The Living Indebted: Visual Economies of Debt in Contemporary Culture
Speakers & Events
As an economic form, credit has long been associated with optimism, certainty, and credibility-and with the kinds of narrative realism that produce those feelings. Understanding debt, however, might require a different aesthetic form, one capable of registering debt's traffic in fear, anxiety, and material alienation. This talk suggests that Freud's Unheimlich-the unhomely, the uncanny-is the representational mode most adequate to debt and to an economy of default. It reads debt's uncanny not only through Marx and Freud but also in a series of other texts ranging from Google Earth imagery to a Hong Kong horror film, Dream Home.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting wave of evictions and foreclosures, photographs of abandoned and foreclosed homes quickly became representational symbols of economic collapse. This lecture explores a wide range of these photographs, suggesting that they allow us to see changes in both the economic function and the social meaning of debt. Part of a unit on photography in Introduction to Media Studies, this lecture exposes students to thinking about the problem of debt in contemporary media. Such exposure is important given how deeply debt is shaping the lives of our current generation of students and allows them to think about the role of culture in mediating the meaning of the market. Attendees not enrolled in the class are welcome, but should understand that this lecture is primarily intended as a learning experience for undergraduates.
This seminar will focus on two case studies, the films Drag Me to Hell and Dream Home, situated in the context of economic and cultural work on the current financial crisis by Richard Dienst (The Bonds of Debt), Robert Brenner (“What Is Good for Goldman Sachs Is Good for America”), Robin Blackburn (“The Subprime Crisis”), and Joshua Clover (“Value/Theory/Crisis”), and Annie McClanahan’s own work. This seminar will be restricted to graduate students; any interested in attending should contact Joel Burges directly at email@example.com as space is limited.
Annie McClanahan is a 2012-13 Cornell University Society for the Humanities Fellow and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). She is completing a book manuscript titled Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, 21st Century Culture. Theorizing new modes of uncertainty and belief, character and credibility, social cohesion and collective default, Dead Pledges explores how cultural texts have been compelled to account for the expansion and collapse of a financialized credit economy.She has published in Post45, symploke, South Atlantic Quarterly, and qui parle, and is currently co-editing a special issue on genre and financialization for the Journal of American Studies. In 2013-14 she will be a faculty fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies at UWM.