This essay considers the difficulties of representing poverty, its conditions and phenomenology, in narrative and asks after the relation between language and poverty. Are there unique pressures on narrative when it is asked to describe deprivation? What are the conditions of its speakability? And what investments and theoretical suppositions attend the assertion of poverty as a position of narrative impossibility, or of asserting the impossibility, for the poor, of inhabiting a speaking subject position? Through a reading of William Vollmann's Poor People and George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, the author asks whether there is a paucity of theory about poverty in contemporary discourses of identity and why that might be so. Orwell and Vollmann each offer a moralist anti-aesthetic and suspicion of rhetorical complexity commonly found in literary representations of poverty, and they represent the poor as subjects dislocated from both voice and temporality, asserting the experience of poverty as that which cannot be given voice and offering the narrator as a figure redeemed from poverty precisely through his narration. If poverty is the end of the future, as Orwell suggests, what temporality does that offer for either the subject or the narrator of poverty?
Gayle Salamon; Here Are the Dogs: Poverty in Theory. differences 1 May 2010; 21 (1): 169–177. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2009-025
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