Mon 17 Sep 2018

Fiction and Finance

the Glashuset, Valand Academy


Leigh Claire La BergeErling BjörgvinssonIda BörjelMiriam Meissner

Welcome to this PARSE Dialogue on Fiction and Finance.

How has the evermore abstract and complex economy of the last decades transformed us as embodied subjects? How has this been reflected and expressed in fiction and film, aesthetic and narrative conventions?

The seminar will address the current relationship and boundaries between aesthetics, the economy and politics. It will engage with aesthetics and theories that combine analysis of political economy and the experiential and aesthetic dimensions of society where financialization has become a dominant mode. Hence, it wants to address how political economies affect subject formation and forms of critique and resistance of such political economies through narrative, embodied, and sensate dimension. It will in particular address how visual and narrative expressions intertwine the macro and micro-political economic dimensions of the senses in relation to how they are positioned in time and space. It will also discuss how financialization, fiction, documentary film and cultural critique are in dialogue and affect each other.

Leigh Claire La Berge:

Perhaps there is no more of a crucial step in economically oriented cultural analysis than the decision of when and how to render certain aspects of economic life empirical and others abstract. It is the relationship between the empirical and the abstract that often forms the basis of an argument and that indeed sets a foundation for the mediation of the economy by culture, and vice versa. That problem forces cultural critics to ask: when should the economic be thematized? How should it be periodized? When should we rely on static or formalized economic norms? When should the economy be rendered as empirical and when should it be rendered in more broadly metaphorical strokes?

It matters on what level of abstraction these questions are staged since that level often generates the content of cultural analysis. In this presentation, I will present two case studies in abstraction, one from my first book, Scandals and Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s (Oxford, 2014) and one from my forthcoming book, Wages Against Artwork: Socially Engaged Art and Decommodified Labor (Duke, 2019). The first case study turns toward finance, which is often described as abstract or complex. The second turns its attention toward labor, which is almost never described as abstract or complex, but rather which is often overly concretized. How should cultural critics engage this theory and vocabulary? How should they enjoin it to economic analysis? This presentation will explore these questions and offer suggestions for the cultural critique of multiple economic forms.

Miriam Meissner: Specters of Finance and the Black Box City

Financial trading is often associated with the metaphor of the so-called ‘black box’. The concept of the black box suggests that a development has a tangible input and output, but that the process of turning input into output is inscrutable. This talk discusses the notion of the ‘financial black box’ by questioning how it is represented in contemporary visual culture. It shows how documentary films and journalistic photographs visualize the inscrutable black box of financial trading by associating it with specific urban architectures and atmospheres. In a second step, the talk offers a critical reading of ‘urban black box scenarios’ in contemporary visual culture. Drawing on the concept of the specter in critical cultural theory, it questions the causal relations that visual narratives establish between financial trading and its ostensible inscrutability. The central argument running through this talk is that that it matters how visual narratives account for the fact that finance is experienced as spectral: present yet absent, and sometimes incomprehensible with regard to its logic. While certain narratives tend to associate these qualities with the physical spaces and infrastructures of financial trading, others give a more systemic and politicized account of spectrality as a symptom of contemporary financialization.

Erling Björgvinsson & Ida Börjel: Cute Counter Narratives: Follow the Money

In relation to City Fables: Follow the Money, a practice-based research project, focused on capitalist place production and the language of capitalism we will address tensions between abstraction and sensate embodiment, present well-being and ‘futurist’ anxiety, fiction/fables and documentary aesthetics, and pedagogical aesthetics and non-cathartic corporate and municipal cute aesthetics. Specifically, we will critically reflect on our own work that consists of counter-narratives in the form of texts, animation films, hand puppet plays, and a homo-calculus self-monitoring quiz. Counter-narratives that relate to the ‘Alpha Territory’ and success story of Malmhattan in Malmö and that are based on our analysis and interpretation of media coverage, marketing material, policy documents, corporate tax analysis, and interviews with politicians, public officials, corporate representatives, an auditing lawyer, and a tax activist.

Before the seminar, please download from app store the Animal Spirits Quiz and find out what economic beastie you are.

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. All welcome!


Leigh Claire La Berge

Leigh Claire La Berge is assistant professor of English at the City University of New York, BMCC campus. She is the author of Scandals and Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s (Oxford, 2014) and the co-editor of Reading Capitalist Realism (Iowa, 2014). Her articles on the political economy of culture have appeared in American Literary History, Criticism, Postmodern Culture, South Atlantic Quarterly, and the Radical History Review. Her new book, Wages Against Artwork: Socially Engaged Art and Decommodified Labor is forthcoming with Duke University Press in 2019.


Erling Björgvinsson

Erling Björgvinsson is Professor of Design at the School of Design and Crafts, Faculty of Fine Arts, Gothenburg University. A Central topic of research is participatory politics in design and art, in particular in relation to urban spaces and the interaction between public institutions and citizens. He has published in international design and art journals and anthologies. ​​


Ida Börjel

Ida Börjel is a poet who, in “The Consumer’s Purchase Law: juridical lyricisms” and “The Sabotage Manuals”, has staged multi-layered field work in authoritarian language in the form of legal language, prejudices and bureaucratese.


Miriam Meissner

Miriam Meissner is Assistant Professor in Urban Studies at the Department of Literature and Art, Maastricht University. Her research explores the interrelation between cities, creativity, political economy and the environment. In particular, it examines how urban art, media and cultural practices re-mediate and politicize global risks of finance and ecology. Miriam’s book publications include Narrating the Global Financial Crisis: Urban Imaginaries and the Politics of Myth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and the co-edited volume Global Garbage: Urban Imaginaries of Waste, Excess and Abandonment (Routledge, 2016).