‘Literature and Market Realism’ by Tariq Ali for New Left Review, May-Jun 1993
These are strange times. Capitalism, crippled by its own contradictions—there are thirty million people out of work in the OECD countries alone—is nonetheless triumphant. From New York to Beijing, via Moscow and Vladivostok, you can eat the same junk food, watch the same junk on television and, increasingly, read the same junk novels. In the newly marketized counties of Eastern and Central Europe, a book can be consumed just like a McDonald’s hamburger. Indigestion and an excess of wind are no longer a preserve of the stomach. Just as the rival hamburger concerns advertise their respective wares, so the giant publishing concerns of North America and Britain buy authors and exhibit them like cattle. Potential bestsellers are auctioned by a new breed of literary agent. Such books need to be sold and it is at this stage that the hype-merchants enter the fray and the promotion begins.
Many self-proclaimed postmodern writers have entered the spirit of the new times. Without any sense of shame or modesty they tout their own work and pander to a literary culture of consumerism. Why shouldn’t they? Hasn’t Lyotard, one of the high-priests of postmodernism, declared that capitalism is an orgasm? Can’t you see them quivering with pleasure, those citizens of Mogadishu or La Paz, as they deconstruct this offering from Paris? read more