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‘Getting and Spending’: European Literature and Economics in the Long Nineteenth Century
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KU Leuven, Faculty of Arts
10-12 December 2014
Deadline: 22 June 2014
In his Autobiography (1873), John Stuart Mill famously credits the poetry of Wordsworth with delivering him from a deep crisis of dejection. This experience prompted a significant overhaul of his philosophy: in spite of his awareness that science and literature do not always mix, Mill began to redesign his thought to combine Smith with Goethe, Comte with Coleridge, physics with aesthetics. Mill’s literary turn exemplifies his era: drawing on literary as well as scientific resources, he repeats the methods of the previous generation of political economists and predicts those of the next. His attempt also mirrors a significant turn towards economics among men and women of letters. The case of Thomas De Quincey is especially compelling: in the Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821 and 1856), De Quincey attributes his recovery from depression to his reading of Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), which inspired him to revise his poetics and write several texts on economics. A wide range of (wo)men of letters across a wide swathe of media and genres join De Quincey: Reade wrote novels that dramatise the plight of the trade unions, Ruskin lectured on the “political economy of art,” and Byron satirised stock market speculation. This conversation between economists and public intellectuals could take the form of direct communication: Ricardo edited Jane Marcet’s economic parables, and Malthus maintained a lively epistolary conversation with Maria Edgeworth. While early literary responses often enthused over the possibilities of economics, there was also a significant and increasing body of criticism, inspired by either traces of a Romantic idealist aesthetics, a reformist agenda, or, as in the case of Thomas Carlyle’s infamous “dismal science” epithet, a passionate conservatism.
While British political economists and public intellectuals operated primarily in an Anglo-Saxon environment, they figured their economic and literary pursuits in an international context. Commercial dominance was recognised as subject to historical and geopolitical forces: British pre-eminence in the nineteenth century was preceded by periods of Italian, Dutch and French supremacy, and might, it was assumed, eventually be supplanted, Germany being an especially strong contender. Economic and literary writers found in these patterns possibilities for comparison, either to foster international exchanges, or to discourage them altogether. De Quincey explicitly designed his economic theories as Kantian re-readings of Ricardo, convinced that both Germany and Britain stood to gain from an interfusion of the two systems. German writers reciprocated in kind: especially those affiliated with the politische Romantik, like Adam Müller, equally asserted the importance of international networks to the development of a national political economy—Marx, Engels and others even displaced themselves physically, travelling between Berlin, Paris, London, and Brussels. Meanwhile, in France, theorists like Jean-Baptiste Say and Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi reinvigorated French economic thought, recognising that Smith and his disciples had made significant advances on the model of physiocracy previously dominant in France. Much to the distress of British nationalist economists and writers, including Carlyle and De Quincey, their work went on to inspire Ricardo and others in reviews and translations, several of which were published in literary pe-riodicals. These many national and international connections helped focus the earliest articulations of alternatives to capitalist economics, often invoking a dense network of literary sources in support of their ideas. In Britain, John Francis Bray predicted many future ills in Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy (1809); in France, the work of Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier promoted a utopian reconstitution of society; in Germany, Marx penned a definitive critique of capitalism.
This conference proposes to examine the national and international interaction between economics and literature on the basis of the personal and textual networks that connect economists and (wo)men of letters. The long nineteenth century presents a crucial stage in this history: covering the golden age of political economy, the rise of alternatives to capitalism, and the paradigmatic shift from classical to neo-classical economics, the period saw literature and economics assert their discursive specificities. The conference aims to establish the ways and mechanisms by which the divide between literature and economics was bridged, and to situate this nexus in the context of exchanges within and between European nations. It is our hope that this approach will at once embrace and challenge the established scholarship of the New Economic Criticism, pushing it forward in recognition of significant recent international advances in the field.
To this end, we welcome papers and proposals for panels on the literary reception of political economy and the economic reception of literature in and between European nations. Suggested topics include:
Proposals should not exceed 250 words and will be due 22 June 2014. Please submit abstracts electronically as an attachment in .doc or .pdf format and send them to the convenors of the conference (firstname.lastname@example.org). More information can be found on the conference website (http://www.gettinspending2014.be). Selected papers will be invited to contribute to a volume of articles; further information will be made available later. Junior researchers are especially encouraged to apply: the first day of the conference is scheduled to offer beginning academics a platform for presenting their research.
Organising committee: Benjamin Biebuyck (Ghent), Gert Buelens (Ghent), Eric Dayre (ENS Lyon), Ortwin de Graef (Leuven), Brecht de Groote (Leuven), Marysa Demoor (Ghent), Elke D’hoker (Leuven), Sven Fabré (Leuven), Regenia Gagnier (Exeter), Anke Gilleir (Leuven), Raphaël Ingelbien (Leuven), Vivian Liska (Antwerp), Bart Philipsen (Leuven), Tom Toremans (Leuven), Frederik Van Dam (Leuven), Jan Vanvelk (Leuven).
Scientific committee: Benjamin Biebuyck (Ghent), Eric Dayre (ENS Lyon), Ben De Bruyn (Maastricht), Ortwin de Graef (Leuven), Brecht de Groote (Leuven), Elke D’hoker (Leuven), Sven Fabré (Leuven), Anke Gilleir (Leuven), Raphaël Ingelbien (Leuven), Vivian Liska (Antwerp), Bart Philipsen (Leuven), Saskia Pieterse (Utrecht), Tom Toremans (Leuven), Frederik Van Dam (Leuven).