Invest in Yourself: Discourses of Self-Care and Self-Optimization in Literatures of the Neoliberal Economy (Seminar at the ACLA 2021)

Theresa Kauder's picture
October 31, 2020
United States
Subject Fields: 
American History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Literature, German History / Studies, Contemporary History

“Before moving to the free weights I spend twenty minutes on the exercise bike while reading the new issue of Moneymagazine“.
“Invest in yourself“ is the guiding principle for Bret Easton Ellis’ antihero in American Psycho. His obsession with maintaining peak physical form embodies the themes of Wall Street. His “self-care” turns out to be a toxic, neoliberal self-repair – illustrated last but not least by the murders Bateman commits, which can be interpreted as the staging for the killing of unoptimized parts of his personality. While murder is prominent in American Literatures of the New Economy, the expression of self-optimizing aggression has shifted inward in German novels, in which the motive of suicide shapes the neoliberal subjects (Kathrin Röggla Wir Schlafen Nicht or Elfriede Jelinek Ein Sportstück). Whereas female self-optimizers aim to become as thin as possible (Helen Fielding Bridget Jones´ Diary, Ildikó von Kürthy Neuland), male self-optimizers aim to gain strength and mass through bodybuilding. What are additional and recurring literary tropes of self-optimization across cultures, histories, race, and gender identities? How do figures of self-optimization in literatures of the Neoliberal Economy, comparatively examined in the American and European contexts, reproduce existing power relations? What is the agency of self-optimizers?
The seminar problematizes the function of fictional texts within the discourse and provides a theory reader. The seminar invites scholars from various disciplines within literature and media studies (15 min). 
Dates: ACLA 2021 April 8th-11th
Organizers: Johanna Tönsing, Theresa Kauder
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