Money and Literature: Wealth, Finance, Aesthetics

The Nordic Association for Literary Research (Norlit) will hold its 2019 conference on August 14-16 at the University of Copenhagen.

The Nordic Association for Literary research is a Nordic organization for literary research in all relevant disciplines such as comparative literature, the disciplines of language and cultural studies. Every second year the organization holds a conference devoted to the interdisciplinary research of literature.

The 2019 conference of Norlit is dedicated to the theme: "Money and Literature: Wealth, Finance, Aesthetics" and will explore the complex relations between literature, culture and economics in both a contemporary and a historical perspective.

The official conference language will be English and the conference venue is the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Conference theme

Wealth disparity, debt, finance capital, globalized markets, new forms of trade and traded assets, the transformations of business and labour – money in its multiple forms – have received renewed attention since the financial crisis in 2008. Of course, the economic world has always been an object of cultural fascination, anxiety, hope, and criticism, not only in postmodern Western literature but globally: 30 gold coins for Judas’ betrayal, money as a value that consumes all other values in The Jew of Malta, the criticism of luxury in eighteenth century French novels, the paper money scheme in Goethe’s Faust, the wealthy heiress in The Mysteries of Udolpho, Balzac’s claim that finance devours its own children, market forces as organizing principles in American post war literature, economic gift giving in ‘return’ migration literature, the conversion of spiritual wealth into economic wealth in Chinese immigrant fiction, the financial staging of power dynamics in ‘finance fiction’ like the television series Billions etc.

Money is clearly a complex phenomenon: a means of payment, a measure and a store of value, a commodity, a token of material wealth, today increasingly produced by debt and to a still larger extent circulated by algorithmic exchanges beyond human perception and understanding. Money makes or dissolves the social bond, destroys and creates hierarchies, it opens or closes the door to the community, enslaves and liberates, and like beauty it entails a special promise of happiness. In the words of French historian Marx Bloch, money is “like a seismograph that not only registers earth tremors, but sometimes brings them about”. In this respect, it resembles cultural form and much work has been done on the historical relation between aesthetics and specific economic modes. Thus, in the past decades and especially since the onset of the recession in 2008, cultural studies of money have flourished, not least in various areas of literary critique (sometimes termed new economic criticism), in a critique of contemporary capitalism, and in other perspectives on the history of economics, including intersectional readings of money and power, symbolic economy and exchange, and money as a tool in the formation of identity.

Now, certain economic indicators tell us that the recovery after 2008 will be short-lived and that instead of putting on its party dress, money, read as a text, is “sitting around in its sweatpants listlessly spooning peanut butter out of the jar” (Joshua Clover). It thus seems as important as ever to interpret the workings of money.