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  • IntroductionSpeculative Finance/Speculative Fiction
  • David M. Higgins (bio) and Hugh C. O'Connell (bio)

It has now been more than ten years since the 2007–8 financial crisis. Did the crash, ultimately, teach us anything? Given recent warnings threatening the collapse of the student loan and subprime auto loan markets, spiraling credit card debt, and Congress's annulling of the scant provisions placed on financial institutions in the wake of 2008, the answer seems depressingly simple: no. Speculative finance and its always-looming debt crises are now the foundation of capitalist accumulation and the global world-system, while growing income inequality, increasingly authoritarian regimes, and austerity are this system's new normal.

"Speculative Finance/Speculative Fiction" thus joins a number of recent attempts to think through this epoch-defining condition by examining the [End Page 1] relationship of the speculative financial turn to cultural production.1 Its signal contribution is its focus on the genres of speculative fiction; the volume's organizing principle is that speculative fiction, as a particularly modern form, has often (if not always) been attuned to the speculative and fantastical nature of capitalist economics.

Like many such endeavors, this issue launched from a seemingly straightforward question: What is the relation between the speculative of speculative finance and the speculative of speculative fiction? Many contributors echo Steven Shaviro's argument that speculative finance works to delimit the future by arresting uncertainty, while speculative fiction, in contrast, embraces the alterity of futurity as a riposte to finance's predations on the future (Shaviro 2015, 11). Nonetheless, a straightforward answer to this initial question remains elusive. In part, this is due to the transformation of sociopolitical and aesthetic conditions wrought by the financial turn itself, resulting in what we can today, without rhetorical bluster, simply term "the age of speculative finance."

By the age of speculative finance, we mean to highlight the contemporary era's characteristic shift from production to financialization and the consequences of this shift for the social, political, and aesthetic spheres. The dominance of finance is not, of course, wholly new to our contemporary moment. However, as Hilferding, Lenin, Braudel, and Arrighi (among others) have shown, finance in its earlier modes was more thoroughly linked to production than it is today. As Edward LiPuma and Benjamin Lee note, today "financial derivatives and speculative capital stand as instrument and agent in the global circulation of the money form. This was not always the case. Historically, speculative capital emerged from existing forms of capital, first as its surplus and then as its competitor" (LiPuma and Lee 2004, 113). The result, as Jean and John Comaroff observe, is that "the explosion of new markets and financial instruments … have given the financial order an autonomy from 'real production' unmatched in the annals of political economy" (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001, 10). Taking note of this epochal shift from production to financialization does not imply a producerist (often anti-Semitic and/or misogynistic) perspective that pines for the good-old-days of production; on the contrary, our aim is to analyze how speculative finance qualitatively [End Page 2] transforms capitalist domination and to explore new avenues for collective resistance created by such conditions.

The historical shift to the era of speculative finance begins in the early 1970s with the end of Bretton Woods and the creation of free-floating currencies, the development of the financial derivative market based on currency circulation and the separation of derivatives from their underlying material assets, and the new modes of financial risk generated by the increasingly global processes of production. The age of finance is thus characterized by the capitalist accumulation of profit without production: a move from M-C-M= to M-M=, where profit is attained through interest, rent, and circulation. LiPuma and Lee describe this as circulatory capitalism: the market moves "away from hedging on production to wagering on circulation" (LiPuma and Lee 2004, 99). In short, the age of finance increasingly separates the financial sector from the so-called real economy of commodity production and trade, resulting in "a huge, not production-directed, and continually expanding pool of mobile, nomadic, and opportunistic capital that resides in the hands of private...


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