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C. D.

BLANTON, COLLEEN LYE, AND KENT PUCKETT

Introduction

F I N A N C I A L I Z A T I O N A N D T H E C U L T U R E I N D U S T R Y . The essays
that make up this special issue of Representations turn on the relation
between those two terms. How, they ask, should we understand the formal
and cultural effects of a world economy ever more dependent on finance’s
increasingly abstract calculations of value? In one respect, the metaphor of
a ‘‘culture industry’’ might now appear anachronistic, swept aside by the
postindustrial speed, scale, and global reach of contemporary finance. But
what then remains of notions—inherited from the Frankfurt School and
elsewhere—of high and low culture, art and reification, commitment and
commodity, class struggle and rationalization in an economy now conceived
as immaterial or disembodied, frictionless or flat?
Indeed it might seem that the convergence of complex historical, polit-
ical, and economic shifts marked by the term financialization has consigned
the familiar objects and interpretive methods of critical theory and its ante-
cedents (Marxian, psychoanalytic, and so on) to the historical past. Part of
what links the following essays is just this question: what approaches, expec-
tations, modes of analysis or interpretation are appropriate to the objects of
a financialized age? Does a critical theory conceived in a prior moment still
illuminate the relations between culture and the historical world? Or have
the changes of recent decades forced us now to recognize that new kinds of
culture demand new approaches?
Although most agree that we find ourselves in the midst of a long shift
away from earlier modes of production and their attendant configurations of
value, historians and economists differ on the characteristics, the histories,
the duration, the causes, and the effects of the apparent ‘‘financialization’’ of
the global economy.
The shift can be, and has been, understood as the consequence of a host
of factors: the postwar internationalization of markets in response to labor’s
consolidation of power and/or falling rates of profitability; the ‘‘intensifica-
tion of inter-capitalist competition [that] was itself the manifestation of the
introduction of lower-cost, lower price goods into the world market, especially
in manufacturing’’1; increased lateral competition spurred by the emergence

Rep re s ent a ti o ns 126. Spring 2014 © The Regents of the University of California. ISSN 0734-6018,
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of so-called developing economies vying with and in ‘‘first world’’ markets; the
waning of European and American hegemony after decolonization and dec-
ades of proxy war; the renegotiation of international currency standards and
onset of floating exchange rates following the collapse of the Bretton Woods
Agreement and the American abandonment of the gold standard in 1971; the
displacement of an older Keynesian policy consensus with the monetarist,
supply-side, and deregulatory regimes of the Thatcher-Reagan era; the neo-
liberal embrace of privatization strategies across the globe, under new polit-
ical orthodoxies loyal to the market rather than the state; the accumulated
shocks, accelerations, slowdowns, inflated and punctured bubbles of a world
market increasingly at the mercy of technological advance and scarce natural
resources; the ‘‘autumnal’’ decline from robust periods of European and then
American hegemony into a decadent new Belle Epoque sustained by financial
extraction, itself the harbinger of a next long economic cycle. And so on.
Certainly, broad debate about these issues can be expected to continue.
There is, however, equally broad agreement that something has happened,
that some new economic and cultural logic has arisen, and that it has been
happening or accelerating since the early 1970s, a moment that corresponds
to some or all of these global political and economic forces and events, as
well as to that set of aesthetic and critical responses and styles once more or
less loosely gathered under the rubric of ‘‘postmodernism.’’ The questions
raised by an apparent transition from one mode of production or conjunc-
ture to another—or perhaps away from a system organized by the pure logic
of production altogether—are thus also cultural questions, concerned not
merely with notions of value in the wake of financialization, but also with the
possibility that alongside economic theory, political economy, social critique,
and political activism, cultural analysis might offer a tool with which to gauge
the forms and meanings generated and divulged by a financialized world.
The problem of finance capital is not, in itself, a new one. Rudolf Hil-
ferding used the phrase in 1910 to describe capital’s concentration into a
sector of increasingly monopolistic institutions—joint-stock companies and
cartels, banks and stock exchanges—designed to trade claims upon what
Marx had called fictitious capital, thereby mobilizing property and profit at
an increasing distance from the course of production.2 In so doing, Hilferd-
ing sought to develop Marx’s own fragmentary analysis, in Capital’s posthu-
mously published third volume, of the credit system and interest-bearing
capital, and in particular of the illusory process by which monetary circula-
tion seems to promise an accumulation of value untethered from the under-
lying real economy. For Marx, fictitious capital regulates the internal
disparities of an increasingly complex market, smoothing processes of pro-
duction and exchange by harnessing and flattening time. Fictitious capital,
that is, in the form of a share or a bond, a banknote or legal tender, offers

