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Business/economic fiction: An “unidentified popular genre” or a cultural UpO
In an article titled “Workplace Fiction That’s True to Life” published in The New York Times of April 16 2011, the journalist Bryan Burrough wrote: “I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more strong works of fiction dealing with the business world.” Every year one can read at least one similar article in a big newspaper or magazine complaining about the lack of novels, or fiction in general, dealing with business and economics. These complaints are partly founded, since what could be called business fictions or economical fictions seems to be rare. But are they so?
At the very least since Balzac’s César Birotteau (1936) and Zola’s L’Argent (1890), there are quite a substantial amount of fictions that would fit into that “genre.” If the French culture (and in general other European continental cultures--Italian, German, Spanish, etc.), seems to have stopped producing a great number of such works and certainly some that would be considered popular (with few exceptions such as the French L’Imprécateur by René-Victor Pilhes—1973; “industrial fictions” by Paul-Loup Sulitzer, comics series like Largo Winch, and television series like Le Bureau/The Office), then at least other linguistic and cultural traditions, especially the Japanese and the Anglo-Saxon ones (British and American), produced a significant number of these fictions and many very popular. From Horatio Alger’s dime novels to Dreiser’s The Financier (1912) to Ayn Rand’s bestsellers, epico-capitalistic novels to contemporary fictions like David Lodge’s model of the genre Nice Work (1986), Raymond Roberts’ smartly didactic The Invisible heart (2000) and the novels and movies Wall Street, and from the novella Shoshaman: A Tale of Corporate Japan by Shinya Arai to the graphic novel, Japan, Inc. by Shotaro Ishinori in Japan, popular fictions dealing with business and economics in all medias (movies, TV series, comics, …) are indeed popular in both senses of the word.
Where the newspaper critics are probably right is in that, except for some famous names (Tom Wolfe for example), most of these fictions and the genre in general have hardly been taken seriously by intellectuals and even less by academics. Since the first systematic book, W.F. Taylor’s The Economic Novel in America 1942-64 (1942, 1st ed.), few academic studies and no special issue on the “genre” have been published.
This proposed issue of Belphégor would study the “genre” and some of its examples in various cultures/languages. The following topics and questions are a few suggestions: Do these fictions constitute a “genre”? If yes, what are its characteristics? Are the differences between economic and business fictions clear? Why is it that very few studies have been written on it? What does this lack of interest tell about our societies, if anything? What difference(s) can we see between the various linguistic and cultural traditions? For example, is it different in the European continental traditions where it seems that until recently there are very few popular business fictions compared to the American case? Are American fictions statistically more pro-business and more compromising/ed (since for example, a lot of these fictions are didactic fictions, teaching how to be a good or better businessperson) than for example the French tradition (with more frequent bad bosses and with a pro-worker/liberal/leftist view)? Are intellectuals not willing to deal with economic issues anymore in fiction? Is it that readers don’t want to hear about economics in their daydreaming time? Or is it the result of a split between what are now the three cultures (literature-humanities, science and economics) has happened? Abstract Proposals to be sent to Chris Reyns-Chikuma: email@example.com & Matthieu Letourneux, mletourneux@free.Fr, by October 30, 2013.