Anti-neoliberal Books Needed

Friends, I know there are people of many linguistic backgrounds here. I would be very grateful if you mention any anti-neoliberal works of literature in your languages that you might have come across.

By anti-neoliberal I mean literature that expresses a sense of discomfort with fluidity, austerity, globalization, lack of certainty, the erosion of stable identities and attachments, death of family and religion, and everything else that the woke (aka neoliberal) revolution is bringing us.

I’m looking for art, not political essays. The authors’ political beliefs don’t matter. I already have Spain, France, and Greece. I’d love to have Italy and Eastern Europe. If there’s something German or Nordic, that would be great but I’m not holding my breath.

21 thoughts on “Anti-neoliberal Books Needed

    1. I second Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. It is a great book. It is a part of the trilogy, but you do not need to read the other two books.

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      1. This guy:

        https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ivan-Illich

        Wrote things such as “Deschooling Society” “Tools for Conviviality” “Gender” etc. He was writing in the… 70s? I read him in the 90s and early 00s mostly, and I need to go back and read him again, because now, finally, I can see some of the things he was talking about in the world around me. He was somewhere between philosopher and prophet.

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  1. “By anti-neoliberal I mean literature that expresses …”

    A rather tall order, almost as if what you’re seeking has been readymade for this purpose.

    Many authors would hesitate to make the landscape of their books that easy or the characters that obvious.

    But since this is a “landscape of events” you’re seeking, in which the neoliberalist stance becomes part of the background, why not consider the problem from the perspective of how certain types of books have changed over the years?

    What’s the difference between Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” and Stephen Wright’s “Going Native”?

    They’re essentially the same type of book, being a “road journey of discovery” type of book, but the two couldn’t be more different.

    With Kerouac, you accept the landscape as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, with easy come easy go, with the rejection of the comfort that the Keynesian world view created as a short-term product, with the seeking of something more authentic.

    With Wright, the authenticity becomes the nightmare, and the proceedings detail how someone has escaped that world into a new one full of viscera and outright rejections of that comfortable status quo.

    And so we can see pieces of this world of neoliberalism as an uncredited character within the background of American works as old as these.

    What drove Wright to want to drive his protagonist off the reservation, so to speak?

    The point of this is that the journey we’re on with “neoliberalism and its discontents” has a path leading back to urges and moments in art that precede the present crisis of personal ontological identity, in which certain people hesitate to state that they are in any way “the same” as anyone else because it’s been bullied out of them.

    How does neoliberalism change art?

    Why hasn’t anyone asked that outright and then shown by iterative demonstration and synthesis of a theory what it’s done, where it’s going, and how this could all wind up?

    The closest I’ve seen to this tie-up you want is Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s “The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance”, and that was over a decade ago. Around the same time came Maurizio Lazzarato’s “The Making of the Indebted Man”, helpful for understanding the constraints of the protagonist as he navigates the neoliberalist landscape, as well as several works from Christian Marazzi.

    And because neoliberalism really got its hooks into America, why not explore that “landscape of events”?

    Why wouldn’t the place that holds out the greatest resistance to moving on from neoliberalism, namely America, not be the place that should be central to discovering that “landscape of events”?

    The economics of Friedman, Keynes, and the Chicago School are inseparable from the conditions that produced the art, so why would the essays be separable from it?

    Why aren’t these essays examples of Neoliberalist Futurist Manifestos, echoing Marinelli and the Italian Futurists with their hydraulic economics and physics of change, a statement of their desired utopias from the perspective of a synthetic scientific world view?

    It’s all there if you want to go looking for it.

    Ivan Illich is an author, BTW. You’ll find the Marxism about as predictable as with Paulo Freire and other would-be revolutionaries of the era, although you’ll gather some findings that are of some use.

    But both of those authors wrote Futurist Manifestos, as did Berardi, Lazzarato, and Marazzi when you get down to bare facts.

