In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews Bigelow, Gordon. Fiction, Famine, andthe Rise of Economics in Vidorian Britain andlrehnd. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. pp. 229, $65.00. In Fidion, Famine, andthe Rise of Economics in Vidorian Britain andlrehnd, Gordon Bigelow offers a very idiosyncratic look at what he takes to be exemplary moments in the rise of economics — or rather, the general shift in England away from "poHtical economy" towards "economics" — during the Victorian era. The book offers this historical précis in two distinct parts: the first is a theoreticaUy informed discussion of economics as a theory of signification that, in large measure, emerges out of Adam Smith's interest in CondiUac's theories of signification. Whüe this is an interesting and counter-intuitive reading of capitaHsm, one can already sense the presence of an unconvincing equation in the first chapters of the work: "economics" and "capitaHsm" are going to become more or less interchangeable terms for Bigelow, and whüe this may seem fitting enough in his discussion of Dickens and GaskeU in part two of the book, it is clearly going to be inadequate in his discussion of the Irish famine. "CapitaHsm" might have been the grandiose term under which the system of agricultural labour and exchange was supposed to function in Ireland, but this network lacked a number of important constituent elements of capitaHsm: namely, capital, in the sense of income reinvested back into the always struggling venture of the estate. I wiU offer more on this later, but for now I want to suggest what I take to be the strengths and weaknesses of the first part of the text. In the early and more theoretical chapters of the book Bigelow offers a very strong reading of how new linguistic discoveries in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were making the hegemony of European nations seem very precarious. These discoveries revolved around Egyptian and Chinese texts, and the popular view that these languages offered "clues to a perfect form of writing" (14). Feeling some anxiety about this impHcit derogation in the status of European culture, writers like Adam Smith developed an economic doctrine-indeed, an entire world history- "that would prove financial capitaHsm to be the key to European superiority" (18). The argument is, of course, an interesting one, although the relationship between cause and effect seems unconvincing at times. For example, Bigelow offers the foUowing connection between CondiUac's linguistics and Smith economics: "For CondiUac and Smith an increasing level of Victorian Review (2004)1 13 Reviews abstraction in language yields an increased capacity for complex thought" (39). Not only is the connection vague, but it is not at aU certain that what Condillac is saying about the individual's abüity to cognize more complex psychological and linguistic material is reaUy aU that pertinent to Smith's view that society is willing to abide more complex and abstracted relationships around capital and the commodity. What both have in common is, of course, the increasing complexity of things, but other than this very unconvincing connection it is difficult to determine what Bigelow is actuaUy arguing here. Bigelow's view is, I suppose, that capitaHsm arrives on the European stage at a historical moment when society is willing and able to cognize more complex social relations, but whether this is a credible abstraction from CondiUac's theory is certainly difficult to demonstrate. For Bigelow, the discourses of linguistic interiority and economic capitaHsm merge to form the figure of the consumer; this figure comes to dominate not only Victorian economics, but Bigelow's engaged and critical appraisal of it. Despite some difficulties with the early part of the work, it is easy to see that the discussion of the history and phüosophical intertexts of capitaHsm is where Bigelow's chief interest Hes, and I wonder why this book is not simply a treatise on capitaHsm's deep structural simüarities to linguistic systems, or a treatment of capitaHsm as a phüosophical and world-historical idea that coheres around the nature of psychological and social complexity and the attendant necessity of inteUectual and moral abstraction. The insights in these chapters are sometimes difficult to demonstrate or to foUow, but they are original...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 113-116
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.