Underwriting: The Poetics of Insurance in America, 1722-1872
This book focuses on the way literary texts articulate embedded cultural assumptions about monetary value and reflect the logic of certain economic practices. In its simplest formulation, Underwriting is an investigation of the cultural history of insurance in early America. It seeks a large part of that cultural history in the lives and works of five American authors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, Noah Webster, Herman Melville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It hinges on an odd-sounding assumption: that insurance, as a textual procedure requiring signatures to conserve property, is a writing business, theoretically and practically. Insurance articulates a nexus (in the form of contractual and monetary obligations) between property and text, attempting to mark and reconcile with its voracious application of assurances these two cornerstones of capitalist logic. The plot of Underwriting that Wertheimer pursues is then manifold: a meditation on theories of writing; a cultural and social history of the practices that make mutually defining modes of loss and reparation profitable and pleasurable; and a reading of certain literary texts that might lead us to new understandings of the relationship between artistic and commercial discourses in America.
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accidents Affured American anxiety assurance authenticity authority Autobiography Barry Supple Benjamin Franklin Boston capital chance claim colonial commercial concept Cotton Mather critical cultural currency death deconstruction derwriting discourse early economic eighteenth century essay faid fear fhall fire François Ewald Franklinian Hartford Herman Melville human Ian Hacking idea imagination individual insurance companies insurance contract insurance underwriting interest Joel Porte Jupiter kind language Letters Lightning-Rod linguistic literary literature Lloyd's of London logic loss lotteries Marine Insurance material Mather meaning Melville Melville's modern monetary moral narrative nature Noah Webster paper Philadelphia Phillis Wheatley poem poet poetics political Poor Richard's Almanack practice Ralph Waldo Emerson relationship representation rhetorical risk safety Self-Reliance sense signatures slave social society story surance symbolic textual theory things tion underwritten virtue Walter Benn Michaels Wheatley's words writing York