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The Asymmetric Prostate: Symptoms of a Failed Technocrat in Cosmopolis

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Abstract

This chapter examines the maturation of homo economicus as portrayed in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (2003). Situating the novel within the digital information age inspired by the neoliberal capitalist system, Comyn argues that Cosmopolis both explores the discourse of projection and futures that define the virtual market, and also highlights the romantic vision that accompanied the boom of the Roaring Nineties. This chapter demonstrates how the characters Eric Packer and his assassin (Benno Levin) are representative of homo economicus on either side of the divide created by the virtual capital that saw its ultimate ascendancy through the Information Revolution. Comyn’s analysis shows that the rise of the virtual market reinstalled the mythological aspects that accompanied the birth of the modern market and its promise of lucre, as well as the figure who was tasked with mining its depths: homo economicus.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    John N. Duvall, “Introduction: The Power of History and the Persistence of Mystery”, in Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo, ed. John N. Duvall (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 1.

  2. 2.

    Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism and Other Essays, trans. Chris Turner (London; New York: Verso, 2003), 13.

  3. 3.

    Paul Crosthwaite, “Fiction in the Age of the Global Accident: Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis”, in “Catastrophe”, special issue, Static: Journal of the London Consortium 7 (2008): 1.

  4. 4.

    Baudrillard, Spirit of Terrorism, 4–5.

  5. 5.

    Don DeLillo, “In the Ruins of the Future: Reflections on Terror and Loss in the Shadow of September”, Harper’s Magazine, December 2001, 33.

  6. 6.

    Adam Thurschwell, “Writing and Terror: Don DeLillo on the Task of Literature after 9/11”, Law and Literature 19, no. 2 (2007): 277–302; Jerry Varsava, “The ʻSaturated Selfʼ: Don DeLillo on the Problem of Rogue Capitalism”, Contemporary Literature 46, no. 1 (2005): 78–107.

  7. 7.

    Thurschwell, “Writing and Terror”, 280.

  8. 8.

    Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis (Basingstoke and Oxford: Picador, 2003), 80.

  9. 9.

    DeLillo, “In the Ruins of the Future”, 33

  10. 10.

    An earlier version of the following argument appeared in Sarah Comyn, “ʻRitually Unreadableʼ: Aestheticising the Economic in Cosmopolis”, in Literature as Translation/Translation as Literature, ed. Chris Conti and James Gourley (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 184–194, and is published here with permission of Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

  11. 11.

    See, for example, Robert J. Shiller Irrational Exuberance, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). Shiller states that the “Dow Jones Internet Index had its all all-time peak on March 9, 2000. In a little more than a month, by April 14, it had lost more than half its value” (83).

  12. 12.

    DeLillo, “Interview with François Busnel”, trans. Charles T. Downey, Ionarts, September 2003, http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2003_09_14_ionarts_archive.html#106358996214748958.

  13. 13.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 97.

  14. 14.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 80.

  15. 15.

    The novel’s concern with the role of information in the financial system, which will be explored in due course, can equally be transferred to the GFC . While the novel is centred on the tech-boom and bust, problems with information are similarly an underlying cause of the crises of 2007–2008. See, for example, Joseph E. Stiglitz “The Financial Crises of 2007–2008 and its Macroeconomic Consequences”, in Time for a Visible Hand, ed. Stephany Griffith-Jones, José Antonio Ocampo, and Joseph E. Stiglitz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 19–49.

  16. 16.

    David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 11.

  17. 17.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 23.

  18. 18.

    Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World’s Most Prosperous Decade (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003), 4.

  19. 19.

    Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 4.

  20. 20.

    Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 23.

  21. 21.

    John W. Verity, “The Information Revolution—Introduction”, Business Week, 18 April 1994, http://www.businessweek.com/1998/35/z3372001.htm.

  22. 22.

    Michael J. Mandel, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” Business Week, 24–31 August 1998, http://www.businessweek.com/1998/35/b3593004.htm.

  23. 23.

    Steve Fraser, Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 598.

  24. 24.

    Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), 59.

  25. 25.

    Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 5.

  26. 26.

    Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics, 23.

  27. 27.

    Fraser, Every Man, 577.

  28. 28.

    Fraser, Every Man, 577.

  29. 29.

    George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 1 (emphasis in original).

  30. 30.

    Akerlof and Shiller, Animal Spirits, 51.

  31. 31.

    Akerlof and Shiller, Animal Spirits, 51 (emphasis in original).

  32. 32.

    See, for example, Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (New York; London: Penguin, 2008). Ferguson argues that “[i]n the four hundred years since shares were first bought and sold, there has been a succession of financial bubbles. Time and again, share prices have soared to unsustainable heights only to crash down again” (124).

