“…Marxist literary criticism shows no signs of going away, and it cannot effectively be countered by simply denying that economics has any application to literature. We need to put something in its place….”

Sure we need to put something in its place. How about actual literary critcism, that engages specifically with the text in question, and what the author was trying to accomplish in the text? In other words, why not put literary criticism in the place of social criticism?

“…Marxist literary critics deserve at least this much credit: they have made a plausible and even a persuasive case for the relevance of economics to literature and literary activity….”

I think this is giving the enemy way too much. Marxist literary theory is crap, not just because it’s based on bad economics, but also because it’s not even really *literary* criticism at all! It’s social criticism disguised as literary criticism. As long as you buy into the enemy’s basic premise, that all activity (including literature) is dictated by the inexorable historical force of economics, the enemy will win.

Gernot Hassenpflug January 24, 2010 at 11:55 pm

I’ve had the good fortune of associating with a professor of classical languages and philosophy, whose literary criticism, based on a deep understanding of logic and the history and development of philosophy, as astonishingly detailed (to me). Yet, in that analysis, the social and economic issues, namely the explication of human action, choices, and the costs and risks involved, the reward expected, are always present, unavoidably (for the actors and the author). Thus, an understanding of sound economics no doubt is an asset.

Del Lindley February 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I read with great interest how serialization, through the process of spontaneous order, likely improved the quality of 19th century literature in Britain. While the Austrian and Marxian conceptions of literary production were well-described and differentiated by this piece, I would like to note that this contrast is sharpened further when the financial motivation of serialization to the author (and publisher) is considered.

In recognizing the influence of time on factor pricing the Austrian theory holds that the value component of labor is time discounted over the period of production by the pure rate of interest. The author and publisher gain from serialization, ceteris paribus, because the effective time interval over which the discounting operates is reduced. This is possible because the author and publisher can be paid at regular intervals over the production interval instead of a in single lump sum, to take the simplest case of non-serialized production, when the full production is complete.

As an example let us compare the discount factors for a novel that takes one year to write. If the natural interest rate is supposed to be 10% per year then the discount factor over a year simply 1.1. In other words, if the author’s work contributes $1000 to publication sales then he should derive a total of $909.09 for his effort. Now if the same income is spilt equally between each month over this year the effective discount factor becomes 1.055 and a total of $947.87 should be earned. So in this example monthly serialization provides the author (and publisher) a 4.27% increase in effective income.

Under strict Marxian theory time discounting is not admissible and so the author and publisher would have no financial incentive to serialize any publication.

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