Speculative Fictions: Chilean Culture, Economics, and the Neoliberal Transition by Alessandro Fornazzari (review)
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Reviewed by
Alessandro Fornazzari. Speculative Fictions: Chilean Culture, Economics, and the Neoliberal Transition. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. 168 pp. ISBN 9780822962335, $24.95.

In recent years, there has been no dearth of academic literature examining the ever-expanding reach of finance capitalism. While studies of what has come to be called the “shock treatment” of neoliberalism are often (and necessarily) global in scope, Speculative Fictions returns to what Alessandro Fornazzari and many others consider as ground zero of the neoliberal transition: Chile during the four decades since Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian military coup in 1973. Drawing from familiar bodies of work in economics, philosophy, and literary and cultural criticism, Fornazzari formulates a novel thesis about neoliberal economics and culture that operates on two premises. The first is that in the neoliberal era, culture and economy have become indistinguishable. The second is that this transformation can be understood through an examination of the questions posed by the work of Chilean novelist José Donoso, and in particular, his 1978 novel Casa de campo. Fornazzari contends that an analysis of the ways authors, filmmakers, and artists have answered the dilemmas posed by Donoso’s work will lead to a deeper understanding of key concepts that secure the operation of neoliberalism in the spheres of business and economics: “the stock-market model of value, the artist-entrepreneur, human capital and the virtuoso model of labor” (p. 3) among others. In short, Fornazzari argues that an analysis of the aesthetic and cultural transformations of the Chilean transition necessarily produces an analysis of the economic and political transformations of the neoliberal revolution.

The central mechanism of this argument, as he develops it in the first chapter, is that allegory, the traditional form of literary abstraction for thinking through the transition from one economic system to another, has been replaced by the abstraction of the commodity form. Fornazzari argues that in Casa de campo Donoso takes up the realist challenge of mapping out the new, disjointed social relations coming into place after the military coup, and this return to realism also rejuvenates the fragmented forms of his previous modernist narrative. This aesthetic paradox of coexisting realism and modernism, Fornazzari suggests, also leads directly to the paradox of neoliberalism. He argues that though the novel functions as an allegory of the real events of the military coup, its fails to provide “a way of gesturing at what is still unsayable about an emergent [economic] formation” (p. 35), and presents itself instead as an allegorical fragment, a component of a larger abstracted form that has overtaken literary [End Page 209] allegory: “the commodity’s speculative forms of abstraction” (p. 35). In the same way that the previously separate categories of realist and modernist narrative become unified in Donoso’s work during the neoliberal transition, Fornazzari argues that the formerly autonomous sphere of aesthetics has become fully economized, and he follows the implications of this insight in the four chapters that follow.

In chapter 2, he analyzes three works: Arturo Fontaine’s stock market narrative Oír su voz (1992), the Chilean military’s economic plan El ladrillo: Bases de la política económica del Gobierno Militar Chileno (1973), and Diamela Eltit’s supermarket novel Mano de obra (2002). Here, Fornazzari argues that despite differences in ideology, these texts represent the consequences of “the economization of life under neoliberalism” (p. 61). They do this by presenting their characters as demonstrations of the concepts of human capital—“a technology of the self” in which “the worker is conceived as his own capital” and “an entrepreneur of himself” (p. 52)—and post-Fordist labor relations. Building on these observations, Fornazzari explains in chapter 4 that the neoliberal concepts discussed in chapter 2 emerge from the “previous biopolitical work” (p. 91) completed by Pinochet’s dictatorship. In this context, he analyzes Hernán Valdés’ concentration camp testimonio and the ways Pinochet’s “fascist technologies . . . inhabit and colonize his deepest and most secretive recesses, showing how no boundary—physical, psychological, or affective—holds up to this assault” (p. 93). Throughout chapter 4, Fornazzari develops this notion of biopolitical “colonization” by arguing that neoliberal economic thought follows this same...