This talk examines the relationship between recent narratives focused on the production of disposable life and the microeconomic mode, a dominant contemporary aesthetic formation that brings together abstraction, extremity, and painful, life-or-death choices made by individual agents. The talk focuses on the film The Revenant, as well as the novel on which it was based, to examine the way it draws on the microeconomic mode to reframe its story of settler-colonial expansion as a narrative of attrition for the settler rather than the indigenous population. Building out from this reading, Elliott considers why an either/or choice between lives is such a consistent trope in contemporary culture and what transpires when this trope is deployed in radically different political contexts.
Jane Elliott is Senior Lecturer in English at King's College London. She is author of The Microeconomic Mode: Imagining Political Subjectivity in the 21st Century (forthcoming from Columbia UP) and Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory: Representing National Time (Palgrave 2008) and co-editor of the 'Genres of Neoliberalism' issue of Social Text (2013) and Theory after Theory (Routledge 2011). Her essays on contemporary literature and culture have appeared in Novel, Modern Fiction Studies, PMLA, and Social Text.