Moments of Capital confronts a question that is central to both critical theory and, increasingly, the imaginative and critical project of world literature: how to apprehend, or represent, the unity and heterogeneity of global capital? Complementing geographic approaches to the capitalist world-system, and countering stadial understandings of capitalist history, Moments of Capital argues that global capital is composed of three synchronous moments—primitive accumulation, expanded reproduction, and the "synthetic dispossession" facilitated by financialization and privatization. Each of these moments, this Introduction demonstrates, corresponds to distinct economic and political forms, and distinct strands of contemporary theory and fiction.
The contemporary theorization of primitive accumulation, this chapter contends, examines how specific instances of expropriation—for example, the enclosure of common lands or plunder of indigenous resources—dovetail with the protracted effects of depredation, and the structural constancy of the raced and gendered relations of dominance that are formed in and reproduced by the genesis of capital. The critique of primitive accumulation, that is, directs our attention to both the history of the present and the presence of history. This twofold ambit is likewise enacted by a growing strand of contemporary fiction. The five novels this chapter considers—Marlon James's The Book of Night Women (2009), Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies (2008), Hernan Diaz's In the Distance (2017), Fiston Mwanza Mujila's Tram 83 (2014), and Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion (1987)—reveal the continuity between original and contemporary modes of crude dispossession, the essential coloniality of capital.
If primitive accumulation is enabled by state violence, the expansionary reproduction of capital is made possible by the "silent compulsion" of economic relations. The abiding problem of this "silent compulsion," this chapter argues, has inspired the development of several distinct critical vocabularies—from Weberian conceptualizations of "spirit," to Foucauldian treatments of "governmentality," to Marxist theorizations of ideology. The latter critical tradition in particular possesses an attention not only to the dominance of capitalist ideology, but to the possibility of its denaturalization or displacement. This contest between dominant and emergent ideologies is dramatized by the four novels that this chapter engages—Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010), Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (2016), Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision (2005), and Ben Lerner's 10:04 (2014). Provisionally and unevenly, these texts expose the workings of capitalist ideology and begin to recover the histories and realities—including figments of futurity—that that ideology obscures.
Responding to crises of accumulation and finitude of the earth's resources, capital strives to create new outsides to capital—via the privatization of public services, and the deliberate devaluation of assets and labor. The synthesis and appropriation of new outsides to capital coincides, moreover, with the ascent of financialization. The generalized insecurity produced by these interlocking technologies of "synthetic dispossession" has provoked significant theoretical reflections on the condition of "precarity." The politics of insecurity has likewise been made vivid by a distinct corpus of contemporary novels, four instances of which this chapter examines. Dave Eggers's A Hologram for the King (2013) and Rafael Chirbes's On the Edge (2016) occupy the expanding time-space of crisis and index the waning force of capitalist ideology therein. Eugene Lim's Dear Cyborgs (2017) and Barbara Browning's The Gift (2017), meanwhile, trace not only decline and disappointment, but the creation of social and political newness.
Over the course of the twentieth century, multiple Marxist and postcolonial thinkers—among them Antonio Gramsci, José Carlos Mariátegui, Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, and Stuart Hall—documented the specifically colonial nature of capital's uneven and combined development. This apprehension of capitalist modernity as colonial modernity has informed the project of "world literature"—a term that signifies, in this book, a cultural and critical formation that renders the unity and heterogeneity of the global capitalist order brought into being by empire and its afterlives. The three novels that this chapter analyzes—Pitchaya Sudbanthad's Bangkok Wakes to Rain (2019), Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others (2014), and Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers (2013)—evince the synchronic combination of different moments of capital, within the historical and geographic frame of colonial modernity.
Delineating the three moments of capital, this book essays a new "world theory"—a new way of capturing the dialectical unity and heterogeneous composition of global capital. Restating this central contribution, this conclusion summons again a thinker whose work is engaged often throughout Moments of Capital—Stuart Hall. In "When Was the Postcolonial? —Thinking at the Limit," Hall insisted that the distinctly colonial modernity brought into being by the history of empire and its afterlives is global in scope and structured in difference. Moments of Capital develops a new conceptual key for the apprehension of that sameness and that difference.