Dead Pledges

9780804799058: Hardback
Release Date: 23rd November 2016

9781503606586: Paperback
Release Date: 9th January 2018

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 248

Edition: 1st Edition

Series Post*45

Stanford University Press

Dead Pledges

Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First-Century Culture

This book makes sense of the social, political, and conceptual consequences of the 2008 credit crisis by looking at the ways that our culture has sought to formally represent and politically respond to it.
Hardback / £73.00
Paperback / £20.99

Dead Pledges is the first book to explore the ways that U.S. culture—from novels and poems to photojournalism and horror movies—has responded to the collapse of the financialized consumer credit economy in 2008. Connecting debt theory to questions of cultural form, this book argues that artists, filmmakers, and writers have re-imagined what it means to owe and to own in a period when debt is what makes our economic lives possible. Encompassing both popular entertainment and avant-garde art, the post-crisis productions examined here help to map the landscape of contemporary debt: from foreclosure to credit scoring, student debt to securitized risk, microeconomic theory to anti-eviction activism. A searing critique of the ideology of debt, Dead Pledges dismantles the discourse of moral obligation so often invoked to make us repay. Debt is no longer a source of economic credibility, it contends, but a system of dispossession that threatens the basic fabric of social life.

Contents and Abstracts
1Behavioral Economics and the Credit-Crisis Novel
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 analyzes novelistic representations of the 2008 credit crisis. Focusing on Jonathan Dee's The Privileges, Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic, and Martha McPhee's Dear Money, it reads the post-crisis novel's interest in individual psychology alongside and against the rise of behavioral economics. Behavioral economists understand the financial crisis as a consequence of individual choices and cultural climates: from excessive optimism and irrational exuberance to greed and overweening self-interest. At once mirroring and refuting these explanations, the post-credit-crisis novel reveals a deep ambivalence about the model of psychological complexity that undergirds both novelistic character and behavioralist economics. Exploring these problems through experiments with narrative perspective, these post-crisis novels suggest that the rich, full, autonomous homines economici of both the realist novel and microeconomic theory are bankrupt.

2Credit, Characterization, Personification
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 addresses the relationship between debt and personhood. Practices for evaluating economic credibility in the late eighteenth century relied on subjective, qualitative, narrative forms of evaluation and thus depended on a realist model of literary character. By the early twenty-first century, however, credit scoring had become objective, quantitative, and data driven. Yet contemporary creditors still import the fictions of personhood stripped from human subjects into the scores themselves. To understand the perduring presence of the person, this chapter considers both characterization and personification. Gary Shytengart's 2010 novel Super Sad True Love Story attests to the persistence of racial discrimination in "objective" credit scoring, while conceptual art by Cassie Thornton, Occupy Wall Street debtor-portraits, and poetry by Mathew Timmons and Timothy Donnelley register debt as a material and historical force.

3Photography and Foreclosure
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 brings together a wide range of photographs—photojournalism, art photography, and satellite images—that document the economic crisis with images of abandoned homes. These photographs reveal the effects of the boom and bust of the mortgage market on our view of the home. They also raise questions about the politics of representation, especially when the photographer's ability to enter the home depends on the power of the police to process an eviction. Photographs of empty houses, it suggests, draw on the aesthetics of what Freud termed the Unheimlich—unhomely, uncanny—to register the uncanny power of property. Turning from photographs of single houses to images of abandoned industrial landscapes and empty housing developments, this chapter argues that such images foreshadow a financial crisis to come.

4Houses of Horror
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 begins by noting that contemporary discourse on the economic crisis is profoundly shaped by the language of horror and fear. To understand why, this chapter turns to four post-crisis horror films that explicitly link fear, foreclosure, and financialized credit: Drag Me to Hell (dir. Sam Raimi), Dream Home (dir. Pang Ho-cheung), Mother's Day (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman), and Crawlspace (dir. Josh Stolberg). All four films take up real estate lending, mortgage speculation, and foreclosure risk and locate horror in the "dead pledge" of the mortgage. Using horror and the home-invasion genre to explore the shifting understandings of ownership consequent to the housing crisis, these films frighteningly literalize the doctrine of caveat emptor. Exploring the relationship between "paying back" and "payback," they suggest that introduction of speculative risk has shifted the social force of credit contracts from the promise of trust to the threat of revenge.

Coda: The Living Indebted (on Students and Sabotage)
chapter abstract

The Coda to Dead Pledges explores an emerging anti-debt politics, arguing that "debt strikes" and the occupation or sabotage of domestic space are forms of protest that attempt to block capital at the point of circulation. Exploring the economics of student debt and taking up the treatment of education debt as an "investment in the future," this chapter suggests that the politics of student debt illuminate the relationship between workers and students and between the university and capitalism. It concludes by exploring the emergence of what it terms "crisis subjectivity": a demystified condition of radical percipience and canny knowing.

Annie McClanahan is Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine.

