Risk and Nostalgia
Fictions of the Financial Crisis
Pages 463 - 478
This essay reads novels responding to the 2008 financial crisis against the backdrop of competing definitions of risk and uncertainty in our financialized economies. Whereas finance produces profits by turning future uncertainty into stochastically modeled, tradable risk categories, Ulrich Beck’s “world risk society” is haunted by the anticipation of non-computable catastrophes. Disavowing such radical uncertainty and allowing only for a probabilistically variable continuation of the present, financialization effectively forecloses the future while it also invades daily life. Financial risk-taking has been reframed as a precondition for success and selfacquisition— a promise that the recent financial crisis crushed for many. The representative contemporary subjectivities therefore alternate between the self-managing agent navigating global financial flows and the “indebted man” caught between the moral obligation to honor his debt and apparatuses of social control (Lazzarato). Paul Auster’s Sunset Park and David Eggers’s Hologram for the King address the interplay of risk and uncertainty, our cultural investments in the future, and the divergent and gendered poles of financial subjectivity in the wake of the financial crisis. Dwelling in an “aesthetic of uncertainty” (Heise) and presenting a crisis of masculinity, these novels’ nostalgia is representative of a wider cultural response to the uncertainty brought on by the triumph of financialization and the failures of the financial markets. If finance transforms future uncertainty into present risk, nostalgia in these novels projects an idealized past to deal with present uncertainty. In turn, the nostalgia for an economy grounded in material production in these novels creates a space of resistance vis-à-vis the logic and temporality of finance and potentially generates alternative, open, and indeed uncertain, futures.