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Mark McGurl

Being and Time-Management: Fictions of Opportunity Cost in the Long Age of Amazon (20.06.2017)

To speak of literature in the Age of Amazon is perforce to speak of it in relation to consumerism and the consumer economy, these things, dating by most accounts to middle of the 18th century and exploding at the end of the 19th, of which is in some obvious ways the 21st  century apogee. While some very fine scholarly work has been done on the so-called culture of consumption, surprisingly little has been made of the revolution in economic theory it carried in train, the so-called neoclassical or Austrian or marginal revolution. It is in this body of thought, I will argue, that we encounter a concept crucial for illuminating both the reflexive self-construction of narrative fiction as a certain kind of consumer good, offering certain kinds of satisfaction, and the absolute limit to that self-construction owing to the nature of time. This is the concept of opportunity cost, and by showing its relevance both to 19th century psychological realism and early-20th century modernism, I hope in this lecture to lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the literature of the present.


Main Research Interests

  • American Literature
  • Modern and Postmodern literature
  • Literary Criticism/Theory

Publications (selected)

  • The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Social Geometries: Taking Place in Henry James. California: University of California Press, 1999.


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