"McClanahan’s great strength is the wealth of detail she brings to her portrait of the period itself, with excellent distillations of existing literature on the concept of debt, its financialization prior to 2008, and the crisis itself. Her grasp of economics, in the radical as well as the more official senses, is truly masterful and she does an outstanding job of clarifying its stakes for cultural analysis.”—Julian Murphet, Affirmations: Of the Modern

Dead Pledges is remarkable for its economic history, drawing on thinkers from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche, and bringing this history of economic thought to bear on the policies and arguments of Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and Robert Shiller, among others. For its historical framing of the contemporary economic crisis alone, Dead Pledges marks an important intervention into contemporary debates about cultural forms and the economy. For those working at the intersection of contemporary literature and economics it is a must-read.”—Davis Smith-Brecheisen, Mediations

"Dead Pledges stands out among recent criticism for its cogent description of the culture produced by our deregulated, financialized economy, which has spawned various species of hyper usury whereby consumer credit risk and national credit ratings have themselves become tradeable objects...We need more books like this one."—David Hawkes, Times Literary Supplement

“McClanahan calls her cultural texts her “literary laboratories,” wherein she distills and deconstructs these competing narratives about capitalism, crisis, and debt. As a work of cultural critique, Dead Pledges is uniquely capable of deconstructing the literary and aesthetic devices that structure these competing narratives in a way that political economy cannot.”—Sofia Cutler, Los Angeles Review of Books

"McClanahan’s argument is developed in part through readings of photographs of foreclosed homes and their landscapes, where in the moment of debt crisis the antisociality of (or our alienation from) property as a commodity comes to the fore. Dead Pledges brilliantly brings this antisociality home in its final chapter, which examines how housing and foreclosure have become a site of terror in contemporary horror films...McClanahan’s most important contribution is how she brings out the dark side of the debt economy and crisis; that is, her attention to the hollow subjects and hostile objects that now populate our worlds. Dead Pledges illuminates the forms of structural coercion and social violence that accumulate around us, like wreckage no longer blown forward by any wind of progress."—Brian Whitener, The New Inquiry

"McClanahan opens up the personal onto the macro of the social and the collective. In Dead Pledges, the novel and especially the realist novel turn out to be productive sites to pursue such a project due to the scalar negotiation and rich characterization that are typical of the genre—and in the credit-crisis novel both of those are under pressure"—Arne De Boever, Boundary 2

"Dead Pledges is a welcome addition to an area of growing importance, the 'economic humanities.' Its author commands a disparate and complex body of economic thought and economic history."

Jerry A. Varsava
American Studies

"McClanahan's great strength is the wealth of detail she brings to her portrait of the period itself, with excellent distillations of existing literature on the concept of debt, its financialization prior to 2008, and the crisis itself. Her grasp of economics, in the radical as well as the more official senses, is truly masterful and she does an outstanding job of clarifying its stakes for cultural analysis."

Julian Murphet
Affirmations: Of the Modern

"McClanahan's argument is developed in part through readings of photographs of foreclosed homes and their landscapes, where in the moment of debt crisis the antisociality of (or our alienation from) property as a commodity comes to the fore. Dead Pledges brilliantly brings this antisociality home in its final chapter, which examines how housing and foreclosure have become a site of terror in contemporary horror films...McClanahan's most important contribution is how she brings out the dark side of the debt economy and crisis; that is, her attention to the hollow subjects and hostile objects that now populate our worlds. Dead Pledges illuminates the forms of structural coercion and social violence that accumulate around us, like wreckage no longer blown forward by any wind of progress."

Brian Whitener
The New Inquiry

"Dead Pledges is remarkable for its economic history, drawing on thinkers from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche, and bringing this history of economic thought to bear on the policies and arguments of Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and Robert Shiller, among others. For its historical framing of the contemporary economic crisis alone, Dead Pledges marks an important intervention into contemporary debates about cultural forms and the economy. For those working at the intersection of contemporary literature and economics it is a must-read."

Davis Smith-Brecheisen
Mediations

"McClanahan opens up the personal onto the macro of the social and the collective. In Dead Pledges, the novel and especially the realist novel turn out to be productive sites to pursue such a project due to the scalar negotiation and rich characterization that are typical of the genre—and in the credit-crisis novel both of those are under pressure"

Arne De Boever
Boundary 2

"McClanahan calls her cultural texts her "literary laboratories," wherein she distills and deconstructs these competing narratives about capitalism, crisis, and debt. As a work of cultural critique, Dead Pledges is uniquely capable of deconstructing the literary and aesthetic devices that structure these competing narratives in a way that political economy cannot."

Sofia Cutler
Los Angeles Review of Books

"The book is a masterful exploration of the cultural politics of the financial crisis and a powerful mediation on how to make sense of an era of unrepayable debts...Dead Pledgesis a must read. For whom? Well, anyone living in the 21st century, concerned about insurmountable debts, thinking of how culture and the economy transect each other, and striving for a radical politics fit for the mortgaged times in which we live."––Aparna Gopalan, New Books Network

"Dead Pledges offers an exemplary demonstration of how literary and cultural analysis can address urgent social and political problems. A timely work of critical debt theory, it is poised to reshape the transdisciplinary debates around debt and contemporary capitalism."

Richard Dienst
Rutgers University

"In a series of nuanced yet militant readings, McClanahan makes an incisive case for the centrality of the political economy of debt to contemporary art, culture, and politics. Dead Pledges is a powerful contribution to cultural and social theory that advances the debate over capital and its representations, a debate of vital importance to economic thought, artistic practice, and political action."

Alberto Toscano, Goldsmiths
University of London

"Dead Pledges stands out among recent criticism for its cogent description of the culture produced by our deregulated, financialized economy, which has spawned various species of hyper-usury whereby consumer credit risk and national credit ratings have themselves become tradeable objects...We need more books like this one."

David Hawkes
Times Literary Supplement