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Durham University

Department of English Studies


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Publication details for Dr Daniel Hartley

Hartley, Daniel (2019). Keeping it Real: Literary Impersonality under Neoliberalism. In World Literature, Neoliberalism and the Culture of Discontent. Deckard, Sharae & Shapiro, Stephen Palgrave Macmillan. 131-155.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter argues that the impersonality of historical capitalism is best conceived as an uneven combination of socio-cultural processes of depersonalization and (re-)personalization. It is within this purview of the longue durée that I shall locate the specific configuration of impersonal and personal forces in the period known as ‘neoliberalism.’ I shall argue that neoliberalism constitutes a combined and uneven world-systemic project operating through multiple socio-cultural “personae” (from homo œconomicus to “wageless life” [Denning]), unified by a counter-revolutionary project of Restoration whose aim was to negate the “passion for the real” [la passion du réel] that characterized much of the twentieth century (Badiou). I shall use these extended sociological and philosophical elaborations as a framework within which to read two key contemporary works of world-literature: S. J. Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds (2015) and Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (2013). I interpret these works as attempts to inherit the “passion for the real” under conditions of neoliberalism. Both writers employ techniques of impersonality and depersonalization to carve out a fragile space of resistance and formalize hope in an ethico-political absolute. In doing so, they not only extend Badiou’s own reflections on the intrinsic limitations of the “passion for the real” (not least its intimate bond with violence and destruction) but also indicate potential blind spots in Badiou’s philosophical project itself.

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