    So what’s the plan for your Futurist Manifesto? 🙂

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    1. It’s not necessarily about the context in which it was written, though, but the meaning that can come from the words themselves.

      Take Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card. You could argue that the setting makes the book about fluidity — humans have the ability to travel to other planets at near light-speed, essentially making time meaningless for those who do so.

      But emotionally, you could argue that the book is entirely about how painful that fluidity is. You have Ender, whose entire self-identity is based on a single thing he did years and years ago. You have Jane, who is the embodiment of fluidity and globalism (though on a larger scale), who is just looking for something solid, something permanent. And then there’s Novinha and her family, whose own pain is rooted in who they are and what they do and how they did or didn’t act. The entire story is about trying to find and keep your identity in the face of a fluid world.

      Card didn’t deliberately write it to show these things. But the fact is those facets are there to discover. The analysis belongs to the reader, not the author.

      Anyway, Clarissa, though I hear the Portuguese dialogue is poorly translated, Speaker for the Dead is likely a good candidate as well.

      Honestly Ender’s Game might be, too. I haven’t read the rest of the main series, though, and it’s all science fiction, which I know isn’t your cup of tea. But the kind of analysis you’re looking for is definitely there.

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        1. Start with Ender’s Game if you decide to give it a try, Speaker for the Dead is a sequel and it “spoils” Ender’s Game.

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      1. “… humans have the ability to travel to other planets at near light-speed, essentially making time meaningless for those who do so.”

        Relativistic temporal effects for anything going over 0.1c mean there’s no home time line to go back to when you return home.

        And so the fluidity of neoliberalism essentially smacks into a hard temporal wall where there’s nothing that remains for these people to reconnect with, and that their divergence into a separate and inaccessible space starts when the transport begins to step hard on the gas.

        “The analysis belongs to the reader, not the author.”

        William Gibson once said that sci-fi isn’t even about the future, it’s about a specific type of lens in which technology and science are brought together to produce world views of a future that is an expression of the present day.

        And so the semiotics of the William Gibson “Sprawl Trilogy” are those of the West smacking up against the wall that was the 1980s boom of Japan.

        But William Gibson also said that he doesn’t try to write about present day political or social issues through a sci-fi lens, that he writes stories that he finds interesting and because the lens is unavoidable, that’s how the books turn out.

        I don’t know if you’ll find somewhere that’s written down, because those observations came during a speaking engagement of his, meaning that some people have had more access than others to those ideas.

        So I’ll leave that comment as cryptic as possible for potential self-identification reasons.

        Clarissa may like the idea of a sci-fi lens for this because it’s a way to access the semiotics of the neoliberal aspirations of a particular time, and this may make these Futurist Manifestos a lot more accessible for her purposes.

        I’ll have to think about what would fit for Clarissa’s purposes.

        I’m leaning toward a book written over two decades ago by Bruce Sterling in which he described the existence of a “gerontocracy” as a “pushy stage mother” for technologies that would allow them to retain control of their local and global “polities”.

        BTW, “pushy stage mother” (kyōiku mama, 教育ママ) is a nickname for Japan’s MITI, the national technological planning bureau.

        I would suspect that Clarissa would have pretty good luck with tying in the kind of grey technological bureaucracy that Jacques Ellul wrote about decades ago with the emergent features of neoliberalism.

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  2. “a sense of discomfort with fluidity”

    I haven’t read the book but the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men ends up being about the emergence of a new system with no regard for human life (Mexico-US drug trade) and the helplessness and bewilderment that those who encounter it feel.

    The Mexican narco gangs are arguably among the purest neoliberals around… though not usually thought of in such terms.

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    1. I really like the example of the Mexican cartels as the highest form of expression of neoliberalism. I wish people understood that their borderless, “free,” ultra-PC fantasy invariably produces the monstrosity of cartels. They want everything to be one big borderland, as they say openly. But they aren’t nearly ready to deal with it when it comes.