  33. 33.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 56.

  34. 34.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 196.

  35. 35.

    Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 11.

  36. 36.

    Michael Lewis, Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, ed. Michael Lewis (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 78.

  37. 37.

    Fraser, Every Man, 578.

  38. 38.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 80.

  39. 39.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 72.

  40. 40.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 9, 22, 88, 102.

  41. 41.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 64.

  42. 42.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 24.

  43. 43.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 95.

  44. 44.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 65.

  45. 45.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 13.

  46. 46.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 22.

  47. 47.

    Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 11.

  48. 48.

    See Michael Lewis, “How the Eggheads Cracked”, New York Times Magazine, 24 January 1999, rpt. in Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, ed. Michael Lewis (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 131. Merton and Scholes were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1997 for developing a “new method to determine the value of derivatives”. See The Nobel Foundation, “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1997”, Nobelprize.org., http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1997.

  49. 49.

    Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics, 136–137.

  50. 50.

    Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics, 137.

  51. 51.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 24.

  52. 52.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 32.

  53. 53.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 152.

  54. 54.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 85.

  55. 55.

    Fredric Jameson, Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 8.

  56. 56.

    Paul Virilio, The University of Disaster (Cambridge; Malden: Polity Press, 2010), 76 (emphasis in original).

  57. 57.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 37.

  58. 58.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 79.

  59. 59.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 79.

  60. 60.

    Alison Shonkwiler, “Don DeLillo’s Financial Sublime”, Contemporary Literature 51, no. 2 (2010): 246–282.

  61. 61.

    Shonkwiler, “Don DeLillo’s Financial Sublime”, 249 (emphasis in original).

  62. 62.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 207–208.

  63. 63.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 24.

  64. 64.

    Rob Johnson, “Interview”, Frontline 1999, rpt. in Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, ed. Michael Lewis (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 104.

  65. 65.

    Johnson, “Interview”, 104.

  66. 66.

    Varsava, “The ʻSaturated Selfʼ”, 84 (emphasis in original).

  67. 67.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 207.

  68. 68.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 176.

  69. 69.

    Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 53.

  70. 70.

    Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 53.

  71. 71.

    Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 53.

  72. 72.

    Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 54.

  73. 73.

    Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 54.

  74. 74.

    Aaron Chandler, “ʻAn Unsettling, Alternative Selfʼ: Benno Levin, Emmanuel Levinas, and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis”, Critique 50, no. 3 (2009): 243.

  75. 75.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 106.

  76. 76.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 65.

  77. 77.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 92.

  78. 78.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 98.

  79. 79.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 89.

  80. 80.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 159.

  81. 81.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 183–186.

  82. 82.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 207.

  83. 83.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 22, 94.

  84. 84.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 139.

  85. 85.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 79.

  86. 86.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 11.

  87. 87.

    Chandler, “An Unsettling, Alternative Self”, 248.

  88. 88.

    Chandler, “An Unsettling, Alternative Self”, 248.

  89. 89.

    Chandler, “An Unsettling, Alternative Self”, 248.

  90. 90.

    Chandler, “An Unsettling, Alternative Self”, 248.

  91. 91.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 188–189.

  92. 92.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 119.

  93. 93.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 209.

  94. 94.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 149.

  95. 95.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 58.

  96. 96.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 154.

  97. 97.

    DeLillo , Cosmopolis, 60. This has echoes of a scene in White Noise where Jack Gladney checks his balance at an ATM and when the figure matches the one in his head he thinks “that something of deep personal value, but not money, not that at all, had been authenticated and confirmed”. Shonkwiler extends this connection between the novels, arguing that the “deranged person” Jack Gladney sees removed from the bank, reappears as Benno Levin in Cosmopolis. See, Don DeLillo, White Noise (New York: Viking Press, 1985), 48; Shonkwiler, “Don DeLillo’s Financial Sublime”, 257.

  98. 98.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 56.

  99. 99.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 152.

  100. 100.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 152.

  101. 101.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 192.

  102. 102.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 59–60.

  103. 103.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 178.

  104. 104.

    Jean-Joseph Goux, “Cash, Check, or Charge?” in The New Economic Criticism: Studies at the Intersection of Literature and Economics, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 114–127.

  105. 105.

    While Goux essentially writes about the credit card, the ascendancy of virtual money is essential to its rise, and thus his arguments regarding the credit card can be applied to the novel’s concern with virtual money and digital information.

  106. 106.

    Goux, “Cash, Check, or Charge?”, 114.

  107. 107.

    Goux, “Cash, Check, or Charge?”, 114.

  108. 108.