2 Representations
‘‘claims, legal titles, to future production’’—not capital per se but its antici-
pation at market price; it bids on speculative time.3 But the illusions following
from that understanding of time and value are powerful ones: ‘‘All capital
seems to be duplicated, and at some points triplicated, by the various ways in
which the same capital, or even the same claim, appears in various hands in
different guises’’ (601).
In this respect, finance capital both presupposes and perpetuates a prob-
lem of representation, arising (as David Harvey puts it) in the gap ‘‘between
money as the general expression of value and commodities as the real embodiment
of value.’’4 But it simultaneously refers the problem of representation to the
power of the commodity itself and to the labor power congealed within it.
Indeed, partly at issue here is the role and relevance of the commodity as
a figure both of and for exchange after the ‘‘financial turn.’’ With its alienated
mix of general and relative, use and exchange values, the commodity lies at
the center of both Capital’s first and better-known volume and, of course, the
larger critical project of Western Marxism. For figures like Georg Lukács,
Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and even Louis Althusser, it stands not
only as capitalism’s minimal unit of analysis but also as the source of the logic
that ultimately governs the structure of culture, whether understood through
alienation, reification, the ‘‘antinomies of bourgeois thought,’’ the loss of
aura, ideology, or overdetermination.
With the passage from productive to fictitious capital, and ultimately to
finance capital in its increasingly systemic manifestation, does the more or
less embodied form of the commodity still hold this central place? Should it
or can it continue to govern our expectations about the relation between
capital and culture? What, after all, can the commodity tell us about new and
‘‘exotic’’ instruments of exchange (derivatives, futures, ratchet options, var-
iance swaps, and the like) that seem ever more ephemeral, transient, and
fabulous? For some, the apparent shrinking of the manufacturing economy
in the United States relative to other sectors suggests that the category of the
commodity may have become obsolete, the residual and even nostalgic trace
of a waning mode of production.
Especially of late, a number of critics have sought to develop modes of
cultural interpretation, analysis, or description that marginalize the concep-
tual and formal primacy of the commodity in late-capitalist societies. For
instance, a variety of new materialisms and ontologies have directed our
attention to noncommodified objects or nonobjectified things, no longer
primarily determined in relation to economic systems or even human
beings. An apparent if differently inflected consensus seems to have
emerged between some liberal economists and autonomist thinkers such
as Antonio Negri regarding a new reign of immaterial labor, while more
anarchistically tinged critiques envision a social utopia organized around

Introduction 3
the end not of alienated labor but rather of work itself. An open question
here is the degree to which such attempts to move beyond the commodity
and its attendant hermeneutic modes also move us away from real relations
of value that art and political economy share.
For others, the commodity and its interpretive demands remain very
much alive. As immaterial as the new economies might seem, even their
most exotic, most complex, and most novel financial instruments nonethe-
less represent ‘‘a commodification of risk.’’5 While it seems to assume new
formal complexities, the commodity and the historical conjuncture it repre-
sents remain very much in play, suggesting the continued relevance of
classic Marxian accounts of culture and its analysis. Put differently, even
as the commodity itself grows more opaque, art and culture remain as ‘‘essen-
tially conditioned by the commodity economy’’ as Max Horkheimer and
Adorno claimed.6 On this view, culture might offer a privileged instrument
with which to delineate the appearance and resistances of the social world,
and cultural criticism might continue to afford our best conceptual approach
to financialization’s systematic grasp and unforeseen consequences, even for
those ‘‘subprime’’ populations whose precarious lives seem far removed from
the sheltered culture of high finance.
Because critical theory has always relied more or less explicitly on the
conceptual force of the commodity as the point where art and political
economy converge as representative practices, this question of the commod-
ity’s persistence, development, or disappearance must in any case remain
central to a historical understanding of the role and nature of cultural anal-
ysis, interpretation, and critique. Indeed the reemergence of a realization
crisis in 2008, in which the overleveraged were called to account, would
suggest that critical theory affords an indispensable instrument for thinking
about finance more generally; some form of commodity critique might
remind us that—despite seductive fantasies about the liberation of value,
the new immateriality of labor, the primacy of consumption over produc-
tion, or the end of history—the risk, the loss, even the violence of real and
embodied value remain all too real. It seems possible that, in the current
moment, it is precisely a reading of finance as a new culture industry that
might reveal, however partially, the formal logic of a world in which repre-
sentations ever more innovatively determine or deflect the values of the age.
The essays that follow take up objects and modes of analysis that variously
reflect, undermine, gloss, critique, repress, perform, and allegorize the cul-
tural logic of financialization: the poetic line break and novelistic character,
Bollywood camera angles and Korean computer-generated imagery (CGI)
monsters, ‘‘dark pools’’ and ‘‘black holes,’’ brand identities and algorithms.
Bookending the volume, Joshua Clover and Peter Hitchcock set the col-
lection’s overall direction by reflecting on the far reach of financialization,

