restricted access Literature and the Creative Economy by Sarah Brouillette (review)
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Reviewed by
Sarah Brouillette. Literature and the Creative Economy. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2014. ix + 238 pp.

In his final work, The Aesthetic Dimension (1977), the German philosopher and godfather of the student revolts in 1960s California, Herbert Marcuse, undertook a lucid analysis of the relationship between art and politics. While art is always necessarily entangled with the messy relations of capitalist production, he argued, it can transcend its material relations through formal innovation. Such aesthetic experimentation opens up another realm containing the seeds of a rebellious subjectivity that gives voice to a new experience of art and of truth. For Marcuse, this truth is the Marxist commitment to revealing advanced industrial capitalism’s exploitation of the individual. Caught on an endless treadmill of alienating work, mandatory consumption, and political acquiescence, the chastened subjectivity of modern workers requires such art in order to arouse itself from what Marcuse called the performance principle.

Marcuse’s brief tract on literature’s revolutionary potential responds to an earlier debate among German intellectuals concerning the relationship between art and its social context. During the 1920s and 1930s, thinkers like Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Bertolt Brecht, and Walter Benjamin had examined the work of art and the entangled ideological and material parameters of its production. As Sarah Brouillette writes in her new book, Literature and the Creative Economy, the examination of aesthetic autonomy that these thinkers undertook is “not a dead issue—a relic of modernism” (208). Rather, in the twenty-first century this critique has become “a vital concern for cultural producers all over again.” Focusing on the UK, Brouillette’s central argument is that since Britain’s New Labour government swept into power in their landslide 1997 electoral victory an unprecedented “incorporation of culture into governance” took place that radically reshaped the image of the creative worker and its role within the “creative economy” (1). In her three Conservative administrations (1979–90), Tony Blair’s ideological predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, had subjected cultural institutions to the vagaries of the free market, withdrawing state funding for the arts and forcing organizations to reinvent themselves as productive hubs supporting the growing heritage sector with its generation of tourism revenue. Blairite New Labour extended this discursive assault by realizing art and culture’s importance to the gentrification of postindustrial urban centers, thus boosting private investment and property development in Britain’s regenerating towns and cities.

Brouillette’s historicization is astute in its interrogation of the cultural values underpinning the privileged figure of the creative [End Page 175] worker after 1997. The rampantly growing asymmetry between capital and labor in a postindustrial economy requires a flexible workforce capable of relocating, reskilling, and surviving in an era of short-term contracts and unstable employment. Neoliberalism’s ideal worker is thus the creative worker: an individual whose independent, self-motivated style of freelance work serves the needs of an economy that requires employees to uproot themselves and live or travel as required; whose introspection and self-reflection lends itself to the self-fashioning demanded by a volatile labor market in which frequent career changes and reskilling become necessary; and whose emotional, intellectual, and frequently community-oriented labor is vital to the work of urban regeneration. Brouillette grounds her reading of the new creative worker with reference to Richard Florida’s influential The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), which charts the emergence of a creative elite in the postindustrial meritocracies that have shaped market growth in the global economy. Composed of highly trained, middle-class professionals who are mobile, cosmopolitan, and individualistic, this class became central to Blairite policy for cultural and economic revitalization. Neoliberalism relies on a confluence of the dictates of market growth with the resilient individualism typical of such creative workers, and the bohemian, nonconformist roots of this type of thinking can be traced back to 1960s counterculture and its impact on a new strain of bourgeois liberalism.

As the bourgeois genre par excellence, the novel—and particularly the genre of the Künstlerroman, which focuses on the development of the artist—offers Brouillette some fascinating insights into contemporary selfhood. Her first case study examines Aravind Adiga’s postcolonial...