    Goux, “Cash, Check, or Charge?”, 115. For a consideration of the issues raised by Goux in relation to the derivative market, see Arjun Appadurai, Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). Appadurai offers a detailed account of the connections between language (especially the language of promises) and the derivative market during the Global Financial Crisis .

  109. 109.

    Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 4.

  110. 110.

    C. R. Macaulay, “Financial Markets, the Meta-Economy and the Casino or How to Make Capitalism Ethical”, London Grip, 21 March 2010, http://www.londongrip.com/LondonGrip/Economy:_C.R.Macaulay_Ethical_Capitalism.html.

  111. 111.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 23.

  112. 112.

    Goux, “Cash, Check, or Charge?”, 120.

  113. 113.

    Ferguson illustrates the historical irrationality of the stock market by tracing the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles which both burst in 1720 (see “Blowing Bubbles” in The Ascent of Money, 119–175). Similarly, Macaulay argues that the South Sea bubble was created by the “extravagant rumours” spread by the South Sea Company to raise the price of their stock, clearly undermining any notion of the “true” value of the stocks. See, Macaulay , “Financial Markets”.

  114. 114.

    Susan Strange, Casino Capitalism (Oxford; New York: B. Blackwell, 1986), 2. As the book’s title suggests, Strange compares the financial market to that of a giant global casino in which the “financial casino has everyone playing the game of Snakes and Ladders”. Success in the financial game is therefore just a matter of luck. John Maynard Keynes also voiced his concern regarding speculators and the market: “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done”. See, John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money 1936 (London: Macmillan for the Royal Economic Society, 1974), 159. C. R. Macaulay’s argument, which follows, closely resembles the sentiment expressed by Strange and Keynes but with a more contemporary application.

  115. 115.

    Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 13–14.

  116. 116.

    Macaulay, “Financial Markets”.

  117. 117.

    Carrick Mollenkamp and Karen Lundegaard, “How Net Fever Sent Shares of a Firm on 3-Day Joy Ride”, Wall Street Journal, 9 December 1998, Eastern edition, rpt. in Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, ed. Michael Lewis (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 169.

  118. 118.

    Mollenkamp and Lundegaard, “How Net Fever”, 170.

  119. 119.

    Michael Lewis, “In Defense of the Boom”, New York Times Magazine, 27 October 2002, rpt. in Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, ed. Michael Lewis (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 239.

  120. 120.

    Macaulay, “Financial Markets”. The chat-room speculation is a contemporary version of Diana Parker’s epistolary speculation in Sanditon.

  121. 121.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 78.

  122. 122.

    Mark Schuster, Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum (London; New York: Cambria Press, 2008), 3.

  123. 123.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 189.

  124. 124.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 199–200.

  125. 125.

    Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, trans. Joris De Bres (London: NLB, 1975), 75.

  126. 126.

    Mandel, Late Capitalism, 75.

  127. 127.

    Mandel, Late Capitalism, 75.

  128. 128.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 52.

  129. 129.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 52–53.

  130. 130.

    Stiglitz, “The Non-Existent Hand”, London Review of Books 32, no. 8 (22 April 2010): 17. Stiglitz , Akerlof , and Spence were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001 “for their analysis of markets with asymmetric information”. See, The Nobel Foundation “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2001”, Nobelprize.org., http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/2001. In response to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand ” theory, Stiglitz argues that his research “on the consequences of imperfect and asymmetric information (where different individuals know different things) over the last quarter of a century, has shown that one of the reasons that the invisible hand may be invisible is that it is simply not there”. Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties, 13.

  131. 131.

    George Soros, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means (Carlton North: Scribe Publications, 2008).

  132. 132.

    Soros, The New Paradigm, 56.

  133. 133.

    Soros, The New Paradigm, 56.

  134. 134.

    Jameson, The Seeds of Time, 17–18.

  135. 135.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 8.

  136. 136.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 31.

  137. 137.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 32.

  138. 138.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 85.

  139. 139.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 196.

  140. 140.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 188.

  141. 141.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 168.

  142. 142.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 45, 51, 74.

  143. 143.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 209.

  144. 144.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 90.

  145. 145.

    DeLillo, Cosmopolis, 90–91.

  146. 146.

    While Varsava draws the connection between the protestors and Schumpeter’s theory, in his efforts to criticise rogue capitalism he misses the subtleties of Schumpeter’s arguments and the evolutionary process technological innovation inspires and thereby fails to recognise the specificity of the protest against techno-scientific capitalism.

  147. 147.

    Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1950), 83.

  148. 148.

    Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 83 (emphasis in original).

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Comyn, S. (2018). The Asymmetric Prostate: Symptoms of a Failed Technocrat in Cosmopolis. In: Political Economy and the Novel. Palgrave Studies in Literature, Culture and Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-94325-1_7

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