Into our Labours explores the literary representation of work across the globe since 1850, setting out to show that the literature of modernity is best understood in the light of the worlding of capitalism. The book proposes that a determinative relation exists between changing modes of work and changes in the forms, genres, and aesthetic strategies of the writing that bears witness to them. Two aspects of the ‘worlding’ of modernity, especially, are emphasised. First, an ‘inaugural’ experience of capitalist social relations, whose literary registration sometimes makes itself known through a crisis of representation, as the forms of space- and time-consciousness demanded by life in contexts in which market-oriented commodity production has become the dominant form of social labour are counterposed with inherited ways of seeing and knowing, now under acute pressure if not already obsolete. Second, a moment corresponding to the consolidation, regularisation and global dispersal of capitalist development. Into Our Labours focuses on the naturalisation of capitalist social relations: forms of sociality and solidarity, ideologies of familialism, individualism and work, relations between the sexes and the generations. Arguing that the only plausible term for the vast body of literary work engendered by the worlding of capitalist social relations is ‘modernist’, the book proposes that it is then important to challenge the still-entrenched Eurocentric understandings of modernism. Modernism is neither originally nor paradigmatically ‘Western’ in provenance; and its temporal parameters are much broader than are usually assumed in modernist studies, extending both backward and forward in time.
“In the context of “English” and postcolonial literary studies, it has been one of Lazarus’s signal contributions to widen the corpus far beyond the usual suspects. Into Our Labours continues in that vein and issues, in effect, a challenge to scholars within the discipline of English to work and think comparatively. Among comparatists proper, the scope of Lazarus’s selections is perhaps less unusual, but here it is the theoretical claims that will inspire continued debate.”
Stefan Helgesson, Stockholm University
'“What exactly would a literary scholarship that plausibly conjoined historical and formal analysis look like?” Neil Lazarus poses this question early in his luminous new book, and then answers it over the next two hundred or so pages in a virtuoso critical performance. Lazarus wears his learning lightly, but never without the seriousness and precision that it demands. At one moment, he is taking apart a single word – ‘abstract’, used by Roberto Schwarz in his foundational writing on Brazilian culture – and examining its manifold meanings and implications over three gripping pages; At another, he is providing the most lucid and compelling reading imaginable of the Korean writer Yi Mun-yol’s novel, The Poet. Everything from Old English elegies to Urdu shayaris, and everyone from the Chinese Lao She to the Algerian Assia Djebar, attracts Lazarus’s exact and exacting attention. This book will change the terms of debate about ‘world-literature’. More importantly, if you think literature matters, you cannot afford to miss what Lazarus has to say here.'
Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, University of Warwick
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