This play of the embedding and dis-embedding of the symbols and models in a novel, which is often analogized as the play of reflections in a series of mirrors, is again a cultural form for derivatives, the avant-garde of finance capitalism, which take a 'grounded' asset and turns it through a complex set of risk-calculating mirrors, embedding and dis-embedding the financial 'instrument' as its ownership changes hands and its integrity is disaggregated, or fragmented as the "underlying asset can now itself become an abstract relation" (Lee and LiPuma, 2005: 412).
The aim of the 'reading' here is to homologize a literary technique -- the Generative mise en abyme -- with a set of finance capital techniques -- financial derivatives.*
Paul Kelly, as we saw, narrativised finance capital in the form of the evaluative historical future which narrates Australian, and indeed, global modernity in his The End of Certainty. This is a cultural logic of finance capitalism: the finance markets will decide the fate, indeed they are the times, of national bodies like the Australian one. In Elliot Perlman's novel, Three Dollars, the cultural logic of finance capital is repressed, emerging as the ideologeme of epilepsy: the body convulsive and unconscious, its electrical rhythms in a state of arrhythmia. For Fredric Jameson finance capitalism has its own cultural logics which are based on the abstraction of money that neither produces nor consumes but rather circulates in money markets (1997: 265). Published in the same year as Macris's book Jameson's "Culture and Finance Capital" is a suggestive essay using Giovanni Arrighi's spiral, rather than a progressive, model to explain the three stages of capitalism: the implantation, or embedding stage; the productive development stage; and finally the financial speculation stage (248, 251). Jameson seeks to locate homologous cultural forms which match the psychic dimensions required to live in, with, and critique these stages (260-65). Using Simmel's theories on the link between the money form and forms of abstract consciousness in the modernist period, Jameson extrapolates on the notion of capitalism as increasing mental abstraction in the modernist phase by suggesting that in the third stage of financial capitalism money takes flight from the ground on which it is generated, not to be re-invested into machinery or land, but rather to be invested in the deterritorialized cyberspace of financial markets (259-60). Rather than being linked to substances and objects, in finance capitalism money relates abstractly to other monies, producing new forms of abstraction especially those derived from speculation on the volatility of inflation and deflation of money (261). Jameson looks at and historicizes the career of the form of the "image fragment'" including the ways that it has been presented and conceived between the modernist period and our own 'post'-modernist one. The dominant form in this 'period' is the film preview: an advertisement for a future product sufficient in itself (261-62). There are image fragments opaque to analysis and those, like the ones Roland Barthes analysed in Mythologies, that are over-signifying. They use stereotypes, where an excess of meaning serves the connotating second order meanings (264). Jameson writes: "I think we need a concept of renarrativization of these fragments to complement Barthes's diagnosis of connotation at an earlier stage of mass culture" (264). While "in the modern moment the play [of image fragments] remains meaningless" postmodern representations of "total flow" art attempts to renarrativise those cultural fragments, that assert their independent stereotypical significance, into a continuum:
[w]hat happens here is that each former fragment of a narrative, which was once incomprehensible without the narrative context as a whole, has now become capable of emitting a complete narrative message in its own right. It has become autonomous, not in the formal sense I attributed to modernist processes, but rather in its newly acquired capacity to soak up content and to project it in a kind of instant reflex - whence the vanishing away of affect in the postmodern. The situation of contingency or meaninglessness, of alienation, has been superseded by this cultural renarrativization of the broken prices of the image world. (264)
Modernist abstraction is money itself in a situation of capital accumulation. Money abstract and empty - looking sideways toward what it can hitch a ride to: "it is thus incomplete like the modernist images I have been evoking; it directs attention elsewhere, beyond itself, towards what is supposed to complete (and also abolish) it [ - ] it knows a semiautonomy" (264). Macris's innovation is to have found a way to renarrativise, or to make continuous up to a point, image-fragments without merely presenting a string of over-signifying stereotypes. Instead, in Capital, volume one's London Underground track we read not of Grunge bodies but of something like a Grunge cavern within which used commodities, other life-forms and organic matter too small and fast to qualify for mercenary attention are narrativised into a slow motion singular camera-tracking mimesis. These London Underground subjects and objects, a pregnant mouse, a Lucozade bottle, the Australian tourist, are also temporalities thus making a continuity out of different times.
Yet Macris is not content to leave his depiction of the increasing penetration of market forces at renarrativizing fragments back into their material situations. He also introduces a literary 'machine' into his novel in the form of Generative mises en abyme. In its more basic forms the mise en abyme can be defined as employing
relatively simple, near-mechanical procedures of miniaturisation, embedding, and mirroring, later progressing to more complex modes of reflection across multiple narrative levels, and only reaching the truly generative stage once the mirrors proliferate and distort, converting the text into a field of reflections governed by modalities that go beyond referential and mimetic functions. (Macris, 2003: 51-2)
This play of the embedding and dis-embedding of the symbols and models in a novel, which is often analogized as the play of reflections in a series of mirrors, is again a cultural form for derivatives, the avant-garde of finance capitalism, which take a 'grounded' asset and turn it through a complex set of risk-calculating mirrors, embedding and dis-embedding the financial 'instrument' as its ownership changes hands and its integrity is disaggregated, or fragmented as the "underlying asset can now itself become an abstract relation" (Lee and LiPuma, 2005: 412). Indeed, the homologous descriptions below of the culture of financial derivative circulation and that of Macris's Generative mise en abyme are worth noting: "[o]nce speculative capital devoted to financial derivatives becomes self-reflexive and begins to feed on itself, it develops a direction dynamic towards an autonomous and self-expanding form" (412). While Macris writes in similar terms:
By multiplying the actual number of mises en abyme, and making each of them of the same importance, Simon has begun to solve the problem of having an originary text that is mirrored at all: the first term has been abolished, and there is now only an infinite series of reflections amongst multiple mirrors, all of which 'produce' one another. (2003: 53)
My argument here is that the ensemble of literary forms Macris produces with his novel Capital, volume one is on the one hand aimed at undoing a naturalisation of Neoliberal Bildung, in the novel's thread of biographical episodes, and on the other a homology of the operations of the leading instrument of finance capitalism in the form of the Generative mise en abyme. These two threads, or tracks, in being presented alternately ask to be read into and against each other. Thus the episodes of failed Neoliberal Bildung are traversed by image-fragments from the other thread, such as the accordion that appears on page 180as the young boy travels toward Brisbane, while another accordion appears in the London Underground thread (199-201). In the young boy's eyes the accordion is a folk instrument, while in the tunnel it becomes apparent that the accordion is being used to attract the attention of the Underground commuters to a mini-market where an old David Bowie cassette is for sale. The novel appears to ask: what is the meaning and value of an accordion, and is it even possible to fix a stable meaning and value onto such an instrument?
Jameson, Fredric. “Culture and Finance Capital.” Critical Inquiry 24.1 (Autumn, 1997): 246-65.
Kelly, Paul.The End of Certainty: Power, Politics and Business in Australia. Rev. ed. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1994.
Lee, Benjamin and Edward LiPuma. “Financial Derivatives and the Rise of Circulation.” Economy and Society 34.3 (August 2005): 404-27.
Macris, Anthony. “Claude Simon and the Emergence of the Generative mise en abyme.” AULMA 99 (2003): 50-66.
___, Capital, Volume One. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997.
Perlman, Elliot. Three Dollars. Sydney: Picador, 1998.