Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


Speculative Time: American Literature in an Age of Crisis - British Association for American Studies


Speculative Time: American Literature in an Age of Crisis

Speculative Time: American Literature in an Age of Crisis examines how a climate of financial and economic speculation and disaster shaped the literary culture of the United States in the early to mid-twentieth century. It argues that speculation’s risk-laden and crisis-prone temporalities had major impacts on writing in the period, as well as on important aspects of visual representation. The conceptions of time — and especially futurity — arising from the theory and practice of speculation provided crucial models for writers’ and other artists’ aesthetic, intellectual, and political concerns and strategies. The attractions and dangers of speculation were most spectacularly apparent in the period’s pivotal economic event: the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The book offers an innovative account of how the speculative boom and bust of the “Roaring Twenties” affected literary and cultural production in the United States. It situates the stock market gyrations of the 1920s and 1930s within a wider culture of speculation that was profoundly shaped by, but extended well beyond, the brokerages and trading floors of Wall Street. The early to mid-twentieth century was a “speculative time,” an age characterized by leaps of economic, political, intellectual, and literary speculation; and the notion of speculative time provides a means of understanding the period’s characteristic temporal modes and textures, as evident in work by figures including F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Nathan Asch, William Faulkner, Federico García Lorca, James N. Rosenberg, Margaret Bourke-White, Archibald MacLeish, Christina Stead, Claude McKay, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison.
“More than just an account of modern finance and the literature it produced, Speculative Time sheds new light on an entire American crisis culture that made precarity the norm. From Wall Street panics to Marxist prognostication to racist urban planning, Crosthwaite shows how new temporalities of risk turned everyone into gamblers.” – Jason R. Puskar, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
“Crosthwaite’s expansive study argues that fictions of speculation enable us to think differently and in nuanced ways about questions of temporality, futurity, and chronology. Beautifully written, persuasively argued, and impeccably historicised, the book is essential reading not only for economic critics but for anyone interested in American literature of the long twentieth century.” – Sinéad Moynihan, University of Exeter
“With an impressive mastery of economic and intellectual history, Crosthwaite shows how American writers have both adopted and critiqued a speculative attitude towards the future, sensitive to risk and filled with premonitions of ruin. Speculative Time explains how literary forms we think we know about — including foreshadowing and temporally disordered narratives — reflect a society in which everyone must place their bets on an uncertain future.” – Andrew Lawson, Leeds Beckett University