4 Representations
while resisting the idea that finance capital has managed somehow to escape
the ‘‘real.’’ Rather than emphasizing immaterial labor’s rise as a new uni-
versal, or the seeming indistinction between value’s expression and embodi-
ment, each is interested in what literature and literary criticism might be for
within our historical conjuncture: the extent to which they can render visible
the apparently enigmatic temporality of value in an extended period of
unprecedented speculative gains, a falling general rate of profit, and stagnat-
ing wages. Whether pondering enjambment in an age of financial domi-
nance over productive capital or tracking the sublime fantasies generated
by automated trading, each seeks to isolate a persistent aesthetic element in
the logic and rhetoric of speculative realization, one capable of illuminating
an errant time and a period alternately cast as one of crisis, endless transition,
eternal present, or history’s overcoming.
Other contributions consider specific sites in which the contemporary
culture industry has found itself renegotiating classical conceptual relations:
between management and labor, labor and value; between forces and
means of production; between older centers and semiperipheries, across
the global division of labor and within the cultures of emerging consumer
markets; between credit and debt; and between logics of gift and exchange
from which we derive conceptions of sociality. From recent HBO series to
the Korean action cinema produced in the wake of International Monetary
Fund (IMF) financial restructuring, from Bollywood horror to credit-score
fiction, each piece seizes on a moment when cultural objects seem not only
to foreground the hermeneutic dilemmas posed by our age of economic
miracles and bubbles but also—on our reading—to search for an aesthetic
theory adequately descriptive of contemporary forms of value’s mediation.
For Michael Szalay, Time Warner’s emergence as a financialized multi-
media conglomerate sets the stage for a confluence of corporate and aes-
thetic operations. The dynamic interplay between fictive and real, between
a representation like HBO’s Newsroom and a corporate entity like CNN, allows
an avowed cultural artifact not only to reflect but also to make the news. But
Szalay’s point ventures well beyond the postmodern irony of reality’s meta-
fictional absorption. Even as they allegorize, HBO’s serial fictions also appear
to offer important forms of strategic leverage in Time Warner’s pursuit of
brand equity. In an era when media company managers seem to safeguard
creative autonomy by treating entertainment as if it were a financial deriva-
tive, HBO’s ‘‘quality dramas’’ suggest that the connection between the cul-
ture industry and financialization involves something approaching a negative
dialectic between aesthetic production and asset management.
From Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg to David Harvey and Giovanni Arrighi,
Marxian analyses of financial capitalism’s ascent have long joined theories of
political economy with accounts of global imperialism. On Arrighi’s account,

