Highbrow

The Meltdown and Postmodernism

Here’s a satisfying read for English majors, who have long had their educations derided in favor of more “practical” fields like business and economics. John Lanchester compares the development of financial markets to that of modern art in this week’s New Yorker. “Finance, like other forms of human behavior, underwent a change in the twentieth century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts—a break with common sense, a turn toward self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn’t be explained in workaday English.” That makes the current crisis “unsettlingly like the birth of postmodernism.” Our current ills have precedent in the pages of Derrida, for whom meaning was endlessly deferred, much like the value of financial derivatives.