Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Review of Marc Shell's The Economy of Literature

Here's my review of Marc Shell's The Economy of Literature on Amazon. If you find it helpful do go over there and 'like' it. I love it when I get a few 'likes'. It puts me in such a good mood; I help old ladies cross the road, I smile at strangers, and I let other drivers out at junctions. When I don't get 'likes' none of this happens. Go on, do your bit for positive Karma. x

Anyway.... you might guess I liked it. I gave it 5 stars and the title An ambitious, yet purposeful inquiry into the Money of the mind. Truly a seminal work.

Here it is for you folks that won't click an Amazon link.

"This is a seminal work. A small book that seeded the growth of New Economic Criticism - the intersection of literary criticism and economics. Shell was around 30 years old when he wrote it in 1978. It's not an easy read, as you might expect, but I found it more accessible than 'Money, Language and Thought' his 1982 book which I've seen referenced more often in scholarly work on Money. Both are excellent, but for me 'The Economy of Literature' is the key work.

Shell clearly explains the nature and purpose of his inquiry in the opening sentence to his conclusion;

"This book about the economy of literature seeks understand dialectically the relationship between thought and matter by looking from the formal similarities between linguistic and economic symbolization and production to the political economy as a whole."

And his youthful ambition is evident in the opening sentence of the Introduction;

"Those discourses are ideological that argue or assume that matter is ontologically prior to thought."

The first section proper examines the ancient myth of the Ring of Gyges. For me this is both the strongest and most interesting section. Shell doesn't mention them but there are striking parallels between the Ring of Gyges and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Thanks perhaps to Peter Jackson's films, Ring mythologies are still alive in the collective conscious today. Indeed, the ring was a ubiquitous form of (primitive) currency that preceded coinage. As both a symbol of power, and powerful in and of itself, the ring is central to the narrative of civilization. It is an archetype that reforms and reoccurs through the ages. Shell examines how the Greek philosopher's retold the myth and how the theme of visibility and invisibility (the Ring of Gyges has the same power as Tolkien's One Ring) connects with tyranny, knowledge and the execution of power.

The highlight of this section for me was his discussion of Plato, the Good, Sophism and the money of the mind. Often when writers scratch beneath the surface of their subject and examine the underlying metaphysical problems, they will return to the Platonic/Socratic dialogue. They then tell us about the Truth and the Good, dialectic and rhetoric, philosophers and sophists, but rarely do they consider how Money influences the formation of ideas within our minds. Shell does this brilliantly.

The four other main sections of the book develop and expand Shell's radical idea that Money is buried deeply in our reality. Its effects on our thought are fundamental, but too often we 'wish to avoid the economics of literature'. Talking about Money is taboo, its influence is denied; especially so, in the consideration of artistic endeavour. Shell brings into the light the Money form that exists in our thought and the reality we create.

If the names Richard Seaford, Dierdre Mccloskey, and Joel Kaye mean something to you - if you know their work - then Shell's 'The Economy of Literature' is absolutely essential reading. I can't recommend it highly enough."

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