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The Microeconomic Mode: Survival Games, Life-Interest and the Re-imagination of Sovereignty

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-225
JournalNovel: A Forum on Fiction
Issue number2
Early online date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


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This essay examines the relationship between dominant trends in contemporary popular aesthetics and the microeconomic imagination of human behavior, which centers on individual allocation of finite resources to self-determined ends. I argue that this way of modeling human action is embodied and interrogated in what I call the microeconomic mode, a ubiquitous twenty-first-century cultural formation defined by a combination of abstraction and extremity. From Cormac McCarthy's The Road to the Hunger Games franchise, this mode represents individuals making life-and-death choices in radically minimal and/or highly codified settings. I focus here on the most prevalent cultural form in the microeconomic mode, the survival game, as manifested in Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel Gone Girl (2013). By examining the novel's use of the survival game as a response to the gamification of life in twenty-first-century capital, I unpack the role that individual interest in self-preservation plays in constituting contemporary political subjectivity. I read this dynamic in relation to the account of the subject of interest offered by Michel Foucault and argue that what I call life-interest should be understood as an emergent form of biopolitical organization, one in which sovereign power operates by compelling individual agential choices in relation to the preservation of life. In conclusion, I turn to the popular “ticking-time-bomb” torture scenario in order to elucidate something of the permeation and power of life-interest in defining the contemporary imagination of sovereignty, domination, and agency.

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