Prolit Promotionsstudiengang "Literaturwissenschaft"




Chris Reitz


Academic CV


„A ()hole complex“. The Eerie and Capitalism in Crisis in Contemporary Literature

My project intends to articulate an aesthetic dilemma – the representability of capitalism in crisis – operative at the heart of a cross-genre variety of contemporary literature encompassing such diverse works as f. ex. Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (2003), Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 (2014), Evan Dara’s The Flee (2013), Kathrin Röggla’s die alarmbereiten (2010), Kevin Davies’ The Golden Age of Paraphernalia (2008) or Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women (2015). In this regard, I am going to reconstruct the underlying coherence of a particular aesthetics of abstraction in order to render readable that which conditions this aesthetic but is simultaneously brought forward through it. For that matter I pursue the hypothesis that the expression of crisis in and through narrative finds itself reflected in a specific use of absence as literary device. “Nothing happens not in the sense that there are no events,” but in the sense that “an absence erupts into” narrative form: the texts are about the “gap that is opened up and the perturbations it produces.” (Mark Fisher)

Capital, especially under today’s hegemony of financialized capital accumulation, represents at every level a metaphysical scandal: seemingly “conjured out of nothing, [it] nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.” (Fisher, 2016: 11) It is abstract and concrete at once. Against this background, the aesthetics of cracks, cuts, splits or gaps put into form in the literary texts at hand – as an attempt at seeing the hole in the supposed whole – is inherently tied to failure. Putting into effect a “failure of absence” or “a failure of presence” (Fisher, 2016: 61) the porous narrative structures of these works tie together on the level of literary form the representation of crisis and the crisis of representation. Form and failure, in this sense, coalesce in “the concretization of the abstract into a series of failed forms” (Gillick, 2011) that mimics precisely a totality that is in itself full of holes and disjunctions. Seeing it ()hole could count, in this regard, as the most adequate expression of the irreconcilable antinomies – i.e. the “()hole complex” (Negarestani) – of capitalist society. It marks a mode of representation that contains or traverses its own immanent failure, i.e. which produces an effect of the real through its very failure.

Interlinking narrative theory with the critique of political economy I assert that Marx’s notion of the two-fold character of the commodity-form precisely captures these gaps that are opened up in narrative form through the usage of absence as method of representation. Consequently, I intend to read the narrative implications of this porous aesthetics against the horizon of the concept of ‘real abstraction’ (Realabstraktion) elaborated in Marxian theory in order to carve out its contemporary tendencies and movements as they find themselves reflected within the sphere of the aesthetic. On this account, however, these cracks in form bear a peculiar historical index which I argue is negotiated within and may thereby be rendered readable by Mark Fisher’s introduction of ‘the eerie’ (2016) into the vocabulary of aesthetic thinking. In its preoccupation with problems of agency, abstraction and absence ‘the eerie’ charts the current fascination with non-human forces and posthuman timescales in contemporary fiction and theory. It delineates the historical specificity of contemporary narrations of crisis as they participate in an emergent posthuman episteme, wherein crisis eventually comes to be identified as the ongoing condition of capitalist globalization itself. The notion of ‘absence’ deployed in this project, thus, proves to be fundamentally double-coded. First, it functions as a literary device. Yet, at one and the same time it gives form to traces of erasure that narrate the waning of the human – i.e. the massified experience of being rendered surplus to the economy and the erosion of human agency – as effective in the very second-order (technical or monetary) abstractions, temporal compressions and spatializations that make up current capitalist development.