Capital in the Mirror

Critical Social Theory and the Aesthetic Dimension

Edited by Dan Krier & Mark P. Worrell

Subjects: Political Theory, Aesthetics, Cultural Studies, Economic History, Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series in New Political Science
Paperback : 9781438477763, 344 pages, January 2021
Hardcover : 9781438477756, 344 pages, April 2020

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Table of contents


The Mirror of Capital: An Introduction to Critical Poiesis
Dan Krier and Mark P. Worrell


1. An Insane Book, an Insane Country, an Insane System: Moby-Dick, U.S. Hegemony, and the Catastrophe of Capital
Tony Smith

2. Marxist Aesthetics, Realism, and Photography: On Brecht's War Primer
Christian Lotz

3. The Poetics of Nihilism: Representing Capital's Indifference in Dickens' Hard Times
Patrick Murray and Jeanne Schuler

4. The Repressed Returns: Mann's Doctor Faustus and the Fugue of Capital
Dan Krier


5. "Shakespearean Politics" and World History
Tony Smith

6. The Radical Implications of Hölderlin's Aesthetic Rationalism
Michael J. Thompson

7. From Mirror to Catalyst: Whitman and the Literature of Re-Creation
James Block

8. The City of Brothers
Mark P. Worrell and Dan Krier

9. Critical Theory, Sociology, and Science-Fiction Films: Love, Radical Transformation, and the Socio-Logic of Capital
Harry F. Dahms

10. Magical Marx: Objective Method and Aesthetics
Mark P. Worrell

List of Contributors

Analyzes contemporary capitalism through the products of culture and art for fresh insight into emancipatory possibilities concealed within capitalism’s darkest dynamics.


Aesthetic objects, crafted as poetic reflections of the contradictory worlds that they inhabit, are simultaneously theorized and theorizing. In Capital in the Mirror, eminent critical theorists explore the aesthetic dimension for reflective visions of capital that are difficult to obtain through even the most rigorous statistical analyses. Chapters address inequality, alienation, ideology, warfare, and other problems of contemporary capitalism through the cultural prisms of Herman Melville, Thomas Mann, Charles Dickens, J. W. Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin, Walt Whitman, Bertolt Brecht, and science-fiction cinema. Famous narrative elements in their works, such as Ahab's pursuit of the white whale in Melville's Moby-Dick, demonic production and perverse desire in Mann's Doctor Faustus, socially electrified bodies of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and dystopian projections of current sci-fi cinema, are theorized as stylistically distorted reflections of social life within capital. The authors reveal theoretical powers latent within these condensed images that prefigure the dark dynamics of capitalism. Focusing on dark images of domination and also prophetic images of transformation, the book points the way toward emancipation, social regeneration, and human flourishing.

Dan Krier is Professor of Sociology at Iowa State University and the author of Speculative Management: Stock Market Power and Corporate Change, also published by SUNY Press. Mark P. Worrell is retired Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York College at Cortland and serves as an associate editor for the journal Critical Sociology. Together they have coedited The Social Ontology of Capitalism and Capitalism's Future: Alienation, Emancipation, and Critique.


"In Capital in the Mirror, editors Krier and Worrell offer a collection of thought-provoking essays that reassess the relationship between social theory and aesthetic philosophy … While groundbreaking in its interdisciplinary formulations, the volume demands some level of fluency with a variety of scholarly languages." — CHOICE

"This book makes a very important contribution to critical theory and the critical 'human sciences' and is a model of how to do a larger analysis of contemporary capitalist cultural products." — Jeffrey A. Halley, coeditor of Bourdieu in Question: New Directions in French Sociology of Art