Introduction 5
financialization augurs the autumnal period of empire, recurring across the
longer history of capital itself, always signaling the shift of world hegemony
from one geographical region to another: from the Genoese to the Dutch,
from Britain to the United States. Since the early 1970s, Arrighi suggests,
at the beginning of the long twentieth century’s end, we may be witnessing
the end of European-American hegemony and the rise of an Asian-
centered world economy.7 Although this volume cannot do justice to the
multiple present-day forms of ‘‘accumulation by dispossession’’—Harvey’s
term for the ongoing presence of primitive accumulation within capitalist
modernity—two prominent instances of the Asian culture industry fore-
ground the contemporary fact of uneven development, while expanding
the context in which the impact of advanced technological processes upon
aesthetic production is usually discussed.8 The case studies of Korean and
Indian popular cinema presented here explore the phenomenological
encounter produced by the contemporary cultural object, discerning the
determinate technological inscription of a finance-security complex within
the apparatus of visibility inhabited by differently spatialized populations
and variable modes of subjection.
Bishnupriya Ghosh calls our attention to the grotesque juxtaposition
between the slum-dwelling populations of Indian megacities and luxury
home building projects spawned by nonresident Indian (NRI) speculation
in real estate. In the genre and cinematic technique of high-rise horror
films, increased inequality and the landless subject return not in the repre-
sented content of the ghost story, but as a kind of ghost-in-the-machine that
renders the spaces of the ‘‘global lifestyle’’ uncanny. Though derivative of
Japanese horror and Hollywood plots, Bollywood’s stylistic innovations wrap
the displaced pressures of financial accumulation into a sensory infrastruc-
ture enabled and regulated by global technocultures of surveillance, but
shaped by the class divisions deepened by the globalization of finance itself.
As a nation territorially guaranteed by a militarized ‘‘demilitarized zone’’
and US military commitments for more than half a century, South Korea’s
involvement in the structure of international neoliberalism is perhaps still
more complex, underwritten by deep economic ties to the United States
and its political protection, and therefore simultaneously dependent on and
antagonistic to American power. It is this quandary for South Korean cul-
tural identity that Joseph Jeon finds reproduced in the encoded digital
apparatus of Korean CGI monster films. A creative industry use of technology
originally developed by the US military for training purposes, these CGI
monsters are both unmistakable allegories of American hegemony and
algorithmic instantiations of the digital mode central to the financial disci-
pline imposed by the IMF since 1997. In the context of regular mass protests
against an American military presence, the Korean mass entertainment

6 Representations
industry seems to construct a critical intelligence within the digital apparatus
itself, cognizant of the software that has simultaneously facilitated Korea’s
rising global soft power and rendered its national economy more vulnerable
to the predations of global finance.
Stepping back from some of our increasingly accustomed technologies of
recent decades, Annie McClanahan takes a longer historical view, turning to
the novel to discern the differences and continuities between a contemporary
credit economy and older modes of realistic characterization. Although ‘‘fast
and easy’’ credit scoring appears to have supplanted narrative methods of
characterological judgment with measurement by numerical formula,
McClanahan finds that fictional character can still attest to the contemporary
social mediation of personhood. Indeed, the proliferation of caricatures and
stereotypes in the contemporary novel offers particular insight into the fero-
cious return of the categories of nation and race upon personhood’s appar-
ent objectivization, its systematic reduction to a score. Anchored in the new
algorithmic representations of a social field constituted by fluid and arbitrary
ranking rather than perduring relationship, caricature and stereotype recast
the historical subject of fictitious capital accumulation as the near-universal
subject of unpayable debts.
In an essay to which some of these contributors refer, Fredric Jameson
argues that ‘‘any comprehensive new theory of finance capitalism will need to
reach out into the expanded realm of cultural production to map its effects:
indeed mass cultural production and consumption themselves—at one with
globalization and the new information technology—are as profoundly eco-
nomic as the other productive areas of late capitalism, and as fully integrated
into the latter’s generalized commodity system.’’9 What is offered here is
nothing like a ‘‘comprehensive new theory of finance capital.’’ But it is none-
theless a recognition of the fact that the moment of financialization has
produced new opportunities, new challenges, and new responsibilities for
critics of culture. Just as new conditions demand that we seek out and develop
new methods of interpretation and analysis, so do they demand that we
reflect on our own position as critics within an unfolding and necessarily
incomplete history. We hope, in that case, that these essays offer readers an
opportunity to think not only about where the objects, the methods, and the
ends of critical theory have been but also about where they are going.

Notes

1. Robert Brenner, ‘‘Uneven Development and the Long Downturn: The Advanced
Capitalist Economies from Boom to Stagnation,’’ New Left Review 229 (May/June
1998): 8–9.

Introduction 7
2. Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development,
ed. Tom Bottomore, trans. Morris Watnick and Sam Gordon (London, 2006), esp.
107–50.
3. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy trans. David Fernbach (London,
1991), 3:599.
4. David Harvey, The Limits to Capital, new ed. (London, 1999), 241.
5. Dick Bryan and Michael Rafferty, Capitalism with Derivatives: A Political Economy of
Financial Derivatives, Capital and Class (Basingstoke, 2006), 8 (emphasis added).
6. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical
Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, 2002), 127.
7. Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our
Times (London, 1994).
8. See David Harvey, The New Imperialism (New York, 2005).
9. Fredric Jameson, ‘‘Culture and Finance Capital,’’ in The Cultural Turn: Selected
Writings on the Postmodern, 1983–1998 (London, 1998), 143–44.

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