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  3. \ I already have Spain, France, and Greece.

    Have any of those books been translated into English or Russian?
    Would love to read too.

    As for anti-neoliberal books, nothing comes to mind right now, unless “Dogs of Europe” and Menasse’s “Capital” can count.

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  4. On another topic, wanted to ask whether you read “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates. I am in the last third of this book now, and liked it. There is a movie too (haven’t watched) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

    If you have read it, what do you think of the characters? Is their dissatisfaction with life based on something real?

    The Russian book blurb seems off in its analysis:

    Это история Фрэнка и Эйприл Уилер – умной, красивой и талантливой супружеской пары, изнывающей от банальности пригородного быта. Фрэнк работает клерком в крупной нью-йоркской фирме, Эйприл дома воспитывает детей и мечтает об актерской карьере – но они стремятся к чему-то большему, чему-то исключительному. И вот им предоставляется уникальный шанс – уехать в Париж, начать все с чистого листа…

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    1. I read it back in 2009, I think, and I remember that I really liked it. But that’s all I remember, unfortunately. I think the characters were spoiled, dumb brats, right? It’s something I seem to vaguely recall.

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  5. You might have a look at the Anna Fekete series by Kati Hiekkapelto. It’s a Finnish crime fiction series. The main detective is a Serbian immigrant to Finland and immigrants and immigrant stories feature very heavily in the three novels that are available in English. The general gist of it is that being an immigrant sucks for most people, many of the characters struggle with the language and the culture and wind up unemployed or working in menial jobs, drug and alcohol abuse are rampant. Even the immigrants who do well are often underemployed; there is a highly educated gay couple from Afghanistan (or possibly Pakistan?) who run a pizzeria because their educations are completely worthless in Finland, but the have the bad choice of pizza and mild homophobia in Finland and the worse choice of being executed back home. The main character is extremely well integrated and successful in her career (her Finnish sounds native and the main give away is her non-Finnish name, that everyone she meets has to comment on) but she has all sorts of emotional turmoil and longing about staying in Finland vs. returning to her home village in Serbia. Immigration has turned her into a person who is always torn because she doesn’t completely fit in either place, she can’t decide what she wants out of life, and she can’t form or maintain romantic attachments. I will warn you that the crime story in the first novel is not great, but I kept reading because I hadn’t run into such a nuanced treatment of immigrants in any other Scandinavian crime fiction. In your typical Scandinavian novel, immigrants exist largely to be the targets of racist and neo-Nazi villains and it’s rare to get anything that deals with an immigrant’s thoughts and feelings in any way.

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    1. “typical Scandinavian novel, immigrants exist largely to be the targets of racist and neo-Nazi villains”

      I read an Icelandic murder mystery where my favorite character was a Filipina cleaning lady who was hoping and trying to integrate but not having much luck… unfortunately she was a very minor character who disappeared after doig one important thing… my second favorite character was an overweight and surly secretary just because she seemed to rebel against the impassive nordicness of everyone else….

      My main takeaway from a Finnish murder mystery was… wow! there are a lot of small religious crazy groups there (it had been a revelation that had been building…).
      My favorite part was despite the supposed urgency of the case, once it’s Friday five o’clock everybody goes home for the weekend and gives the case no further thought until Monday….

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      1. Were the small crazy religious groups in a rural/small town setting? I’ve gotten the impression that rural, northern Sweden is full of odd/extremist independent churches and I wonder if there is the same dynamic in Finland.

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        1. “rural/small town setting”

          From what I remember (usual caveat) the crazy sect (indeed northern and rural) came up in connection with a young man that had left and fled south because he was gay…. it ended up not having much to do with the murder but almost everything else I’d read/seen about Finland had these groups… in them (and now I remember a Swedish film with another one…)

          Does Norway have these groups? Denmark? (or is it too small and crowded?)… I think the Netherlands has some nutsos, so… maybe it’s just a northern thing?

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