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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Culture of the Market: Historical Essays

Degas' Cotton Exchange painting

The Culture of the Market: Historical Essays
Edited by Thomas L. Haskell & Richard F. Teichgraeber III
Cambridge University Press
p. 1993

  World War I seems like a good point to give literature a rest for a minute. I think the free Kindle books, but after a solid year of reading nothing but 19th century lit. I could use a gear shift. I bought this book simply because of the title/publisher combination.  Love Cambridge University Press, and if I see one of their titles in a book store for less than ten bucks I'll buy it just for shits and giggles.  Also, I'm interested in the culture of the market, any aspect, so this was a natural.

 Unfortunately, The Culture of the Market is a compilation of grouped essays around the theme, rather than a soup to nuts exploration of the topic with a central thesis.  As a result, The Culture of the Market is like a bunch of papers written for grad school or tenure, with little or no unifying theme.

  Many of the included essays revolve around disproving existing ideas about what certain groups in the past thought about their relationship to "the market."  One notable essay discusses the 18th century French nobility, a groups typically thought to be "outside" the market, and how they were in fact explicitly dealing with the market in pro active ways in their day to day lives.  Other essays look at the treatment of the Market as a theme in specific works of literature- Balzac's Pere Goirot gets its own essay, as does the cotton market paintings of Degas.

  It's the Degas essay that comes closest to real insight, since Degas was notable for his public statements about how he despised the role of the market in art- a classic 20th century/19th century romantic influenced posture, but in reality he was busy behind the scenes literally making paintings because he thought he could sell them to a wealthy cotton merchant.

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